In the days before I had received any moral training beyond, “do what we say,” I thought that police were a great way to get people to do what they should. At that time, police brutality was simply the result of bad people not following orders. I can’t remember any specific police abuse stories from this time. I was never exposed to a harsher indictment of police than accusations that they spent too much time eating donuts.
By the time George Bush Sr. laid waste to Iraq and had begun starving the population, I had figured out that Republicans were using the police to convert the poor into money for the prison-industrial complex. I don’t remember blaming the police for this–I assumed they were following the orders of 12 years worth of a republican legal appointees. I still had in my head the Plantonic ideal of the public servant who was a different species of person–one who would eschew self-interest and would, without oversight, behave justly.
Even before I had my string of personal encounters with police, I had developed a hearty dislike for them. This marked the high-point for my blood pressure when I would hear about police gunning down unarmed people or sodomizing prisoners with toilet plungers — like they do.
I’m not sure exactly when this happened, but I arrived at a profound understanding of a very simple truth: you cannot reliably arm someone, give them near-immunity from the law, and expect non-horrible things to happen. The task becomes yet more difficult when you first advertise to every evil cretin that cannot hold other employment that you are looking to arm people and give them near-immunity from the law. I understood that police brutality is like any brutality resulting from radical power disparity. If the victim cannot disengage, the transgressions will only grow increasingly ugly and depraved.
All that to say that I am no longer shocked by cops hurting people and stealing stuff. Nevertheless, I am, well, almost impressed by what I read at philly.com. I heard a story about a cop, Cujdik (pronounced Kudj-DICK), who was knocking off tobacconists, convenience stores and other small businesses (all immigrant owned). His “Narcotics Task Force” would raid the business, cut the wires to the surveillance cameras, steal merchandise and take all the cash in the store. The charges were nonsensical–in one instance, the store owner had zip-lock bags that were classified as drug paraphanalia–and were always suspended or dropped by the judge during trial.
If reading about this kind of sick shit is your thing, as it is for me from time to time, I will save you some effort: http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/41551507.html?page=3&c=y. I’m providing this service because I had to search through the 60+ stories at philly.com that matched the search: “police misconduct.” Everything from judges getting 2.6 million in kickbacks for sending kids to juvenile facilities, to the myriad sex crimes committed by police, to my personal favorite, the drug dealer who joined the police force and began raiding his competitors.
I won’t be highlighting police abuse stories in the future, unless more drug dealers become cops–that’s precious. I am still recovering from my upbringing, where all authority figures were to be obeyed unquestioningly, so I need to revisit that tendency from time to time. The take-home lesson is not that authority must be questioned, but that authority based on violence is not authority at all.
Oh, and if you think, like I tend to, “what do you expect from Philly?” check out this tale of Texas police who extorted money, jewlery and sometimes cars from 140 mostly African-American motorists. And they beat some of them too.