Saturday, May 16, 2015

Controlling The Police

Police supervisor Jon Burge oversaw the torture and forced confessions of Black men on Chicago's south side for almost 20 years, 1972-1991. The torture was eventually found out, some convictions were overturned, and in 2011 Burge finally went to a federal prison, for a little while. Perhaps you saw the news last month that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel finally established a paltry fund to compensate the victims who are still living. The Burge torture and its coverup had occurred under Emanuel's predecessor, Richard Daley Jr.

Jon Burge-Kim/AP
Amazingly, while the revelations and criminal case against Burge were playing out in Chicago media, Chicago police, under both Daley and Emanuel, were torturing people at another place, the Homan Square site. The Guardian of London exposed that torture and has been interviewing men the police tortured there. An embarrassed US media has ignored, and in some cases tried to refute the story.

The point being, getting themselves found out didn't change the behavior of Chicago police or those who oversee them, or the media for that mater. Being exposed didn't change the "bad cops," and what's supposed to be the majority of the cops, the so called "good cops" elected officials are always lauding, kept looking the other way, kept delivering people to the torture sites, never reported the criminal behavior many of them had to have known was going on, and elected officials did nothing until it got into the newspapers.

North Carleston cop Michale Slager plants evidence on Walter Scott's body-capture from video by Feidin Santana,

Now consider the police killings of civilians across the country that have come to light because civilians started recording them with their cell phones or, in some cases, because police had been forced to wear body cameras. In the past, these killings went under the radar, just like the torture in Chicago, because everyone believed police accounts of what happened. There night have been witnesses who said otherwise, but the police shut them up and the media ignored them or even aided the police coverup, and elected officials kept propping up the public's perception of the police.

 The Carnage Continues

Cell phone video hasn't slowed down the killing, despite police being charged for killing unarmed civilians in a few cases, beginning here in Albuquerque when District Attorney Keri Brandenberg charged two cops with killing James Boyd, a homeless man guilty of camping out. Charges have also been brought against cops in North Charleston, SC and Balitmore, MD.

The web site Killed By Police, which tracks corporate (mainstream) media accounts of police killings in the US, has for 2015 counted 423 killed by police as of May 14.

The site recorded 768 police killings in 2013 and 1,100 in 2014. Based on those figures, here's the number of people being killed by the police in the United States in the past three years, per day:

2013 = 2.10

2014 = 3.01

2015 = 3.15

So far nothing, based on those figures, and based on Chicago, has slowed down police violence. In New York, where the police under former mayor Bloomberg were guilty of the massive profiling of minorities, and where new, liberal Democratic mayor De Blasio ordered the practice to stop, it's recently come to light that the profiling largely continues unabated.

Is there cause for alarm? If the police truly were to become out of control, could they be brought back under control?

Immediately over the police are elected officials who often are in on coverups of police misconduct and who, despite some mild rhetoric designed to quell public outrage, show little proclivity for controlling the police. Here in Albuquerque, the mayor refuses to "play the blame game," and the president often repeats the claim that the "vast majority" of cops are good cops; he means the ones who look the other way, who maintain the "solid blue line," i.e., never report other cops, and the ones who drop off the suspects at the torture sites, and take them to the hospital afterward.

What about massive protests? Can they force the represenatives of the power structure to bring the police to heel?

This same president, remember, despite rhetoric questioning the militarization of the police, has refused to halt the practice of arming the police with military weaponry such as assault rifles, tanks and armored personnel carriers, which continues. We've seen such weaponry on display here in Albuquerque, and there's probably no place in the country where within an hour or so enough military firepower can't be assembled to put down a demonstration with massive violence.

Albuquerque Journal
Under Obama, surveillance of the populace has increased. The "Fusion Centers" created for such purposes are still there. There's one in Santa Fe. Fusion Centers, created in the wake of 9/11, are manned by police from all the local, state and federal agencies and are designed to facilitate information sharing and rapid response. They've been used primarily for spying on American citizens with no connection whatsoever to terrorism, activists, mostly, Leftists and environmentalists in particular but even motorcycle gangs and anti abortion protesters. A senate report found that despite billions being spent the 72 Fusion Centers around the country had "failed to uncover a single terrorist threat." The Boston Fushion Center, recall, was keeping close tabs on activists while the Boston Marathon bombers slipped past them.

In every instance when police do something illegal they lie about it. Recall the articles in the Journal after every police killing in which the criminal records of the victims, volunteered to the media by the police, were prominently published. It was the person who got killed who was on trial and not who did the killing. Likewise, the Journal's special section on problems at the police department, where an epidemic of police shootings prompted a Justice Department investigation and subsequent consent decree, has quietly disappeared from the paper's web site.

If you've followed the news about police killings in the past year or so with more than passing interests you should consider suspect anything that follows the words "according to police..."

The thing is, most people don't. They don't want to believe there's a problem with the police, or the elected officials who cover for them, or the media's reluctance to turn on the police. For the same reason people don't want to acknowledge or think about the fact that living standards are in decline, that the new jobs being created are mostly temporary, low paying, part time, and have no long term security.

It's frightening to think about fundamental change. Life in the United States for most of us is based on a certain set of assumptions, that we hold without thinking about, deeply held beliefs that you can be secure in your home, that you can walk outside and walk around, that you can find a job, pay your bills, that everything is going to keep on keeping on as it always has, that the idea that is the "United States" will continue forever. But if you can't trust the police, one of the pillars that underlie all those assumptions is absent.

The United States is, however, fundamentally changing and it's been noticed, if not by us then by the UN, which is looking into police brutality here and the inequality of our legal system and torture by our government, which we've been assured has stopped but which hasn't.
The image of what the United States is is a powerful one. It's a natural human reaction to keep thinking that the vast majority of the police are good cops, and to not question the institution or what it's there for, but there are more Jon Burges out there that we don't know about yet, and more Homan Squares. People keep getting blown away by the police, several every day, and it's happening more often all the time.

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