"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance"

--James Madison--

"The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries, but between authoritarians and libertarians"

--George Orwell--

Ending Police Brutality--Hit 'Em Where It Hurts

We're undergoing an epidemic of police violence in this country.  The brutality continues to follow the victims of it to the jails where they are held post arrest, and then to prison if they are convicted. Many incarceration facilities in this country make Gitmo look like a country club.  People are beaten to death, die of frostbite in unheated solitary confinement, suffocate in restraints, and are tortured, sometimes dozens at a time.  Usually for very minor infractions, such as possibly exhibiting the slightest resistance.  Or even behaviors that are not resistant at all, just perceived that way by zealous jailers and police. Police are increasingly beating people on the street, and even shooting unarmed people on the chance that they might be armed and dangerous.

Many, perhaps a majority, of the victims of these crimes are either mentally ill or otherwise disabled.  Less than immediate compliance with a "lawful order" can easily land you in a body bag.

Increasingly, it's the police and the jailers who are armed, dangerous and deranged.

What to do?

Obviously, filming the police is becoming more common.  I see such video several times a week on the local news that I watch.  The problem with this as a long term solution is that people tend to forget isolated incidents, and many people are sympathetic to the police.  Many people see police beating a young black or Latino man, and automatically assume that he was a "gang banger" who had it coming.

Then most of the time, citizen complaints are met with some sort of review that lets the offending officers off the hook, after enough months have passed for the incident to fade from public memory.  Or maybe you live in a jurisdiction where the sheriff or chief of police is an elected official, accountable to nobody but voters who may be, of a majority, racist "law and order" types who love to see police and jailers brutalize "gang bangers" and "illegals".

None of this ever seems to have a lasting effect.  Police departments don't really need to sweep any of it under the rug in most places, they are so certain of their impunity.  As they become better armed and see few of their peers punished, police tend to become more and more aggressive.

Sometimes communities react.  Here in Denver CO, the community was so horrified by some incidents in the 90's that a referendum made it to the ballot, which passed overwhelmingly.  It created a "community review board" to investigate incidents of police (but not jail) brutality.  Not surprisingly, the committee tends to get stacked with people sympathetic to law enforcement, even including former LEO's (acronym for Law Enforcement Officer).  Many cases are simply dismissed, with only the most egregious cases getting any action at all.

Even then, the Denver Police Department rarely ever actually enforces recommendations made by the board.  Even when the board uses its rarely used power to terminate police, they are usually rehired by the Department, courtesy of an indifferent Internal Affairs Bureau and one of the last very strong unions.

What to do, then?

One thing that helps to some degree is to have the top law enforcement officials be appointed by, and answerable to, the mayor or other elected official that is not otherwise connected to law enforcement.  As the uproar gets louder over recent incidents here, the mayor has fired one chief of police and two county sheriffs (in Denver, the Sheriff oversees the jails and executes eviction warrants and other administrative duties).  He's scrambling to cover his ass every week it seems, as more videos get played on the news.

But it's not the news reports that got his ass in gear.  It's pressure from the Denver City Council, along with very bad poll numbers.  Our municipal election is next spring.

Why is the City Council breathing down the mayor's neck?  Money.  The Council has had to approve about $13 million in settlements for police and jail brutality lawsuits over the past 10 years.  Nerves were already beginning to fray over all of these expensive settlements that a cash strapped city was having to pay.

Then last month, 10th Federal District Court judge John Kane "dropped the big one".  He approved a $3.25 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by a man who was brutally beaten in the Denver City Jail:


As you can probably imagine, victims of jail brutality are lining up at the Federal courthouse with their hands out.  Lawyers are readily accepting such cases, now that the floodgates have been opened.

In the past, such lawsuits have brought about incremental changes.  

"No Knock" search warrants were banned here after a 2001 settlement for an incident where non uniformed police broke into the wrong home and shot a man who, understandably, thought he was the victim of a home invasion. This also brought and end to the use of military style "uniforms".  Even the Denver SWAT unit has uniforms that clearly identify them as police.  We don't have any MRAP's or tripod mounted machine guns here.  The City Council banned such weapons and vehicles as a result of the same lawsuit.

Filming the police and the jailers helps a lot. Another incident brought about the use of security cameras all over the city and county jails.  Some of that footage was quite useful to the inmate who sued and won the seven figure judgement.

Suing the police is even more effective, though.  Especially if the victim wins.  Cities and counties all over the country are short on cash, and all of the free MRAP's in the world won't put another penny in their coffers.  Even if the city wins, the legal costs can be enormous, especially if they have to fight a Federal suit.

Hit 'em where it hurts.  The pocketbook, the budget.  Money talks.