Monday, October 20, 2014

Either Praise the Police, or Shut Up


"Don't just touch your chin -- bang it, man, bang it!"



Following Alexander the Great’s conquest of Persia, members of the Persian elite were required to prostrate themselves before their new ruler. Polyperchon, one of Alexander’s generals, sternly rebuked one of the Persians whose self-abasement was seen as inadequate.

“Come on, don’t just touch the floor with your chin,” demanded Alexander’s arrogant underling. “Bang it, man! Bang it!”

Police union commissar Patrick J. Lynch displays more than a hint of that attitude in dealing with a public that at long last has become disgusted with routine and impenitent criminal corruption on the part of the state’s consecrated dispensers of violence.  

For Lynch – whose views are very commonplace in law enforcement – any attitude toward police other than abject, servile gratitude is unacceptable, and perhaps even criminal. This is true even of those who preface modulated discussion of unambiguous criminal misconduct with the familiar disclaimer: “Not all cops are bad.”

“Proclaiming that `not all cops are bad’ implies that rational people might somehow believe the opposite,” Lynch whined in a recent column for the New York Post. “It lends cop-haters a credibility they don’t deserve. And it minimizes the dedication and professionalism that police officers display, day in and day out, by implying that it’s the exception rather than the rule.” 
 
Tax-feeders' mouthpiece: Lynch.

From Lynch’s perspective, sycophancy toward the licensed purveyors of violence is a civic obligation, and the public has a duty to sustain the pretense that every single police officer is a divinely commissioned instrument of justice and the distillate of valor.

Lynch demands that the public accept the proposition that “all cops put their lives on the line to protect all New Yorkers.” The NYPD formally repudiated that claim in its official reply to a lawsuit filed by the heroic Joseph Lozito, who was cut to ribbons while taking down crazed serial killer Maksim Gelman in a subway car while Officer Terrance Howell cowered behind a glass partition. 

Howell was hailed as a “hero,” and the NYPD deflected Lozito’s lawsuit by insisting that “under well-established law, the police … have no special duty” to protect an individual citizen. 

For cops, “officer safety” is always the prime directive. Lynch would contend that the public must embrace Howell as a hero because of his occupation – or, failing that, stifle any criticism of his behavior. Extolling him as a heroic exemplar is acceptable; describing him as an anomalous “bad apple” is not.

According to Lynch, police are victimized by an invidious double standard. After all, “when a patient dies on the operating table under dubious circumstances, elected officials don’t rush to reassure the public that not all surgeons are incompetent. If an airline pilot is caught drinking before take-off, TV talking heads don’t remind us that the majority of pilots are sober.”


Leaving aside the fact that the mechanisms of professional accountability for surgeons and pilots are much more demanding than those that exist in law enforcement, the most obvious problem with Lynch’s desperate analogy is that people in those professions are actually rendering a service to the public. Police have no enforceable duty to do likewise.

Doctors help their patients; pilots safely convey passengers to their chosen destinations. Private security personnel defend persons and property. For people in those professions, success is measured in terms of positive outcomes for paying customers, and failure is recognized as either unavoidable misfortune or culpable incompetence.

For police officers, by way of contrast, “success” results when those targeted in displays of government-sanctioned violence either submit or are subdued, often with lethal consequences – even when the recipient of that violence did nothing to warrant such treatment.

According to Lynch, the death of Eric Garner – who was suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes -- at the hands of an NYPD thugscrum was a “success.” Once the officers had decided to abduct Garner, “failure” – meaning successful resistance by their victim – was no longer an option.

What should police do, Lynch complained in a recent press conference, “when we’re faced with a situation where the person being placed under arrest says, `I’m not going. I’m not being placed under arrest.’ What is it we should do? Walk away?”

If the arrestee wasn’t involved in an actual crime – and there’s no evidence that Garner had done anything other than embarrass plainclothes officers by breaking up a fight – then the inescapable answer is: Yes, the police should walk away.

“We don’t have that option,” Lynch asserts – which means that officers are entitled to “use necessary force to make that arrest.” In the case of Eric Garner, this included the use of an illegal chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo, which resulted in a criminal homicide.
“There is an attitude on our streets today that it is acceptable to resist arrest,” grouses Lynch. “That attitude is a direct result of a lack of respect for law enforcement.”


Actually, that attitude is in large measure a reflection of the ever-escalating lawlessness of the government employees represented by Lynch and his comrades. It may also reflect a growing appreciation for the fact that resisting unlawful arrest — while considered a crime, and prosecuted as if it were — is an ancient, venerable, and indispensable right of free people. Under the still-valid Supreme Court precedent John Black Elk v. U.S. (1900), a citizen has a legally recognized right to use lethal force to prevent the consummation of an unlawful arrest, and bystanders likewise have a right (and perhaps a moral duty) to intervene on behalf of the victim.

Like other agencies of its kind, the NYPD is well-stocked with the kind of privileged bullies who have mastered the art of simultaneously swaggering and simpering. Thus anonymous NYPD sources described anti-police graffiti to the New York Post as “a disturbing hate crime.”

Through video surveillance, the NYPD identified  36-year-old Rosella Best as the culprit. Best tagged police vehicles and a public school with graffiti expressing such eminently defensible (if grammatically awkward) sentiments as “NYPD pick on the harmless,” “NYPD pick on the innocent,” and — in a display of familiar but increasingly justified hyperbole — “NAZIS=NYPD.” (Assuming that Ms. Best used only “public” property as her canvas, it’s difficult to identify an actual victim in this case.)

 Best was charged with “criminal mischief as a hate crime.”  Under Article 485 of New York Penal Law, a “hate crime” must involve “violence, intimidation [or] destruction of property” inspired by animus toward people on the basis of “race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability, or sexual orientation.” 

Absent from that inventory is any mention of occupation as a “protected category,” which means that the NYPD must consider itself to be either a tribe, a cult, or perhaps even a sexual orientation, most likely one that fetishizes sadistic mistreatment of the helpless.

The statute also specifies that the offending act must be intended to “inflict on victims incalculable physical and emotional damage” and be intended to “intimidate and disrupt entire communities….” By filing a hate crimes charge against Ms. Best, the NYPD is certifying that its rank and file consists of people who are wounded and intimidated by public criticism. If the bold and valiant badasses of the NYPD must be protected from hurtful words, they’re obviously not the kind of people who “put their lives on the line to protect all New Yorkers,” as Patrick Lynch would have us pretend.

All police officers embody “selflessness and courage,” Lynch maintains – but there is one “nightmare” that burdens their waking thoughts and holds sleep in abeyance: Accountability.

“We have watched in disbelief as the worst nightmare a police officer can have comes true,” wailed retired Jersey City Police Officer Robert Cubby in a post at LawEnforcementToday.com, referring to the prospect of criminal charges against Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner.  “An NYPD officer applied what was falsely called a choke hold. Moments later, the perpetrator gasped for air and died in the hospital.”

These two developments, Cubby would have us pretend, were not necessarily related. It’s not that Garner’s government-employed assailants killed him; he just chose that particular moment to die.

Now that the death of Garner — who was not a “perpetrator” of any sort, once again, but rather a man who had just broken up a fight — has been ruled a homicide, the “career of those involved from the NYPD dangles from a thread,” moans Cubby. “The officers face the worst possible nightmare; loss of their career and being thrown in jail for a good portion of the rest of their lives.”

The same would be true of anybody else who fatally assaulted another human being without cause. Cubby and people of his ilk assume that police officers must be beyond accountability for such actions, and that the loss of their exalted station as dispensers of lethal force is a fate worse than death.

“While these officers now become defendants and have to, somehow, gather enough emotional strength to get through this horrible accusation [and] gather all their financial resources to defend themselves, stay out of jail and retain their jobs, it is time for the LEO family to support our NYPD brothers and sisters,” insists Cubby. He suggested that members of the state’s armed enforcement class display their solidarity with Garner’s killers through a “United We Stand with NYPD” social media campaign: Law enforcement officers and their friends were urged to change their Facebook profile picture to an upside-down NYPD flag. That green, white, and blue banner, which was adopted by the department in 1919, is draped over the coffins of officers who are killed in the line of duty.

After all, if a costumed tax-feeder can’t kill without consequence, what’s the point of living?

Cubby’s suggestion, it should be pointed out, was made before the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri last August – which led to protests, riots, and a Fallujah-grade crack-down by fully militarized “local” police. The well-publicized conduct of the police in Ferguson finally forced the public to confront what the police have become. This, in turn, helped propagate an epidemic of institutional self-pity within law enforcement, and Lt. Daniel Furseth of Wisconsin’s DeForest PD came down with a particularly severe case.

“Today, I stopped caring about my fellow man,” begins Furseth’s October 14 essay in American Police Beat Magazine. “I stopped caring about my community, my neighbors, and those I serve. I stopped caring today because a once noble profession has become despised, hated, distrusted, and mostly unwanted.”


Furseth, like Lynch, is disillusioned not because of what their profession has become, but because of how it is perceived by an ungrateful public that is proving itself unworthy of their sanctified overseers. Furseth also seems deaf to the implications of his own overwrought, self-fixated rhetoric: If he stopped “caring” about the people he “serves,” shouldn’t he resign? Or is he admitting to being a state-licensed sociopath with permission to inflict violence on a public he now views with unfiltered scorn and unalloyed resentment?

“I stopped caring today because parents tell their little kids to be good or `the police will take you away,’ embedding a fear from year one,” complains Furseth, offering a variation on Lynch’s complaint that even people who respect the police understand that they are agents of violence. He likewise condemns those who quite correctly describe the police as “just another tool used by government to generate `revenue.’”

In offering that particular complaint, Furseth reveals himself to be either incurably disingenuous, or a stranger to the concept of irony.

DeForest, Wisconsin is a town of about 9,000 people located not far from Madison, the state capital. It is roughly 91 percent white and has a crime rate less than one-third the national average – and a violent crime rate so low it doesn’t make the needle twitch. Revenue collection through traffic enforcement and OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) “saturation patrols” are the chief functions of that police department.

A "friendly show of force."

Furseth proudly describes himself as the creator of the Capital Area OWI Task Force, which regularly conducts patrols for the purpose of “pulling over drivers as often as possible in a friendly show of force,” in the oxymoron-infused language of a local news account.

The DeForest PD’s 2013 Annual Report smugly observes: “One individual stated the following on a social media site: `Dude, I refuse to drive into DeFo with anything remotely illegal in my car, it seems like there’s a cop on every street.’”

That’s a sensible precaution, given that the “friendly” people responsible for that state of affairs are not only doing everything possible to wring revenue from visitors, but are also obsessively monitoring social media.

“We represent a `Police State’ where `Jackbooted badge-wearing thugs’ randomly attack innocent people without cause or concern for constitutional rights,” laments Furseth. “We are Waco, Ruby Ridge, and Rodney King all rolled into one….”

Notably absent from his jeremiad is any acknowledgement, however qualified or tentative, that the perception he laments could possibly be justified. If he possesses so much as a particle of principled concern for the rights of innocent people, Furseth will reach beyond his privileged peer group and offer support to a local family who suffered horribly  “without cause or concern for constitutional rights” in a 3:00 a.m. no-knock SWAT assault.  


DeForest is about a half-hour from Madison, which is where the family of Bounkham Phonesavanh – more commonly known as “Baby Bou-Bou” --resides.  The 20-month-old child was nearly murdered by police in Georgia last May 28th during a 3:00 no-knock SWAT raid. Acting on the basis of purchased intelligence from a petty criminal, the raiders attacked the home without warning, hurling a flash-bang grenade into the living room. The infernal device exploded in Bou-Bou’s crib, blowing off his nose and ripping open his chest.

The Phonesavanh family was residing temporarily with an aunt in Georgia. The parents weren’t suspected of any criminal conduct – but this didn’t prevent the invaders from assaulting the father, leaving him with a permanent shoulder injury. No drugs or other evidence was found at the home, nor was the relative suspected of drug dealing. 

Just move on: Sheriff Terrell.

The tiny victim was still in a medically induced coma when Habersham County Sheriff Jerry Terrell officially exonerated the officers who had nearly murdered him: “I stand behind what our team did. There’s nothing to investigate, there’s nothing to look at.” Public outrage eventually led to a Grand Jury inquest, which did little more than ratify the sheriff’s claims
Following a six-day investigation, the Grand Jury declined to indict the law enforcement officers who participated in that atrocity.

The prologue to the grand jury’s “Presentment” is five pages of frothy self-justification and pious persiflage emphasizing the public-spiritedness of the panel and extending sympathy to both the victims and perpetrators of this atrocity.

“Nothing can be more difficult and heart-wrenching than injuries to one’s child,” the document asserts, before suggesting that inflicting such injuries can be just as traumatic to the exalted instruments of state coercion who nearly killed Bou-Bou: “[W]e wish to extend our sympathy also to the law enforcement officers involved… [W]hat has not been seen before by others and talked or written about, is that these individuals are suffering as well.”

That “suffering,” like the nearly fatal injuries to Bou-Bou, came after an investigation that was “hurried, sloppy, and unfortunately not in accordance with the best practices and procedures.” This wasn’t “criminal negligence,” mind you, but simply the regrettable result of “well-intentioned people getting in too big a hurry, and not slowing down and taking enough time to consider the possible consequences of their actions.”

This assessment might be appropriate in describing the distracted and inattentive cook who sets fire to a stove. Applying it to people who carried out an unjustified 3:00 a.m. military assault that left an infant fighting for his life is an obscenity.

The most abhorrent passage in this document comes on page 13, where “the parents and extended family” of the victim are cut in for a share of the blame, because they supposedly “had some degree of knowledge concerning family members involved in criminal activity that came in and out of the residence.” Bou-Bou’s parents had taken refuge with relatives in Georgia after their home in Wisconsin was burned down. They weren’t implicated in the alleged wrongdoing of their relative; they were simply desperate for a place to live.

Bou-Bou’s parents, who moved back to Wisconsin in July, have been saddled with more than $1 million in medical bills. After initially promising to help defray those expenses, Habersham County officials — displaying the selective, self-serving fastidiousness for “law” that is so typical of  tyrants and bureaucrats — now insist that it would be “illegal” to do so.


Daniel Furseth is a neighbor to the Phonesevanh family. He ends his essay with a self-dramatizing flourish: “Yes, I stopped caring today. But tomorrow, I will put my uniform back on and I will care again.”

If the compass of his caring extends beyond his comrades in the coercive caste -- and there is videotaped evidence that he has a soft spot for small children -- Furseth really should extend his sympathies to the Phonesevanhs – perhaps by organizing a fundraising effort to help those innocent people pay the costs of restoring their mangled baby to health. 

By doing so, however, Furseth would acknowledge that decent people have abundant reason to look upon the police with fear and suspicion – and this is a concession he probably cannot bring himself to make.

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 Dum spiro, pugno!