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Old 10-10-2014, 02:35 AM
mhendo is online now
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Controversial encounters between law-enforcement and civilians - the omnibus thread


TLDR version:

This is the law-enforcement omnibus thread. Discuss controversial shootings, tasings, pepper-sprayings, arrests, and other police encounter here. It's in the Pit because these discussions sometimes get heated.

Full version:

I figured someone would probably do it eventually, so i figured that it might as well be me.

There are currently four threads on the front page of the Pit discussing violent incidents between law enforcement officers and civilians. Some folks have begun suggesting, both in those threads and in a now-closed ATMB thread, that maybe starting a new discussion for every single new incident might be a rather unproductive task. Or at least a rather repetitive one. Hence this thread.

Now, it could be that people will tell me to take a hike, arguing that they should be allowed to start as many damn threads as they like about this stuff. And if that's the consensus, then by all means ignore this thread and let it sink.

There are reasonable arguments to be made against what i'm doing here. Some folks might worry, for example, that having an omnibus thread for these sorts of incidents will result in individual cases not receiving the in-depth discussion that they deserve. This might especially be true for long-running, high-profile cases like the Ferguson shooting. Others might be concerned that "ghettoizing" all such incidents to a single thread runs the risk of reducing their visibility, and minimizing or even trivializing their serious nature.

I am sensible of these concerns, and i am sure that there might be other objections. Still, i think that this might be worth a shot (first pun of the thread!), even if we sometimes also end up with separate threads for particularly important cases.

One of my motivations in starting a single thread for such incidents is to connect the specific with the universal. I believe that each incident of conflict or violence is unique and deserves to be assessed on its merits. I also believe, however, that issues such as the use of police authority in our society, and the significance of race and social class in shaping encounters between law enforcement and civilians, constitute broad structural problems that are reflected not only in each individual encounter, but in the totality of relations between police and citizens. We need to have the individual discussions, but we also need to talk about the big picture.

For example, even if a full and fair and complete investigation in the Ferguson case were to find that the officer did not violate any police regulation and did not violate the law, i still believe that there is a very good chance that the officer's response to the situation reflected problematic assumptions and a law enforcement attitude that treats crime committed by some groups as requiring more attention and a more confrontational approach than very similar crimes committed by other groups. I also believe that the Ferguson Police Department's response to the initial incident demonstrates some problems with the department itself, problems that are independent of whatever may or may not have happened on the street that day. That is, even when individual cases might not rise to the level of abuse of authority or illegal activity on the part of the police, the pattern of policing might still reflect very problematic attitudes within law enforcement, and might also, as part of a broader pattern, constitute an abuse of the civil liberties of particular sections of the community, and demonstrate systemic problems within police departments.

Structural problems are important. For example, every low-level contact with a black youth might go completely by the book, with no violence and no infringements on individual liberties, but if the cops carrying out those contacts fail to make similar contact with white youth under similar circumstances, i think that we as a society have the right to ask them why they work this way, and require them to change their practices. And if cops use guns or tasers or pepper-spray on some groups more than others, under similar circumstances, we should ask the same questions. Books i've read recently on race and the American justice system (Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow; Randall Kennedy, Race, Crime, and the Law) note that courts in America have been reluctant to interfere in broad policing strategies, even when those strategies seem to unfairly target particular racial or ethnic groups, but that doesn't mean that we as a society need ignore those issues, and nor does it mean that we can't pressure our law enforcement agencies to eliminate structural biases.

I'm not starting this thread only for people who agree with me, of course, and i don't consider myself anti-cop. My stepfather is a retired cop (rank of Inspector), and i think that a good police officer is an incredibly valuable member of civil society. But we also need to hold law enforcement accountable for how they do their job; their role is not simply to control us and order us around, but to protect and serve.

I think it would behoove people on all sides of this debate to try to evaluate the evidence fairly, in each individual case and in the broader arena of social policy. Try not to assume, in every incident, that the cop was a redneck just looking for an excuse to mow down a civilian, and try not to assume, in every incident, that the discharge of a police weapon is, by itself, sufficient evidence that the civilian bleeding on the ground had it coming.

That's all i've got. If you think this thread is useful, start adding incidents to it as they happen; if not, let it fall. If it attracts interest and content, i'll try, every week or so, to make a new post listing all incidents recorded so far, so that we have a running digest that people can consult without going back and reading the whole thread.

Last edited by mhendo; 10-10-2014 at 02:37 AM.