Color Bar

7 06 2010

Not too long ago in this country, there were two sets of laws in this country- one for whites and one for everyone else. This was (and is) utterly stupid and a violation of everything this country stands for. There are still vestiges of this unpleasantness lingering furtively in many neighborhoods in the country (not just the deep south), but it has largely been forced underground- for the most part. This is a good thing- it means that society (in general terms) is unwilling to accept this sort of inequality and injustice any more, and it will gradually wither and die out. Hopefully sooner than later.

Then we started paying more attention to another separate and unequal set of laws based on color. This time, the color was green. Court cases have been widely publicized wherein wealthy people- regardless of skin color- were allowed to treat the laws as suggestions. Acts which would land Joe Citizen in the pokey only resulted in verbal warnings or “personal recognizance” bonds for those with money. In court, the wealthy very rarely were forced to suffer the consequences of their actions until those actions grew into atrocities- and sometimes, even that wasn’t enough to put a really wealthy person behind bars. We’re still dealing with this as a culture, but the American people are growing less willing to put up with this sort of inequality as well. Call it schadenfreude if you will, but we like it when the wealthy get more than a slap on the wrist for breaking the laws. The trend for many years was toward fewer repercussions for those with money, and this, too, is un-American. It needs to become extinct.

Lately, however, a much more sinister color bar has raised its ugly head. There are increasing stories in the media about a new double-standard for laws based on color, only this time, the color is blue.

Let me start by conceding that police in this country have a tough job. This does not give them the right to treat the citizens who employ them as enemies, however. Unfortunately, this is increasingly the case.

The latest outrage concerns an off-duty police officer in Baltimore who shot an unarmed man to death in an alley behind a bar. This officer fired off all thirteen rounds at his target- who was about ten feet away- and only hit him six times. When the on-duty cops arrived, the shooter refused a breathalyzer test and was not arrested. But wait- there’s more! He was also involved in a drunken shooting in 2005, wherein he had shot someone in the foot during an altercation outside a bar. Sound familiar? Worse still, it turns out that this same officer had shot another unarmed man to death in 1995- this time shooting his victim in the back as he was running away.

After the first two incidents, why was this imbecile permitted to carry a firearm, much less remain a police officer? We (the People) grant police authority over us to enforce the laws, but the police don’t seem to enforce those laws fairly or equitably when a police officer is involved. When was the last time a police “internal investigation” returned a verdict that even implied that a police officer had broken the law- or even “departmental policy”? The police brass in the Baltimore incident privately said that they were “troubled” by the officer’s actions. Troubled? WTF are these idiots smoking? Why isn’t this officer behind bars right now? Oh, right. Two sets of rules- one for cops, and one for everyone else.

In some jurisdictions, it is now a felony to videotape the police in public during the performance of their duties. I’m having trouble finding any rational thinking behind that decision. The Supreme Court has ruled that no one has any inherent right to privacy in public, but that apparently doesn’t apply to police officers in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland. Other states haven’t made filming cops illegal, but some deliberately target citizens who do so with bizarre interpretations of anti-wiretapping laws. It’s almost as though the police are trying to antagonize the public they supposedly serve, and then deliberately remove any possibility of legal redress for those wronged by the police. Are they trying to force us to open that Fourth Box?

This crap is unacceptable, especially in light of the growing trend toward militarization of police agencies across the country. The police in this country are increasingly treating their own citizens worse than our military treats foreign civilians in the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. What happened to “protect and serve”?

When police officers break the law, kill or injure innocents, or engage in corrupt activities, it is the duty of other police officers to turn them in. Even if only a small percentage of police officers do these things, the fact that their brother officers refuse to allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions tars all police with the same rotten odor of corruption. If the police wish to behave as if the public the are supposed to serve is their enemy, they run the risk of the public returning the sentiment. I am naive enough to believe that would be a bad thing for everyone involved, so I’m having a hard time understanding the headlong rush toward just such a catastrophe.

Science fiction author Ed Howdershelt once gave a speech which included a phrase I find appropriate: “There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order.” The actions being taken by separate police agencies across the country are working to remove public access to these remedies. Police routinely cut other police officers a break for transgressions all the way up to felonies, while citizens who commit the same offenses are immediately arrested and jailed. Citizens who complain are subject to reprisals- some quite overt- and harassment from the police. Citizens who record the police in action are harassed, intimidated, and arrested for doing so, with little or no legal recourse. The public perception of widespread corruption among police is frankly more dangerous to successful police work than anything else. Here’s a clue chit for the police in this country: When you remove the legal means of redress- those first three boxes- you push the people closer and closer to opening that Fourth Box.

So what is the solution? How about acting according to your public mandate? Police are paid to enforce the law. Period. Full stop. There are no exceptions in the law for brother officers or the blue wall of silence. When a police officer breaks the law, treat him or her exactly as you would any other suspect. Better still, treat every suspect the same as you would a fellow officer. It’s a concept called “sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander“, which is just a fancy way of describing “equal justice under law“. If you’re a police officer, that is your only task- enforcing the laws equally. Anything less leads inexorably toward that Fourth Box. No one wants that.

I hope no one wants that.

Current status: Irate

Current music: Plush by Stone Temple Pilots