- Politics and Social Issues»
- Crime & Law Enforcement
Holding the police accountable for their actions
Several cases show that police sometimes overstep their legal authority.
Police officers as a group are required to set an example of being law abiding, being familiar with various criminal codes and the rights of the people, free or under arrest on a substantial charge. Their behavior should be upright on or off duty. All too often, this is not the case. Abuses are all too common and do nothing to help people trust the police who are armed with the potential of deadly force. This is a huge responsibility to be entrusted to anyone. Yes; mistakes are made, but sometimes acts are committed for other reasons than honest mistakes. Subjective considerations, opinions, hearsay and speculation all too often enter the picture as police officers are human and react as human beings under stress. This is where the difficulty begins. Where it ends depends on the coordinated efforts between the police and the community that they are supposed to serve and protect from real criminals and terrorists. When the actions of police sweep up innocent people and bring harm, the offending officers must be held accountable as well as responsible for their own actions. There are many choices that can be made as examples of abuse and there are some that you can find in your own region. Cited hereafter are a several cases of abuse and how they unfolded.
On Friday January 23, 2009, the police held a fast moving demo of their own down Robson St. of Vancouver, BC; chanting "You have often heard it told, police wings are solid gold." Three off duty police officers got drunk and committed armed robbery of a man just doing his newspaper delivery job in the wee hours of Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Vancouver; On duty Vancouver police arrested them not knowing they were fellow officers from Delta, New Westminster and West Vancouver. One of the drunken officers began the assault at the front doors of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in front of many witnesses and two others joined threatening to taser the man after beating him to a pulp for several minutes, kicking him everywhere they could. He then spent several months recovering at home from his crippling injuries and not working. His boss states that he has a spotless work record. What was the crime? The man is colored and the police were alleged to have stated "We don't like brown people." Further, the delivery man is a Muslim and very soft spoken. It need not be said what the general attitude is to Muslims today. He lost $200 in the robbery at the business end of a taser, which the off duty officer is not even supposed to carry on their person. The assault triggered a large demonstration where people chanted “We don't like blue people”, which was once the colour of a police uniform until it was changed to black.
Perhaps the worst thing about this is that the Saturday. 24th, 2009 issue of the Sun posted the man's address with a photo of where he lives, but were mum on the names of the three bullying and robbing cops, only giving their cities. The Vancouver police by holding a demo in support of their fellows demonstrate what side they are on and it's not on the side of the victim of armed robbery and working people. Firoz Khan suffered from an unprovoked attack while doing his job. The police involved are now facing charges and a lawsuit, but only after a huge public and media outcry. Meanwhile, all are either working or suspended with pay. When was the last time you were suspended with pay for a misdemeanor like missing a time change? Most of us have never experienced that; quite the antithesis; many of us work without being paid. Firoz Khan needs our undivided support and a separate body from the police needs to investigate and make an unbiased objective decision. The case is now going before the law courts. Meanwhile, Mr. Khan has not returned to work and has lost his source of income. His wife worked alongside him in delivering newspapers to various hotels and business towers in downtown Vancouver. Since the attack, neither of them has returned to the paper route. His wife, though not attacked herself, likely fears the potential and will not work without her husband. Some say that the police by stating "We don't like brown people" acted in an openly racist manner and see this as the focus of the attack and robbery.
Almost every one in North America is familiar with the taser death of Robert Dziekanski on October 14th, 2007, who was attempting to find help when he arrived at the Vancouver Airport and got lost. He did not speak any English and flew to Vancouver form Poland to see his mother in the same city. In a bid to find help without anyone who spoke Polish, he became increasingly distraught and agitated and started to act in a threatening manner, overturning furniture in frustration to get help in his plight. He was mistaken to be in a rage by people at the airport, who called in security and the police. The result of the breakdown in communication was that he was shot with tasers five times by the RCMP. The taser paralyses with a 50,000 volt shock; the same voltage used in a defibrillator to corrects an erratic heart with an Automatic Electronic Defibrillator (AED). Apparently one of the shocks stopped his heart. The typical view is that the police overreacted to him wielding an open stapler and refused to allow the intervention of anyone who could have used CPR and increase his chances of survival. It is evident that the police in attendance did not know CPR or at least refused to intervene themselves with CPR. On the other hand, most security guards at such institutions such as the airport are required by the client to know basic CPR at least. There are many confusing details about the case, but they police should have at least attempted to get an interpreter to talk through and assess the situation without resorting to deadly force. The following inquests and court cases showed the officers in attendance could have used alternatives and failed to do so. Nevertheless, the officers in question were not discharged, nor even given time off with pay. The only time off was during the court case. Meanwhile, Robert Dziekanski's mother is in mourning over the untimely death of her son and is disturbed over the incessant media attention over the case. This is an issue seeking closure. The police for their part are defending their actions and are increasingly becoming the object of jokes and comedy in this tragic case. Here is a case calling out for the intervention of a third party to hold the actions of the police to account with recommendations of judgments to be made in each case. Such a party today is the courts and all too often the media. The courts are tedious and a long, slow process, often the reserve of the wealthy and the media for its part is biased and not objective.
In the US, there are cases that stand out more than others, such as the case of Mumia Abu Jamal, O.J. Simpson, and Rodney King, the attack on the Move headquarters of Philadelphia and the assault on the Branch Dividians.
Mumia Abu Jamal: The voice of the voiceless as he became known in the early 1980s was accused of killing a police officer. Jamal was driving a cab when he encountered the officer dealing with his brother in a traffic violation. The bullets found in both the officer and Mumia Abu Jamal were of the same calibre, fired from the same gun which did not match the calibre of the gun Jamal was alleged to have at the scene. Based on what the state alleges; Mumia shot the police officer while standing outside of the officer's car while the officer was seated inside. Mumia was then shot in self defense by the officer with the same pistol that Mumia shot the officer with. We are supposed to believe that Jamal shot the police officer while the officer was in his car and that the officer then somehow wrested the gun from Jamal and shot him. Jamal who lay close to death then somehow cleaned off and returned the pistol to his cab before the paramedics arrived. While unconscious, near death and being driven to emergency in a nearby hospital, Jamal allegedly confessed to shooting the officer. Mumia lay near death with a bullet in his chest. The cop was dead when paramedics arrived. According to outside witnesses, a man was seen running from the scene, but the witnesses were discredited in court as one was a prostitute, where there was reasonable doubt and other challenges to character. A confessor came forward later stating that he had shot the officer. Yet Mumia wound up on death row and still awaits execution decades after the event, court case, prosecution and sentencing. Appeals to retry have all been denied despite the new evidence that should have cast a light of reasonable doubt. It is hard to suspend ones disbelief over the fact that this is intrinsically racist, especially considering that Jamal had dealings with the Black Panther movement, which attempted to address endemic racism in the US. Such a case throws suspicion over just how far rights extend under the Constitution of the US even before the Patriot Act and Homeland Securities Act wiped them out.
O. J. Simpson: The football star, movie star and multimillionaire was charged with murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her new boy friend, Ronald Goldman. There was plenty of implicating evidence was found around the home, the SUV, gloves, fingerprints, clothing, DNA matched blood, etc. There was the now famous slow motion chase scene down the highway as O. J. sported a weapon and several police cars were in slow pursuit. O. J. Simpson hired a high profile legal team to defend himself. The legal team managed to convince the court of reasonable doubt in the DNA evidence. He was found liable for the deaths, but he appealed the case and the charge was upheld. Despite all of this evidence, the protracted court case ended with a verdict of liability only. When people were polled at large, an overwhelming majority considered him guilty and having gotten away with murder simply because of a combination of money, fame and the potential for a massive race riot as occurred in earlier scenarios. Justice was not blind, but had eyes wide open in this case. Is this a case where the police under reacted because of the high profile nature of their quarry? There should have been an independent body to hold the police accountable.
Rodney King was a black man driving his car on the LA freeway when stopped by a police cruiser. To sum this up briefly, Rodney King, a construction worker was pulled over on an L.A. freeway for a speeding traffic violation. He allegedly resisted the arresting police officer who then called for back-up. When this arrived, some four of the eight to ten police officers began clubbing him senseless on the side of the road while the rest watched. This was captured by a witness with a video camera. Despite the filmed evidence and witnesses, the police were acquitted. This resulted in riots in every major city in the US and Canada for days on end with burning, looting, murder and filmed roadside atrocities across race lines in every direction. Only when the promise of another investigation and subsequent charging of the officers was promised did the mayhem stop. Many innocent people were injured across the race divide. The officers were eventually suspended with pay. An investigation was launched into the whole affair and Rodney King was eventually awarded $3.8 million. Had the police been held accountable for the actions caught on a video, there may have been far less damage than that which resulted when they were exonerated despite the evidence.
When a police state sees a threat, the response is with threats, terror and brutality. Two examples serve as an example of police abuse. One is the Move headquarter in Philadelphia and the other the Branch Davidians in Wako Texas. In the case of the Move headquarters, the police encircled the entire block against a peaceful group of protesters, firebombed the entire block, shot ten of thousands of rounds into the house and made 80 plus families in the neighbourhood homeless as a result of the demonstration of fire power against a peaceful protesting group in one house. This played on prime time TV and radio in the day for the world to see and take note.
The Branch Davidians under David Koresh was a religious “End time” group that was preparing itself for the end of the western order and the expected return of Jesus Christ in Armageddon. They armed themselves expecting violent anarchy in the collapse of the west. The authorities took exception, accused him of molesting children sexuality, encircled the compound for nearly three months, maintained a continual campaign of warlike harassment until they leveled the compound with an assault and firepower that ended up burning alive everyone inside including 80 plus innocent children. These acts were done in a democracy that supposedly protects religious freedom. There are of course other examples.
In each of these cases, there was and outcry and some persists to this day in the lack of justice. The police were held to account in many of these incidents, but this was only after a huge public outcry. In the case of Rodney King, the numerous officers were acquitted of any wrongdoing despite the overwhelming evidence of the massive beating inflicted on Rodney King at the side of a highway by eight to ten police officers, which resulted in riots in every major city in the US and Canada. Only with the promise of reopening the case, was control again established. Some of the officers were eventually charged and dismissed from the LAPD.
The police in every region of the US and Canada are charged to "serve and protect", yet all too often this is forgotten. Sometimes a person placed under arrest is not read their Miranda Rights in the US or Charter Rights in Canada. This alone invalidates arrests and can have a case thrown out of court. This is a piece of information every citizen should know and their right to a lawyer and legal council. Within this context, it is the only thing that can hold the police accountable for their actions. Despite the fact that in the post 9-11 era, almost all of our civil rights have been suspended, it is still important to stand up for the gains of the American Revolution, so insisting on them is still important, even though they have been suspended. Indeed, within the constitution itself is the right of the citizens to remake the revolution if the representatives get too corrupt.
To hold the police accountable for their actions requires the intervention of a third party independent of the police. This should be the court system, but the courts are not present on the streets. In many instances, it is the media that is present and we end up seeing a "trial by media" played out on an unfolding case. This has the danger of prejudicing a case long before it hits the courts.