Adrian Lesher, a staff attorney with the NY Legal Aid Society, writes with the following observation about police abuses-of-power during the Wall Street protests, noting that he's speaking not for Legal Aid but for himself:Police need to be held accountable. In British Columbia most policing is done by the federal police, the RCMP, and they refuse to allow any outside group to investigate complaints against them. Consequently they have a very long history of abuse from beating to killing. And they literally get away with murder. I'm all for a professional police force and I'm willing to pay to attract top quality people to the field. What I'm against is thugs in uniform getting their jollies beating up those at the bottom of the social heap because they know they can get away with it. (Click on the tag "police" to see other cases of police abuse including many by RCMP.)One point that I haven't seen made is that this sort of abusive behavior is reported routinely by people of color and by people of lower economic status. Yet their complaints are routinely dismissed or ignored in the media. Sometimes it takes middle and upper class white people getting hurt to get the media moving.Of course that's true. But I think there's an additional interesting and crucial element in this case. Despite the largely white, largely educated nature of the crowd in these protests, to me it's obvious that the abuse stories would have disappeared if not for the videos. Very much like the original Rodney King police-beating video, they have the amazing property of rendering debate moot. The NYPD spokesman can talk all he wants about the pepper-spraying being "appropriate." But no reasonable person who spends a minute looking at the video, even allowing for selectivity in filming, can think that the coward-cop* behaved appropriately (or in accordance with NYPD guidelines).
And the make-or-break nature of the videos in this case not only raises the obvious questions about the other cases that are never captured. It also underscores the importance of a point another reader makes:What disturbs me most about this incident - even more than the abuse of pepper spray - is the evident targeting of people carrying cameras and video cameras. Also, the focus on going after women. In one of the videos we see a different white-shirted cop seize a loudly-protesting dark-skinned woman by her big head of hair, drag her across the barricade and smash her head on the ground. (I think this is the attack that caused the group of women to start freaking out, just before the pepper spray attack) Yes, granted, she's being very loud and obnoxious, but she appears to be behind the netting and is not offering any physical threat to the cop.Yes. The only time I got in trouble with the police in China, as I'll say more about in a forthcoming book, was when I made the same mistake -- that of taking pictures of cops who were roughing up someone else. At the time I thought: cops hyper-sensitive about being photographed? What do I expect: this is authoritarian China. It turns out that I could just as well have been saying: this is America. This is New York.
In another one of the videos, apparently taken just prior to the pepper spray attack, a large woman with what looks to be a professional-level video camera is set upon by police, pulled into the street, thrown down and handcuffed. It doesn't appear that she did anything wrong at all, or even said anything, before being targeted. I think these elements of the story are worth going into. If the cops are intent upon preventing citizens from taking photos/video of them doing their work, there's obviously a problem.
For the record: police have a hard job; most of them (especially the blue shirts rather than the higher-ranking white shirts) in these videos seem to be keeping their cool, often under provocation; videos could be selective or misleading; and the point is not to be anti-police. But enough people in uniform, starting with the coward, seem to have assumed that they could casually abuse people and not be called on it, that they need to be called.
* And, yes, OK I know from the Daily Show last night that the pepper sprayer, Anthony Bologna, is on the verge of being immortalized Onion-style as "Tony Baloney." There is a danger of the whole episode passing straight to oddball joke status. You can imagine this guy showing up soon on the talk shows, Joey Buttafuoco style. But there is a serious side to it -- which is why I have harped on it this long.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
James Fallows on Police Abuse of their Power
Here is a bit from a post by The Atlantic editor James Fallows in his blog: