December 6. There’s a “must read” piece in the New York Times by a man who was badly beaten as a youth by New York cops, later became a policeman, rose to the rank of captain and is now Borough President of the Bronx. His name is Eric Adams.
He has this to say about training. “After six months in the police academy, that instruction is effectively wiped out by six days of being taught by veteran cops on the streets.” In effect the veterans told him to protect himself and the hell with the goody-goody stuff he learned in the academy. This brings into doubt the usefulness of any new training the New York City Mayor DeBlasio wants for his officers.
Two other pieces that should be read are by Frank Serpico. Serpico is a retired policeman on disability. He was working narcotics in 1971 making a drug bust and was shot in the head. His fellow officers making the bust refused to help him. The problem was the force in those days was full of bribe takers and Serpico had talked to the New York Times reporters about police crimes on the record. This October Serpico wrote an article for Politico called “The Police are Still Out of Control”. He worte, “Police make up a peculiar subculture in society. More often than not they have their own moral code of behavior, an ‘us against them’ attitude, enforced by a Blue Wall of Silence.” He wrote another article after the grand jury failed to charge for the New York Daily News. One sentence stuck out. He said the general sentiment of police is to think, “It’s my job to get home safe.” It sure as hell isn’t. Police are not hired to become members of an above-the-law caste beating and shooting to enforce whatever they deem to be “order”. Their job is to protect us even if that means taking some risks.
Protecting does not mean immediately going to the gun. In the second article Serpico mentions a policeman he knew who had come under attack by a man with a butcher knife. The attacker was not shot. The policeman disarmed him and cuffed him. That was decades ago, but here’s a case in West Haven, CT just a couple days ago where a man eventually was arrested on 20 separate charges including a gun charge after fleeing by truck from police. He was caught by police and not a single bullet was fired. The point should be obvious. Offenders can be taken down without being attacked like they were Bonny and Clyde.
There is really something wrong about the way this society protects itself. It won’t get better until there’s a complete upheaval that will reorder society and create a different kind of justice system. Instead putting “justice” in the hand of a force of police, judges and jail guards, communities should be watching out for themselves and punishing or correcting people who do bad things. There will always be a need for some professionals, but not a self-interested police/prison complex. We should be looking at the experiences and practices of other countries and other cultures. We have a lot to learn.
What should be done right now? Here are some ideas:
- All cases of suspected police abuse should be handled by special prosecutors, not prosecutors who work with police as a team day to day.
- Take the guns out of the hand of the average policeman. In Great Britain only special squads have firearms and they’re called in only when needed.
- Legalize all drugs (or maybe the word is decriminalize). Much of the human race wants to get high now and then. Prohibition only drives it underground and give rise to unending criminal businesses (see Mexico). Treat drug abuse as a health problem not a legal problem.
- Stop sending military weapons and vehicle to police forces. Suspend the program right now
- Stop sending police to get trained in Israel. That country treats Palestinians horribly. It has nothing to teach us.
- End cruel rules that bar people from public housing because they have a drug offense.
- A huge portion of prisoners are mentally ill. Spend real money facilities that deal with mental health (for free) and teach people that seeking help for mental problems is as obvious as seeking help for a physical injury.
- Figure out some way of dealing with one particular mental disease epidemic, the disease of racism.
- Free political prisoners like Leonard Peltier, Rasmea Odeh, Albert Woodfox and Mumia Abu Jamal. Free thousands who are in jail for drug offenses and guarantee them jobs.
After this was written I noticed a Washington Post article by an ex-policeman about police racism. He says the only way to deal with police brutality is to appoint special prosecutors who will go after the perpetrators and get them locked up. Agreed.