Yes, I said “the police are lying.” It doesn’t mean all cops are liars. What it does mean is that in *far* too many incidents involving police misbehavior the public gets a spin job at best…and a steaming pile of bullshit at worst.
Maybe you clicked on the headline because you agree, maybe because you’re curious, maybe because you rage clicked. Whatever the reason, let’s discuss some recent, very public events that illustrate the problem. Try to keep an open mind.
First we have the case of George Floyd. We know what happened there, the cops killed a man. After one cop knelt on Floyd’s neck until he died while three other cops did nothing but aid in the murder and yell threats of violence at bystanders begging them to stop:
- Those cops filed false reports that inaccurately described what happened
- The Department public information officer was spinning the media to excuse away what happened based on those false reports
- It was only when video became public the story fell apart, and shit hit the fan
Second, you’ve probably seen the equally horrific incident in Buffalo where an elderly man was pushed to the ground, left motionless and bleeding:
Well, funny thing, the Buffalo Police Department quickly started doing police department things, claiming the man “tripped and fell.”
Just like George Floyd though, the story fell apart because of video evidence, in this case immediately made public via an accredited media outlet. So the shit hit the fan quicker, including a rapid statement from the Mayor that included prompt accountability for the officers involved:
Of course, a good case of police violence or misbehavior isn’t complete without a police union earnestly insisting everything is a-ok. Watch the video then read the statement below, and then you get a pretty good idea why police unions might be a problem here:
Lest we think this is just a one-off problem with one police union, let’s go back to the Minneapolis Police Department and read a couple excerpts from that above-linked New York Times coverage:
Not exactly a strong culture of accountability there. Let’s check to see if the head of police union is however a bulwark of upstanding police work in the community:
While we think about that, let’s move on to Philadelphia, where we shall stipulate a headline that sorts with “‘Police just went nuts…'” might not be off to exactly the best start for the cops.
Here’s video of cops beating the shit out of peaceful protesters:
The Philadelphia Police Department’s motto is “Honor, Integrity, Service”…and…um…not great, Bob.
Now here’s the even bigger problem; once again, it took publicly available video to free one of the victim’s of that beating from jail:
A Temple University student arrested during protests Monday was released from custody Wednesday after video surfaced of one police officer striking him in the head with a baton and another using his knee to pin the student’s face to the street.
Prosecutors dismissed the charges against Evan Gorski, 21, an engineering student, after viewing the YouTube and Twitter videos, according to his attorney, R. Emmett Madden.
Now imagine if there wasn’t video. Imagine if it was simply a he said, he said scenario. Because that’s exactly what was happening otherwise:
“The police were lying,” Madden said. “We had a protest against police brutality, and then police brutalize my client and try to frame him for a crime he didn’t commit.”
“The police were lying.”
Now, thanks to the video, Philadelphia Police Inspector Joseph Bologna – I know, I know, the writers of 2020 are really outdoing themselves – is being charged with aggravated assault.
Lastly, let’s talk about this clip, which speaks for itself. Watch it:
In case there is any confusion, the media have a legal right to report on protests, including after official curfews. This is far from the first accredited journalist attacked by police while doing their jobs under the First Amendment in recent days. You can find more examples in this running thread I have going of police violence during peaceful protests.
Back to the Australian journalists getting a roughed up. Here’s what the police union had to say:
“May have fallen”? Did they trip over the elderly man in Buffalo who got knocked on his ass? They got cold-cocked!
Let’s even set aside the claims of “violent protesters” in a “very dangerous area” since multiple journalists from multiple news outlets reported otherwise (it being a protest outside the White Hose that attracted a lot of media) and video evidence also supports. Yet again, the publicly available video promptly destroys the spin:
Now, the issue of how to change police culture and improve police accountability is complicated. That conversation is going to be happening at every level of government across the country in coming weeks. For now, just consider this:
What in the hell would have happened in these cases if there was no video?
That’s, uh, unsettling.
Now consider: these cases are just a few I found observing events in the last couple weeks. The last three examples occurred in a time when any police officer with a brain had to presume at minimum they’re subject to cell phone footage, let alone a journalist nearby in a widely-covered protest environment.
Which begs the more troubling question: what in the fuck has been going on in police departments across this country in months and years and decades gone by when the cameras weren’t watching?
Are all cops bad? No. Is the culture of all police departments hopelessly irredeemable? No. And yet we are getting slapped in the face especially hard the last couple weeks with facts showing the institutional rot is real and something needs to change.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers on the police reforms we need, let alone as it varies across federal, state, and local levels of government. But, I know they’re necessary.
And I know many of us who for a long time were led to believe the police were invariably deserving of our trust can either keep believing that, or we can acknowledge the steady stream of evidence telling us otherwise.
I hope more police departments will be deserving of reflexive trust in the future. But that’s not where we’re at today.
Bring on the reform debate. It’s needed. Now.