Monday, December 9, 2013

The Thin Blue Lie

A Facebook friend recently posted a link to this video:



Attached was the caption:

The Manchester Police should have ripped these teens out of the car by their damn throats. My parents would have whipped my butt if I acted like these teens did (and even more so if I was dumb enough to record it).

This, of course, generated a fair amount of controversy among commenters.

Eventually the original poster replied:

“if your car gets in an accident on the side of the road, who are you going to call? If your house is getting robbed, who are the first people you call? Get educated on the law before you call THIS State a Police State, because New Jersey is FAR FROM IT. Every police officer who walks up to a car they pull over is practically already wearing handcuffs him/herself because they are extremely limited in what they can do, what they can say, and how they can act. It's to the point where the standards they must abide by in THIS State jeopardize their own safety. New Jersey's protection of civil/criminal rights is more broad than ANY OTHER STATE, broader than the federal laws even provide. Yes, there are outliers, as in every profession - even yours, whatever that may be. But overall, YOU need them. When YOU are running away from a dangerous situation, a police officer (with a wife and kids, hell, maybe even 2 sets of twins), is running TOWARDS it. When YOU get pissed because you got a ticket for speeding, read the statistics about how many people die a year from reckless driving. When YOU sit home and have a holiday meal, there's an empty seat at a family's table so that officer can go out there and protect an ungrateful person like you and the teenagers in this video. When YOU get dressed and go to work, you put on your comfy clothes while a police officer carries the weight of an armored vest. When YOU call 9-1-1 because your infant stops breathing, the police officer who was the first at the scene has to deal with the pressure of giving that infant CPR, and also deal with the emotional aftermath of seeing what most of us could not handle. Before you criticize another police officer, be careful to generalize. Regardless of the outliers, regardless of your personal experiences with just a few, THEY DESERVE RESPECT for the sacrifices they make, for the sacrifices their families make - all for people like you and these teenagers, who sit there and spit in their faces while they do a job neither you, nor I, could handle.”
Because it is excessively long, and I spent a significant amount of time on it, I have decided to post my response here, on this blog in case anyone else is confronted with a similar argument.

Here is my response:

Is being gainfully employed with protected benefits and a pension a sacrifice?

It's not just a few bad apples in law enforcement that spoils the bunch but the systemic and entrenched discretionary authority that protects all police officers and the system of laws they enforce.

Yes, it is a dangerous job, but it's more dangerous to be a farmer or a lumberjack than a police officer. So why the emphasis on law enforcement safety?

According to The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial fund, the three leading causes of death for police between 2003-2012 are: 1. Gunshots (564 incidents) 2. Auto Crashes (457 incidents) 3. Job Related Illness (177 incidents) [http://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/causes.html].

A statistic not provided by the NLEOMF? How many of those gunshots were self inflicted? While I do not have data on gun related suicide specific to law enforcement, the national average is over half of all firearm deaths are self-inflicted [http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/05/24/suicides-account-for-most-gun-deaths/]. Are police officer gunshots deaths in keeping with the national average? According to the Philidelphia Inquirer, there are about 300 annually [http://articles.philly.com/2013-11-26/news/44453343_1_officer-sean-quinn-more-officers-law-enforcement]. That would move more than half of those gunshot deaths into the "Job Related Illness" category, making driving and executing the duties a police officer the two most dangerous things about being a police officer.

Of course, these deaths could be mitigated by psychological counseling and regular automobile operational safety instruction, but those cost money and hinder recruitment/employee retention by making police departments look dysfunctional. Also, because they are directly related to issues of financial compensation, police bureaucracy and political authorities often emphasize the emotional appeal of police officers as "her0es" rather than acknowledge their status as underpaid and exploited employees.

All of that should generate more sympathy for workers in general and police officers in particular, however rather than address any of these labor issues, police departments all over the country have looked for a bogeyman to not only blame for all those dead cops but whose inability to mount a viable defense makes their convictions/plea acceptance more likely.

And who are the most common scapegoats? Look to the prisons and the answer is clear: poor, non-white, young, males. In that order [http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=1006].

The less likely a demographic is able to afford the services of a dedicated attorney, the more likely they are to be targeted by law enforcement.

As an added bonus, in some areas prisoners are counted by the U.S. census for political representation even though their status as felons leaves them unable to vote. The result is a mass forced migration out of urban centers to bolster the political power of wealthy, rural and suburban, state and federal Congressional districts while simultaneously disenfranchising potential political threats to an entrenched hegemony [http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/prisoners-cant-vote-but-they-can-subtly-shift-poli/nb72B/?icmp=statesman_internallink_textlink_apr2013_statesmanstubtomystatesman_launch].

If you have read this far, thank you.

In the following paragraphs, I will address the specific claims made in your response to some of the comments on this post.

1. “if your car gets in an accident on the side of the road, who are you going to call?”

Hopefully, a tow truck or an ambulance. A police officers presence at an accident scene is primarily to protect individual drivers and insurance companies from fraudulent damage claims. [http://www.dmv.org/insurance/protection-against-auto-insurance-fraud.php]

2. “If your house is getting robbed, who are the first people you call?”

The majority of domestic break-ins occur when the tenants are not present [http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/household-safety/security/discourage-break-ins.htm].

3. “Get educated on the law before you call THIS State a Police State, because New Jersey is FAR FROM IT.”

This assumes that a state operates only as a police state or not and disallows the possibility of a broad spectrum of law enforcement related social control and repression. [http://www.salon.com/2013/09/27/americas_terrifying_future_as_a_police_state_partner/]

4. “Every police officer who walks up to a car they pull over is practically already wearing handcuffs him/herself because they are extremely limited in what they can do, what they can say, and how they can act”

While technically true, this fails to address the repercussions for police officers who have violated protocol, the most famous of which is the Rodney King beating in which ALL of the officers involved in the attack were acquitted or hung juries. Even the federal trial only acknowledged the illegality of the last few blows and cited as an inciting incident Rodney King's excessive consumption of alcohol and aggressive behavior. [http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0429.html]

Also, this fails to consider the accompanying responsibility tied to a law enforcer's discretionary authority. The law acknowledges and affords police with added protections and harsher penalties for citizens who violate an officers safety. It is therefore reasonable to expect a higher standard of behavior from an individual afforded that status. [http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2012/06/20/do-law-enforcement-officers-have-a-code-or-a-culture-where-they-overlook-the-transgressions-of-other-cops-or-retired-cops/2/]

5. “New Jersey's protection of civil/criminal rights is more broad than ANY OTHER STATE, broader than the federal laws even provide”

While New Jersey may have broad civil/criminal rights protections, this argument assumes that federal law does an adequate job of protecting civil/criminal rights. That is arguable by degree. [http://www.salon.com/2012/04/20/obamas_dismal_civil_liberties_record/]

6. “When YOU are running away from a dangerous situation, a police officer (with a wife and kids, hell, maybe even 2 sets of twins), is running TOWARDS it.”

The simplest problem with this argument is the fact that when a police officer is the dangerous situation, running from or fighting with them is illegal. Because of law enforcement officers' perceived lack of concern for individual safety when their own is in jeopardy coupled with homo sapiens' subconscious fight or flight response that puts a citizen at a severe disadvantage when they are the target of police aggression. [http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/just-dial-911-the-myth-of-police-protection#axzz2n1fVMqf1]

In addition, police officers have not only been conditioned to overcome automatic responses to dangerous situations, but they are also supported by the full weight of their fellow officers. When a citizen and a police officer fight, other officers are sure to rush to defend the at-risk officer, while a citizen attempt to do the same would aggressively suppressed. [http://newbrunswicktoday.com/article/officer-who-shot-barry-deloatch-resigns-seeks-disability-pension]

7. “When YOU get pissed because you got a ticket for speeding, read the statistics about how many people die a year from reckless driving.”

This argument assumes that speeding tickets are a reckless driving deterrent, however evidence suggests that ticketing is less effective at accident prevention than better road construction and vehicle safety standards. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year]

If the purpose of speeding tickets was to decrease accident related deaths, they have failed. If the purpose of speeding tickets is to generate revenue for cash-strapped municipalities, they have succeeded. [http://www.cbsnews.com/news/speed-trap-more-traffic-tickets-in-cash-strapped-cities/]

8. “When YOU sit home and have a holiday meal, there's an empty seat at a family's table so that officer can go out there and protect an ungrateful person like you and the teenagers in this video.”

This is true of Walmart employees, nurses, security guards, even McDonald's fry cooks and other persons employed by business that operate on holidays. [http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/11/29/walmart-s-black-thanksgiving-woes.html]

9. “When YOU get dressed and go to work, you put on your comfy clothes while a police officer carries the weight of an armored vest”

Police officers in countries where firearms (specifically handguns) are prohibited generally do not walk around armed or wear armored vests for routine foot and traffic patrols. [http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/50601024]

10. “When YOU call 9-1-1 because your infant stops breathing, the police officer who was the first at the scene has to deal with pressure of giving that infant CPR, and also deal with the emotional aftermath of seeing what most of us could not handle.”

That it is problematic for a police officer to be the first responder to a medical emergency should be self-evident, but it also burdens of the state with training officers in emergency first aid. A useful skill, to be sure, but not one that is best practiced by an armed law enforcement officer. Although further study would be needed, this additional responsibility, and the resulting pressure from it, may be a reason why PTSD, alcoholism, and suicide incidence are so high among law enforcers. [http://www.badgeoflife.com/]

11. “If you lead a law abiding life then there is no reason to not trust Police Officers”

This assumes that police officers are always acting the public's best interest and never/rarely make mistakes. Not only are innocent people locked up regularly, but some of them are even executed by the state. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrongful_execution#United_States]


So tell me, what do you think?

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