Cops Gone Wild

There are police departments, I’m sad to say, that you just don’t want to associate with.  I travel around a good bit and I really want nothing to do with the NYPD, Metro DC, LAPD, San Francisco PD (don’t be gulled by the city’s peace and love reputation) and NOPD (which officially stands for New Orleans Police Department, but if you’ve ever needed assistance in the Crescent City, you know it actually stands for Not Our Problem, Dude).

But I don’t live in those cities; I live in Vermont (talk about a peace and love reputation…).  We’re in the midst of a heated Democratic primary for attorney general and no one’s mentioning Vermont’s cops gone wild problem.

In the past few years we’ve had a child pornography scandal at the police academy, the investigation of which pretty much died off after one instructor thought to be involved committed suicide, we had a small town police chief cruising in an official vehicle sky-high on pharmaceuticals, side-swiping parked cars, a police officer who stole a flat-screen tee vee from under a neighbor’s Christmas threw it in the river when other members of the ragged blue line were closing in on him.

There was the incident where a man in the midst of a medical emergency in his own home was Tased and beaten.  The sitting AG found nothing wrong in that case.  (The victim was semi-conscious when the cops arrived, so why Tase him?  Oh right, he was black.  There’s your Vermont peace and love.)

State troopers are in the midst of a scandal in which at least one sergeant bilked the state out of tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent overtime pay.  Earlier this summer another trooper fired a Taser into the chest of a man who had recently suffered an epileptic seizure, killing him.  (Tasers, btw, should not be fired at the torso.  Police officers are trained to fire guns at a target’s torso, to decrease the potential of missing; Tasers should be fired at hips and legs.  The trooper in question had not been trained in Taser use.)

Another state trooper had to be stopped while assaulting two youths who he thought had used his canoe without permission, yet another was resigned after harassing an ex-girlfriend.

Earlier this year, troopers killed an unarmed man suspected of burglary.  It was explained in the papers that the man “committed suicide by cop,” allegedly holding a cell phone as if it were a gun.  That man was shot not in the torso, but the back.  How does one manage to be shot in the back while “committing suicide by cop”?  The police explained that the man had turned sideways to present a small target to the trooper.  Why someone who was trying to get a trooper to shoot him would then present a small target has never been explained (nor has the Vermont media asked, it seems).

An exception to all this has been the Burlington Police Department, which has remained scandal free.  I know members of the Burlington PD and have great respect for their work.  I’m happy to give them my tax dollars.

A few weeks ago, Burlington hosted a meeting of New England governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.  The meeting was closed unless one bought a ticket, which was too expensive for normal folks but quite affordable for corporations, who want to talk hydropower (flooding land) and oil pipelines (hello, tar sand oil spills!).

Protesters were there, calling out the oligarchic nature of the meeting.  The police – a mixed local and state force – had good rapport with all sides, until protesters blocked a bus carrying meeting attendees from leaving the hotel.  Pepper balls and rubber projectiles were fired into the crowd.

At first, police said an officer was punched.  Then, no he wasn’t punched, he was dragged.  Then there seemed to be no evidence of that.  Then the police said they didn’t use rubber bullets, then it was mini rubber projectiles that somehow differ from rubber bullets.  Then the police said they’d “overheard” there might be violence.  Then they said it was because protesters were dressed in black and carried milk (as a treatment for tear gas or pepper spray).  Protesters pointed out that the police had a bit of riot gear of their own and that since the FBI was looking for activists in the days before the meeting, they had cause to expect an over the top police presence.

I could go on, but I think you see my point.  Police are given extraordinary power in our society.  They are the only ones who can be legally violent.  With power comes responsibility and what should be high standards of behavior.  It’s human nature to use all the power one is allotted and then grab for more.  When police start to be more of a threat than a safeguard to civil order, it’s time for us all to take action to rein them in.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

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