Monday, September 11, 2006

Police brutality: the new American way?

The following article, entitled “Totalitarianism, American-Style,” by John W. Whitehead, appeared in The Rutherford Institute’s Faith and Freedom Newsletter on 8/21/2006. As someone whose father-in-law was a police officer, I realize that many "peace officers," as they used to be known, are true public servants. But, as my father-in-law often acknowledged, there are those who have no regard for the lives or liberties of those they profess to serve.

With reports of police brutality cropping up nationwide, it’s little wonder that more and more Americans are concerned that law enforcement officials are becoming a law unto themselves.

In Rock Hill, S.C., a 75-year-old woman, who was suffering from arthritis and six broken ribs, was subjected to a 50,000-volt shock from a police taser gun because she had refused to leave a nursing home before making sure that a friend who lived there was safe.

In Portland, Ore., a 71-year-old woman was pepper-sprayed and tasered after trying to prevent her personal property from being removed from her yard after government officials determined that her yard was too unsightly.

And in Seattle, Wash., two police officers tasered an eight-month-pregnant woman during a traffic stop after she refused to sign a traffic ticket.

These incidents are not the norm. Unquestionably, there are many law-abiding police officers who strive to abide by their oath of honor to uphold the Constitution and serve and protect the citizens of their communities. And rarely do these public servants get the appreciation they deserve for their efforts to maintain the peace in our communities.

However, we are witnessing a change in the way that law enforcement views its role, from one that was a servant to the people to one that is the arm of an increasingly totalitarian government.

An incident in Miami during the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas summit highlights the problem.

Hundreds of mostly college-aged demonstrators had gathered to voice their concerns about the detrimental effect of a trade pact on developing countries. In anticipation of protests, police had equipped themselves with riot gear and guns designed to fire rubber bullets and prepared to face off with the demonstrators.

Coral Gables attorney Elizabeth Ritter joined the protesters on one of the summit’s final days. However, it wasn’t trade issues that prompted her to pick up a protest sign and join the throngs. She was upset because the police had all but shut down the city that week, including the courthouse. “My city, my hometown, was becoming a police state,” she said.

Video footage (see below) from that day shows Ritter walking alone, wearing a red suit jacket and waving a hastily drawn sign that proclaimed, “Fear Totalitarianism.” When approached by a squad of law enforcement officials in riot gear, Ritter turned to face them and raised her sign. The police began firing rubber bullets, which often leave welts and bruises and at close range can even break the skin. Ritter knelt down, using her sign as a shield. Five times she was shot, in the legs, upper body and shoulders. One of the rubber bullets tore through the sign and hit her directly on the head. Stunned, she stood up, facing the police, and asked, “Why did you hit me? Is a woman in a business suit a threat?”

In a police training video that was recorded the following day and only recently released, police officers are shown praising each other for shooting the summit protesters with rubber bullets. One policeman refers to the protesters as “scurrying cockroaches”; another jokes about a protester who was hit in the head with a rubber bullet, saying, “And the lady in the red dress…I don’t know who got her, but it went right through the sign and hit her smack dab in the middle of the head!” The police officers erupt in laughter.

A civilian panel investigating charges of excessive police force used at the 2003 summit has now concluded that police indiscriminately used weapons such as stun guns and conducted unlawful searches and arrests during the summit. Moreover, a number of lawsuits claiming that police officers used excessive force and made false arrests while attempting to control the crowds have been filed against the various law enforcement agencies, including the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Miami Police and Miami-Dade Police. But it is the laughing response of the police officers in the training video, more than the riot gear, stun guns or the indiscriminate use of force to quell dissent at the summit, including rubber bullets, that has struck a nerve.

Riding roughshod over the Constitution is no laughing matter. With every incident of excessive police force that is allowed to occur unchecked, we slip further into a police state.

We should all heed the advice of the lady in the red dress: “Fear Totalitarianism.”

Available online.

2 Comments:

Blogger Dr. D's Diagnosis said...

Whoa Jules! That is a heavy post lady . . . and I thought I was the one living in a police state! D

September 12, 2006 2:43 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

Yeah, sometimes reality can be a little too heavy for our tastes! Interestingly, I've known American citizens who have lived under military dicatorships who said they felt they had more freedom in those countries than they do here in the good ol' U.S. of A.

September 12, 2006 12:48 PM  

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