Progressive Calendar 12.15.12 /3
From: David Shove (
Date: Sun, 14 Dec 2014 23:20:54 -0800 (PST)

*1. Panel - police impunity  12.15.14 7pm  *
* Alemayehu Mariam -  License to Kill - Who Polices the Police in America?*

*3. ed                                    - haiku*

GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER: How Police Kill with Impunity
Panel discussion on the tricks used by the system to cover for police who
   Monday, December 15
   7:00 p.m.
   4200 Cedar Ave, Minneapolis

Panelists include:
    Law Professor Peter Erlinder
    Bettie Smith, Mother of Quincy Smith who was killed by Minneapolis
    Law Professor Robin Magee
    Other invited speaker on the grand jury process

In light of the faulty grand jury proceeding in the Ferguson, MO killing of
Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, it is time to learn about
the legal and societal mechanisms that allow police to avoid accountability
and actions the community can take to change police culture and
increase police accountability.  Join us for an informative discussion.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the rally at the 3rd precinct on
Tuesday, November 25.  Thousands attended and made the action a smashing
success.  Many people have asked "what next?"

It is SO important that people not just march in the streets but that we
take real action to end police brutality. CUAPB has a 14-year history of
effective work on this issue:
--Won a class action lawsuit involving 492 cases that resulted in
Minneapolis cops getting cameras in their squad cars
--Took a case to the US appeals court that secured the right of people
everywhere to film police
--Caused brutal metro gang strike force cop Greg Burstad to be out of work
for a year, giving the Latino and Black communities of Brooklyn Park a lot
of relief. When he didn't fire Burstad, we ran the BKP police chief out of
--Use the data practices act extensively to gather data on police brutality
complaints and successfully sued Minneapolis to make those complaints
--Cop watch regularly and teach people in various communities how to
document police conduct.
--Teach Know Your Rights trainings to all kinds of people in all kinds of
--Provide a 24-hour hotline, line people up with lawyers, secure evidence,
go to court with people, and provide advocacy for people dealing with the
effects of police brutality.
--Working HARD to get thousands of signatures to put a measure on the
ballot that would require cops to carry their own professional liability

These things are not as "sexy" as marching in the street BUT they are
highly effective. We invite you to get involved in the ongoing work that
will actually take on the police policies and practices that enable police
brutality to occur.

If you truly care about this issue, show it! We meet every Saturday at 1:30
p.m. at 4200 Cedar, Minneapolis. Join us!
We meet every Saturday at 1:30 pm.  Join us!
Communities United Against Police Brutality


License to Kill
Who Polices the Police in America?
Weekend Edition December 12-14, 2014

“Our government… teaches the whole people by its example. If the government
becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to
become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”

— U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American, was
approached by at least four New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers
who suspected him of selling contraband (“loosies”) cigarettes outside of a
store. In a cell phone video of the incident, Garner denies doing anything
wrong and that he is constantly harassed by police. He protests to the

‘Every time you see me, you want to arrest me. I am tired of it. It stops
today. Everybody standing here saw I didn’t do nothin’. I did not sell
nothing. Every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me.
You want to arrest me for selling cigarettes. I am minding my own business,
officer. I am minding my own business. I told you for the last time, please
leave me alone… Don’t touch me…’

The police did not leave him alone. A half-dozen police officers pounced on
Garner. One of the officers goes for the jugular and catches Garner by the
neck and puts an illegal chokehold on him. As I saw the video, the image
that instantly flashed in my mind was the gentle wary African buffalo under
savage attack by a cackle of hyenas on the African plains, except the
attack on Garner was happening in the concrete jungle of New York City.

The police slam Garner to the ground. His hands are handcuffed behind his
back. Police officers have their knees on Garner’s back and face as he lay
on the ground. He cries out, “I can’t breathe” eleven times. Tattooed and
pumped up police officers surround Garner inspecting his lifeless body like
hunters on an African safari. They touch various parts of his body to
determine if he is breathing, if he is alive. They do not administer
cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or provide him any aid whatsoever. An
officer says, “He can’t breathe.”

A paramedic arrives on the scene. She feels Garner’s neck to determine if
he has a pulse. She tries to communicate with the unconscious Garner. “Sir,
it’s EMS. We’re here to help you. We’ll get you in the stretcher. Alright?”
She does not administer emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a common
procedure used in situations like Garner’s to help a patient breathe and
restore normal functions. The paramedic walks away. Garner is placed on a
stretcher. Garner was dead on arrival at the hospital.

The cell phone video shows Garner did not pose any threat to the police
officers or anyone else standing outside the store. He stood complaining
about police harassment in a T-shirt and shorts. He was not armed. He did
not shove or attack any police officers nor did he pose any threats to them
at any point in the arrest process. In the end, a half-dozen police
officers pounced on Garner and choked him to death for the crime of selling
untaxed cigarettes. Was Garner a victim of an extrajudicial execution by
NYPD officers?

A New York grand jury “investigated” Garner’s death for nine weeks and
refused to indict (merely issue an accusation, not actually try him for the
crime) Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who put the illegal chokehold on
Garner causing his death so he could stand trial for the death of Garner.
By refusing to indict, the grand jury effectively determined it found no
probable cause (reasonable grounds) that a crime was committed in the death
of Garner. In other words, the grand jury determined Garner died for
reasons unrelated to any actions or omissions by NYPD officers or that
Garner’s death was a justifiable homicide.

For Garner’s family and the millions of people throughout the world who saw
the video of the extrajudicial execution of Garner by the police, the grand
jury’s message was simple: “Are you going to believe us, the grand jury who
sat deliberating the case for nine weeks, or your lying, thieving and
astigmatic eyes?”

What is incredible and incomprehensible about the grand jury’s actions is
the fact that there was substantial evidence to support probable cause that
Officer Pantaleo who is seen in the video putting an illegal chokehold on
Garner is undoubtedly a prime suspect in the second-degree manslaughter of
Garner. Article 125.15 of the New York Penal Law provides: “A person is
guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when: 1. He recklessly causes
the death of another person;…”

The New York law is plain and requires little interpretation: If a person
causes a death in a reckless act, that person is guilty of second degree
manslaughter. Reckless simply means without regard to the consequences of
one’s act or in disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm
to others.

The grand jury also considered the fact that Officer Pantaleo used an
arrest procedure prohibited by the NYPD, which by itself is a reckless act
within the meaning of Article 125.15 of the New York Penal Law sufficient
to charge Pantaleo for second degree manslaughter. The NYPD Patrol Guide
emphatically prohibits use of chokehold:

“P.G. 203-11 Use Of Force Date Effective: 01-01-00. Members of the New York
City Police Department will NOT use chokeholds. A chokehold shall include,
but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may
prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air. Whenever it becomes
necessary to take a violent or resisting subject into custody, responding
officers should utilize appropriate tactics in a coordinated effort to
overcome resistance…”

Officer Pantaleo has a serious history of abuse in making arrests. He had
been sued at least three times prior to the Garner incident. According to
USA Today, “in a 2013 federal court lawsuit Pantaleo and at least four
other officers subjected [the plaintiffs] to ‘humiliating and unlawful
strip searches in public view’ after handcuffing them during a March 2012
arrest on Staten Island.” New York City settled the case with the

On August 9, 2014, Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed an 18 year-old
African American named Michael Brown in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, a
suburb of St. Louis. The undisputed facts in the killing indicate that
Wilson approached Brown and his friend as they were walking in the middle
of a neighborhood street. Officer Wilson told them to get on the sidewalk.
Words were exchanged between Wilson and Brown. A physical altercation
occurred. Officer Wilson fired his gun and struck Brown. Brown and his
friend ran from the scene. Officer Wilson chased Brown and continued firing
at him. Wilson shot twelve rounds. Brown was struck by 7 or 8 of the
rounds. Officer Wilson and other officers left Brown’s dead body in the
street for four hours!!!

The local prosecutor who had authority to charge Officer Wilson chose to
refer the matter to a grand jury. Years ago, the prosecutor’s father was a
police officer who was killed in an incident with an African-American
suspect. Many members of the prosecutor’s family including his mother,
brother, uncle and cousin had served with the St. Louis Police Department.
In 23 years, the prosecutor had taken criminal cases to a grand jury only
five times. In all other criminal cases, the prosecutor’s office had filed
criminal charges against suspects without a grand jury investigation.

The prosecutor presented Officer Wilson’s case to the grand jury to
determine “whether a crime was committed and whether there is probable
cause to believe the defendant committed it”. The grand jury refused to
indict (issue an accusation) Wilson. Wilson’s case was the fifth time in 23
years that the prosecutor had presented evidence to a grand jury in
prosecuting an officer involved in a shooting. In none of the cases the
prosecutor had presented to a grand jury did he obtain an indictment.

On New Year’s Day 2009, Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old African American was
fatally shot in the back by Bay Area Rapid Transit Police (BART) officer
Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California. Mehserle and other BART officers
responded to a disturbance call at a subway station. Mehserle and another
officer forced Grant to the ground and held him. Grant was unarmed.
Mehserle stood up and told his fellow officer, “Get back, I’m gonna Tase
him.” Mehserle pulled out his gun and shot Grant once in the back. The next
morning Grant died. Mehserle was charged with murder, but the jury found
him guilty of involuntary manslaughter (accidental, unintended killing).
Mehserle was sentenced to two years in prison. He completed his sentence in
county jail!

On November 25, 2006, NYPD plain-clothed and undercover officers fired a
total of fifty rounds killing Sean Bell, a 23 year-old African American and
injuring his friends. Bell and his friends were having a bachelor’s party
at a club the officers were investigating for prostitution. Bell and his
friends walked out of the club and got into their cars. They were unarmed.
Witnesses testified the officers without warning began firing at the
vehicle occupied by Bell and his friends. Three officers were charged with
various offenses including second-degree manslaughter. They were acquitted!

On February 4, 1999, four plain-clothed NYPD officers from the Street
Crimes Unit shot and killed a 23 year-old young African immigrant named
Amadou Diallo as he stood outside his apartment. The officers fired a total
of 41 shots, 19 of which struck Diallo. Four officers were charged with
second-degree murder and all were acquitted!

In July 2014, a cell phone video showed an officer of California Highway
Patrol trying to detain a homeless African American woman along the
freeway. She appeared to be moving away from him. The officer grabbed her
and threw her to the ground. In an act of rarely seen savagery by a police
officer, he proceeded to furiously punch her 11 times in the face. He later
resigned from the CHP.

The problem of police abuse of authority and excessive use of force is a
nationwide problem which affects both the smallest and largest police
departments. On December 4, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice issued its
“Investigation of the Cleveland Division of Police”. The report “concluded
that [the Department of Justice has] reasonable cause to believe that CDP
engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation
of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. We have
determined that structural and systemic deficiencies and
practices—including insufficient accountability, inadequate training,
ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the
community—contribute to the use of unreasonable force…”

A study released by the American Civil Liberties Union in October 2014,
showed Boston police officers disproportionately observed, interrogated, or
searched black residents from 2007 to 2010. According to the study, Boston
police targeted Blacks in 63.3% of encounters although Blacks make up less
than a quarter of Boston’s population. “This racial disparity cannot be
explained away by BPD efforts to target crime”, the study concluded.

A 2008 study of racially disparate outcomes in the Los Angeles Police
Department reported that there was “prima facie evidence that African
Americans and Hispanics are over-stopped, overfrisked, over-searched, and
over-arrested. After controlling for violent and property crime rates in
specific LAPD reporting districts, as well as a range of other variables,
we find that: Per 10,000 residents, the black stop rate is 3,400 stops
higher than the white stop rate, and the Hispanic stop rate is almost 360
stops higher.”


It is vitally important to note that it is not only young African Americans
who are targeted for harassment, intimidation and extrajudicial killings
mostly by rogue police officers. Prominent African American actors,
athletes, doctors, lawyers and other professionals have been targeted by
rogue cops for harassment and abuse.

On December 5, 2014, in an op-ed piece on Linked-In, Kaiser CEO Bernard
Tyson compares himself to Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Tyson wrote: “You
would think my experience as a top executive — (Oakland-based Kaiser is a
$55 billion nonprofit organization) — would be different from a black man
who is working in a retail or food service job to support his family. Yet,
he and I both understand the commonality of the black male experience that
remains consistent no matter what the economic status or job title.”

In February 2014, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Cunningham
III, a former police commission president, filed a $10 million lawsuit
against two officers of the UCLA Police Department for racially profiling
him and subjected him to unreasonable force “by shoving him against his
car, handcuffing him and locking him in the back seat of a police cruiser.”

In July 2009, the internationally-celebrated African American Harvard
professor (and close friend of President Barack Obama), Henry “Skip” Gates,
was arrested by Cambridge police officers for breaking and entering his own
house! A white neighbor reported to police that she saw “two black males
with backpacks on the porch,” with one “wedging his shoulder into the door
as if he was trying to force entry.” When the police showed up, Prof. Gates
was already in his house. He turned over his driver’s license and Harvard
ID to the officers and asked for their names and badge numbers. They
refused to provide the information. Prof. Gates stepped out onto his front
porch and was immediately handcuffed and placed in a patrol car. He was
arrested on a disorderly conduct charge for allegedly “exhibiting loud and
tumultuous behavior.” That led to the “Beer Summit” in the White House Rose
Garden when Prof. Gates and the police officer met with President Obama to
discuss the issue.

Even American football heroes are not immune to whims of rogue police
officers. According to a 2013 USA Today report, “In a league in which 66%
of the players are black and 31% are white, black players were arrested
nearly 10 times as often as white players (260 to 28), accounting for 88%
of those NFL traffic-stop arrests.” The study period covered 2000-2013.

I have personally experienced racial profiling. It was a case of “driving a
fancy car while black”. It was the late 1990s. I was driving what some
people might call a “fancy” sports car on a major thoroughfare in the City
of Los Angeles. I was stopped by an LAPD officer who happened to be white.
He asked to see my license and registration. I complied. He checked and
determined that I was the registered owner of the vehicle. I politely tried
to engage him in a brief conversation about “probable cause”. He was not
interested. I asked him if I had done something wrong. He did not respond.
He mumbled something about car thefts in LA. He did not elaborate. He
handed me my license and registration. I thought I would reciprocate the
officer’s courtesy by discreetly jotting down his badge number and the
license plate number on his patrol car. He got into his patrol car. I drove
off. I could see him in my rear view mirror slowly following me for some
distance. I was very unhappy with the whole affair. It was clear to me that
the officer had no legal cause to stop me and most likely thought I was not
the lawful owner of the car. Nine months later, I was able to resolve the
matter with the LAPD satisfactorily. I had another less flagitious
encounter with LAPD in the late 1990s which I shared with Los Angeles


It is unfair and illogical to paint all white police officers as racist.
Police abuse of authority is not the monopoly of any one race. It is
equally absurd to deny the fact that in every police department in America,
there are trigger-happy testosterone-driven rogue cops who have converted
the universal police slogan “to serve and protect” into “to stereotype and
to provoke”, particularly citizens of color. It is immoral to demonize all
police officers. It is equally immoral to demonize all young Black men. It
is not about police power; it is about constitutional rights.

There is no doubt that police officers have a tough and dangerous job to do
keeping the peace. Police are often disliked when they do their jobs and
make lawful arrests or issue a traffic citation. When there is an
emergency, police are called to form the first line of defense. There is
equally no doubt that keeping the peace for the police does not mean
policing the communities they serve as war zones with criminals hiding
behind every rock and in every alley trying to kill them. It is impossible
for a police department to police community when its officers present
themselves as armed predators patrolling the streets or projecting the
image of an occupying militarized force.

When the community points an accusatory finger at the police and declares
the police have year-round “open hunting season” on them, it is time to
pause and take swift remedial action. When the police are perceived by
citizens of color as the police, jury and executioner, it is time to pull
off the Constitution and demand accountability. A peace officer can never
bring peace by a trigger-happy use of the implements of war.


Every time a grand jury refuses to indict (refuse to issue an accusation)
or a petit jury (jury) acquits a police officer of homicide, the practical
meaning of the juries’ actions is that the killing by the police officer is
justified. Justifiable homicide could mean several things: the officer
killed without intending to kill or accidentally, the officer killed in
self-defense or the officer killed in the proper performance of his duties
as a police officer. The troubling fact of the matter is that in the
overwhelming number of cases, police killings of citizens are excused as
justifiable homicides before trial by grand juries or after trial by petit
juries. How could that be?

A recent study by the Wall Street Journal aimed at verifying the accuracy
of the FBI data, examining internal records on killings by officers from
the nation’s 110 largest police departments found, “at least 1,800 police
killings in those 105 departments between 2007 and 2012, about 45% more
than the FBI’s tally for justifiable homicides in those departments’
jurisdictions, which was 1,242, according to the Journal’s analysis. Nearly
all police killings are deemed by the departments or other authorities to
be justifiable. The full national scope of the underreporting can’t be
quantified. In the period analyzed by the Journal, 753 police entities
reported about 2,400 killings by police. The large majority of the nation’s
roughly 18,000 law-enforcement agencies didn’t report any.”


Rogue police misconduct is not limited to excessive or deadly use of force,
harassment, intimidation, racial profiling and others forms of abuse of
authority. Rogue police abuses and misconduct cover the whole gamut– false
arrests, beating and even torturing of suspects, testi-lying (lying in
court), trumping up a case (fabricating charges), filing false police
reports, framing suspects, intimidation, verbal abuse, arbitrary use of
tasers and chemical agents on suspects, improper searches, surveillance
abuse, selective enforcement and on and on.

I take great pride in my legal efforts which helped stop rampant police
misconduct in the interrogation of criminal suspects in California in the
late 1990s. In 1967, the United States Supreme court decided Miranda v.
Arizona, arguably the most famous criminal case in U.S. legal history. In
that case, the Court established what has come to be known as the “Miranda
rule”. That rule requires a police officer to advise suspects they have
arrested or placed in custody of their constitutional rights to remain
silent (and not answer any questions by the officer) and their right to a
court-appointed lawyer during any questioning (interrogation). Any
confessions or admissions by suspects obtained without a “Miranda warning”
are inadmissible in court.

In the early 1980s, and possibly long before that, certain police
departments and prosecutorial offices in California encouraged their police
officers to engage in a practice known as “outside Miranda interrogation.”
That practice basically involved grilling criminal suspects after they
asserted their rights to remain silent and demand a lawyer present during
any police interrogation. The illegal grilling was supposed to aid in
improved crime detection, apprehension and prosecution. Prosecutors and
police departments told their officers that they can continue to
interrogate suspects and obtain confessions that could be used for a
variety of investigative purposes such as neutralizing safety threats,
locating weapons and evidence, identifying witnesses, incriminating
accomplices and obtaining information for search warrants. The officers
were also told that they can grill suspects who have invoked their right to
remain silent and demand a lawyer and obtain admissions that can be used at
trial for impeachment (that is if the defendant testifies at trial, the
officer could testify and tell the jury he was lying because he told a
contradictory story outside of court such as during his arrest.)

In People v. Peevy, I represented a defendant accused of attempted second
degree robbery of a fast food restaurant manager. At trial, the arresting
officer testified that he advised Peevy of his Miranda rights and that
Peevy declined to talk stating, “I would rather have an attorney here.” The
officer did not care. “I kept talking with [Peevy] for impeachment
purposes. I just continued to talk about the crime.” The officer testified
he knew he was violating Peevy’s Miranda rights; but he believed from his
training that he could continue to grill Peevy to obtain evidence for
“impeachment [so that if] the defendant gets up on the witness stand and
starts telling the court he didn’t do it. We can use this. The way I
understand it is we can use it against him.” The trial court allowed the
officer to testify after Peevy testified on his own behalf. Peevy was
convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.

In the California Supreme Court, the principal issue on appeal was whether
an admission obtained in intentional and deliberate violation of the
Miranda rule by a police officer could be used to impeach a defendant who
testifies on his own behalf. (The full opinion of the California Supreme
Court could be read by clicking here.) The Court denied Peevy’s appeal
relying on a line of United States Supreme Court landmark cases: “The
Harris rule [from a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Harris v. New York
(1971)] applies even if the individual police officer violates Miranda and
Edwards by purposefully failing to honor a suspect’s invocation of his or
her right to counsel.”

It was a deeply disappointing outcome as I stated in my interview with the
Los Angeles Times. “The whole notion of deterring police misconduct during
interrogations has been dealt a severe blow. It is a grand invitation to
officers in the field to engage in deliberate disregard of Miranda and to
interrogate until the suspect makes incriminating statements.” I filed a
petition for review in the United States Supreme Court. After directing the
California Attorney General to respond to our petition, the Court denied
certiorari (an order directing the California Supreme Court to deliver its
record in the Peevy case) in People v. Peevy, 17 Cal.4th 1184, cert.
denied, 525 U.S. 1042 (1998).

However, for a small group of lawyers dedicated to defending the American
constitutional right against self-incrimination and the right to counsel,
the California Supreme Court decision was merely a bump on the road. We
shifted the battleground to put an end to the egregious police misconduct
of intentionally and deliberately disregarding suspects’ rights to remain
silent and have a lawyer present during custodial interrogation to the
California State Legislature and the federal courts. Others kept the fight
in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The first decisive victory in the defense of the Miranda rule came in 2000
in Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428. In Dickerson, a purported
Congressional overruling of Miranda was challenged. The issue in Dickerson
echoed Peevy’s. The underlying rationale for “outside Miranda
interrogation” was the claim that Miranda warnings were actually not
compelled by the U.S. Constitution, but rather they were measures merely
enacted as a matter of judicial policy. In other words, the Miranda rule is
NOT a constitutional but a judge made rule.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist slammed the idea that the Miranda rule is a
judge made rule. Writing for the majority, Rehnquist held that Miranda was
a “constitutional decision” of the Supreme Court and that such decisions
cannot be overturned by a law passed by Congress. He argued that the
Miranda rule is established precedent and that “the principles of stare
decisis weigh heavily against overruling it now…” He noted that “Miranda
has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the
warnings have become part of our national culture.” Dickerson established
the Miranda rule is a constitutional rule!

In 2000, in California Attorneys for Criminal Justice v. Butts, the Ninth
Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled police who violate Miranda and coerce
confessions from suspects may be held personally liable. The Court held
that questioning outside Miranda is something “a reasonable police officer
should have known [to be] improper.” The Court declared, “Officers who
intentionally violate the rights protected by Miranda must expect to have
to defend themselves in civil actions.” In other words, police officers
could be sued in their individual capacity (not as police officers) in a
civil case and be forced to pay damages to victims.

In March 2001, California State Senator Gloria Romero introduced Senate
Bill 1211requiring that “Peace officers shall be trained that pursuant to
the holdings of Harris v. New York (1971) 401 U.S. 222 and People v. Peevy
(1998) 17 Cal.4th 1184, it is impermissible to continue to question a
suspect who is in custody once that suspect has invoked his or her right to
remain silent, or right to have an attorney present…”

In 2003, in People v. Neal, the California Supreme Court finally validated
our central argument in Peevy. The Court held, “…[W]e conclude not only
that those confessions were inadmissible in the People’s case-in-chief
because they were obtained in violation of Edwards, but also that they were
inadmissible for any purpose because they were involuntary. The consequence
of the officer’s misconduct—the absolute inability to introduce the
confessions at trial—is severe, but is intended to deter other officers
from engaging in misconduct of this sort in the future.”


There is a massive body of policy studies and recommendations on how to
deal with issues of police biases, racial profiling, excessive use of force
and so on. There is a consensus of expert opinion on how to reduce racial
tension between the police department and the community, prevent riots and
destruction of property, improve officer safety, enhance the overall
perception that community members presently have about police officers and
improve community relations. Many experts have suggested a key solution is
found in community policing (collaborative partnerships between the law
enforcement agencies and community leaders and organizations to develop
effective solutions and increase trust in the police) and improved training
including sensitivity training for police officers. Some say the police
should act as peace officers and not paramilitary forces. They should be
demilitarized. Many are now suggesting police officers should be equipped
with on-body cameras to record citizen contacts and arrests. I believe all
of these and other proposals are workable, reasonable and likely to produce
significant positive changes in reducing police abuse of authority.

My personal view is that police abuse and misconduct is a structural
problem made worse by rogue cops. In other words, the leadership of police
departments and local governments tolerate and implicitly encourage
aggressive law enforcement particularly in communities of color. Given the
lack of direct and decisive action by the police and local political
leadership to prevent police abuse of authority combined with a police
culture of silence, it is unlikely that any real change could take place in
the relations between police and communities of color.

My proposals are slightly different and three-fold. As the Ninth Circuit
held in California Attorneys for Criminal Justice v. Butts, there needs to
be a law or judicial precedent which simply states, “Police officers who
intentionally violate the rights of citizens in their line of duty must
expect to have to defend themselves in civil actions.” In other words,
police officers who intentionally violate the rights of citizens could be
sued in their individual capacity (not as police officers) in a civil case
and be forced to pay damages to victims out of their own pockets!

There is no reason why taxpayers should fund the criminal acts of police
officers. The cost of polcie abuse to tax payers is enormous.
Brutality-related lawsuits have cost Chicago taxpayers $521 million over
the last decade. In 2013 alone, the City of Chicago paid out $84.6 million
in settlements, judgments, legal fees and other expenses, more than triple
the budgeted amount. In 2011, New York paid out a mind-boggling $735
million for police abuse and other claims. Other cities including
Baltimore, New York, Dallas, Denver, Cleveland and many others have shelled
out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle police abuse cases over the
past decade.

Second, state laws should make it easy for civilians suing police officers
in brutality and misconduct cases to access the personnel files of the
officers in such prior actions. For instance, in California, defense
lawyers often file a “Pitchess motion” (named after a California Supreme
Court case Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974)) when they believe that their
client has been the victim of police misconduct including use of excessive
force, racial profiling ,coercing confessions, and dishonesty in police
reports, etc. But courts and police departments constrict the use of a
Pitchess motion allowing for very little useful information from the
officer’s personnel files to be revealed to the victim. Police departments
often destroy records of police misconduct complaints after 5 years.

Third, police departments should tighten their internal disciplinary
procedures and maintain higher standards of professional and ethical
conduct from their officers. Police officers who engage in serious ethical
violations should be sanctioned and even fired regardless of whether
criminal charges were filed. All professions have ways of sanctioning their
members for noncriminal activity that involves “dishonorable, unethical or
unprofessional conduct of a character likely to deceive, defraud, or harm
the public.” Police officers should be held to the same ethical and moral


As I have repeatedly indicated in this commentary, I do not believe all
white police officers are inherently racist. I also do not believe no
African American, Hispanic, Asian police officers engage in police
misconduct or abuse of authority. All professions have their bad apples.
There are bad lawyers, doctors, engineers and so on. Police departments are
microcosms of American society. They reflect the flaws of the broader
society. But there are real issue of racial injustice in American law
enforcement. Last week, New York Times columnist Nick Kristoff observed:
“White Americans may protest that our racial problems are not like South
Africa’s. No, but the United States incarcerates a higher proportion of
blacks than apartheid South Africa did. In America, the black-white wealth
gap today is greater than it was in South Africa in 1970 at the peak of

In over two decades of criminal defense law practice, I have learned that
there are some individuals who should never have been allowed to become
police officers or join any law enforcement agency. There are some
individuals on police forces in the U.S. who not only wear a badge but also
carry huge chips on their shoulders. They are angry and hateful individuals
who are mad at the entire world. They lack the temperament, maturity and
mental stability to become responsible police officers. They view their
membership in the police department not as peace officers but as members of
a “legal” gang with a license to beat, shoot and kill anyone they want.
They regard their badge as a license to kill and abuse citizens with
impunity. They hide behind the “blue wall of silence” and commit crimes.
They come to believe that they are accountable to no one. They know that if
they commit a crime, it is unlikely that they will be indicted by a grand
jury or brought to trial. They know they are unlikely to face disciplinary
actions before the police boards. They believe they are in fact not
officers of the law but officers above the law. They develop a conviction
that they can commit any act brutality, harassment, discrimination, false
arrest or abuse of power without fear of sanctions or penalty. They become
rogue police officers.

When rogue police officers are immersed in the Manichean culture and
mentality of “Us, the good guys” and “Them, the bad guys”, things go awry
often for citizens of color. The rogue police officers see themselves as
guardian angels and everyone else, especially people of color, as sinister
demons. Their little world becomes the grand battleground for good and
evil. They must stick together at all costs. They can only trust and rely
on each other. If they do wrong, it is covered up. It is swept under the
rug of silence.


The greatest privilege of being American is the protection one has by a
living, breathing Bill of Rights. It is easy for many African Americans to
give up on their rights because of the abuse and mistreatment of rogue
police officers. That is the greatest victory anyone can hand the rogue
police officers. In his farewell speech in 1837, U.S. President Andrew
Jackson said, “ … eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty,
and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing.” As
Americans we must fight for our liberties every day and pay whatever price
is required to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our
Posterity” as stated in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Frederick
Douglass, a former slave in America turned abolitionist, echoed a similar
sentiment. “The limits of tyrants are proscribed by the endurance of those
whom they oppress… If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who
profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want
crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and
lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be
both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing
without a demand. It never did and it never will.”


In his grand jury testimony, Officer Darren Wilson testified that when he
looked in the face of young Michael Brown, “It looked like a demon”. When
he got out of his patrol car and fired a dozen shots, he must have believed
he was shooting at a black demon, not a human being. I wonder if Officer
Wilson thought that when Michael Brown looked at his face, he too saw a
demon, a “white demon”.

The sad fact of the matter is that there was a real but invisible demon
standing between Officer Wilson and young Michael Brown. It is a demon with
no color, with no face and no race. It was the demon of racism, hate, abuse
of power, a police culture that tolerates abuse and brutality. That demon
is the threat to American liberties. That is why all Americans must join
hands and banish the demon from the land once and for all.

Violence does not bring justice or peace. Violence begets more violence.
Some rogue police officers may believe police power comes from the barrel
of the gun. Law of the gun must be replaced by the rule of law. A gun in
the hands of an angry, frustrated, insecure police officer is a time bomb
waiting to go off at any time.

I do not believe that Officer Darren Wilson got up on the morning of August
9, 2014 to kill Michael Brown. But I believe Darren Wilson had the mindset
developed over the years that predisposed him to kill. Officer Wilson came
from a small police department in Jennings, Mo., that was so torn by racial
strife between its white officers and black residents that the City Council
fired the whole force and built a new one. Officer Wilson likely brought
his issues to Ferguson, Missouri.


It is absurd to believe that most individuals who seek to be policemen do
so with the motivation to brutalize and abuse citizens. Some who become
police officers may be attracted by the power and status of the job. I have
to believe that, given the dangerous and stressful nature of police work,
the vast majority of those who join police forces do so to help people and
protect society.

Unfortunately, police power like any other kind of power exercised by
humans is inherently corrupting. A police officer who feels unaccountable
to anyone, invincible and cynical sooner or later becomes misguided and
begins to misuse his power to arrest with a sense of unchallenged
authority. S/he begins to expect that s/he commands obedience and respect
from the public by the virtue of the fact s/he wears a uniform and a shiny
chrome badge.

Who polices the police? I would like to think each police officer would
police him/herself by conforming his conduct with the requirements of the
Constitution. I would like to believe each police officer would have the
integrity and ethical standard to perform their duties with a clear
conscience and professional integrity. But I may be naive in my
expectations. That is why I have proposed my three policy prescriptions

I hear a lot of talk about a “conversation about race”. That is great. What
happened to Eric Garner, Michael brown and the rest is not a conservative
or liberal issues. It is a human dignity issue. It is an American issue of
justice under the law. we should all discuss it.

I hope the “conversation on race” will not end up demonizing one side or
the other but humanizing all sides. I hope we will not criminalize one side
and canonize the other in the national conversation. I hope we will not
para-militarize one side and racialize the other.

I am a firm believer in Dr. Martin Luther King’s teachings. He said, “In
the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk
about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative,
understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any
individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and
power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be
caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.” All
Americans must rise up and defeat a system that dehumanizes and deprives
any American of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It has been my greatest honor and privilege to defend American civil
liberties. There is no greater honor that I could receive than the
opportunity to remain in the trenches fighting the powers that be wherever
they be. I am proud that the Peevy decision has been cited in hundreds of
cases throughout the United States, including the United States Supreme
Court. I am proud that Peevy now is cited as legal authority with landmark
criminal cases in American criminal law such as Miranda, Edwards and
Harris. I am proud that I helped stop a particularly insidious type of
police misconduct in California and elsewhere.

I have not commented much on human rights issues in America. My primary
preoccupation over the past eight years has been human rights in Ethiopia
and Africa. However, there is absolutely no question that my passion
defending American civil liberties is no less than my passion in defending
human rights in Ethiopia or other parts of Africa. That is because I am
convinced to a moral certainty that the enemies of liberty have no race, no
ethnicity, no gender, no conscience, no morality, no country and no
nationality. If the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, I will gladly
remain in the legal trenches eternally.

Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches Political Science at California State
University, San Bernardino.His teaching areas include American
constitutional law, civil rights law, judicial process, American and
California state governments, and African politics. He has published two
volumes on American constitutional law.

This article originally appeared on Pambazuka News.


Ruling class asses
need unrestriectd passes
from us ruled masses.


    If you question authority
    it isn't.
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