By Mark David Blum, Esq.
"Nearly every day on the television set
the hero cop breaks into the bad guy’s house
and beats a confession out of him and we cheer on the cop.
Propaganda smears our clear vision.
It causes us to accept the diminishment of our
constitutional protections as something to be lauded --
after all, the cop was protecting us." --(Gerry Spence)
Two weeks ago, “something” happened during a routine traffic stop. More importantly, what almost happened was a massacre. Laugh though they will, the abusive behavior of police toward this citizen prompted at least one neighbor to aim a high powered fully automatic rifle at the gaggle of Syracuse Police Officers and if not for the last moment intervention of a third person, this story could have had a completely different ending. (Watch the Music Video Here, “Gang Bangin’, SPD Style”.)
The City is not listening. Police are not listening. Prosecutors are not listening. There is a gang operating on the streets of Syracuse that is being given a clear pass by City Hall to do whatever they want; making all ends justified by the means.
How does this gang handle citizens who sue them? They haunt and hunt and stalk the citizen in hopes of creating a criminal record for the civil plaintiff. Police have to do so as under the current situation, Syracuse Police insist upon absolute subservience. The have surrounded themselves with a high blue wall and live a culture of fear. They have become so afraid of the citizenry, such that the violence is indeed escalating.
As a fundamental part of their training and something taught repeatedly throughout their careers, officers are always drilled on the fact that they must have complete control over a situation. This is considered to be essential to their safety. Under no circumstances is anyone to be on par with the officer. Taking control of the situation can make the difference in who lives and who dies. The officer on the spot is shouldered with the responsibility of not only protecting himself, but he must also keep everyone around him safe.
Basic to exercising this power and control is the Officer is to never be at a level of force on par with the citizen. Even a FIFTY / FIFTY balance of power is totally unacceptable. For Officer Safety and so as to assure Power and Control over a situation, police are trained to always implement a level of “force” above that which confronts them. Running from police is considered a threat, a challenge to their authority, and is disrespectful. They will catch you and bring you down. Ignoring an Officer’s commands can be deadly; regardless of whether the subject is malicious or well intentioned but uninformed. Some Americans still wrongly believe they have they right to question a police officer’s actions, to explain their innocence, not comply with an unlawful order, or resist an unlawful arrest.
In the flurry of ‘get tough’ and ‘protect our police’ laws passed by Republicans in the moments and hours after 9/11, a new law was added that made it a serious felony to engage in an act that results in the injury or death of a police officer. Our lawmakers capitalizing on the sentiment of so many rescuers dead in the Twin Towers, used the passions of the moment to raise up our police officers to a higher social status, such that if you dare and harm one hair on their bodies, you will go down for a very long time. Pandering politicians and Judges needed to look tough on crime.
Does the name “Carncross” ring a bell? Any fool who runs from police merely to avoid a speeding ticket or other traffic matter is an idiot. But just fleeing, without more, should not result in building more prisons or someone dying. A fleeing person is just “fleeing” not escalating the use of force. Merely “fleeing” without more, should not cause a citizen to lose his liberty or life. Police do not see it that way and a dozen lives are now ruined forever.
On any given night on the South Side of Syracuse, police employ a tactic that I like to call a “gang rush”. When not otherwise occupied, police will spot a group of young people standing around. Police will then gather about a block away; perhaps as many as five or more officers are involved. Suddenly, the police will break into a run and charge toward the group standing on the sidewalk. Whoever runs from that charge is going to be targeted for a stop for “resisting arrest” and then searched and run through the system. I have spoken to many kids in local schools who tell me that they run from the cops just because a gang of cops is suddenly charging toward them and the kids are scared.
In a recent trial in Federal Court, a young man told of a day he was skateboarding in the Armory back in 2000 as he had done all his life. Unknown to him, the Common Council had then recently enacted a law which banned skateboarding in the Armory. One evening, while doing his thing, the skateboarder passed two bicycle cops talking on the sidewalk. The skateboarder was in the street when he passed. According to police, they yelled to him to stop. The rider denied hearing anything and kept going.
It is what happened next that makes the point. When it was over, the kid was in handcuffs and in custody and spent the night in jail. His shoulder was badly injured and he had several bruises on his body. His charge? “Resisting Arrest”. Also, he was charged with violating the skateboard ordinance. Taking both sides as having testified truthfully, it is apparent that the police thought the rider heard them, felt “disrespected” when the rider did not stop, and approached the rider with hostility and suspicion. The rider saw himself suddenly approached by police who were being hostile, belligerent, and using their hands for no damn good reason. The rider questioned his stop which provoked an escalation of force, which angered the citizen, which ….
Because of the social trauma the United States suffered back in September of 2001 coupled with the goal of Officer Safety, folks in government and politics have made us all captives to our own fears and ache for vengeance. We now live in a world where we have to “get” every offender. Nobody is allowed to escape. Even the smallest of offenses buried in the closet from decades ago, are coming back to haunt people thanks to algorithms put in place by Homeland Security. We love cops. They have reached the elevated social status of “hero” because they put on the uniform.
Perhaps if we dialed back our efforts at enforcement of the smallest violations of the law, we could return to a kinder, more gentler society. Doing so would require police to stop perceiving every traffic stop as a potential death trap. Not every disagreement with a citizen has to result in a “OGA” charge. No more ‘to-the-death’ chases costing Troopers their lives. Officers would have be less suspicious, more trusting, and obviously more willing to risk injury by trusting their fellow citizen. Overwhelmingly, folks are honorable and unless provoked unnecessarily, people generally do the right thing.
But, unfortunately for all us, police are afraid. Their comfort is found in being at a higher level of force than that which is front of them. To the innocent citizen, an escalation of force is unreasonable which itself prompts an even higher escalation … until finally the deaf mute is dropped face down on the asphalt and backup is called.
Unfortunately, incidents like this happen frequently. Luckily, the ends have drawn the means to light. On many levels, this incident has the potential of a good outcome. Like Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, this case could rip the roof off the shell behind which police have shielded themselves out of fear and angst. We need police to reconsider their training and relationships with the community such that they can find safety being on par with the citizen.