A System Built to Protect Police Abuse and Criminal Behavior

It may come as a shock to some that Officer Derek Chauvin, the cop who choked George Floyd to death for nine agonizing minutes, had faced eighteen complaints against him previously and still remained on the police force. But despite the fact that eighteen complaints is probably a good indication you have a bad cop on your force, it’s not uncommon for them to retain their job. In fact, it’s routine.

In October 2019, USA Today created a database of police records and reported that they had found at least 85,000 police officers who had faced some form of disciplinary action in the last decade:

“Officers have beaten members of the public, planted evidence and used their badges to harass women. They have lied, stolen, dealt drugs, driven drunk and abused their spouses.

Despite their role as public servants, the men and women who swear an oath to keep communities safe can generally avoid public scrutiny for their misdeeds.”

When cops do bad things it’s not like when you screw up a TPS report at work. More times then should be acceptable in this country, cops get away with egregious, deceitful, violent, and criminal behavior because the system allows them to with just a slap on the wrist. The unspoken “thin blue line of silence” means that cops are willing to turn a blind eye to abuse while our corrupt judicial system, conflicts of interest, and police unions not only protect cops from prosecution, they help them retain their jobs.

Coverups and Conflicts of Interest

When a police department is finally forced to face the public over a cop like Chauvin who has gone completely off the reservation, the city doesn’t want to look bad, the mayor doesn’t want to look bad, and the police chief (who many times is the one who created or at least condoned a toxic culture within a department) doesn’t want to look bad. They may not give a shit that a black man was killed at the hands of one of their officers but they definitely care about being held accountable.

Burying evidence is of course one way to try and save yourself. Remember the murder of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year old black kid who was gunned down by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke because he was allegedly swinging a knife at officers? The officers lied and the department buried the dash cam footage for as long as they could. When the video was finally released it showed an entirely different story than what officials had said previously and Van Dyke was arrested and charged. After McDonald’s murder, the DOJ conducted an investigation into the Chicago police department and found a “culture of excessive violence.” Go figure.

So what’s a department to do when Officer Billy guns someone down in a hail of bullets because he was ::cough cough:: resisting arrest—besides trying to bury the evidence? For starters, there’s always the county prosecutors.

In the words of Hennepin County prosecutor Mike Freeman:

 “That [George Floyd] video is graphic, horrific, and terrible. And no person should do that. But my job, in the end, is to prove that he violated a criminal statute and there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.”

At that moment everyone should have seen the “underlying health conditions” writing on the wall and there’s an entire article that could be written here about coroners’ reports but keeping with the story… according to Alexandra Hodson’s “The American Injustice System: The Inherent Conflict of Interest in Police-Prosecutor Relationships & How Immunity Lets Them ‘Get Away with Murder,'”

“[P]rosecutors have broad discretionary power in deciding whom to charge, which presents a clear conflict of interest when local prosecutors handle cases against the police officers they work with on a daily basis. There is no group more closely linked to prosecutors than the officers they work with daily, and local prosecutors have the job of prosecuting police officers who commit crimes. “

“Perhaps the most disconcerting facet of the police-prosecutor relationship, though, is that officers who kill people, even when unjustified, are often never brought to answer for their actions…This conflict has been especially evident in the wake of the highly publicized killings of unarmed victims in recent years where prosecutors refused to charge the police involved. And because prosecutors have absolute discretion in determining who to prosecute, and absolute immunity protects them from a suit alleging that they have failed to do their job, there is no remedy available to these victims or their families when an officer effectively gets away with murder.”

It was reported earlier today that Officer Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter but charges in no uncertain terms equate to a conviction especially when the defendant is a cop. If Freeman’s comments and the reported probable cause of Floyd’s death are any indication, the county is not going to go out of their way to convict Chauvin without continued public pressure.

The Thin Blue Line of Silence

Besides conflicts of interest, loyalty among the ranks breeds corruption and bad behavior. If there’s one thing you can’t rely on it’s cops blowing the whistle on other cops even if their conduct is outrageous, racist, abusive, or even criminal. Going back to the McDonald case, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel admitted that there’s an unspoken rule among police officers that you don’t rat out your colleagues:

“Emanuel broke with the city’s long history of denying the existence of the code of silence. He spoke of ‘problems at the very heart of the policing profession,’ and said: ‘This problem is sometimes referred to as the Thin Blue Line. Other times it’s referred to as the code of silence. It is the tendency to ignore, deny, or in some cases cover up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues.’”

The idea of a “thin blue line,” is depressing, disgusting, and does nothing to root out dangerous individuals within a department. But think about this. Most people don’t even have the courage to call out their own friends, associates, and colleagues for their abusive behavior because they’re afraid of what others might think, the repercussions, or they can’t afford to lose their jobs. So what do you think the odds are that a cop under pressure from other cops is somehow going to act (morally) any better than you or I?

Of course every police officer in this country should be held to a higher standard and upholding the law, not breaking it. They should be protecting the values this country allegedly champions like civil liberties and freedom but within the system we’ve built, it’s hard enough to nail these guys for murder let alone domestic violence and sexual assault.

But let’s say a cop does find himself/herself under investigation for misconduct or even a criminal act. Many are given special treatment and it’s called the “Law Enforcement Bill of Rights” or LEOBoR. Sixteen states have passed some form of LEOBoR legislation including Minnesota where both Philando Castile and George Floyd were murdered. You might remember the Castile case where a cop unloaded seven bullets into Castile at point blank range while he was sitting in his car with his wife and 4-year old daughter. The officer was cleared of all charges.

According to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake during the Freddie Gray case, officials were not able to “fully engage” with the officers who were under investigation “because of our Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.”

“A set of due-process rights for police officers under internal investigation for alleged misconduct, Maryland’s LEOBoR includes a provision that the officers cannot be forced to make any statements for 10 days after the incident, during which time they are presumed to be searching for a lawyer. It is partly because of this ‘cooling-off period’ — to critics, a convenient delay for the cops to tidy up their stories — that so little has been said by the only people who know what took place within that vehicle.”

Maryland’s provisions also call for officers to be questioned “for a reasonable length of time, at a reasonable hour, by only one or two investigators…and with plenty of breaks for food and water,” as if somehow cops are more deserving of this treatment than the rest of us, especially minorities and lower class citizens. Additionally, even after an investigation has been opened:

“The records of their misconduct are filed away, rarely seen by anyone outside their departments. Police unions and their political allies have worked to put special protections in place ensuring some records are shielded from public view, or even destroyed.”

And going back to the conflict of interest between police officers and prosecutors, theappeal.org reported that despite cases of police perjury and misconduct, prosecutors’ “internal assessments usually remain behind closed office doors,” despite the fact they have the “most direct information on police lying.”

Police Unions

I’m generally an avid supporter of unions for the sake and protection of the working class but I can say unequivocally that police unions are part of the problem. You may think that police officers are part of the working class but what most people seem to forget is that they’re also a puppet or a tool for a racially biased judicial system controlled by the establishment. This is who the police unions protect, people who literally help the one-percent “keep the man down.” According to The Atlantic:

“[A]ll over the U.S., police unions help many of those cops to get their jobs back, often via secretive appeals geared to protect labor rights rather than public safety. Cops deemed unqualified by their own bosses are put back on the streets…That isn’t to say that every officer who is fired deserves it, or that every reinstated cop represents a miscarriage of justice…But in practice, too many cops who needlessly kill people, use excessive force, or otherwise abuse their authority are getting reprieves from termination.”

And when it comes to Minneapolis, MPD150, a “participatory, horizontally-organized effort by local organizers, researchers, artists and activists,” released a jaw-dropping “150 year performance review of the Minneapolis police department”:

“The first section will establish that the MPD, far from being an agent of ‘public safety’ or even ‘law enforcement,’ has always acted as the enforcement arm of the economic and political elite. Like its fellow departments around the country, it is at the front end of a system of mass incarceration that devours black, brown and indigenous peoples, stripping them of voting rights, job prospects and dignity, keeping wages low and people divided.” 

When former Minneapolis officer Michael Quinn came forward about the department’s culture including “drinking on the job, committing burglary, savagely beating sex workers,” he faced threats from the head of the police union, Bob Kroll, who has “to put it quite mildly, been terrorizing non-white people for years.” Two days ago, a New York Times headline read, “Minneapolis Police, Long Accused of Racism, Face Wrath of Wounded City.” Kroll is mentioned in the article for wearing a jacket with a “white power” badge on it and calling a black Muslim congressman a “terrorist.”

It should come as no surprise that Kroll has spent his time selling “Cops for Trump” t-shirts or that President Trump called him on stage during a rally he held last year. Kroll’s message to the world?

“The first thing President Trump did when he took office was turn that around … he decided to start to let cops do their job, put the handcuffs on the criminals instead of us.”

Uh huh. Here’s the difference between police unions and unions that actually work for the working class:

A police union corrupted by a racist leader is not only a menace to society but a terrifying threat to minorities in the community, as well. Worse, the ACLU reported that police unions are able to “shield police officers from accountability and ensure disciplinary processes favor officers over community members.” And no accountability means no justice for victims.

White America and the Fascist-in-Chief

And while Minneapolis was burning last night, the president of the United States, in all his glory, took to Twitter to show his support for the deeply racist community by advocating that “thugs” in Minneapolis be shot and killed:

Trump’s tweets weren’t even a subtle dog-whistle. It was an overt threat to gun down anyone caught looting and protesting in Minneapolis and when you’re in Chauvin and Kroll’s town that means minorities and Trump knows it. So rather than actually address the socio-economic crisis we’re facing and the racial hatred that is deeply embedded in Minneapolis and throughout our entire country, rather than recognize the anger and despair exemplified by protestors burning down the police department’s third precinct, Trump played full-blown dictator.

The bottom line is that the U.S. police force is really just an arm of the U.S. oligarchy. That’s not to say police officers are never helpful or never do the right thing. But it’s evident they don’t work for the citizens of their community despite being paid with taxpayer dollars and departments generally act accordingly and in favor of White America which includes the judges, the prosecutors, and the politicians. If you don’t think U.S. policing is race and class-based or political, think again.

I’ve known cops that have lied, stolen, picked up sex workers during their shift, and physically assaulted members of the community (minorities) just because they could or they needed to “let off some steam.” I know someone who is now paralyzed from the waist down because he was “reaching for the officer’s gun” just like Floyd was “resisting arrest.” Maybe we all know at least one bad cop but filing a complaint these days obviously isn’t enough. We need to change the entire system.

It’s been a traumatic week for this country and it’s easy for us to judge others in Minneapolis from the comfort of our own homes in our white privileged neighborhoods but is that really a solution? With 2020 turning out to be the terrifying dumpster fire it is, isn’t it time we focus on the real monsters in society like the racists, the fascists, the politicians, the bankers, Wall Street—the system? As a society, we have to stop the killing of black Americans and they can’t do it on their own. As one Twitter user put it:

“I hope the American people are not going to let the people of color carry the whole rebellion on their own. There is so much to do, so many things to fix and so many houses of injustice that needs ‘a tearing down.'”

Indeed, there’s a lot of work ahead of us and if Dictator Trump and every other politician in this country really didn’t want George Floyd’s memory to “get lost in all of this,” they would help tear down the system, not enable it.

Feature photo: Eric Miller | Reuters

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