Earlier this month, a jury acquitted two former Fullerton police officers of all charges in the death of a mentally ill man whom the accused officers had savagely beaten even after they had restrained him. The incident, caught on camera, was like the Rodney King incident, and like so many similar but less publicized incidents of police brutality that occur with disturbing frequency across the United States.
How could a jury acquit these cops when they were so clearly guilty? Some people believe it is because the jurors were afraid to convict police. Others believe it is because this jury views police as heroes, the good guys, as typically presented on TV and in the movies. So in court the cops got the greatest benefit from the least doubt.
Based on reader comments posted to the many news websites covering the Fullerton story, the two most common public reactions were outrage over the miscarriage of justice, and the chilling realization that no one in America is safe from police brutality and power abuse.
These reactions are not only warranted, they are encouraging. God help us if Americans totally acquiesce to police power abuse. That would be a greater threat to freedom, civil rights and personal security than terrorism or drugs.
The abuse of police power has grown exponentially with the wars on drugs and terrorism. Out of irrational fear of drugs and extreme panic over terrorism threats, Americans have allowed government to have vast police powers incompatible with the Bill of Rights. Americans are trading liberty for suppression of victimless personal choice and the flimsy promise of physical security.
It should be apparent by now that police are no less subject to character flaws than are any human beings. But, because police have legal authority and carry weapons, their character flaws can be particularly dangerous.
Some people become cops to serve and protect their fellow citizens. Others become cops because they relish the authority it gives them over their fellow citizens. Some police would rather have you fear them than trust them. Give a bully a badge and he is still a bully. Give a bully a cudgel and a gun along with that badge and he becomes a dangerous thug.
The bullies among America’s police forces are abetted by the erosion of constitutional rights inflicted on the nation with the Patriot Act and similar police-state legislation, along with the oppressive, futile, 40-year war on drugs. This has emboldened bullies with badges to abuse their power with little fear of repercussion.
In an insidious fusion of the wars on drugs and terrorism, powers granted under the Patriot Act have more often been used by law enforcement to prosecute the insane war on drugs than to apprehend terrorists.
In the name of homeland security, the United States has more than 70 immigration checkpoints as far as 90 miles within the nation’s borders. Whether they are screening for terrorists, illegal immigrants or drugs, stern Border Patrol agents stop vehicles, demand proof of citizenship and pressure drivers to allow a vehicle search. If drivers refuse to waive their constitutional rights against unwarranted detainment, search and seizure, the consequences can be brutal. Agents have broken windows, tasered the drivers and dragged them from their vehicles.
Police will often plead probable cause to justify detainments and forced searches — for instance, claiming their drug-sniffing dogs went on alert. While it has been demonstrated that these drug dogs can be triggered by their handlers to go on alert, and that they often give false alerts anyway, once they do, and the driver refuses the search, the police can force compliance with as much violence as they deem necessary.
The wars on drugs and terrorism have militarized our police forces. Now, it seems like every 9-1-1 call is an opportunity to respond with an armored vehicle and SWAT teams in full battle regalia. Suspects, real or mistaken, armed or unarmed, have been shot dead by trigger-happy police who sometimes fire dozens of rounds into their victims. How many bullets does it take to disable someone? Are these police trained at gun ranges or with video games?
When Americans consider the pros and cons of the wars on drugs and terrorism, including the National Security Agency’s domestic spying, they should keep in mind the inevitable abusive behavior of law enforcement. History has repeatedly proven the equation that the greater the state’s police power, the greater the abuse. The more restrictions on freedom, the more the exercise of freedom becomes a crime subject to brutal repression.
Ultimately, that is why the Second Amendment is so crucial. Americans are gradually being stripped of their rights, and if they were to be stripped of their weapons, who would be left armed? Only the thugs, both those with and without badges. Then there would be no rights and no security.