Thursday, October 17, 2013

I got assaulted by the police, and all I got was this big bag of money.

In our latest installment of Some Cops Behaving Badly we have the story of Dana Holmes, a white woman that was recently arrested for DUI just outside of Chicago. I will post the video, but it's 6 minutes long. For me, that is pushing it when it comes to attention span for videos on the internet. Here is a recap of the important parts: Three cops are there, and she is being patted down by one female officer. She lifts up her foot, the way someone might when being asked to show the bottom of their foot to someone else. All of a sudden, the cops grab her and throw her into a cell. They then proceed to strip her clothes off. She just lays there in the cell face down crying. Then a few minutes later they throw in a blanket for her to cover herself with.

Feel free to watch for yourself:

[ETA: here is a link to a shorter video that actually shows her clothes being removed.]

A couple things: In the police report, the officers claimed that she "kicked" one of them. Anyone with functioning eyes can see that is not what happened. To me, it looked like she was following instructions to show them her feet and then all of a sudden they got pissed and went cray. Also, they claimed they removed her clothes because they were performing a "strip search." I'm no cop, but I've watched plenty of cop shows. That is not how you do a strip search. For one thing, when you're searching someone with no clothes on you have them bend over so you can look up their butt to make sure they haven't hidden anything there. That didn't happen.


Because they weren't strip searching her, they were taking all her clothes off because they could, and she had clearly done something that they didn't like. They were trying to humiliate her and teach her a lesson. That lesson being: Don't F with the police.

I'm guessing she got the message.

This example shows us, that we live in a nation where regardless of race, color, creed or national origin--if you give cops attitude they all can (and some will,) make your life a living nightmare.

So let me tell you what is most likely going to happen next. First, I have to point out if this video didn't exist, absolutely nothing would happen. This would be a disturbing story that Dana Holmes told her friends and family, and that would be the end of it.

But since we have moving picture proof of the encounter, here's what's going to go down: Dana Holmes is going to sue the police department, and the officers involved are going to be put on paid administrative leave while they investigate. Ms. Holmes and the police are going to reach a settlement, where she receives a lump sum cash payment. It'll be anywhere between 50,000 and 500,000 dollars, depending on how good her lawyer is. The cops may or may not be reprimanded, but most likely all the cops involved will be allowed to keep their jobs. On the off chance they do get fired, they will go to their police union and challenge their firing(s). Then they'll get re-hired once all the media attention dies down. Ms. Holmes might spend her money to buy a house, or she might blow it all on meth to deal with the PTSD she got from being treated so callously by the police. Since it's her money now, she is free to do with it what she wishes.

Here are just some of the problems I have with the likely outcome to this situation.

1) I am a bit uneasy with the idea that people that go through traumatizing things get money for it. Obviously, no one is going to turn down money. But it seems like if you were the recipient of a bunch of cash from a lawsuit like this, the money would seem like blood money. How would you enjoy it? It seems like whatever you bought with it would just be a constant reminder of your horrible ordeal.

2) Paying money as punishment for doing something wrong makes a little more sense when you are talking about suing corporations, because corporations are motivated by money. But what about when you are talking about the government? The government doesn't have a profit motive. I'm not sure what the government is supposed to be motivated by. If I had to guess, I would say something like the common good . How is it in the interest of the common good to pay one person a large sum of taxpayers' money, and let the so-called public servants that caused the money to be paid to continue to work and receive more of the taxpayers' money? It's not.

3) I am not necessarily opposed to the idea of any victim of police brutality getting money. But the problem is that when we just pay off victims, and do nothing to change the system that caused the incidents in the first place. We are just inviting more incidents to happen. A better outcome in this situation would be for Ms. Holmes to get her check (or not,) AND have all the police involved in this incident fired and banned from working in law enforcement at any point in the future. The PD where this happened could put out a strongly worded statement saying how those officers were wrong, and they have no tolerance for such behavior. They would show this by retraining their officers and continuing to fire cops that decided to engage in such behavior in the future.

If I can turn this into a follow up friday for a moment, I want to go back to the last time I wrote about an incident of some police behaving badly. Except this was an unarmed black man who got shot 10 times by a cop. Yeah, he died.

My white friend Paula (whose late father was a cop,) said this:

I can assure you that no one dislikes bad cops more than good cops do.

Well Paula, they sure have a funny way of showing it. I have never heard a cop that is currently employed by a police department speak out publicly against another cop when they do something wrong. People who know me in real life, know that I don't use absolute language often. So when I say never, I mean never...not even one time.

It would be so great if these good cops would come together and create and organization called Police Against Police Brutality. Or maybe Police for Positive Policing. I said here that I don't like it when people always define themselves as against something.

I googled the first term I mentioned, and you know what I came up with? A group called something like Black Cops Against Police Brutality. And it looked like their website hadn't been updated since 1988.

Don't get me wrong, I am happy to see such a group exists. But it doesn't surprise me that black cops are against police brutality, since black people are disproportionately the victims of police brutality. Since cops are disproportionately white, I think it would be nice to see a group that encompassed police officers of all races that were committed to ending abuses in departments across the nation.

I'm gonna wrap it up here, because I've been writing for awhile. Once again, I have to give my disclaimer that I am in no way attempting to disparage all cops. I know from personal experience that some cops are quite cool. My general impression of the number of fleeting experiences that I've had with them is that if you're neutral or nice to them, they will be neutral or nice to you.

I am talking about the minority of cops that do damage to the reputation of cops as a whole. Some other examples of positive policing that could occur would be:

--Making videotapes like the one that recorded Ms. Holmes standard in all police departments, big and small. I also think that all cops on patrol should wear cameras on their person. There should also be serious penalties for departments that "lose" footage, because that seems to be an unusually common occurrence when said footage is subpoenaed in court cases.

--Removing the Internal Affairs department and having incidents of cop misbehavior be investigated by a panel that has nothing to do with the police. It would be awesome if the panel was just made up of randomly selected residents of the area that the department served.

--Making it easier to fire bad cops. This goes for teachers too. And anyone else that is protected by a union. If you're pro-union, you should not be pro-union so incompetent people can keep their jobs. There are many benefits that unions bring about, but keeping substandard employees employed shouldn't be one of them.

So, we'll see how the situation with Dana Holmes plays out. I am interested to hear what you think about what I've written, or about any of the topics I've discussed more generally. Click below all those colorful boxes at the end of this post where it says, " _some number_ comments" and leave me a comment.

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  1. I love all of your suggestions. Particularly making it easier to fire cops. I'm paraphrasing because I don't want to distinguish between good cops and bad cops. They are all imbued with discretionary authority and like all power, it is bound to eventually corrupt.

    That is why Citizen Review boards are such a potentially great idea and it is of equally little surprise that the police are their biggest obstacle. History is replete with examples of why the watchmen should not be allowed to watch themselves.

    White police will be remembered by history as the American SS.

  2. Chunk9:26 AM

    Outstanding post. My only comment is that I think more people should read it. This blog is so much better than 99% of the drivel that counts as media these days.

  3. an on topic off topic interjection. or is that off topic on topic

  4. Have a look at the Colorado Progressive Coalition efforts to create change in policing:

  5. On the last page of the CPC Truth and Justice Report are their "Denver Specific" recommendations for policy changes. They seem to me to be very well considered. I especially like the one about Community Policing. It is a model that has been used very effectively in the public housing development in Sunny Side (NW Denver) by the District 3 police whose home is across the street. In that model crime goes down because the community will not tolerate it.

  6. Police spend a large part of their time organizing the neighborhood and developing trust relationships, teaching citizens how to use them to control their own neighborhood. They do not spend their time stopping young men of color who are walking down the street ":looking suspicious".