FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

To Protect and Serve

According to a police spokesperson in Schenectady, New York, one of the three cities in the capital’s tri-city region, they “were justified in using Tasers, pepper spray and batons to subdue a city man, whom they arrested for walking in the street” (“VIDEO: ‘Brutality’ Alleged in Schenectady Police Arrest,” Time Warner Cable News, July 1, 2016).

Wilson Taylor was arrested after he refused to stop walking in the middle of a street, then allegedly attacked a police officer, Sergeant Adam Nowicki, who had asked Taylor to move from the street. Additional officers responded to subdue Taylor. Two of the officers were hurt in the ensuing melee and required hospitalization.

The video of the incident is quite graphic. Watching it was reminiscent of watching the police beating of Rodney King. But what demands special attention is the statement by the person who filmed the incident on his cell phone. The cell phone video of the beating of Eric Garner in Staten Island comes to mind, as Ramsey Orta, who took that video, suffered intense police harassment and imprisonment after recording the incident. Here are the words of the unnamed person who made the Schenectady video: “[Taylor] never touched the cop or did anything to the cop. All those cops had to hit him that many times? When I left, they were still hitting him. I think the police should be investigated.” The person who made the video declined to give his name to the media for obvious reasons.

Taylor pleaded not guilty when brought to court and was sent to a county jail on $15,000 cash bail. His attorney said that the 28-year-old man suffers from “diagnosed schizophrenia.”

These graphic and disturbing videos taken across the nation are almost becoming routine. A black man interacts in some way with the police, a vicious fight ensues, and serious injury, death, or imprisonment result. It is the new Jim Crow. Many of these incidents, never filmed, or of lesser intensity, never make it to the pages of the print media or to television screens. But another incident involving the police and another mentally-ill man made local and national news in April 2015.

On April 2, 2015, Donald Ivy, 39, of Albany, New York left his apartment in the Arbor Hill section of the city to use an ATM at a local convenience store just after midnight. According to police accounts, the police had been in Ivy’s neighborhood on a routine gun-violence patrol and stopped and questioned him because one officer felt Ivy appeared suspicious since his hands were pulled up into his coat sleeves. First one,  then several other police officers questioned Ivy. The night, as was the past winter, was very cold, which would have explained why Ivy held his hands in the sleeves of his coat. The police questioned Ivy, who lied about a past incident on his record about a domestic assault, a chase followed, then a beating with police using batons and tasers. The four Albany officers involved were all exonerated in Ivy’s death, which was judged to have been caused by a heart attack.

What stands out in the case of Donald Ivy’s death is that he had been a productive member of the community, a star athlete at a local high school, and a highly-regarded worker in social service agencies in the area. He was also a college graduate with a teenage son (“After Albany police cleared in Donald Ivy’s death, his grief-stricken sister speaks out,” The Times Union, October 29, 2015). But Ivy had fallen on bad times and developed schizophrenia. His reported reason for going out late at night to get cash and buy the things he needed was to avoid people. The mental illness that had taken away part of his his life, was unknown during his interactions with the police on the unusually cold night in early spring. The need for community policing was never more apparent than in the case of Donald Ivy, but he, and the significant details of his life, were not known to these police officers.

Why do these interactions with police sometimes end in beatings and death? Why are so many of the men involved in these incidents young, or relatively young, black men? Why in so many of these interactions are the men unarmed? Why do police sometimes view these young men as a danger that they feel must be confronted in the most violent and sometimes lethal manner?

Policing in the United States changed dramatically after the decades of the 1960s and early 1970s.  Police repression of minority communities had been routine, while middle class and affluent neighborhoods never knew police as a threatening and alien force. But police had long been involved in the suppression of the movement for civil rights and integration in the U.S. The most notorious involvement came in Neshoba County, Mississippi in June 1964, when three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were tortured and murdered with the direct involvement of the police after the three men drove to a black church to investigate a possible case of arson.

With the deindustrialization of the economy in the U.S. in the decade of the 1970s, police and prisons became in some cases bizarre and gruesome kinds of social and economic and political control devices in dealing with a segment of the population that had been relegated to the periphery of society. Drugs and drug wars came to be the rallying cry of this official offensive across the nation and prison populations exploded exponentially. Many people literally rotted in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. The elite had the police to do their bidding and alleged wrongdoers regularly made it onto the evening and print news.

Even the appearance of police changed dramatically. From the early SWAT teams to the police response to the demonstrations in response to the death of Michael Brown in Missouri, police officers, often with military-like appearance and battlefield military equipment, sometimes viewed young black men as threats by the mere fact of being young and black.

It was only incremental steps from the establishment of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, partly as a coordinating device in reaction to the mass protests of the 1960s and early 1970s, to the militarized police of today. A parallel movement to arm as many people in the U.S. as possible moves almost seamlessly along with the growth of police violence, a movement that most police spokespersons abhor because those guns are a direct threat to police. But the macho image of many police departments is at odds with a peaceful civil society.

Since 2001, the national security state seems to have not only tolerated, but expanded police powers at all levels of government. Stop and frisk morphed in cities like New York (until the practice became legally insupportable), and these policies seemed to enjoy the support of large segments of the population. Indeed, the Occupy Wall Street Movement was brutally suppressed in cities around the U.S., with images of peaceful protesters, some involved in acts of civil disobedience, being forcefully and violently suppressed.

Many may enter policing for altruistic reasons, and may act on those motivations in public service, but the motto to protect and serve seems like an idyllic relic of the past.

More articles by:

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail