Police abuse: holding the police accountable for their actions

The police are no longer the forerunner of service and protection, but rather a power-driven force whose purpose is to intimidate and humiliate the masses. Instead of goodwill and support, they are generating resentment and anger in those they are sworn to protect. Increasingly, civil rights are being eliminated and totally ignored by the police. They claim that their actions are justified in the name of self-defense. Do you question which came first, the attacks on the police or the brutality against the public? However, individual officers are not civilly or criminally liable for their actions. They cannot be sued by people who have made a mistake and are rarely prosecuted. Instead, cities, counties, and states are bearing the brunt of their ego-driven riots financially, which have caused great harm and sometimes death to people. This needs to change. Officials must be held accountable for when they have crossed the line.

Across the union states, here are examples of officers who mistreat the public but are not responsible for their actions. The most recent and widely publicized event occurred in New York City. Unarmed Sean Bell and two of his teammates were leaving their bachelor party when police turned a minor car accident into a shooting gallery. Five policemen fired at least fifty shots at the car occupied by the three men. His vehicle was jammed by 21 bullets; Mr. Bell died and his colleagues were seriously injured. But they were not the only victims. Not only did a neighbor have his car damaged by three bullets, but a quarter tore through his front window, smashing a lamp in his living room. Two Port Authority police officers were injured by flying glass when a bullet smashed a window at the nearby AirTrain facility. The five officers involved have been granted paid administrative leave. Their names have been withheld, as well as more details about the shooting. A Grand Jury will be convened to investigate the circumstances of the shootings; But like Patrick Dorismond and Amadou Diallo, can the Bell family expect justice from a system that unleashed officers to do what they want without consequences?

Doing a Google search for “abuse of police power” returns more than seven million entries. From the Iranian-American, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, who was subjected to a laser pistol by UCLA police officers for now showing proper identification in the university library, to the harassment of WFOS TV-CBS reporter Mike Kirsch, who investigated the abuse of citizens who tried to file complaints against officers, It is quite evident that law enforcement officers are out of control. Despite witnesses and video evidence, the legal system continues to protect its own by persecuting innocent citizens. There were students in the library who used their cells to document Mr. Tabatabainejad’s abuse.

One of those videos is at http://votesmith.wordpress.com/tag/abuse-of-power/; note that it is very graphic. In Kirsch’s case, the Broward County Police Benevolent Association initiated a BOLUS, releasing Kirsch’s personal information, including phone number, license numbers, and address to officers in a special alert. BOLO means “to be attentive”. This section is normally reserved for fugitives from justice and missing persons. Although the list was temporarily removed, it reappeared on the site on March 17, along with the address and mobile phone number of Gregory Slate, one of the Police Complaint Center volunteers.

With all the coverage, the abuse is not a secret. What is so obvious is what is being done. It is foolish for a complaint to have to go to the department that abused it to file a complaint and wait for justice to be served. But this is how the system is set up now. There are very few associations that have the capacity to effectively monitor the police. In many states, the Attorney General cannot get involved until after local complaints have been filed, which means that if complaints are not accepted or rejected, nothing will be done. Each state and county should have an independent association in which the public can file complaints where they will be seriously investigated without the complaint being harassed or intimidated. There is a national database where complaints can be registered at http://www.policecomplaint.com/. This site has links to the FBI and Department of Justice task forces, as well as a compliant civil center and the ACLU. It is a good resource, but none of them will prevent abuse. The only way is to make sure agents have both personal and professional consequences. They can be financially and legally responsible for their actions. The only way this will be possible is for the public to take a step. As with the students who used their cell phones to document, the public must speak up not only at the local level but also at the state level. They need to report abuses to the Attorney General in their state and not allow the office to hide behind protocol. Writing letters to the editor giving details of the abuse will also force the police to obey civil rights laws. Don’t be afraid to speak up for others; you never know when it will be you who needs a witness. The more they talk, the more power the public has to protect itself against police intimidation and harassment. Legislation needs to be passed that allows people to sue agents. Furthermore, officers charged with a crime cannot be investigated by their own department, but by the next level in the chain of command.

Lastly, know what your rights and responsibilities are. The ACLU (www.aclu.org) has a list of dos and don’ts when the police approach you. Provides simple and specific instructions on your rights. Knowing what to do will help you protect yourself and your loved ones.

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