Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cops Gone Wild!

Disclaimer: We appreciate the police, really; we're just appalled by some of their behavior. We realize that not all cops are bad and not all Americans enjoy torture, so don’t tase us, bros, okay?

L.A. Confidential, a book written by James Ellroy in 1992 and later turned into a movie of the same name, showcases the possible beginnings of a frightening trend that has been growing since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

In both the book and movie, an alarming act of violence by police officers is showcased in a scene titled “Bloody Christmas.” The scene refers to the real beating of seven Mexican Americans by the Los Angeles Police Department on Christmas day 1951. The men were already in the custody of the police when the officers stormed the jail cells where the men were being held and beat them for no apparent reason.

The potential for police misconduct has now been listed by the FBI as one of the highest priorities when screening new police officers for hiring. While it dates back much earlier than the 1950s (see the documentaries on the deluxe DVD for Gangs of New York, showing how the police themselves were one of the titular gangs in the 1700s), thanks to video cameras and YouTube, the world now gets several chances each month to see these acts of violence beyond the simulated versions in movie theaters. We'll only address a few cases here, but searching for “cop brutality” on YouTube will instantly show how pervasive the problem is.

October 20, 2006: Assault victim Hope Steffey is arrested and then strip-searched, on film, in a Canton, Ohio jail cell by male and female officers before being left to lie naked on a jail cell floor for six hours.

November 14, 2006: UCLA student Mostafa Tabatabainejad is shocked with a Taser by campus police after being in the college library without his student ID. A video of the incident is filmed by a fellow student, and Tabatabainejad can be heard repeating that he will leave the building and is not resisting arrest. He is then arrested and shocked more, while students can be heard demanding officers' names and badge numbers. Some officers threaten to use the Taser on other students if they get too close to Tabatabainejad.

September 7, 2007: A Missouri police officer is captured on video by Brett Darrow, warning Darrow that charges can be fabricated to get him arrested. Darrow was apparently parked after hours in a 24-hour lot, and argued with the officer about being ticketed. The officer can be heard on the video saying, “I bet I could say you resisted arrest or something. You want to come up with something? I’ll come up with nine things.”

September 17, 2007: A University of Florida student, Andrew Meyer, is shocked with a Taser after asking Senator John Kerry a few “uncomfortable” questions. Although Kerry attempts to answer the questions, Meyer is shocked by the police until he can be heard in the video, recorded by a student, screaming in pain.

January 9, 2008: A Florida deputy is caught on her department's own video camera dumping a quadriplegic man, Brian Sterner, from his wheelchair to see if he is really paralyzed. Sterner is being booked, of all things, on charges of fleeing from law enforcement, which "naturally" has led the deputy to believe the wheelchair was only a prop.

January 12, 2008: Louisiana State Police officer Scott Nugent (no relation to right-wing rocker and friend-of-the-blog Ted) tases Baron Pikes nine times while trying to arrest him on cocaine charges. The coroner suspects that the 21-year old Pikes was dead by the seventh 50,000-volt shock.

July 25, 2008: A New York City police officer is filmed, by a tourist, knocking a man off his bicycle. The video clearly shows many people, representing Critical Mass, a bicycling advocacy group, riding their bikes through Times Square, and only one man, Christopher Long, being knocked down by police. It is said that Long attempted to drive his bicycle directly toward the officer, but the video show the exact opposite.

While WB strongly believes that filming these incidents provides excellent evidence for victims, we wonder why police brutality footage has now become such a cornerstone of the viral video community. The simple answer is that a lot of people actually enjoy violence. Movies like Saw and Hostel would not be possible without this aesthetic for violence in our society. These movies share a common theme in the sense that they prey on ordinary people while carrying an “it could happen to you” attitude. The characters in Hostel are just friends on a backpacking trip to Slovakia who fall into the hands of a psychopath who tortures them, in many cases to death. The fact that they're just average people who don't deserve their horrible fate is one part of what makes the movie, and others like it, so appealing to many viewers. Better them than me.

Some of the victims in police-brutality videos are even mocked by other civilians. The UCLA Taser incident was seen as a serious case of police misconduct and abuse of power, but the U-Florida student was victimized a second time by criticism for what he said while being shocked. Andrew Meyer's famous yell — “Don’t tase me, bro!” — to the arresting officers turned Meyer into a student who “deserved” his punishment for saying such a stupid thing, and it transformed his plea into a complete joke. The words are now on T-shirts, baby clothes, and even thongs. The video has been watched on YouTube a whopping three million times and given four and a half stars by viewers. It has also been remixed as an old-school rap song and turned into a video game.

The saddest part about all of this? Police officers even know when they’re behaving badly. San Francisco officer Andrew Cohen is a filmmaker in his spare time and created a “Cops Gone Wild” video for his web site (although his original intention was to show them at the station’s Christmas party.) The video features such things as “an officer running over a homeless woman and an officer pulling over a female motorist and ogling her.” Cohen was of course suspended, as were 23 other officers who “starred” in the video. And in Elkhart, Indiana, male officers participated in some quasi-porn production caught on the station house's two surveillance cameras:

WB just wonders why, in a culture that demands these officers receive punishment for their actions, their violence and misbehaviors still receive warm welcomes in our homes and on our computers. Maybe the ancient Roman fans of coliseum "sports" could explain....

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