By Nani Lawrence
Abuse of power is nothing new.
As long as there have been people who view others as lesser, they have found ways to negatively assert their dominance. With the sense of authority imposed by society on some, it’s even worse, and the result more troubling. Documenting every instance in which an authority figure stepped over the line would probably fill this entire website, so let’s narrow it down a bit.
In the last 40 years, at least, police have felt the right to use excessive force, and quite familiar excuses to justify it.
Significantly, in 1973, a police officer shot and killed a black 10 year old. Clifford Glover and his stepfather, Add Armstead, were walking when a car pulled up and a plainclothes cop exited with a gun.
Shortly after the pair ran away, Glover was shot in the back. According to the New York Daily News, Officers Thomas Shea and Walter Scott were heard over their walkie-talkie transmissions celebrating.
“Die, you little bastard,” Scott said.
Both claimed the boy was pointing a pistol at them, but no one ever found a weapon in the area. This was the first time an officer had been put on trial for misconduct.
About two decades later, the NYPD again used excessive force, this time on a Haitian immigrant. Officers arrested Abner Louima as part of a nightclub brawl. According to several sources, he was beaten on the way there.
At the Brooklyn police station, Justin Volpe later admitted to sexually assaulting Louima with a broken toilet plunger. This case sparked national outrage and accusations of racially motivated hostility within the NYPD. Volpe originally received a 30-year jail sentence.
And that’s just in the City.
Last December, in South Dakota, Native American Allen Locke was shot a day after attending an anti-police brutality march. Officer Anthony Meirose claimed the man charged at him with a knife, but witnesses say it was a cell phone in his hand. You probably had no idea it happened until now, unless you regularly read Native news sources.
In June, 2003, another Native man was beaten by police in Minneapolis. Witnesses say they saw a squad car pull up to a housing complex, drag a Native man and woman into the parking lot, and beat the man unconscious. Witnesses, police/security for the complex and hospital staff all corroborated that his head and torso had also been urinated on by someone.
Obviously, minorities are targeted for this kind of harassment more often, but it also goes beyond that. This leads to an obvious yet startling conclusion: no one is safe.
Kelly Thomas of Albuquerque was shot by police, and his “disadvantage” was mental illness.
White teenager Deven Guilford of Mulliken, Michigan, was tased at close range and shot seven times during a traffic stop.
In March, Jesse Jacobs died at the University of Texas Medical Branch. His family believes he died of a seizure as a result of being denied medication in jail. What is there to do when an authority figure decides you are inferior?
Honestly, not much in the moment. However, the latest incidents show a distinct change.
On July 19, 2015, a 43-year-old black man was shot by a University of Cincinnati campus police officer. Ray Tensing was indicted a mere 10 days later.
Somewhat similarly, closer to home, an Albuquerque Fire Department dispatcher hung up on a 911 caller for cursing. While it is unclear whether the June call would have kept the 17-year-old shooting victim alive until an ambulance arrived, the dispatcher’s unprofessionalism is inexcusable.
The Associated Press reported on August 27 the dispatcher’s license had been revoked following an investigation by the Department of Health.
In the case of Darren Wilson, it took three months just to decide not to put the case forth to a court of law. I’d say accountability is swifter these days.
The rioting, looting, and protesting the media highlights must be working. I’d imagine law enforcement feels more pressure to do right by citizens knowing their inactivity may lead to national attention. The former are in no way ideal, but they are, unfortunately, much more effective than the latter.
In looking up Guilford, only about two non-local results popped up, and from the looks of it, the only “fuss” made about the case has primarily been on Facebook and Twitter.
Similarly, only local media reported on Jacobs’ death. Media and what they choose to cover may be partly to blame, but people need to know they have more influence than they think.
The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is very important, and focuses on this disturbing issue. However, it needs to realize that ‘All Lives Matter’ isn’t too far off the mark. Police brutality and misuse of authority affects us all, even if not in the same numbers.
The issue has been identified for a while now, but the focus should change a bit if this movement wants to succeed. Making this struggle about more than just race doesn’t necessarily invalidate ‘Black Lives Matter’ (as I suspect most utterances of ‘All…’ denotes). Rather, it brings us all together to fight for a common goal. Police killings of anyone is just as troubling.
Authority figures, and I think especially officers upholding an oath to protect and serve, should be held to higher standards.
It isn’t about whether the accused were indeed violent or the authority figures overstepped their bounds. Heck, it’s not even about whether police serve time for their transgressions.
It’s about holding those figures accountable every time to keep them trustworthy and make sure they are, in fact, doing their job.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” right? We’re definitely getting there, but it will take much more awareness to put a stop to excessive force and misuse of authority.