Independent Thoughts on Criminal Justice: Part 2
II. The World is Now a Stage In Sections II-IV, we will discuss the reasons why criminal justice reform has finally become a mainstream issue. Section II will discuss how cell phones and social media have elicited strong emotional reactions against law enforcement. Section III will discuss why the dismally ineffective War on Drugs needs a tactical and philosophical shift. Then, I shall focus on all things cannabis. What cell phones have done is give irrefutable proof to what African Americans have been saying for decades about the police using excessive force. Robert Bogle, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Tribune, summarizes it here: "We've been in this business for 130 years...Yes, we have written about it. We've talked about it. This is the African-American experience, and for some reason non-African-Americans don't believe it." Cedric Alexander, President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. adds: "They're starting to believe it, thanks to cell phones. Black and brown people have been making these complaints for years, but they fell on deaf ears because no one wanted to believe some officers would act that way," Most of us have immediate access to recording equipment and a social media account. Inevitably, this has drastically increased the amount of times that on-duty police officers have been recorded by civilians. Some of these videos have shown the police to be justified in their actions, but others have exposed obvious flaws in our criminal justice system.
A search for the words "police abuse" yields about 65,500 results. By not using quotation marks in the search perameters, the number increases to nearly 400,000. So, unlike in the 1960's--or even during the days of the Rodney King incident--access to thousands of occurrences of police misconduct in a variety of ways are at our fingertips. When I was younger, so many of us watched the show Cops, where police were always portrayed as hard-working heroes. Now, we're watching cops behaving badly on youtube.
The videos show a variety of police/civilian interactions, ranging from cops being jerks to cops being deadly. One particular observation worth mentioning is that cops too often become angry when people exercise their First Amendment right to record them while they're doing their job. It is legal to do so in nearly all situations, even as a third party not directly involved. Rarely do charges stick, but sadly, arrests of filmers are still made. The reactions by police from being filmed is another factor that contributes to the rising disapproval of police attitudes and tactics.
I don't wish to be accused of cherry-picking videos I've seen depicting police using excessive force, so I won't link any. As I had said previously, not all the videos I've watched are of police abusing their power.
Instead, I'll post this, featuring nine videos from youtube. Reactions to them are given by former Seattle police chief (and current cannabis legalization advocate) Norm Stamper, and a former lieutennant from Boston named Tom Nolan.
A common problem in these videos, and in the many I've watched, is that the police seem to escalate a situation rather than diffuse it.
The article is also noteworthy because it mentions Eric Garner, who died as a result of a chokehold during his arrest for illegally selling cigarettes in New York. You see, there is a thriving black market in New York selling single cigarettes, and the high price of cigarette packs are what created it.
Another questionable police procedure exposed by social media is the shooting of beloved family pets. This occurs if cops feels a "justifiable" threat to their safety or if the pet interferes with the situation. Here's a detailed analysis of this law, and examples of court cases. Improper training and bad discretion have led to shootings of countless pet dogs.
I say countless because there is currently no statistic that shows how often dogs are killed by police officers. Activists say that a dog is shot once every 98 minutes by the police. Data from Atlanta shows that between 2010-2012, over 100 dogs were shot by police. Activists on the website reddit.com have set up forums so that those who know of incidents can post them there for everyone to see.
Social media has allowed people to share their stories of their pets being wrongly shot by police, and this causes some animal lovers to develop strong mistrust towards police. A video from last year was especially difficult to get through. This youtube video has received over 4.5 million views. No violence is shown, but the man's anger and despair could be felt through my monitor. The pet owner was never the focus of the police procedure; the officers just happened to go into his yard.
A noteworthy example of hypocrisy is the fact police dogs are considered "officers", yet our beloved pet dogs are considred "property" to the police procedure lawbooks. My cats are not my damn property. They are my family. And for a reason completely unbeknownst to me, cops can shoot cats too. Here and here are examples. Shooting kittens in front of children is apparently perfectly ok, since the cop was cleared of any wrongdoing.
These "power trips" shown in all these videos isn't teaching kids not to break the law; it's teaching kids that police are brutal--and not necessarily the "good guy".
To restore the "hero" status enjoyed by police for so many decades, the criminal justice system needs to be dramatically reformed.
A more efficient criminal justice system needs to take into account that we're living in a new age with an unprecedented lack of privacy. So, that means less privacy for the "bad cops" that have been so protected over the years. Before, courts would simply choose to believe the cop that the force was justified, or that constant harrassment of members of the community were always warranted.
We must also take into account that we're living in a free country. The criminal justice system needs to adapt and use its resources more efficiently. This is the United States, and quite frankly, it is becoming a police state. I'll prove that well over half of the country believes we are being over-policed in the next section.
Over-policing is indeed more of a problem than politicians want to admit, and leaves this free country comfortably in first place worldwide for incarceration rates and prison population. Not every neighborhood in the U.S. is policed too much. There are many more good cops than bad cops, and I am grateful for the good ones. But when police corruption begins to take root in communities, lives are destroyed.
I'm not saying we should stop citing people for traffic violations or obvious public disturbances. I'm also not saying that murderers, thieves, rapists, and con-artists (for example, politicians) deserve leniency. But dealing with one human vice in partcular has caused police to become a lot more nosy, on edge, and militarized. We cannot arrest our way to a drug-free world.
The best solution to deal with over-policing? Scale back the War on Drugs--cannabis in particular. So far, it has been a waste of over one trillion taxpayer dollars while achieving none of its goals. In Section III, we'll discuss how the War on Drugs has been counter-effective, hypocritical, and racially biased from its beginning.