05 January, 2009

This Is Why We Limit Police Powers

One of the common arguments amongst the law-and-order crowd is that we don't have to worry about giving law enforcement agencies unfettered surveillance powers because they'll only use them against the guilty. "If you're innocent, you have nothing to worry about!" some perky authoritarian will chirp. "We can't tie their hands!" Which sounds great and reasonable until news like this brings the kumbaya chorus to a rude end:

In July, the Washington Post reported on undercover Maryland State Police officers conducting surveillance on war protesters and death penalty opponents. Today, we learn that the monitoring was worse, and more pervasive, than first believed.

The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored -- and labeled as terrorists -- activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes.

Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling the group a "security threat" because of concerns that members would disrupt the circus. Angry consumers fighting a 72 percent electricity rate increase in 2006 were targeted. The DC Anti-War Network, which opposes the Iraq war, was designated a white supremacist group, without explanation.

One of the possible "crimes" in the file police opened on Amnesty International, a world-renowned human rights group: "civil rights."

And people wonder why "civil-liberties types" worry about government abuse when it comes to surveillance of Americans.

Isn't there some old police saying that states, "Everybody's guilty of something?" Apparently, the MD state police took the next logical step and decided that they could make everybody guilty of something. The kumbaya chorus should keep this in mind the next time they're prattling about how the police would never ever target the innocent.

The best law enforcement officers tend to take a jaundiced view of humanity. The worst tend to employ their police powers to enact their sadistic authoritarian fantasies. American history is full of mad, bad and simply mistaken policemen abusing their powers. This is why we can't give them power without limits, which is something Antonin Scalia seems to have a difficult time understanding. If the above case doesn't provide a wake-up call, Ed Brayton has another:

Ever since Justice Scalia declared that there was no more need for a rule against no-knock raids because there was a "new professionalism" among police, Radley Balko has been mocking that claim with example after example of corruption and incompetence by the police. Here's a perfect one to add to the list. Jonathan Turley has the story:

Police in Galveston, Texas are being sued for allegedly arresting a 12-year-old Dymond Larae Milburn outside of her home as a prostitute in 2006. The girl did not realize that the plainclothes officers were police and fought back as she screamed for her father inside the house. She was reportedly beaten by the officers and ended up with sprained wrist, two black eyes, a bloody nose, and blood in an ear. Weeks later, the police arrested her for resisting arrest.

Sgt. Gilbert Gomez and Officers David Roark and Sean Stewart have insisted that their conduct was entirely appropriate.

The police were responding to a report of three white prostitutes working in the area, but some how ended up arrested and roughing up a 12-year-old black girl in front of her house.

The honor student was then arrested at her middle school on a charge of resisting arrest -- but a mistrial prevented further prosecution.

Because it's really easy to confuse a 12 year old black girl in her front yard for 3 adult white prostitutes on a street corner. And by the way, she was several blocks from where the prostitutes were allegedly at.

[snip]

This is a perfect example of Scalia's new professionalism. An amateur would have been fooled by her clever disguise as a middle school honors student of an entirely different race far from the scene of the alleged crime. But not these professionals.

Oh, yes. Beating a young black female. Uber professional, that is. We might as well throw the laws limiting police power and behavior right out the window, because they'd obviously never abuse their authority.

Police these days are so super-professional, in fact, that you can't find stories of them killing people with the enthusiastic over-use of tasers here, here, here, here, here, and here. Oh, and a nice story about police shooting a man who took a Taser here. Oh, and did I mention that was all during the month of December? I especially liked the one about the man in diabetic shock getting shocked, didn't you?

I'm not going to spend the next paragraph being fair-and-balanced and saying how much I wuv da police. Anyone who's read this blog for a long time knows I respect and appreciate the vast majority of our policemen and women. Calling for clear and strict rules for them to follow, laws that restrict their behavior, and limits on their power doesn't diminish that appreciation. Corruption and beatings and killings do. Things like that stain the reputations of the officers out there doing the job right. They make it harder for good officers to do their jobs.

For their sakes, let's make it harder for law enforcement to go to such ridiculous extremes.

3 comments:

Karen said...

Then there's a story out of the east San Francisco Bay Area, where a suspect was on his stomach, resisting being handcuffed, and a cop shot him in the back. Supposedly the cop thought he was pulling his Taser. Funny, I thought they were trained to tell the difference.

Fortunately the location of the arrest was a transit mall packed with surveillance cameras.

The agency involved has announced there will be a "thorough investigation" -- and there actually will be, but perhaps only because the deceased's family is suing it's ass off for wrongful death.

Radi said...

Hey, why have you left out that racist, asshole of assholes, petty dictator currently holding the Sheriff's post in Maricopa County, AZ (?) --> sorry I forget the name.

That one is a knuckle-walking, talking personification of why we need MAJOR controls on police force, and surveillance power.

Karen said...

Hey, Radi,
let's not insult our Pongid cousins by comparing them to that sheriff. He doesn't qualify as a primate in my book.