August 25, 2014

Eric Cartman Pens an Op-Ed

Since the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri a couple of weeks ago, a lot of words have been written.  I can't claim to have read them all, but I can say without hesitation that this piece in the Washington Post has to be one of the most outrageous.  Strangely, it has nothing to do with the specific facts of the Brown shooting, but it says an awful lot about how the police view the world around them and the people who live there.

Sunil Dutta is now a professor of "homeland security" at a for-profit university, but before that he spent 17 years as an LAPD officer.  Last week, Dutta wrote a column entitled:
I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.
Provocative, yes?  However, if you know anything about journalism you know that, quite often, the person who writes the article doesn't write the headline and the headline is crafted to be sensational and generate page views.  Hell, some places like Slate are so bad about it that the percentage of time the headline matches the article contents probably hovers around the Mendoza Line.  So, maybe, give Dutta the benefit of the doubt and assume he has a more nuanced point to make.

Not so much:
Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?
In other words:

To be fair, Dutta "side[s] with the ACLU" and argues that all officers should wear body cameras and all police cars should have a camera, too (although, as Radley Balko points out, those are hardly a panacea).  And he writes this:
And you don’t have to submit to an illegal stop or search. You can refuse consent to search your car or home if there’s no warrant (though a pat-down is still allowed if there is cause for suspicion). Always ask the officer whether you are under detention or are free to leave. Unless the officer has a legal basis to stop and search you, he or she must let you go. Finally, cops are legally prohibited from using excessive force: The moment a suspect submits and stops resisting, the officers must cease use of force.
Emphasis very much mine.  This, while nice in theory, directly contradicts the "respect my authoritah" mantra he relies on earlier.  If a cop says he's going to stop me and I don't think he has the right to do so, what do you think will happen if I don't "submit" to it?  We're talking about a relationship with a serious imbalance of power between the two people.  The officer has the gun, after all, and, as we've seen, generous legal cover should he or she use it.  I, on the other hand, am likely to at least wind up arrested for something vague like "disorderly conduct," of not worse.

Ken at Popehat is right.  Dutta's attitude, and the fact that we generally accept it without much objection, is "servile and grotesque."  If anything good comes out of this whole mess, maybe it will be that society starts to rethink the hands off attitude we have toward the way the police do their job.

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