Why We Are Winning The ‘War On Police’
Sept. 28, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — The scene opens on the lobby of a Chicago tanning salon. It is unremarkable. A group of men walk into the reception area. They act like they own the place.
The lady working behind the counter asks the apparent leader if he called ahead to make an appointment. He responds, his words dripping with swagger, “Did I have to? I don’t think I had to.”
If the implication wasn’t abundantly clear, the group removed all doubt when they grabbed the manager of the salon. She did not go quietly, so they roughed her up a bit. These men were never interested in a fake tan.
They fan out throughout the location, tossing and turning the place. One of them ends up by the computer on the reception desk. He quickly discovers that their illegal activity is being recorded. He looks at the others and points his fingers at his own eyes. “Hey! Hey! There’s eyes!”
Some of the crew try to help with the surveillance system. Meanwhile, the leader has had it with the salon manager, who happens to be Chinese. She is kneeling on the floor with her hands tied behind her back.
“You’re not fucking American. I’ll put you in a UPS box and send you back to wherever the fuck you came from.”
“I’ll make one call and I’ll take this building and you’ll be dead and your family will be dead.”
One of his goons hits her in the head. She either can’t or won’t help them with whatever it is they are looking for. The leader calls her a “fucking animal.”
The concern turns at this point toward the surveillance system, and more specifically, how to disable it. Unfortunately for them, the recorded data was being stored off-site, so all their discussions about how to erase the recording turn out to be ironically fruitless. Eventually, they decide that the best course of action is to just take the whole damn system. Two points about this decision. One, these guys had a fairly rudimentary understanding of modern technology. And two, they did not want anyone to see what was on that video.
So, is this from some kind of mafia movie? It is not. This is very real surveillance from a very real Chicago tanning salon. If you expected that the video would end with the police showing up and making all manner of arrests, you would be partially right, but not the part you might think. The police did make arrests, but the group of non-customers that entered the salon? Those were the police. And their treatment of the salon manager and her employees was merely the process of arrest.
It would not be unreasonable to demand that each and every one of these cops lose their jobs and face criminal prosecution. We are rightfully disgusted when we know that the threat to kill some poor woman and her family came out of the mouth of a law enforcement officer. We are also quite right to be disturbed that numerous officers tried to destroy evidence. But the fact that this kind of behavior would be perpetrated by those charged to serve and protect us should no longer be a surprise. And that, in a very twisted way, means that we are making progress.
I have spent the last few months writing about the myriad problems within the criminal justice system. The main targets of my ire have been the illegal actions of police officers and the lack of even a hint of accountability that follow those deplorable actions. The Chicago salon incident has it all. Threats of murder, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, and no criminal charges or terminations.
But I am not going to demand that these cops be fired. Be it murder, perjury, or anything else that would see the rest of us thrown into the jail, cops continue to escape justice. They ignore the law and do it while wrapped in a warm blanket of immunity. Not legal immunity, mind you, but actual immunity. Save for the occasional slap on the wrist to make it seem like the rules matter, cops operate well above the law.
Prosecutors, judges and politicians turn a blind eye to reality when it comes to police. Prosecutors would rather let an innocent person rot in jail than stand up to the police. Many judges still think that questioning the word of a police officer is tantamount to blasphemy. Politicians cower before the political power of the police department, continuing to give cops everything they ask for despite decades of falling crime rates.
So, without accountability, how are we making progress? Through information. Five years ago, whenever the discussion turned to police misconduct or corruption, the inevitable government response was that we were dealing with just a few bad apples. That tended to shut down the conversation. Today, it holds no water. It has been swept away by a sea of Eric Garners and Tamir Rices.
Police, as an institution, no longer deserve our respect. With each passing day, cops continue to brazenly violate rules, both legal and moral, that we assumed were sacred. The deplorable misconduct that we now see on a daily basis exists within a system that refuses to hold itself accountable. But we see it. We see it and it is changing the way we see everything.
I have worked in Brooklyn for years, mainly in criminal defense. Brooklyn is, unfortunately, ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding the true nature of policing. Brooklyn juries are receptive to the idea that a cop would plant a gun on a suspect to push a false arrest. They are open to the argument that the word of a cop is worth very little. They understand these things because they have seen NYPD misconduct first hand. When the black woman on your jury has a son that has been arrested repeatedly for merely walking around his own neighborhood, she is going to have a healthy (and realistic) dose of skepticism about the police narrative.
I am optimistic. There is so much wrong with our system but the way we fight that is to open our mouths and tell our stories. That is why the Fault Lines project is so important. Police in this country have remained untouchable because we refuse to touch them. We are witnessing a cultural shift in the way people see cops. The stories of police abuse that are so common to Brooklyn are now common everywhere. With each story, the great American jury pool is turning.
To quote yet another musical group, “They got the guns, but we got the numbers.”