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“Police, Warriors Or Guardians?”: Replacing The “Warrior” Mentality Of Police Training With A Self-Concept Of “Community Guardians”

The almost constant examples we are experiencing of police officers gunning down unarmed suspects of late–or treating the communities they patrol as enemy bastions to be approached with overwhelming military force–are a particular shock to those of us who thought the principles of “community policing” had taken deeper root in the culture of law enforcement agencies. That’s clearly not the case. And in fact, to get back to something like community policing will require a serious reorientation of police training. The task is explained in depth at Ten Miles Square today by Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who is also a former police officer.

Becoming a “warrior” on hair-trigger to answer violence with violence has become central to police training, says Stoughton:

In this worldview, officers are warriors combatting unknown and unpredictable—but highly lethal—enemies. They learn to be afraid. Officers don’t use that word, of course. Vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, or observant are the terms that appear most often in police publications. But officers learn to be vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, and observant because they are afraid, and they afraid because they’re taught to be.

As a result, officers learn to treat every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making. Every individual, every situation — no exceptions. A popular police training text offers this advice: “As you approach any situation, you want to be in the habit of looking for cover[] so you can react automatically to reach it should trouble erupt.” A more recent article puts it even more bluntly: “Remain humble and compassionate; be professional and courteous — and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

Add in racial stereotypes and limited experience with the community an officer is “protecting” and you can understand how regular interactions between cops and citizens have entered a frightening world remote from the trust-based assumptions of community policing.

Stoughton suggests replacing the whole “warrior” mentality inculcated by police training with a self-concept of “Community Guardians.”

[W]hat’s the difference? Both Warriors and Guardians seek to protect the communities they serve, of course, but the guardian mindset takes both a broader and a longer view of how to achieve that goal. Put simply, the guardian mindset prioritizes service over crime-fighting, and it values the dynamics of short-term encounters as a way to create long-term relationships. It instructs officers that their interactions with community members must be more than legally justified; they must also be empowering, fair, respectful, and considerate. It emphasizes communication over command, cooperation over compliance, and legitimacy over authority. In the use-of-force context, the Guardian mindset emphasizes restraint over control, stability over action. But the concept is even broader; it seeks to protect civilians not just from crime and violence, but also from indignity and humiliation.

Stoughton offers some practical steps for how to train police officers to be “Guardians” rather than “Warriors,” including special training in how to de-escalate confrontations and how to safely exercise tactical restraint. But the starting point is admitting we have a real problem when public servants are trained to think of the citizenry as a mob of potential killers.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 17, 2015

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Community Policing, Police Abuse, Police Shootings | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enough Is Enough”: Walter Scott’s Death Should End Public’s Denial Of Police Victimization Of Blacks

There is a phenomenon in the United States which most of the public is unwilling or unable to fully acknowledge. The killings by police of unarmed black men and boys is akin to climate change – for many, seemingly no evidence will convince them that there is a relationship between race and police violence. The justifiably outraged reaction to the apparent murder of Walter Scott suggests that the denial may be finally wearing off. Now is the time to confront that denial and ask whether the reforms that are typically called for are sufficient to combat an obvious disparate impact on black Americans.

For years black Americans and their allies have been saying that officers are killing blacks with impunity. The common reaction is to dissect each fatal encounter and explain what the deceased did to justify being killed. This allowed the majority of the public to disengage from the conversation and write off each death as the deceased’s fault. What the shooting of Walter Scott tore off was any pretense of a legal justification that he was posing an imminent threat to officer Michael T. Slager.

What is still missing is any evidence of racial motivation. The circumstantial evidence, though, is strong because each questionable death seems to occur when the civilian is black or brown be it on a New York City sidewalk, the back corner of a suburban Walmart, a park in Cleveland or a field in South Carolina. The recent President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing addressed racial bias and recommended better collection of demographic data of police encounters and the racial composition of police departments and adoption and of policies prohibiting racial profiling. Those recommendations have to be expanded upon and implemented.

First and foremost, the dearth of data surrounding lethal use of force must be eliminated. Lawmakers have to force police departments to adopt a culture of transparency where a range of data including the use of force, traffic stops and complaints are made public.

Second, de-escalation tactics must always precede the use of force. The current legal justification for using both lethal and non-lethal force is very broad. As long as an officer can demonstrate that he feared an imminent threat of harm and it appears reasonable, he is not subject to any discipline for the use of force.

Third, addressing implicit bias through training may not be enough. What the Department of Justice investigation of Ferguson, Mo. clearly showed is that the bias can be very explicit. Departments have to adopt zero tolerance for racial bias and dishonesty and remove any officers from their forces when racial motivations or lying is uncovered.

Finally, investigations of deadly force incidents must be far more robust. In far too many troubling shootings, investigators are not willing to ask the officers the tough questions they would ask in any other homicide that did not involve cops but instead let them off the hook with softball questions.

There are no easy answers but the killing of Walter Scott demonstrates once and for all that some cops lie and murder and think they can get away with it. As long as the public was in denial that approach worked, now the burden is on all of us, police departments and their political leadership to say “enough is enough.”


By: Walter Katz, a former public defender, was part of a task force that challenged convictions in cases brought by corrupt Los Angeles Police Officers in the Ramparts case; Opinion Pages, Room for Debate, The New York Times, April 9, 2015

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Police Abuse, Police Shootings, Walter Scott | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Police Brutality In The High Desert”: You Have To Wonder How Many Other People Have Been Beaten This Way

Maybe the San Bernadino County deputies thought that when Francis Pusok rode a stolen horse into the desert he was galloping himself into a rare realm devoid of civilians with cellphone cameras.

Maybe they thought the only helicopter on the scene was the police chopper circling so low overhead as to spook the horse.

Maybe they failed to notice the NBC news helicopter hovering higher above with the kind of zoom-in camera used to record countless car chases.

Maybe they imagined they had momentarily escaped to that pre-video time when the unwritten rule seemingly everywhere in America was that if you make the cops run you are subject to a beating.

Or maybe they were just so worked up by chasing this 30-year-old alleged horse thief that they did not care who might record what.

Bad enough that Pusok had taken off in a motor vehicle when the deputies arrived at his house on Thursday morning with a search warrant arising from an identity theft investigation.

But then Pusok abandoned the car in Hesperia some 40 miles away and allegedly hopped on a horse. He rode off into a stretch of desert that until Friday was best known for a clothing-optional natural spring.

His pursuers could not keep chasing him in their squad cars and they were not likely to catch him on foot. A police helicopter picked up a team of deputies and set them down in Pusok’s path.

The police chopper then rose and banked back around, swooping low enough to alarm the horse, which had been doing Pusok’s bidding with obvious reluctance.

Upon seeing one of the choppered-in deputies angling on foot toward him, Pusok tried to veer away, but lost his balance and fell from his mount.

The deputy lost his footing at the same time, but drew a Taser as he rose. A second deputy with a Taser came running up just as Pusok was getting back up.

Pusok threw himself face down, either because of the Tasers or the realization that further flight was futile. He immediately extended both hands straight out and then quickly placed them behind his back, apparently on hearing a standard command from the deputies.

He may have imagined that instant compliance would save him from the deputies’ wrath.

That may have been so if this had been just a Throwback Thursday violation of Section 487a (a) of the California Penal Code, which covers “every person who feloniously steals, takes, carries, leads, or drives away any horse, mare, gelding, any bovine animal, any caprine animal, mule, jack, jenny, sheep, lamb, hog, sow, boar.”

Pusok had committed the far graver transgression of making the deputies chase after him by car, helicopter, and finally foot in the desert heat.

The new chopper video shows that the two deputies were no sooner upon Pusok than one of them kicked him in the head. The other kicked him between his splayed legs

Both deputies then punched him again and again. Two more deputies approached. One joined in the kicking and hitting. The other patted the horse on the hindquarters to shoo it away from the pile-on.

That deputy refrained from striking Pusok, as did a fifth deputy who appeared. The fifth one happened to be black. Pusok happened to be white and, if nothing else, the continued pummeling proved that you do not have to be a person of color to be subject to police brutality, that it does not arise only from racism.

Yet another deputy strode up and joined in the beating. The deputy with the horse held the reins and gently patted the animal, comforting it.

A ninth deputy came up when everything seemed to be over. He then began repeatedly kicking Pusok, making it a total of seven deputies to assault the prone prisoner with 17 kicks and 41 punches.

None of the nine deputies appeared to look up and the clattering of the police chopper may well have masked that of the news helicopter. The deputies may have had no idea that this would not be just another arrest.

They certainly learned otherwise when NBC News aired the video, which then flashed through cyber space via YouTube. San Bernadino Sheriff John McMahon announced on Friday that he was putting 10 deputies—including a sergeant and a detective—on leave. Those who did not actually strike Pusok will apparently have to explain why they did nothing to stop the beating.

“I am disturbed and troubled by what I see,” McMahon told the press. “It does not appear to be in line with our policies and procedures.”

Pusok had been taken to a local hospital, charged with felony reckless driving and horse theft. He had a previous record that included shooting a dog, threatening his girlfriend, possessing a firearm while a felon, and kicking out the window of a radio car after he was placed in arrest.

The fact that Pusok had once shot a dog might leave people more inclined to think he deserved a beating than if he had shot a person.

But this particular run-in with the deputies involved only a horse. And, however gentle one of the deputies was with the creature, that seems to have had nothing to do with the beating.

The department is already under federal investigation for alleged brutality at the county detention facility. And a San Bernadino deputy was convicted of assault last year for repeatedly kicking a handcuffed man in the chest and groin.

“Oooh, that had to hurt,” the deputy said with a laugh, according to court documents. “You’re gonna (expletive) hurt in the morning.”

Now seven deputies may well find themselves charged with a gang assault that has the look of a ritual formed in the days before video.

You have to wonder how many other people were beaten this way and left with only their word against that of the deputies.

Just as the video from South Carolina makes you wonder how many unarmed fleeing people were shot by a cop who afterward insisted he fired only because he feared for his life.

Had there been no video in the San Bernadino beating, the deputies could have just said that Pusok fell off the horse.

As for Pusok, he should give thanks he was not back in time all the way to the days when horse thieves were just hanged from the nearest tree.


By: Michael Daly, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 12, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Abuse, Police Brutality | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Lonesome Death Of Walter Scott”: Why Michael Thomas Slager Should Share The Blame

Soon after video recorded by Feidin Santana showing officer Michael Thomas Slager killing Walter Scott went public, Ed Driggers, the chief of the North Charleston, South Carolina, police force where Slager was once employed, spoke to the press. Like an increasing number of law enforcement officials as of late, Driggers found himself suddenly thrust into the media spotlight, tasked with explaining to an outraged nation why one of his officers used deadly force against an unarmed African-American, a 50-year-old father of four, who posed no threat.

But although Driggers’ public appearance was, on a superficial level, all too reminiscent of what we recently saw in places as disparate as Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; Staten Island, New York; and Los Angeles, California, the substance was different. Because rather than mount a defense of officer Slager — who repeatedly claimed that he shot Scott only after a routine stop over a busted taillight led to physical altercation, one during which he feared for his life — Driggers buried him instead. “I have watched the video and I was sickened by what I saw,” he said. “And I have not watched it since.”

What a difference a smartphone can make. As Judd Legum of Think Progress has noted, if not for the remarkably brave Santana, who used his smartphone to record the final moments of Scott’s life, the only version of the story the world would know is the version Slager told. Which, in plain language, was a monstrous lie. There’s no evidence that Scott tried to use Slager’s taser against him, as the officer claimed; the only reason it was found near the dead man’s body, it appears, is because that’s where Slager put it. And contrary to what Slager said in the official incident report, he never feared for his personal safety; as he pumps Scott’s back full of bullets he is calm, cool and collected.

According to the work of one local reporter, Slager’s neighbors didn’t suspect him of being especially malevolent or inclined toward violence. To them, he seemed normal — even nice. Driggers responded with a similar mix of sadness and bewilderment. “I want to believe in my heart of hearts that it was a tragic set of events after a traffic stop,” Driggers said on CNN. “I always look for the good in folks,” he continued, “and so I would hope that nobody would ever do something like that.” Keith Summey, the town’s mayor, was also fatalistic: “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” he told the press. “And if you make a bad decision … you have to live by that decision.”

Neither man was interested in damning Slager; and considering he is now facing charges for murder, that’s probably for the best. But both men went further than simply biting their tongues; they made a point of distancing Slager’s behavior from that of the overall North Charleston police force, too. “The one does not totally throw a blanket across the many,” Driggers said, according to the Los Angeles Times. The mayor and he noted that the NCPD is composed of more than 340 officers. The video traveling all over the world was hideous, no doubt. But it told us nothing of the overall law enforcement system; it was merely a single man making a horrible, horrible mistake.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, because Slager is not the only officer seen in the video. After Scott had fallen to the ground, prostrate and bleeding, and after Slager had barked at him to put his hands behind his back (so he could handcuff him before he lost the ability to move his arms), officer Clarence Habersham, who is African-American, arrives at the scene. His body language, like Scott’s, indicates this was not the first time he’d come upon such a scene. He seems unperturbed as he kneels down to check Scott’s pulse. He makes no real attempt to save the back-shot man’s life. And that’s understandable, really; Scott was likely already dead.

We don’t know yet what exactly transpired between Slager, Habersham, or the third, Caucasian one who joins them later. We don’t know how much they knew, and we don’t know when they knew it. What we do know, though, is plenty. We know that the police department of North Charleston was content to treat Slager’s story as fact; and we know that this was not the first time a member of the force had engaged in acts that we’d otherwise describe as thuggery. We know that in the past five years, police officers in South Carolina have used their guns against 209 human beings; and we know that they were exonerated of wrongdoing every single time.

Lastly, we know that Walter Scott — a father, brother, cousin and veteran; a man who loved to joke and loved to dance, and who was known as the extrovert of his family — died after being shot multiple times when his back was turned. And we know that if he lived long enough to be conscious as Slager tightened the cuffs around each of his wrists, he spent his final moments on this Earth alone, and enchained.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, April 9, 2015

April 12, 2015 Posted by | Michael Thomas Slager, Police Abuse, Walter Scott | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Our National Legacy”: North Charleston Murder Stems From American Tradition

An unarmed man shot in the back. An innocent man released after serving 30 years on death row. The centennial of Billie Holiday’s birth. These are the stories that emanated from my radio yesterday, and all bear a common thread: the devaluing of black life.

The biggest news, of course, came from North Charleston, South Carolina, where Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot in the back by a white police officer after fleeing on foot from the scene of a “routine traffic stop”—also known in some parts as “driving while black.”  One difference this time: The cop was charged with murder after a damning cell-phone video, shot by a bystander, was provided to state authorities, and then posted on the website of the Charleston Post and Courier.

Scott was shot eight times. The video shows the officer, Michael T. Slager, dropping an object, which appears to be his Taser stun-gun, next to Scott’s body. Slager told his bosses that Scott had grabbed the Taser from him. In truth, it seems that what Scott was killed for was not any threat he posed to the officer’s life, but rather the ego of a white cop who couldn’t bear to have his authority defied by a black man. Think about Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Isn’t that ultimately why they died?

It may seem that police killings of black people—and general harassment of African Americans by law enforcement—are on the rise, but chances are that they are not. Chances are better than good that this is the way it’s always been. It’s just that citizens are now able to shoot videos with their phones, and to take to social media to howl about injustice the moment it occurs.

Take the case of Anthony Ray Hinton, 58, just released from Alabama’s death row after spending half his life there for two 1985 murders he didn’t commit. His conviction was based on police assertions that the bullets found at the scene of the crime matched a gun found in his mother’s house. But, when both were tested decades later, they didn’t. Here’s how Hinton explained his predicament to the BBC:

He said he was told by police the crime would be “put on him” and there were five things that would convict him.

“The police said: ‘First of all you’re black, second of all you’ve been in prison before, third, you’re going to have a white judge, fourth, you’re more than likely to have a white jury, and fifth, when the prosecution get to putting this case together you know what that spells? Conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction.’ He was [right] and that’s what happened.”

He said: “I think if I’d have been white they would have tested the gun and said it don’t match and I would have been released, but when you’re poor and black in America you stand a higher chance of going to prison for something you didn’t do.”

Yesterday also brought human-interest stories marking 100 years since the birth of the great jazz innovator, Billie Holiday—meaning that, if, like me, you listen to the kind of radio that celebrates America’s classical music (because that’s what jazz is), you may have caught the iconic strains of Holiday’s brutally graphic tour de force lament of lynching, the centuries-old practice of white mobs hunting down a black person, torturing and mutilating that person, and then usually hanging the body from a tree. For those unfamiliar, here are the opening lines (lyric by Abel Meeropol):

Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves, and blood at the root

Black body swingin’ in the Southern breeze

Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

But you should really listen to the whole thing. Every American should. In fact, it should be part of the Common Core curriculum. Because until we understand this legacy—our national legacy—it’s hard to see how things will ever truly change, except, perhaps, by matter of degree.


By: Adele M. Stan, Guest Blogger, The American Prospect, April 8, 2015

April 9, 2015 Posted by | American History, Police Abuse, Police Shootings | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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