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Police Brutality or Brutal Police?
By Paul Wright
By now most people have seen the gruesome home video of Rodney King being beaten senseless by Los Angeles police. The only thing unusual about this episode is that it was captured on film, not that it happened to begin with.
It is unfortunate that the video's existence was revealed before the cops had a chance to file charges against King, as the usual practice is to claim the victim "assaulted" police who then had to beat him to a pulp.
The mainstream media has treated the King beating as an isolated exception. Yet in 1980 Arthur Duffy, a black man, was beaten to death by Miami police. They claimed he was speeding. The acquittal of the cops led to rioting in Miami.
In March of 1991, after the King video had been broadcast, a man named Doug Jewett was beaten to death in West Palm Beach, Florida, by two policemen. Mr. Jewett's offense? He was hitchhiking when judge, jury and executioner pulled up. Jewett was beaten to a pulp and suffered what the county medical examiner called "the worst genital destruction I have seen outside of Amnesty International reports on Third World dictatorships." Jewett's death didn't get the publicity King's beating did because it wasn't captured on video. The only reason the cover-up by West Palm Beach police failed was because the death was witnessed by an employee of a local newspaper. Two policemen have been charged with second-degree murder in Jewett's death. I doubt that if you or me had beaten a cop to death in the street that we would only be charged with second degree murder.
The beatings and brutality are not confined to civilian police. PLN has reported several beatings and assaults on prisoners across the country. The prison discipline study reported that 70 percent of the prisoner respondents reported seeing beatings or physical abuse of other prisoners at least on a monthly basis. The study found no great deviations from one region of the country to another, and concluded that such abuses of power are the rule rather than the exception in the American gulag archipelago. Unfortunately, prisoners don't have video cameras to document these beatings.
In Los Angeles at least 17 people, most of them black, died after being put in choke holds by police. In 1985 the U.S. Supreme Court decided Lyons v. Los Angeles, a case in which the court declined to halt the practice of killing suspects by police. The court held that the plaintiff could not show a likelihood of being killed himself. Friends who have been arrested in Los Angeles County uniformly comment on the outrageous levels of force used by police.
We should examine why these common, almost daily, exercises in brutality get little attention. Some say that the police exist to protect all citizens, yet it is readily apparent that some citizens are more protected than others. Historically, police have existed to ensure that those with property are able to keep it from those without property in effect, the police become the defenders of the status quo, of a society where a minority of rich people hold nearly all of the wealth.
Some of the most obvious examples of this are the large amount of resources police have poured into union busting, surveillance, disruption and even murder of political dissidents, etc. What does union busting have to do with protecting the public? Nothing, but it has a lot to do with protecting the profit margins of the big companies. The collusion between police and corporations goes back 140 years in U.S. history.
In the urban areas of today's America the police are more like an army of occupation than a public safety force. Largely white and middle class, few cops live in the areas they patrol (due to the segregated nature of many neighborhoods in the U.S.). There is an enormous difference in a white homeowner's perception of the police and that of an unemployed black teenager. The homeowner will likely have contact with the police only when he calls them for help or perhaps for a traffic offense. The black teenager will generally encounter police while being harassed, stopped and searched, etc.
In prison the principle is the same with some small differences. In most prisons a majority of the captives are black or Hispanic and a majority of the guards are white. Except it is the prisoners who are plucked from their homes and stuck in cages far from their families.
The police recognize these differences in how they treat their victims. A white homeowner is unlikely to be beaten to death due to the likelihood of having political connections, being able to get an attorney, and the high level of his credibility relevant to the police. The absence of this makes minorities, especially youth, an easy target of state repression.
The community, in an effort to lessen these abuses, should be policed by those who live there, not foreign occupation forces. It is time that police and other forces of "law and order" were held as accountable for their actions as citizens are for theirs.
[Editorial Note: Paul wrote the above with what remained of the two inch stub of a pencil issued him, while locked down on administrative segregation pending an investigation into allegations that he was a threat to the orderly operation of the prison. That investigation ended with "inconclusive results" and Paul was eventually released back into the population. This writer believes Paul was locked up as a form of retaliation for his exposing police brutality at the prison in the pages of this newsletter.]
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