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Friday, September 30, 2011

When Police Are the Criminals

Might the personality type most excited by inflicting pain on others be drawn to “serve” on a police force?  Might force itself be an allurement to such a personality? Moreover, might organizations populated by the personality be inclined to set up defenses against being held accountable either internally or by other organizations? At the very least, deference ought to go to the victims rather than the “officers.”

The New York City police department and the district attorney’s office set investigations in motion after video surfaced of Anthony Bologna of the police department using pepper spray against protesters of Wall Street greed and the lack of accountability there. Even as the department’s own investigation was yet to commence, the chief publically questioned whether the video offered enough context to evaluate the inspector’s actions. To the chief, merely protesting in a way that blocked traffic justifies the use of pepper spray without warning. The inspector’s union boss claimed the motive had been to restore order—though the video shows that the victims were not disorderly or resisting arrest. Indeed, the police did not attempt to arrest those sprayed. It is not difficult to see where the police investigation of its own will go.

Beyond the hypocrisy involved in those sworn to protect actually attacking and the anti-Americanism involved in trying to curtail a protest, it might reasonably be asked whether Bologna was acting on his own, or whether Wall Street money was ultimately behind the aggression. In the protest’s first four days, the mega media companies scarcely covered the protest; Bologna’s unprovoked aggression came after the news networks could no longer viably ignore the movement. So was the case simply that of American banks using the police state to keep a movement from spreading to their detriment? Were there actual accountability on Bologna, might the bird sing, affording us some transparency concerning any such hidden relationships?

Even if no such conspiracy existed, there is obviously a need for stronger instruments of accountability that could be imposed externally on police departments and their employees. In the wake of Bologna’s attacks, the media reported that such incidents are not uncommon. Indeed, I have witnessed them. While in Pittsburgh, for example, I witnessed how the police treated black teenagers who were simply walking along the sidewalks in the university area of town (Oakland). It was evident to me at the time (as a bystander leaving a restaurant) that the police employees believed they did not face any meaningful accountability. So I was not surprised to see video surface of Anthony Bologna’s sadism on full display in New York.

Thomas Hobbes writes that in the state of nature, and even in society, each person has the right to protect his or her person, as per the right of self-preservation. A sovereign cannot take this inalienable right away. When Bologna acted outside of the law, and thus outside of the social contract, his victims had the right to defend themselves, even in using pepper spray against the attacker. In other words, Bologna could and should have been treated as a criminal attacker by his victims and bystanders. Perhaps in the future protestors ought to carry pepper spray in case any criminals show up and attempt any aggressive attacks. It could be that the offending attackers are imprisoned while the self-preserving protestors are exonerated. Then maybe police departments will recognize that accountability applied to their own employees is in the departments’ interest. Legitimate force goes only so far before it lapses into criminality, and we all have an obligation as citizens to thwart crime as it is happening by whomever. If police employees do not want other citizens to be put in the position of making this judgment, then perhaps those employees might want to reassess their attitude and habits. In the meantime, citizens need to be on guard against criminals even and especially where they are least expected and perhaps most commonly found.


Source:

Al Baker and Joseph Goldstein, “Officer’s Pepper-Spraying of Protesters Is Under Investigation,” New York Times, September 29, 2011.