We aren’t a civilization based on how we treat those we love; we become one when we see the humanity in those we revile.
The good cops haven’t gone anywhere, although they occasionally get fired for being good cops. I am concerned this might be happening more frequently as police forces across the nation continue to be paramilitarized.
However, by and large, most peace officers are good people, willing to work at a dangerous job to protect and serve you and your family. They are your neighbors; you see them shopping in the grocery store; their children are classmates with your children; their mothers live in the same assisted living center as your parents.
The individual peace officers committing the crimes you read about in police brutality cases are often just human beings stuck in a very bad situation. Yes, when you have authority, you should act better than that. But, sometimes I wonder if I could be better.
There are many examples of excellent American and foreign police officers going above and beyond to create a sense of belonging to the communities they serve. Fired Police Officer Justin Hanners of Auburn, Alabama is one such officer.
Officer Hanners did the math when told by new Police Chief Paul Register that he had to meet quotas of interacting with and, preferably, ticketing 100 citizens a month in the town of 57,000 residents. This 100 interactions/month/officer amounted to 72,000 interactions/year in a town of only 57,000 residents. When contacted about the quota system, “City Manager Charles Duggan acknowledged that a quota was ‘wrongfully conveyed,'” and the Police Chief denied it existed. But Officer Hanners had folks on tape discussing the quota system.
“I swore an oath to the people; I did what I was sworn to do. I just did my job.” That’s what Hanners had to say about getting fired in March 2013 for not fluffing up his ticket count by fraudulently issuing tickets to innocent citizens.
It is a serious risk for a young police officer to go against their superiors; the city is covering up, the police chief lying, the officer fired for failing to ticket every citizen he encounters in the town of Auburn. And, the officer has two young children to support on his salary, which is now gone–the usual fate of whistle blowers.
What should he have done besides expose the corruption in the police department? When peace officers are engaged in writing bogus tickets to citizens to meet quotas, they are not spending their time monitoring for crime. Did you ever watch Adam-12? It was about a patrol car, because police officers patrol their neighborhood. They become familiar with what is usual, and they can spot what looks out of place. By being aware and observing their neighborhood, and by being present, they both prevent crimes and are alert to catching and stopping crimes.
A police officers devoting excessive amounts of time to writing bogus tickets offends the citizens he or she is sworn to protect, degrades his ability to monitor crime in the neighborhood and interferes with identifying crimes in progress.
A corrupt police department, unknowing of their duty to protect and serve, is not an effective police department.
David Connor Castellani is 20 years old and was shown the door of a casino for being only 20. Police officers talked to the young man outside the casino, then Mr. Castellani walked off. When he was across the street, he started mouthing off at the police officers. The police officers ignored him for a few minutes, then they headed across the street to assault Mr. Castellani for saying bad words. All this was captured on a surveillance video taken by a camera outside the casino. Cameras near casinos!
Okay, Atlantic City police apparently can’t take the heat of someone mouthing off to them, and two officers, then five, headed over to beat up Mr. Castellani. Soon a K-9 vehicle arrived while the young man was on the ground being pummeled by the first five officers. This was a very special K-9 vehicle though, not just an ordinary one. K-9 officer Sterling Wheaten has been sued multiple times by citizens and investigated by the Atlantic City police internal affairs on numerous occasions for excessive use of force. Castellani was prone, rather beaten up already, but Officer Wheaten had the dog go for Castellani ‘s neck. Eventually the young man needed 200 stitches. That will teach him to exercise his first amendment rights!
So what’s going on here? Are Atlantic City Police officers such wimps that five of them could not take down a prone man they were punching, kneeing and kicking about the head? Such wimps that they needed to add dog bites to a neck that was already torn to shreds by their knees and fists?
And now the young man is being charged with aggravated assault. So, did he assault the officers by forcing them to punch, kick and knee his head through his arms as he tried to protect himself? So the police officers got bruises from Castellani’s arms being in the way of Castellani’s head? I’m trying to see Castellani’s assault in the video. I don’t.
Or, maybe the real aggravation and assault is what he said, maybe it was, “Na na na na na,” that he said to the Atlantic City police officers. That would require a K-9, since the sissies couldn’t take it to be called names, they obviously couldn’t take it for the five of them to arrest a young man. Is that the assault, the taunting?
I don’t know if police officers have always been this aggressive. Screws certainly was an asshole with a tiny ego that wounded easily back in 1945, but vicious police actions against blacks, who were also being lynched by their local politicians on dirty sheet night back then, was kinda the norm, back then. We’ve moved beyond that. We have to have. This is the twenty first century, not the early or mid twentieth pre civil rights century. But it seems that Atlantic City police officer Sterling Wheaten, like Screws, also has a fragile ego that needs protected by beating up loud mouths. Remember, that was part of Hall’s crime, the outrage that caused Hall’s death, Hall was also using insulting language against a police officer.
Is crime so low in Atlantic City that the police can afford to sic six police officers and a K-9 on a single citizen, because the officers are doing nothing else? No murders, no rapes, nothing that required the attention of these officers, and, therefore, they could afford to take care of that bad name-calling young man and teach him a lesson, the anti-free speech lesson.
To his credibility, in a recent interview, Castellani says that even after this he knows that not all police officers are bad. This is true. But these police officers are very bad. And they are incompetent. And, their tender egos may prove a hazard in real crime situations.
Screws v. United States 325 U.S. 91 (1945) was a case in which the US Supreme Court undid the federal civil rights convictions of three Georgia peace officers on a technicality. The three lawmen, Sheriff M. Claude Screws and deputy sheriff Jim Bob Kelley of Baker County, Georgia, and Newton, Georgia police officer, Frank Edward Jones, had beaten to death Robert Hall, a black man, while he was in their custody. The Sheriff admitted to the FBI that he had a grudge against Hall, in part because Hall was a vocal advocate for black civil rights. In addition, Hall had managed to get the state grand jury to summon the sheriff to answer questions about Hall’s allegations that the sheriff had unlawfully taken Hall’s gun.
The three Georgia peace officers beat Hall to death with their fists and billy clubs, because Screws was vengeful that Hall had gotten him summoned before the grand jury, and because Screws was just tired of Hall having any voice in the local black community. As was typical of the times, they got away with it. Almost. But then, yes, they did.
The three men were not charged with murder by the State of Georgia, as they would be today, should they be caught by dash cam or cell phone. Instead, the US Department of Justice, under pressure from President Roosevelt, and, after failing to get the State of Georgia to bring murder or manslaughter charges, brought civil rights charges against the three men under federal criminal codes dealing with the “deprivation of rights under color of law.”
The three men were found guilty under federal law, a crime carrying a fine of $1000 and a year in jail. They appealed their convictions to the Court of Appeals, which agreed with the lower court, then to the US Supreme Court. The Court said that the trial had been faulty, because, essentially, by beating Hall to death, the three peace officers had not intended to deprive Hall of a civil right and the jury should have been instructed that this was a major consideration for the crime, the intentions of the peace officers. The peace officers did not argue this, the Supreme Court brought it up for them. Essentially the court said that although it appeared they were guilty of manslaughter or murder under Georgia laws, this did not amount to a federal civil rights violation if the officers were not purposefully depriving Hall of his civil rights by beating him to death, and the proper place to decide whether this was what happened was in a jury. The case was sent back to the federal court, and the second trial did not convict the three men. Screws worked as Sheriff in Baker County until he was elected to a single term as a state senator.
“The case comes here established, in fact, as a gross abuse of authority by state officers. Entrusted with the state’s power and using it, without a warrant or with one of only doubtful legality, they invaded a citizen’s home, arrested him for alleged theft of a tire, forcibly took him in handcuffs to the courthouse yard, and there beat him to death. Previously, they had threatened to kill him, fortified themselves at a near-by bar, and resisted the bartender’s importunities not to carry out the arrest. Upon this and other evidence which overwhelmingly supports the verdict, together with instructions adequately covering an officer’s right to use force, the jury found the petitioners guilty.”
The Supreme Court opened the discussion of the case with this to say about the murder of Hall: “This case involves a shocking and revolting episode in law enforcement.” In 1945 the probability of a white peace officer being tried for the lynching of a black man was close to or equal to zero. It was difficult to see what justice could be brought by trying men for violating his civil rights for beating him to death when his actual murder was not a crime that was ever investigated by the State of Georgia. Today, accusations of police brutality are on the rise because police car cameras and citizen cell phones are capturing the necessary evidence for making such accusations.
Yes, three drunk lawmen beat a black man to death in Georgia in 1945, and they got away with it, with the help of the US Supreme Court and its belief that a fair trial was possible, or so it seems to me. So, the federal court did not let the jury decide whether death was a civil rights violation, so let’s see if we can get two lynching convictions in a row? In 1945, in the US, lynchings were rarer than they had been, partly because of the black service men in WWII, but also because of a greater integration into American society of blacks in the northern states and the West. Segregation was still the rule, but society was becoming more civil.
The Supreme Court was very concerned by the murdering sheriff’s civil rights being trod upon, but a black man beaten to death and his civil rights, well, that could be argued. Still, a lot of authors and civil rights advocates consider this case to be a turning point, in spite of its horrid end results, three white lawmen freed from responsibility for a “shocking” crime, to the end that the Supreme Court later heard cases that did grant civil rights to blacks.
Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes under American Law by Frederick M. Lawrence, ISBN-13: 978-0674738454, Harvard University Press (May 15, 1999)