While there has been a lot of commentary about the Justice Department report on the thugs who run Ferguson (run is the appropriate verb, as the officers were following orders–the elected officials are just as bad), two parts of the report leapt out at me. First, this Kafkaesque arrest (boldface mine):
Even relatively routine misconduct by Ferguson police officers can have significant consequences for the people whose rights are violated. For example, in the summer of 2012, a 32-year-old African-American man sat in his car cooling off after playing basketball in a Ferguson public park. An officer pulled up behind the man’s car, blocking him in, and demanded the man’s Social Security number and identification. Without any cause, the officer accused the man of being a pedophile, referring to the presence of children in the park, and ordered the man out of his car for a pat-down, although the officer had no reason to believe the man was armed. The officer also asked to search the man’s car. The man objected, citing his constitutional rights. In response, the officer arrested the man, reportedly at gunpoint, charging him with eight violations of Ferguson’s municipal code. One charge, Making a False Declaration, was for initially providing the short form of his first name (e.g., “Mike” instead of “Michael”), and an address which, although legitimate, was different from the one on his driver’s license. Another charge was for not wearing a seat belt, even though he was seated in a parked car. The officer also charged the man both with having an expired operator’s license, and with having no operator’s license in his possession. The man told us that, because of these charges, he lost his job as a contractor with the federal government that he had held for years.
But why stop with adults? Welcome to school, kids (boldface mine):
In February 2014, officers responded to a group of African-American teenage girls “play fighting” (in the words of the officer) in an intersection after school. When one of the schoolgirls gave the middle finger to a white witness who had called the police, an officer ordered her over to him. One of the girl’s friends accompanied her. Though the friend had the right to be present and observe the situation—indeed, the offense reports include no facts suggesting a safety concern posed by her presence—the officers ordered her to leave and then attempted to arrest her when she refused. Officers used force to arrest the friend as she pulled away. When the first girl grabbed an officer’s shoulder, they used force to arrest her, as well.
Officers charged the two teenagers with a variety of offenses, including: Disorderly Conduct for giving the middle finger and using obscenities; Manner of Walking for being in the street; Failure to Comply for staying to observe; Interference with Officer; Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer; and Endangering the Welfare of a Child (themselves and their schoolmates) by resisting arrest and being involved in disorderly conduct. This incident underscores how officers’ unlawful response to activity protected by the First Amendment can quickly escalate to physical resistance, resulting in additional force, additional charges, and increasing the risk of injury to officers and members of the public alike….
FPD officers respond to misbehavior common among students with arrest and force, rather than reserving arrest for cases involving safety threats. As one SRO told us, the arrests he made during the 2013-14 school year overwhelmingly involved minor offenses—Disorderly Conduct, Peace Disturbance, and Failure to Comply with instructions. In one case, an SRO decided to arrest a 14-year-old African-American student at the Ferguson Middle School for Failure to Comply when the student refused to leave the classroom after getting into a trivial argument with another student. The situation escalated, resulting in the student being drive-stunned with an ECW in the classroom and the school seeking a 180-day suspension for the student. SROs’ propensity for arresting students demonstrates a lack of understanding of the negative consequences associated with such arrests. In fact, SROs told us that they viewed increased arrests in the schools as a positive result of their work. This perspective suggests a failure of training (including training in mental health, counseling, and the development of the teenage brain); a lack of priority given to de-escalation and conflict resolution; and insufficient appreciation for the negative educational and long-term outcomes that can result from treating disciplinary concerns as crimes and using force on students.
For those of you wondering what the hell “being drive-stunned with an ECW” is, that’s where Officer Friendly holds a Taser against someone without firing the projectiles so as to cause “pain compliance”–which violates U.S. guidelines.
What links these episodes is that this is how we turn ordinary people into criminals. Even if these encounters don’t directly lead to incarceration, losing a job, or ‘gaining’ a criminal record makes it that much harder to integrate into society, let alone if the victim happens to have another encounter with the criminal justice system. In the first case, the police turned a solid citizen into an unemployed person with an arrest record. With the kids, if they ever do something stupid–as children are wont to do–they now have a history of being ‘troublemakers’, which could figure into how they are treated by a prosecutor or judge.
As is the case with marijuana arrests, we are creating a group of ‘pre-criminals’ who will have more difficulty remaining in (or joining) mainstream society, while at the same time, who are also more likely to be treated more harshly by the judicial system.
Not sure how that ends well.