Police Officers Rarely Face Meaningful Punishment for Excessive Force and Brutality
The infamous Lieutenant John Pike, who so nonchalantly sprayed weapons-grade pepper spray into the faces of seated, peacefully protesting students at U.C. Davis is reportedly no longer employed at the university. This is good news for any students who might wish to exercise their free speech and right to assemble in the future, but why has he not been disciplined for his excessive use of force? It is not clear whether or not he was fired or if he resigned. At the time of the incident he claimed that he felt trapped by a hostile crowd, but photos, video, and an internal report at the school show otherwise. He is seen stepping over the line of seated students and brandishing a large canister of pepper spray like a trophy before unleashing a torrent of spray directly into their faces at nearly point-blank range, despite the minimum firing distance of six feet specified by the company who manufactures MK-9 pepper spray.
The pepper spray used in this incident causes extreme pain and respiratory effects that can be life-threatening for people with heart problems or asthma. The gross disregard for protocol and safe deployment of his weapon borders on criminal behavior. Several of the students are now suing UC Davis and Pike. Pike had been on paid leave, drawing his regular salary for eight months; he made$121,680 annually. Now that he has left his position permanently, he has full rights to his retirement and has escaped major punishment, despite using an unsanctioned weapon improperly and without training. A second officer involved in the incident, whose name was not released, has also left UC Davis. The internal report found fault with school chancellor Linda Katehi and Pike’s direct supervisor, along with Officer Pike himself. An article in The Atlantic presents some of the reasons why we will never know what, if any, disciplinary actions were taken against the parties involved.
At the time of the UC Davis incident, the Occupy movement was in full force, with reports of excessive force and police brutality being reported all over the nation. Indeed, incidents of excessive force by officers of the law appear to be increasing. across the board, with few of the officers involved being convicted of crimes, or even losing their positions. Amnesty International estimates that over 500 Americans have died as result of being Tasered. Cops routinely shock unarmed, non-violent people, including pregnant women and a woman who questioned a traffic stop, right in front of their children!
From January 2010 through December 2010 the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project recorded 4,861 unique reports of police misconduct that involved 6,613 sworn law enforcement officers and 6,826 alleged victims. 23.8% of those incidents involved allegations of excessive force. 127 of those incidents resulted in fatalities. An interesting, and very disturbing finding by the project:
While the rate of police officers officially charged with murder is only 1.06% higher than the current general population murder rate, if excessive force complaints involving fatalities were prosecuted as murder the murder rate for law enforcement officers would exceed the general population murder rate by 472%.
Incidentally, the agency that logged the highest number of complaints of police misconduct is in Lee County, Florida-home of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin and escaped arrest until public outcry demanded an inquiry into the department’s decision not to arrest him.
Even when prosecuted, the conviction rates for officers are much lower than that of the general public. The same goes for length of sentences following successful prosecution.
Most police cars are equipped with dash cams, and a majority of people have phones capable of capturing images of police brutality as it occurs, such as the shocking video of Oscar Grant being shot in the back while lying cuffed on the ground. Despite this, officers often receive very light sentences if even prosecuted. Many are able to retain their jobs with a slap on the wrist. Grant’s killer, who claimed he thought he was tasering the young man, got two years. A regular person who exercised such gross negligence would have arguably received a much harsher sentence. Eddie Carr, whose young son found his gun and shot his younger brother to death by accident, received nearly seven years in prison for his negligence. Why would a trained officer of the law get less? Because of his service to the community?
Officer Edward Krawetz got a suspended sentence for felony battery. Imagine what a private citizen would have gotten for kicking an unarmed, bound woman in the head!
Powerful images continue to circulate the internet and find their way onto the news. Knowing that many of these officers escape justice leads to a heightened sense of helplessness and anger among Americans. A recent decision by the Supreme Court has found that citizens can be strip-searched for minor offenses. Stop-and-frisk practices are on the rise in many metropolitan areas. Enhanced TSA searches, wireless wiretaps, and drones patrolling domestic skies lead some to feel that the U.S. is turning into a police state. Walking while black is as dangerous as ever, even for unarmed honors students like Jordan Miles, who was severely beaten for nothing.
I am not out to demonize police officers. The vast majority of police do what they have vowed to do-protect and serve the public. But when bad cops and cops who exercise extremely poor judgment routinely get NO real punishment for abusing those they are supposed to serve, all cops get a bad rap. It makes their jobs more dangerous and it makes the public more distrustful of law enforcement. Citizens of the United States, land of the free, should be safe from abuse by those in power. Peaceful protesters shouldn’t be assaulted for exercising their rights granted by the Constitution. Unarmed citizens should not be shot like dogs in the street or beaten to a bloody pulp. We can do much better than this.