The saga of police overreach reached a point of absurdity today: a Los Angeles police officer wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post saying people who are hurt or killed by police have only themselves to blame, because police can do anything they want with impunity and the victims ought to have known that.
The article even comes with a direct threat as a headline: “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.” This should terrify you.
Remember when police were members of the community, there to protect and help people? Yeah, those days are gone. Now we have thugs exercising their arbitrary authority over their helpless victims, demanding respect and instant compliance under pain of injury or death. In Officer Sunil Dutta’s own words:
❝ Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. ❞
Pretty direct, huh? A list of things that are perfectly legal that will nonetheless get you hurt or killed, and this scumbag thinks that’s just fine. Officer Dutta goes on to argue that if your rights are violated, you can later “ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations.” From your hospital bed, jail cell, or morgue slab, presumably.
He tells us we should try to understand the plight of the poor police officer: the risks of the job, the uncertainty of each encounter, and accommodate them. Listen, motherfucker, how about if you try and see it from our point of view? We’re suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with a big, mean man, an armed man, who has total power over our lives. He can do anything he wants to us short of murder with impunity, and has a good chance of getting away with murder, too. We have no real way to defend ourselves: even if we are armed, it won’t do any good. He can end our life right then just because he feels like it, and forget about it by dinnertime because he doesn’t give a crap.
Every single day we hear about police—criminals wearing uniforms, essentially—doing exactly that. Then shooting the dog, for good measure. They can pepper-spray students for sitting quietly. They can push a woman into the street, then arrest her for blocking traffic. They can execute a man wearing headphones for not obeying verbal commands quickly enough. They can put whole neighborhoods under martial law to hunt for one teenager. They can deploy military hardware against unarmed protesters. And they can suppress media reporting on their activities.
Police in Ferguson aren’t wearing name tags or numbered badges. The only reason for this is to get away with wrongdoing. They’re going out intending to abuse their authority, and they don’t care who knows it, because there won’t be any consequences. It’s so well-known that there won’t be any consequences that they aren’t even trying to hide it. They have to win, no matter what: like teenagers in street gangs, they can’t abide being “dissed.”
“Militarization” is the word that’s been thrown around lately, but people who have actually been in the military have pointed out that this goes beyond even that. Police in Ferguson, former soldiers tell us, are rolling with more firepower than the soldiers did in Iraq and Afghanistan, and confronting protesters so aggressively that it would violate the rules of engagement in actual war zones.
They want to play with their toys, and they want us to submit and respect their authority, and if we don’t, they will hurt us. And they don’t mind saying so under their own names in a national newspaper.
So, motherfucker, put yourself in our shoes for a minute. Faced with one of these people, what are we supposed to think other than oh my god, what is this criminal going to do to me? Are you surprised some of us might get upset?
They can blame the protesters for breaking the law—but the protesters are breaking the law because of police escalation. When you incite the riot, you get some of the blame for it. They can try to make Michael Brown look bad, and maybe he was bad—but it doesn’t matter. This isn’t just about one unarmed teenager any more. It’s about how “protect and serve” became “comply or die.”