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Vigilante Justice Against Cops?

Well, the last post about the cop and kid that got killed last weekend has generated a few responses, and the responses got me thinking it was time for a related think session. Not a rant this time.

Today’s topic is vigilante justice – particularly as it relates to cops. In the last rant, I presented a case where a cop had been systematically abusing a kid and the kid finally snapped and killed the cop. The question is: is this appropriate? The following 3 examples share these  common facts:

  • 1). the victim and the cop had a well documented history of conflict
  • 2). the victim had tried (at least once, usually many more times) to resolve the problem through filing complaints with the police, courts, or some sort of police oversight organization, to no effect
  • 3). the cop was not disciplined or held accountable for his actions

Case 1) Lee, NH: a couple is going through a messy divorce, in part because the woman is having an affair with the local police chief (the affair is being kept secret – the husband knows that an affair is going on, but does not know who it is with). In the course of the divorce proceedings, the husband is repeatedly arrested, accused of abuse, and has a number of restraining orders issued, based almost entirely on the testimony of the wife and the police reports submitted by the officers that serve under the wife’s boyfriend (the police chief). The situation comes to a head when the husband is threatened with a long jail sentence because of the repeated assaults and restraining orders. During the 2-3 years that it took for the situation to reach this point, the husband has lost his job because of the criminal charges. As a result of losing his job, he has also been forced to move back into his parents house. While living in his parents house, his parents begin to receive the same abuse from the local police.

What should the husband do? His life is in a shambles, he can not leave because the divorce is still ongoing, and now his parents are being subjected to fictitious accusations from the local police? This case actually has a decent outcome. The husband managed to get the attention of a large civil rights organization, which used its power to initiate an investigation of the small-town police chief. During the course of the investigation, it became clear that either all, or almost all of the reports of abuse were fictitious. The police chief had used his position to help his girlfriend destroy the life of the husband. Over the next 18 months or so, the town, all of the police oversight groups and the local D.A. did everything they could to hush up the story. Of course, the policeman’s union was also doing everything they could to protect the police from the results of their illegal actions. Eventually, the entire criminal record of the man was thrown out, and the police chief was forced to resign.

Note that there is no mention of restitution for the victim. One of the cops that had participated in filing the false reports was promoted to chief. So, despite the fact that it was proved in court that the entire police force had been involved in a conspiracy to send an innocent man to prison, not a single cop was punished. The chief was forced to resign, but retained his full pension. Remember, this is considered to be a GOOD outcome. (NOTE: not surprisingly, this police force is well known to the local civil rights groups and has not done anything to clean up its act. As a matter of fact, the same police force has been in the papers for cops assaulting and raping women, assault, intimidation, and a whole series of offences that a civilian would never get away with. Without exception, the victims are constantly discouraged from pursuing their cases, shuffled off to the side, and told that if they *do* pursue their case, they should be prepared to move out of town. To date, not a single cop has faced a penalty more severe than moving to another local police force.)

Case 2) Dover, NH: A young man has a long history of small-time drug possession busts (note that this makes him a felon). One of the local cops has been particularly aggressive in his attempts to find excuses to bust the man, including illegal searches, breaking into the man’s apartment to search it without a warrant, and a series of assaults that never had any witnesses. One day, the man is hanging out, and he sees the cop approaching. The man takes off in an effort to avoid the cop. The cop pulls his gun, and shoot him in the back. At the time, there was a law on the books that stated a cop could shoot a fleeing felon. The man had no weapons, and had done nothing illegal. The cop never told him to stop, or did anything to indicate that he was trying to arrest, question, or speak to the man. A number of witnesses stated that the cop simply pulled his gun and shot the guy with no warning. End result? the guy is dead, and the cop doesn’t even have to face a trial – he literally got away with murder. Imagine the same set of circumstances if the cop had just been a normal guy. Can you imagine he’d have walked without even being charged? Can you imagine what would happen to a normal guy that pulled that on a cop?

Case 3) L.A. Calif: A specialized anti-gang unit has been having very little luck curtailing gang activity. Suddenly, they make a flurry of arrests on a variety of charges from weapons and drug charges to assault and murder charges. As thier arrest rates increase, they become the starts of the police force. This continues for a decade. Finally, the F.B.I. responds to a long series of complaints, and it comes to light that the cops in the special unit had not only been lying in their court testimony, but had planted evidence, killed civilians (and blamed other for it), and had pretty much reigned over the area as a local government supported mob. If anyone crossed the cops, they’d end up dead or in jail. After a long trial, a couple of the cops actually got jail time, but most of them were simply “disciplined” or let go.

All three of these cases have a lot in common. The scope is a bit different, but in all three cases, a police force has stopped enforcing the law, and has decided to become the law. The police force oversight groups don’t actually do anything to hold police accountable, but actually act to try and hush up the offenses. On the rare occasion when a cop is actually forced to face a trial, its practically a given that he will get off scott free, regardless of what he has done. So what do you do when a cop is above the law? Read on…..

The next case takes place in a very rural poor area of the country. Poor. As in can’t afford to buy food poor (think of stereotypic Ozarks poor). Most of the families in this area rely on hunting to put food on the table, and the game warden (a local guy) tends to look the other way. Things have been going along this way for a long time. Finally, the game warden is too old to continue working, and retires. A new Game Warden is shipped in. The new game warden refuses to consider the financial situation of the locals, and enforces the hunting laws aggressively. One day, the game warden goes into the woods pursuing a guy who is well known as one of the folks that feeds his family with out of season hunting. The game warden is never seen again. For some reason, the investigation (handled by non-local state investigators) can’t seem to find any evidence, and gets very little cooperation from the locals. The case is eventually closed with no finding. It *is* interesting to note that the local police also somehow couldn’t seem to find any evidence of foul play….

Unfortunately this case is a rarity. It is much more common for the victim of police abuse to simply give up. If possible, they move away. If they aren’t so lucky, they end up in jail or dead. Remember, we’re talking about people that have done nothing more serious than pissing of a local cop. So what should people do? Is it appropriate to take the situation into your own hands? I guess that depends on how desperate your situation is. No matter what the situation, if someone kills a cop, chances are very good that, no matter what the situation, that person will end up jail for life. If you’re desperate enough, and can accept the repercussions, go ahead, but be aware that you’re going to be on your own.

It would be nice to think that our society could deal with crooked cops in a civilized manner, but the reality is that there is simply no mechanism available to the ordinary person for dealing with police abuse, in fact, exactly the opposite is true. The concept of the police policing themselves is insane, but it is all that we have. Who needs secret police when the regular police are beyond the law? The resolution of the situation lies with the police and courts themselves. They can admit that the problem of police abuse of power is endemic, and actually try to do something about it, or they can let things continue to escalate. If the police are not stopped, history has shown that the inevitable end result is violent rebellion. It will start with the occasional killing of a cop, with a bit of press coverage (take a look at New York, Chicago, Detroit and L.A. police forces in the news over the past decade). Eventually, enough people will realize that the cops simply are not protecting them, and will stop relying on the cops for protection. When that happens, the cops themselves will suddenly find themselves on the other end of the gun (literally in this case). It will become more and more common for victims of sustained police abuse to simply use the cops own tactics against them. Think of the game warden. All it took to resolve the issue there was a small community committed to ensuring that a local thug was held accountable (it *is* ironic that in that case the game warden was actually doing his job..). Can you imagine what it will be like when a cop goes to court to testify, and the jury *assumes* he’s lying – because they know someone that has been the victim of police abuse? Imagine what will happen when someone kills a cop, and jury decides that it was justified, and lets the killer go free? Think about a case where a known thug/cop is shot and killed, but there are no witnesses – despite the fact that it happened downtown on a busy Saturday morning.

So, is vigilante justice appropriate to kncock the cops back in line? Unfortunately, the real answer in America today, is that there simply is no other path that has any chance of success. The chance of a cop being held accountable for a crime is pretty much zero. In all likelyhood, anyone that attempts to pursue a lawsuit against a cop will simply end up in more trouble – remember: its the cops that collect and store the evidence, file the charges, and make prosecution possible. Do you really think they’re going to work to bust their friends? When people have no option except violence, that’s what they will be forced to turn to. Think of the French Revolution. Right now, the police have their cake, and are eating it too. How long do you think it can continue until someone pulls the rope on the guillotine?

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