Public Mistrust of Law Enforcement Explained

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Mark Boss on Unsplash

Black Lives Matter and similar movements have been wrongly accused and labeled as threats to police officers by far-right commentators. Accusations that are wholly based on the same prejudices behind racial-profiling and stop-and-frisk policies. Classifying progressive groups as extremist elements instead of hearing them out shows the level of unwillingness to listen to the genuine concerns of citizens. Particularly, while ignoring actual domestic terrorists who have already infiltrated law enforcement agencies.

Additionally, Black Identity Extremists aren’t a real thing. The entire notion is based on a single case involving Olajuwon Ali Davis and Brandon Orlando Baldwin. It is the only case cited by the FBI of “” that led to an attempt to commit “” since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Let us not forget that no movement who stands against police brutality and for criminal justice reform has been responsible for a single murder. However, if you frequent websites such as Breitbart, which we know many cops do, it’s not uncommon for their writers to attempt to link” to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s the same tactic used to refer to anti-fascists as — while fascists are responsible for more deaths in America since 9/11 than Muslim extremists.

Talk of labeling groups as terrorists for the simple act of criticizing unfair and criminal policies adopted by police departments and/or elected officials is a clear cop-out (pun intended). It’s an attempt to avoid looking within the system to address the oppressive policies of departments and the actions of officers across the country. Proposing rational, reasonable solutions and seeking accountability as concerned citizens, does not make anyone a terrorist.

Besides, we know who the real terrorists in America are, don’t we?

“Not only can they go after these people with surveillance, but they can then justify using the most aggressive, violent tactics. Whenever you create an assumption that somebody poses a physical threat to law enforcement, that provides incentive for law enforcement to shoot first and ask questions later.” — Justin Hansford, activist and law professor who heads the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard University.

We know what happens when the FBI labels movements and people as extremists. It has made activists and commentators vulnerable to a barrage of unconstitutional surveillance throughout history. It also makes them likely to be subjected to violence at the hands of law enforcement; who can justify their actions by pointing to the “” classification.

America has been here before.

Antagonizing Rhetoric

Let’s not pretend that the use of charged language is one-sided. There are many cases of Union bosses, police chiefs, officers, and prosecutors using provocative language to stoke animosity between cops and the general public. The use of hyperbolic rhetoric is intentional. It’s used as a deterrent against public criticism of policies that disproportionately target communities of color while escalating the division between police and the public at large.

“We are sick and tired of having targets on our back. We are sick and tired of having dirtbags trying to take our lives when all we’re trying to do is protect this community and protect our families. Enough is enough. If you’re the ones out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy, well just know we’ve all got your number now. We’re going to be keeping track of all of y’all, and we’re going to make sure to hold you accountable every time you stir the pot on our police officers.” — Joe Gamaldi, president Houston Police Officer’s Union

When Joe Gamaldi, who is now the vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police, made his statement it was just hours after five officers were shot in a botched in Houston, Texas. He took a tragedy that killed two innocent civilians as an opportunity to attack activists who are trying to put a stop to the type of corruption exemplified in this very case. Not only is his rhetoric racially charged, but it projects having “” away from the citizens who are routinely brutalized, assaulted, and sometimes murdered at the hands of police.

After former Houston narcotics officer, Gerald Goines was charged with two counts of murder in connection with the January 28 no-knock raid, which resulted in the deaths of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, the City of Houston nor its activist community has received an apology from Gamaldi. Former officer Steven Bryant was also charged with tampering with a government document for lying in a supplemental report two days after the home invasion.

“It’s not just looking at the people that may have committed any crimes, it’s looking at people that may have obstructed justice or maybe hiding evidence they have.” — Ken Magdison, U.S. attorney, Southern District of Texas

We also can’t overlook that twelve additional officers and two sergeants have sought legal representation from the Houston Police Officers Union prior to any of them being named or charged in the incident. While it isn’t out of the ordinary for officers involved in cases of official oppression or corruption to seek legal counsel, the number of officers, in this case, is alarming.

What is arguably the most disconcerting part about the home invasion incident in Houston is that Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg has ordered the review of over 2,200 cases involving the two officers who have been charged. If any of the other fourteen officers are charged in the case, we can expect reviews of cases connected to them as well.

It’s also worth mentioning that Goines had been involved in multiple shootings, racked up dozens of written reprimands, faced several lawsuits, and is currently accused of fabricating a drug deal then lying in court to win a conviction against a man who has long maintained his innocence. These are in addition to his current charges.

Through all of this, the longtime narcotics officer consistently racked up glowing reviews and praise from supervisors who called his work “impressive” and wrote that he set a “good example for new officers in the squad”. After the , as Goines lay in the hospital after the , Chief Art Acevedo praised his courage, describing the 54-year-old sergeant as “strong as an ox” and “tough as nails.”

However, on the streets in the City of Houston, Goines was known as and his reputation is that of what has been described in court documents. He was known for planting evidence, lying on official documents, and perjuring himself in court to keep his record of arrests (and convictions) as high as possible. Thus painting himself as an effective narcotics officer and a value to the city at large. It wasn’t until two white people were murdered as a result of his corruption, that the public would be made aware of who he really is.

Still despite all of that, no apology from Joe Gamaldi or the Houston Police Officers Union.

Reactionary Bias

Cops routinely demonstrate reactionary bias through skewed interpretations of statutes and judgments based on a person’s race or class. This type of bias results in the law, in some cases, being interpreted differently by each officer and being disproportionately enforced towards certain demographics more than others. While this isn’t new, in today’s society, it is out of control.

Some of these reactionary biases are based solely on racism while others are based on learned prejudices. There is no better example than the perception that people of color commit more crime than white folks. This type of thinking is what escalates basic traffic stops into excessive-force situations. Claiming probable cause, when there is none and for the sake of “” persons of color aren’t criminals, is an absurd reality today.

Cops in America enjoy more expansive protections than any other industry. Teachers, for example, are public servants who are also represented by Unions. But teachers are subjected to public scrutiny and community oversight via parent-teacher conferences, parent-teacher association meetings, and open-house events with school leadership. This open-door initiative is what allows teachers and administrators to interact and listen to the concerns of their communities in an effort to best address those concerns.

More Americans today are seeking this type of relationship with their local cops. The pushback, however, from Union bosses is the primary driver preventing the oversight and public scrutiny of police by qualified citizens. Americans, in general, don’t trust the idea of a department brazenly investigating themselves. We’ve seen many recent cases of cover-ups where self-investigations have occurred. Frankly, it’s quite common.

Police perjury, or , is when an officer gives false testimony in court. We also know that officers who do not lie in court are sometimes threatened and almost always ostracized by their fellow officers. In these cases, most cops don’t see themselves as corrupt because they’re not personally profiting from committing perjury. Instead, they justify their lying by claiming they are doing it because the people being imprisoned somehow deserved it.

In Chicago, four officers were recently fired for participating in a cover-up that was meant to help Jason Van Dyke avoid charges in the murder of teenager Laquan McDonald. In the death of Sandra Bland, her cell phone video of her arrest was withheld until just last month when a local paper exposed the video. In that case, it’s now clear that the actions of officer Brian Encinia were unwarranted and his removing her from the vehicle and detaining her was a violation of her civil rights. Violations that directly contributed to her death.

This is not to say all cops are bad. But it’s becoming harder to deny that there are more bad cops out there than the general public once thought. In the age of instantly accessible information and where the news cycles are as fast as you can bear, the incidents of police misconduct are frequent enough to declare that we have a system-wide problem.

And it’s going to require changing course.

Always a Suspect, Never a Victim

A huge part of the problem is the unwritten rules in the Everyone knows it exists. We all grew up knowing what it meant. Especially those of us who have been victims of police brutality. We see how quick cops run to each other’s side to ensure that we are perceived as a suspect and not a victim in their report(s). It happens. A lot more than people think.

Whether it’s a fatality at the hands of a cop or a brutal beatdown of a civilian by a gang of officers, the recipients at the losing end of these incursions are never the victim. They are always the suspect. Terminology in American policing is important. It allows for officers, union officials, police departments, and city officials to control the narrative should they be investigated for using excessive force. The suspect/victim example is but one of the many cases where proper terminology is strictly adhered to in the law enforcement community.

Using specific terminology in reports as investigations into police brutality ramp-up is just the beginning. We’ve seen situations where an officer was before interviewing with detectives in these scenarios. Typically in excessive-force cases, an officer’s first call is to their Union representative. From then on, they maintain the chosen narrative which relies heavily on the victim being seen as a suspect. Sometimes lying and/or planting evidence to achieve it.

This basic narrative is quite successful. It’s used to portray the victim as someone evil and deserving of what happened to them. Their then issues press releases and leak nuggets of information to the media while doing interviews in order to make the victim look as bad as possible before things really heat up. This happens in every single case. From Michael Brown and Eric Garner to Sandra Bland and Botham Jean, they were all painted as criminal, even in death, to protect the jobs of those behind their unjustifiable homicides. It’s the same story, over and over again.

What happened in Houston is no different. Local police, the mayor, and the local media all jumped on the narrative early. Riding the wave of anger and hate from Joe Gamaldi’s press conference with Mayor Sylvester Turner and other Union representatives by his side.

The narrative, however, blew up in Gamaldi’s face.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Here’s where we discuss the obligatory “,” because, in large part, that sentiment is true. There are good cops out there. But, does staying silent in the face of corruption, police brutality, and testilying to “” still make good cops, good?

What about in the face of racism? Does that still make them good cops or are they as complicit as everyone else that supports or defends hate? We’re talking about people who harbor racial and cultural hatred towards others that have been issued a badge and a gun. If the system remains silent in the face of such horrifying corruption, then the system, by default, is protecting and advocating state-sponsored terror.

Cops shouldn’t be allowed to selectively apply the law or enforce departmental policies. That’s now how the system should work. What about integrity? Where’s that standard? Is an officer’s integrity only as good as their silence? Shouldn’t they be enforcing every aspect of the law? Their oath? Particularly when someone uses their official position to commit a crime?

See, the creates more questions than answers. When we see officers who throw up white supremacist hand signals like they’re gang-signs; when departments show more concern for white supremacist groups than those who oppose them; when cops refuse to turn over evidence that would have convicted neo-fascists for assaulting people at hate rallies; then we clearly have a problem that requires our full attention.

It’s time for systemwide changes.

Let’s not act like we didn’t know this is happening. Not too many folks want to address cops cozying up to hate groups. But, there have been too many instances throughout history of racists infiltrating our local police to ignore. We recently saw thousands of instances of this from an independent review of just a handful of departments. In addition to that, we all saw the outrage over the firing of officer Pantaleo in which many cops voiced their displeasure with the firing while disparaging the name of Eric Garner’s family with racist comments.

“Eric Garner I hope you are lonely in that grave, not in heaven or hell but just lying there cold in that ghetto cemetery forever for eternity wanting some chicken ‘n fries with some purple flavored soda…..” — Pressure Point Cop, LERant user

In a public thread on Law Enforcement Rant (LERant), advertising a GoFundMe for Pantaleo,you’ll find comments like “Eric Garner I hope you are lonely … lying there in that ghetto cemetery” and “have they even given his cesspit a headstone yet?” Since the posting of these comments on August 22, other officers have failed to denounce it, and moderators have not removed it.

A quick perusing of public posts on the LERant message board provides a quick explainer as to why these posts are ignored. Nearly every thread has hateful commenters with little rebuke of their comments or posts by their colleagues. Much like the , other officers say nothing in the face of bigotry and hate in a public forum. A profession the general public is supposed to have trust and faith in employs those who say nothing in the face of hate and blatant misconduct.

Even with anonymity, most officers choose to say nothing.

Moving Forward

Here’s the thing, if we want to make America safer for both civilians and cops we need to have open discussions, not just with public-facing officials, but with the rank-and-file members of the police force as well. If officers want to take the initiative to achieve the best public safety we can muster, then it’s on you to start talking to your Union bosses who refuse to talk to the public. The public doesn’t want to talk to union bosses who only display hostility towards citizens.

The uneasiness the public shows for police unions revolves around union bosses ignoring the shortcomings of our current system of policing and instead choose to engage the public in a hostile and sometimes unacceptable manner. In other words, the ball is in your court, coppers.

Still waiting for that apology, Joe.

Written by

Anti-racist activist, essayist, and upcoming author; advocating for equality, justice, and accountability. Support my work at patreon.com/ExtremeArturo

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store