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Undernews: When Police Riot

Undernews: When Police Riot

By Sam Smith

What happened during the recent Washington demonstrations - just as a couple of years earlier in DC, Philadelphia and Seattle - can properly be classified as a police riot. In all four cases, the major crimes were committed not by the protesters but by law enforcement.

Most recently, approximately 650 peaceful protesters were arrested in Washington on one day, the third largest mass arrest in the city's history and the second greatest on a single day. The offenses with which they were charged were almost all minor misdemeanors that in a civilized society would have been handled with a ticket or a summons. Instead the protesters were manhandled, assaulted, dragged, handcuffed and then incarcerated under conditions that constituted deliberate mistreatment in some cases bordering on - as in the case of those left cuffed long hours from hand to foot - a form of torture.

Many, if not most, of the protesters had committed no offense at all. They had simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time when the DC police decided to coral anyone within a certain area and take them off to jail.

In doing so, the police committed a number of serious criminal offenses including false arrest - seizing those who had been given no lawful order to disperse and, worse, physically preventing them from leaving the scene. The police also engaged in assaults on protesters.

These were not just "violations of civil liberties" but actual criminal attacks that within another context - with the offending party out of uniform - would have been easily seen as a felony. In uniform or not, however, those engaging in such offenses should be confronted not just with civil actions but with criminal complaints. Further, the fact that the offenders were in uniform aggravated the assaults on at least three counts:

- The offenses were not only against the victims but against the laws and the Constitution the officers had sworn to uphold.

- The offenses damaged the reputation of those law enforcement officers who try to enforce the law fairly.

- Worst, the offenses intimidate those who wish to express their constitutional rights, clearly discouraging them from doing so.

The media has made sure, however, that most people don't understand this. Through endless TV police shows and the blasé manner in which the press covers police brutality and misconduct, the media has encouraged the public to accept criminal excesses by the police and has encouraged the cops to engage in them. In the Washington example, the Washington Post prior to the demonstrations beat the drums for a police crackdown and afterwards, the so-called alternative weekly, City Paper ridiculed the protesters and had no substantive criticism of the police.

We could find only one mainstream journalist - Adrienne Washington of the Washington Times - who spoke up for the First amendment and one local law professor who wrote an op ed piece criticizing the police.

In such ways has the media deeply enabled the sociopathy of contemporary law enforcement, the end of constitutional government, and the growing and completely rational fear of law-abiding citizens that speaking up for one's rights has become too dangerous to attempt.

One of the best descriptions of the proper role of a law enforcement officer was that delivered by Alexander Hamilton to the first group of officers of the Revenue Marine, later the US Coast Guard. Said Hamilton:

"While I recommend in the strongest terms to the respective officers, activity, vigilance and firmness, I feel no less solicitude that their deportment may be marked with prudence, moderation and good temper. . . They will bear in mind that their countrymen are freemen, and as such are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of domineering spirit. They will, therefore refrain, with the most guarded circumspection, from whatever has the semblance of hautiness, rudeness or insult. If obstacles occur, they will remember that they are under the particular protection of the laws and they can meet with nothing disagreeable in the execution of their duty which these will not severely reprehend. . . This reflection, and regard to the good of the service, will prevent at all times a spirit of irritation or resentment. They will endeavor to overcome difficulties, if any are experienced, by a cool and temperate perseverance in their duty -- by address and moderation rather than by vehemence and violence."

Little so well measures how far this country has fallen than the archaic sound of these wise words.



Oct 7, 2002
From the Progressive Review:
Inside the Beltway, Out of the Loop, Ahead of the Curve
Since 1964, Washington's most unofficial source
Edited by Sam Smith
1312 18th St. NW #502, Washington DC 20036
202-835-0770 Fax: 835-0779

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