In 1965, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates created the first quasi-military police unit in the country known as Special Weapons and Tactics, or S.W.A.T. Large and small police forces across the country rapidly followed suit. Since then, SWAT has become the go to resource of choice for raiding everything from drug dealers to suburban neighborhood poker games. They conduct hundreds of “wrong door” raids every year, and shoot 25,000 family dogs in the process. They always shoot the dogs.
Then in 1968, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Terry vs Ohio that cops in every state could stop and frisk anyone based on nothing more than “reasonable suspicion”. That’s the very same doctrine that allowed Colorado cops to accost and murder innocent Elijah McClain. What followed was a 1970’s era crime bill orgy which ushered in the passage of hundreds of tough on crime bills giving cops and prosecutors almost unlimited powers.
Next came the “War on Drugs”, “civil asset forfeiture” and “equitable sharing” laws which give cops almost unregulated power to seize our homes, cars, bank accounts, and assets with nothing more than flimsy, unproven evidence. They don’t even have to actually charge anyone with a crime, let alone convict.
Is it any wonder that cops today have become so emboldened that they are murdering unarmed citizens with impunity? If the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem becomes a nail.
For decades our police have been trained, indoctrinated and armed to function as hammers treating every situation as a nail. I don’t claim to have all the answers.
I do know that if we are to have a humane, fair, civilized system of policing and criminal justice then we have to adopt a radically different philosophy of policing which underlies the physical tactics and activities of policing.
Here are some common sense measures that need to be in place:
- Outlaw choke holds completely.
- Outlaw shooting suspects in the back. Shoot someone in the back-lose your job.
- Outlaw police ordered use of injecting suspects with any drug ever.
- Outlaw “No Knock” warrants.
- Mandate body cams on every single cop, jailer and prison guard across this country.
- Mandate civilian oversight boards for every police department, jail and prison operation in the country.
- Improve and mandate rigorous psychological testing for cops, jailers and prison guards.
- Create a national database for cataloguing and tracking abusive cops and their conduct.
- Develop an automated violation rating system which assigns an automated “score” to cops and guards who violate policies, human or civil rights or use excessive force and which mandates dismissal once a predetermined score is reached.
- Allow the press unfettered access to our jails and prisons again so we can see what is actually going on.
- Hold cops and guards and prosecutors to a higher standard not a lesser one. These people carry the power of life or death on their hip and in their briefcases and must represent the pinnacle of ethical, humane conduct 100% of the time.
In short America, we need to get off our collective asses and start paying attention. Newsflash: Freedom ain't free! We need to switch off the big game, put down that phone, drop that triple cheese burger, find out what’s going on, grow a pair and take back the law as a shield against government overreach and police abuse.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom has stood up to the prison Guards Union and initiated much needed reforms. Newly elected L.A. District Attorney George Gascon is taking courageous new measures to bring about change. A grassroots organization called Initiate Justice is bringing bold legislative actions to the state capital that offer hope. Find out who’s doing what in your area and get on board. Rise up! Protest! Wield the awesome power of your vote!
For wealthy white Americans who think police abuse and murder are something only poor racial minorities have to worry about, I leave you with this little story:
Sixty one year old millionaire, Donald Scott, heir to a vast chemical and cosmetic fortune loved his Malibu estate he called, “Trails End.” Problem was, so did L.A. County Deputy Sheriff, Gary Spencer. At 8:36 a.m. on October 2nd, 1992, a thirty man law enforcement team led by Spencer broke down Mr. Scott’s front door and shot him to death. Deputy Spencer had presented a judge with nothing more than unsubstantiated rumors that Mr. Scott was growing marijuana on his land. That judge issued a warrant to search Scott’s property. When Spencer and his team kicked in Scott's door unannounced, Mr Scott emerged from his bedroom half asleep holding a rifle. He was gunned down in a hail of bullets. No drugs, or illegal items were ever found.
The Los Angeles Times later reported that Deputy Spencer had been bragging for over a year that he could seize Mr. Scott’s land if he could find only fourteen marijuana plants on the property. An investigation conducted by the Ventura County District Attorney, ultimately revealed that civil asset forfeiture was a motive for the raid.
Welcome to America.
Craig Farris is the author of Drugs, Kids and Crime: Surviving Our Dug Obsessed Culture Revised 2nd Edition - https://drugskidscrimebook.com/
Note: This is the third and final article in a series written by Craig Farris documenting his first hand experiences as both an incarcerated person and a formally incarcerated person. You can read the first by clicking here - the second by clicking here.
Balko, Radley, Rise of The Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. New York: Public Affairs, 2013, 2014.
Roberts, Paul, Craig and Stratton, Lawrence, M. The Tyranny of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Are Trampling The Constitution In The Name of Justice. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000, 2008
Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2003