THE ETIQUETTE OF POLICE BRUTALITY: AN AUTOPSY

THE ETIQUETTE OF POLICE BRUTALITY[1]

(AN AUTOPSY[2])

By Rion Amilcar Scott

 

Go ahead. Smack him one. He expects it so it would be rude not to. Besides, look at him giving you a dehumanizing stare[3]. How dare he look at you in that manner? He thinks he’s better than you. Approach in such a way that makes you look huge, immense—a living blue wall of silence[4]. But be loud. Put this guy down before he even starts. Grab him from behind. Maybe use the baton. Don’t be swayed by his screams and pleas of innocence. As a matter of fact, don’t hear them at all. Be deaf to his cries. Innocence doesn’t really matter here, anyway[5]. Sort it out later. Don’t be inhibited with the violence—punches, kicks, strangulation holds[6], baton blows, Tasers[7], and so on. Don’t worry, the state has your back. Make up any excuse you want. It doesn’t need to sound good. As a matter of fact, it would be insulting to make it sound too plausible. Say something like: “He was looking at us all leery and then he raised his hands. We had to throw him on the ground, smash his face to the concrete, knock his teeth out, and put him in a chokehold[8]. It’s important to neutralize the threat.” Toss it off without thinking. Fuck it, say: “He was dancing funny and I found that threatening so I was forced to jab him in the ribs.” The state has your back. No matter what you say, your superiors, the courts, everybody will nod and mumble: “Seems legit.” Yell racial epithets[9]. Shoot wildly[10]. At least 40 shots if unarmed[11]. More might be better[12]. It’s only polite to flex your authority every once in a while[13]. Let the world know how tough you are. The standard charge is resisting arrest. Assaulting an officer. Pile up any ol’ charge. What does it matter? To make the people feel safe and whole you have to break[14] one or two every once in a while so they know your power is both awesome[15] and nearly completely unchecked[16].

 

[1] Inspiration for this piece came from a short story collection called Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons by Tara Laskowski. The work is structured like an etiquette book except each piece of advice covers how to properly comport yourself while doing something wicked such as homicide, adultery, or arson.

[2] I go back and forth with this satirical piece—or “mockery” as I call it (“humor piece,” “satirical piece,” such clunky terms)—wondering if it’s at all successful. It was written from a place of pretty raw anger and frankly, terror, after reading about a succession of police harassment and brutality cases, mostly involving black and brown “suspects.”

Many of these incidents featured graphic and disturbing video of the assaults taking place. Sometimes I was brave enough to watch.

The public has been filming and broadcasting egregious acts of police violence since the 1990s when a motorist filmed Los Angeles police brutalizing Rodney King. Now that most of us carry video cameras in our pockets, such footage is nearly a weekly occurrence. This has done much to inspire the outrage of the public but has seemed to do little to stem the tide of police abuse or even to ensure the type of decisive and swift punishment that would make police think twice about physically assaulting citizens.

One possible thin silver lining is a study done by Rialto, Calif. police that ran from February 2012 to July 2013. A group of officers wore tiny video cameras while interacting with citizens. According to the New York Times, the video cameras resulted in a 60 percent drop in the use of force and an 88 percent drop in complaints against officers.

[3] According to CBS Miami, Miami-Dade Police choked a 14-year-old boy on Memorial Day 2013 because he watched them with what police termed, “dehumanizing stares.”

[4] It’s often said that a universal and morally bankrupt admonishment against “snitching” in poor black communities enables crime in these neighborhoods, but when was the last time you heard of police informing on one another? As the rapper Immortal Technique said, “They never snitch on themselves, but they want you to snitch on you.” An important question that’s rarely asked in these debates is why would anyone want to report crimes to people who have a reputation for brutalizing them?

[5] In Sept. 2000 in Prince Georges County, MD—the county I currently live in with my wife and son (in fact, this occurred in the very neighborhood I once lived)—Prince Jones, a man who had committed no crime, began his last stand. Undercover Prince Georges County narcotics officer, Cpl. Carlton B. Jones (no relation) followed Prince roughly 30 miles to Fairfax, Va. (coincidentally, the county where I went to school in the mid to late aughts) in an unmarked SUV and shot his car 16 times, killing him in the process. Police say they were trailing a suspect in the theft of an officer’s gun and Prince’s car resembled a car driven by the suspect.

Prince, a Howard University student (the university from which I hold an undergraduate degree—as a matter of fact, I too was a Howard student at this time) nearing graduation, was unarmed.

Cpl. Jones claims Prince rammed his car and refused to stand down when he announced he was an officer (though he admitted to showing no badge); witnesses dispute this claim, however, saying that Prince’s car was not moving when Cpl. Jones fired his weapon. As a result of killing Prince Jones, Cpl. Carlton Jones faced no criminal charges (sources: Washington Post; Washington Monthly).

[6] On Thursday July 17, 2014, police in Staten Island approached 43-year-old Eric Garner, a 400 pound asthmatic, purportedly to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. Garner had reportedly just broken up a fight. Video recorded by a bystander shows Garner protesting frequent harassment: “Every time you see me you want to mess with me. It stops today… I’m minding my business officer. Why don’t you just leave me alone?” Four officers surround Garner and wrestle him to the ground. One deploys a chokehold, a use of force specifically banned by NYPD regulations. Despite video evidence, police claim a chokehold was not used on Garner. While an officer shoves Garner’s head to the sidewalk, he repeatedly cries, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” And those are his final words.

[7] When Oakland transit officer Johannes Mehserle pulled his revolver, shooting and killing Oscar Grant while he lay handcuffed and face down, he claimed to have been reaching for his Taser. For killing Grant, Mehserle served less than a year in prison.

In 2007, after a video of a University of Florida student being tasered by campus police made the rounds on the internet, “Don’t tase me, bro!” became a late-aughts punchline, but the incident that inspired it, a young man being tasered by police for aggressively asking a politician a question during an open forum, is a chilling, abusive, and reckless display of police power.

[8] From the New York Daily News: “The NYPD prohibited the use of chokeholds in 1993. The city’s independent police watchdog has substantiated 10 chokehold cases filed against cops since 2009, but little has happened to the officers involved, records show.

“In one of the cases, the cop accused of putting a person in a chokehold lost up to 10 vacation days, records from the Civilian Complaint Review Board show.

“In two cases, the department declined to discipline the officers, and in three cases, cops received ‘instructions,’ or retraining. In another case, the cop retired before he could be disciplined, and the three remaining cases are pending, the records show.”

[9] According to the New York Times, in 2011 the government intercepted a phone call in which NYPD officer Michael Daragjati bragged about falsely arresting a suspect. In regards to the young man, Daragiati said: “Fried another nigger.” Even more horrifying: Also in 2011, retired Marine, Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., 68, inadvertently called police to his White Plains home when he accidentally activated his medical alert bracelet. The response of police—this is not in dispute—was to ignore Chamberlain’s request that they leave, call him a nigger, and fatally shoot him (sources: New York Times; New York Daily News).

[10] In 2013, the NYPD shot a disturbed and unarmed man and two innocent bystanders. The man, Glenn Broadnax, caused a commotion by jumping into traffic. The wounded Broadnax was then charged with assault for the bullet wounds suffered by the bystanders under the theory that his actions caused the police shooting to occur. An attorney for one of the wounded bystanders speaking to the New York Times: “It’s an incredibly unfortunate use of prosecutorial discretion to be prosecuting a man who didn’t even injure my client. It’s the police who injured my client.”

The NYPD (again) in 2012 shot nine innocent bystanders during a confrontation with a gunman in Times Square. All nine bystanders were struck by bullets from police weapons. NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly on the shooting: “I believe it was handled well” (Source: FoxNews.com).

While searching for alleged cop killer Christopher Dorner in February 2013, the LAPD shot at trucks that were said to resemble Dorner’s on two separate occasions. In the first incident, police fired on two Hispanic women—a mother and her 47-year-old daughter as they delivered newspapers early in the morning. A bullet ripped through the back of 71-year-old Emma Hernandez. Somehow this incident resulted in no fatalities despite the fact that police fired more than 100 rounds.

Later that day, police opened fire on a truck driven by a white male, David Perdue, a surfer on his way to the beach. In that instance, police rammed Purdue’s truck before shooting at it. Perdue was not hit and prosecutors determined the use of force was reasonable. Dorner, who died in a cabin fire police claimed not to have intentionally set, was a black male (Source: Christian Science Monitor).

Richard Pryor on California police in 1973: “They accidentally shoot more niggas out here than any place in the world. Every time you pick up the paper: nigga accidentally shot in the ass. How do you accidentally shoot a nigga six times in the chest? ‘Well, my gun fell and just went crazy.’”

[11] 41 police shots took the life of Amadou Diallo in the infamous 1999 shooting in the Bronx. He was armed only with a wallet.

[12] In 2006, 50 police shots took the life of Sean Bell in Queens, NY the morning he was to marry. He too was unarmed.

[13] The examples of police brutality used in this piece are all relatively current, which implies that this is a recent problem. That is certainly not the case. Worldwide, police and excessive police force have historically been tools of the state used against the disenfranchised and dispossessed to make sure they don’t get too loud in their cries against their disenfranchisement and dispossession. As the rapper Boots Riley notes: “You never seen a police break up a strike by hitting the boss with his baton pipe.”

It was police, for example, who held the fire hoses that mowed down civil rights protesters in the 1960s.

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland as a response to police harassment in 1966. Even then it was a long-standing community problem. The group’s initial program was an armed patrol to evaluate the behavior of the police. Government suppression of the Party was codified in the COINTELPRO program (see FBI documents here), a wave of law enforcement intimidation and force unprecedented in its cruelty, lawlessness, and violence. Chicago police murdered the Deputy Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton, in a police raid while he slept (drugged by infiltrators) on December 4, 1968. Police fired nearly 100 rounds at the Illinois Panthers while the Panthers fired only one.

[14] Richard Pryor on the police from Wanted/Richard Pryor Live in Concert (1978): “Two grab your legs, one grab your head—they go, snap! ‘Oh, shit he broke. Can you break ‘em? Does it say so in the manual? Let’s check. Yep, page 8, you can break a nigger.’”

[15] A 2014 American Civil Liberties Union report (War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing) details the increased militarization of police departments around the United States. SWAT teams armed with military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment handed down from our decade long Middle East (mis)adventures are being deployed in American cities for fairly routine operations. Just outside of Atlanta in 2014, police raided a house in search of a small stash of drugs. They carried M16s and upon entering tossed a flashbang grenade that landed in a crib next to a sleeping toddler. The child suffered a hole in his chest and possible permanent brain damage. The suspect police were looking for was not in the home at the time and did not even live there, according to the toddler’s mother, who wrote about the incident for Salon.com.

The family moved to Atlanta, a town that is no stranger to police raids gone astray. In 2006, police invaded the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, shooting her dead in the process. After police found no drugs in her house, they planted three bags of marijuana. The paperwork that served as the basis for the “no knock warrant”—which alleged that an informant purchased drugs at Johnston’s home—turned out to be based on falsified evidence (source: CNN.com).

[16] In many of the above cases, such as the Chamberlain case, police were cleared of any wrongdoing or faced relatively light or unspecified punishments, a situation that I imagine leaves police feeling comfortable in deploying any act of violence in their toolbox, no matter how reckless, if it leaves them standing when all the smoke from the gunfire has cleared. However, for much of the populace, that knot in their chests when a squad car sidles up next to them in traffic is the twinge of sheer terror.

***

Rion Amilcar Scott has contributed to PANK, Fiction International, The Rumpus, and Confrontation, among others. Raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he earned an MFA at George Mason University and presently teaches English at Bowie State University. He can also be found at forgottentunneltv.tumblr.com and @ReeAmilcarScott.

Little Known Bible Verses (Preceded by a Rather Long Note) or Why You Won’t Find This Piece on The Good Men Project

Editor’s Note: I knew within minutes of reading Rion Amilcar Scott’s essay that it deserved a home here, and I’m thrilled and proud for this to be the first piece I’ve selected for publication as a recent addition to the editorial team at As It Ought to Be. I am a big fan of The Good Men Project and the meaningful work they’re doing (see here or here or here), and there’s plenty to laud about the conversations in which they’re choosing to engage. (Full disclosure: TGMP reprinted an essay of mine from AIOTB days after I solicited Rion for this excellent piece.) Still, a significant part of community responsibility, even in the wake of our admiration or appreciation, is a willingness to have the tough conversations too. Rion’s experience sheds light on issues that are worthy of our consideration, and I hope that, in sharing them, the TGMP will feel challenged—and supported—to address them in a way that continues to move these many important conversations forward.

-Kirsten Clodfelter

An early draft of this piece.

An early draft of this piece, from the author’s journal

Little Known Bible Verses (Preceded by a Rather Long Note) or Why You Won’t Find This Piece on The Good Men Project

By

Rion Amilcar Scott

Author’s Note: I recently submitted this satirical piece to The Good Men Project, and it was accepted under the condition that I make a few revisions. I was asked, among other things, to cut the last section of the piece that pokes fun at Chick-fil-A.

A piece like this is similar to a game of Jenga, remove too many pieces or put them in the wrong place in the wrong way, and the whole thing topples over. I agreed to a few of his suggestions, but other parts in question were integral to the broader perspective and point-of-view of the piece. I didn’t care too much about getting “killed in the comments section,” since anyone who would take a “no homo” joke seriously in this context just isn’t paying close enough attention anyway. Bite my tongue for no one.

But it turns out that what it came down to for the editor was that we cut the Chik-fil-A reference because, as he put it, “They’re advertisers, so I’m concerned about that one.” 

Um, pause.

The Good Men Project identifies itself as an ongoing conversation about the contours and boundaries of masculinity. A worthy discussion. Playing out the scripts of bad or cartoonish manhood is at the heart of many of the problems our society seems to have a hard time shaking. Homophobia, much like racism, kills.

Participating in such a conversation is the very reason I decided to submit to The Good Men Project in the first place. My piece contains gags about transubstantiation, Halloween, the gluten-free craze, and a bunch of other subjects both serious and trivial, but the heart of the work deals with the very subjects The Good Men Project purports to tackle. Without those sections, it’s just a bunch of jokes about Facebook and football. Of course the Good Men Project needs to keep the heat and the lights on—that explains taking money from Chick-fil-A—but to do so at the expense of their very mission is the highest form of self-defeat.

These conversations make and shape us, and they can also bend and deform us. I’m not ashamed of much, but one of the things that often nags at me is how uncharitable my younger self could be toward classmates I perceived as queer. Many years later, after I had become a man and shed much of my childish homophobia, I heard my father speaking about acceptance and non-judgment toward gays and lesbians, and I wondered if things would have been different if we’d had that conversation much earlier. 

What does it mean when the perspectives and views of this social conversation—a conversation that should benefit everyone—are going unsaid to benefit only certain participants and leaving most others in the dark? More importantly, what does it mean when some of those engaged in the conversation are rape apologists or even anonymous rapists trying to justify their transgressions? What does it mean when a group of men’s rights activists show up to loudly proclaim that [white] men are an oppressed class? What it means is that we’ve ended up with one shitty, useless conversation.

It didn’t make sense to censor myself and mutilate my piece to make Chick-fil-A happy. I mean, all Chick-fil-A has ever given me is stomachaches and diarrhea. And I’m not pining to get accolades from the Chick-fil-A corporate offices. No writer has ever jumped up and said, “They love my work down at Chick-fil-A!” Most of all, even if my work appeared on a website called The Good Men Project, there’s no way I could reasonably call myself a Good Man while silencing my voice so some people somewhere could sell a few more homophobic chicken sandwiches. 

As Method Man would say, “If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em”:

*

LITTLE KNOWN BIBLE VERSES

If thou giveth even a single Skittle to a six year old dressed as Spongebob on the 31st of October, then thou hath sinned against the Lord and worshipped mine enemy.

***

Thou shalt surrender ten percent of thy salary to a man in alligator-skin boots so that man may purchase a Rolls Royce, for that is the automobile of the Lord.

***

Thou shalt shout out the Lord thy God three to four times an hour in thy Facebook status.

***

Thee can pray all thou wants for a Superbowl victory, but if thou playest for the Buffalo Bills then thou shalt always lose for I am a petty and vengeful God and a long time ago a cornerback from the Bills cut in front of Me at Subway and then when the sandwich artist finally got to Me they were out of the kind of bread I like. So I turned to this fool, pointed my finger and was like, Thou shalt regret that.

***

On the Monday after the celebration of the resurrection of thy Lord and Savior, thou shalt return to thy sad and soul crushing labor. For on a day in November you will set aside a day for a gigantic meal with people thou don’t really like and that is worthy of a national holiday, but not the return of a man from the dead. Goeth and figureth.

***

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat—” And before Jesus could finish speaking, the disciple Thomas cut him off and said, “Um, Jesus, you know if this bread is gluten free?”

***

All religions are just different paths to the same destination. Except Scientology. That shit’s crazy. So saith the Lord.

***

And forthwith Judas came to Jesus, and said, “Hail, master”; and kissed him. And there did follow a long awkward silence in which both Judas and Jesus looked first out into the sky and then down at their feet. And Judas did chuckle a bit and Jesus did blush. And Judas swept his hair with his hand and said, “Uh, no homo.”

***

On Easter Sunday and on Christmas day as well, if thou doth believeth, then thou shalt log onto thy social network accounts and proclaim thy superiority over those who do not believe. If thou doth not believe then thou shalt log on and spread the good word about thy fealty to reason and how it makes thou intellectually superior to the believer. And it shall all be very insufferable. And for everyone else—those who don’t really care that much—Facebook and Twitter shall be more unpleasant than usual. Best to just log off and go enjoy thy day.

***

After the Sermon, the disciple Tom raised his hand. “Jesus,” he said. “If your message boils down to ‘Just don’t be a dick,’ then why do so many act like dicks in your name?” Jesus nodded, then Jesus shrugged and then Jesus wept.

***

The animals on Noah’s Ark numbered in the millions—some more flavorsome than even goats and chickens and cows, but Noah’s family dined on the really, really delicious ones and after the flood cleared there were no truly tasty animals left.

***

“Dude, are we drinking your blood?”

***

And Jesus did see Mary Magdalene walking down a street in Galillee and she did look fine as frog’s hair. And He called out: “Turn the other cheek this way, baby!”

***

There came a time when the prophet Mike Huckabee appeareth on Fox News and said: “People, I have spoken to the Lord and he still hates the whole gay thing—I don’t know, something about butt sex. And here’s the bad news: He said you’re either with Him or against Him on this one. But the good news is, there’s a special chicken sandwich you can eat to ward off the gay.”

And the righteous did descend upon Chick-fil-a. After eating the greasy chicken patties upon dry bread, the righteous descended upon the bathroom and there followed much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And the righteous cried out:

“God, what is this nasty shit?”

“This shit taste like some doodooronemy.”

“Lord, why has thou forsaken thee. Couldn’t you order us to eat at Friday’s or something?”

“Good God, is this nasty; I think I’d rather put a penis in my mouth.”

And the Lord did take pity upon His children, showering them in Barilla pasta. The righteous rejoiced and clapped and sang and waved their arms as their blood sugar spiked from the carbohydrate intake.

 

A version of this piece originally appeared on Rion Amilcar Scott’s blog, Datsun Flambe.

***

Rion Amilcar Scott has contributed to PANK, Fiction International, The Rumpus, and Confrontation, among others. Raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he earned an MFA at George Mason University and presently teaches English at Bowie State University. He can also be found at forgottentunneltv.tumblr.com.

The Pope is Coming! The Pope is Coming!

White smoke emerges from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. indicating that the new pope has been elected. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

White smoke emerges from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013, indicating that the new pope has been elected. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

The Pope is Coming! The Pope is Coming!
By Mark S. Unger

This is CNN, and I’m a talking head on what used to be the nation’s top 24-hour news channel. As you know from watching TV news, reading the paper, listening to radio, Twitter, TMZ, or just about any other media outlet, the Pope announced several weeks ago that he would be resigning. The papal duties proved too much for someone whose job it was to pray all the time. Now he’ll be able to do all those things he couldn’t do as Pope, like pray all the time.

The Vatican told us he was resigning to spend more time with God, and we believed them. After all, it’s not our job to look deeper. Oh wait, it is. Instead, the Italian media uncovered the real reason behind the pontiff’s sudden departure—a brewing scandal involving gay priests, and more cover-up of the ongoing child sexual predator priests. Unlike us, the Pope foresaw the coming avalanche of investigations, arrests, public humiliation, and scrutiny that was about to be heaped upon the highest office of the Catholic Church.

Call it “Papacy Death Storm 2013.” A great headline, but, like most weather-related superstorms, it turned out to be nothing. Nothing for us to cover, that is. Why should we sully the biggest story to hit the Church in nearly six centuries with a bunch of that nasty investigative journalism? Instead, how about a countdown to the new Pope? That sounds like so much more fun. So what if that makes us just as culpable for ignoring the abuse and scandal as the Church itself? The Church may have a reason for trying to cover up the whole ugly mess, but so do we. I think. So let’s not get all caught up in whether or not it’s CNN’s job to report, investigate, dig for information, and expose issues. Let’s run Headlines instead.

Headlines are how this news organization gets respect. “Conclave to choose a new Pope expected to begin in five days,” then four, three , two, one, and finally, “The conclave has begun!” Wow. Heckuva job, Brownie (substitute name of whichever on-scene talking head has been in front of the Vatican for the last five days). Way to go, Scoop!

Not that there weren’t some important facts unearthed during those five days. The Pope will not be wearing his red Prada slippers anymore, but he will be staying in the Vatican. And this just in: Pope Benedict XVI mugs are selling out in the gift shops to make room for the new Pope memorabilia. Nothing like reporting on Kennedy’s assassination by noting Jackie’s outfit, or Paul Revere’s famous ride to warn Americans that the British drink tea. CNN Alert! The ratings are coming! The ratings are coming!

But I digress. Back to more Headlines. “Cardinals take oath of secrecy!” Isn’t that what got them into this mess in the first place?

“Happening now: Doors to Sistine Chapel about to close,” followed shortly by, “Cardinals locked away in Sistine Chapel.” If only we could do this with Congress.

Then there was this, “Breaking News: Black smoke appears at Vatican—Means no new Pope chosen today.” Now that’s how you turn no news into breaking news. But there was more. “No Pope chosen on Day 1 of conclave.” Genius, pure genius.

No headline, however, captured the essence of TV news like the following sequence: “The world waits for new Pope—115 cardinals take oath of secrecy,” followed immediately by “From pro soccer to priesthood—former player gives up the game for seminary.” And no one knows more about giving up the game than CNN.

Ultimately, the smoke changed color, meaning a new Pope had been chosen. We were all over it (the color change). We had no clue who would be chosen. A man of the people, we were told, known more for eschewing the trappings of his predecessors, and for his work with the poor. And a little bit about that thing in Argentina for not standing up for some women who were about to be killed by the Pinochet regime. Yada, yada, yada. Blah, blah, blah. We did our job.

OK, what’s next? Really? OK. Quick! Everyone! To Tel Aviv! The President is coming! The President is coming!