‘The police in America are becoming illegitimate’

This cop scared...

Matt Taibbi:

The press and the people who don’t live in these places want you to focus only on the incidents in question. It was technically a crime! Annoying, but he should have complied! His fault for dying – and he was a fat guy with asthma besides!

But the real issue is almost always the hundreds of police interactions that take place before that single spotlight moment, the countless aggravations large and small that pump up the rage gland over time.

Over the last three years, while working on a book about the criminal justice gap that ended up being called The Divide, I spent a lot of time with people like Eric Garner. There’s a shabby little courthouse at 346 Broadway in lower Manhattan that’s set up as the place you go to be sentenced and fined for the kind of ticket Staten Island cops were probably planning on giving Garner.

I sat in that courtroom over and over again for weeks and listened to the stories. I met one guy, named Andre Finley, who kept showing up to court in an attempt to talk his way into jail as a way out of the $100 fine he’d got for riding a bike on a sidewalk in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He couldn’t afford the hundred bucks. It took a year and multiple all-day court visits to clear up.

I met a woman who had to hire a sitter so she could spend all day in court waiting to be fined for drinking wine on her own front porch. And in the case of a Bed-Stuy bus driver named Andrew Brown, it was that old “obstructing traffic” saw: the same “offense” that first flagged Ferguson police to stop Michael Brown.

In Andrew’s case, police thought the sight of two black men standing in front of a project tower at 1 a.m. was suspicious and stopped them. In reality, Andrew was listening to music on headphones with a friend on his way home after a long shift driving a casino shuttle. When he balked at being stopped, just like Garner balked, cops wrote him up for “obstructing” a street completely empty of pedestrians, and the court demanded 50 bucks for his crime.

This policy of constantly badgering people for trifles generates bloodcurdling anger in “hot spot” neighborhoods with industrial efficiency. And then something like the Garner case happens and it all comes into relief. Six armed police officers tackling and killing a man for selling a 75-cent cigarette.

That was economic regulation turned lethal, a situation made all the more ridiculous by the fact that we no longer prosecute the countless serious economic crimes committed in this same city. A ferry ride away from Staten Island, on Wall Street, the pure unmolested freedom to fleece whoever you want is considered the sacred birthright of every rake with a briefcase.

2 thoughts on “‘The police in America are becoming illegitimate’

  1. Two events led to the militarization and illegitimacy of the cops. In June, 1971 Nixon declared the “war on drugs” and in 1994 Clinton announced his COPS program putting 100,000 new cops (an increase of 25%) on the streets. Everything has gone downhill since then. Community policing stopped and the public became the enemy. Especially those of color and those living in poverty. Both Nixon and Clinton were following the orders given them by the monied interests (1%) in this country who put them in power.

  2. “situation made all the more ridiculous” Amen to that. Taibbi has a nice ‘turn-of-phrase.’

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