Category Archives: Police Abuse

Millions of Tax Dollars Spent to Defend Police Abuse – Your Money Squandered

police target suspected gun owner in no knock raid

 

Millions of Tax Dollars Regularly Spent to Defend Police Abuse

by Stirling Watts

Are you a tax paying resident in a large American metropolitan city?  Are you concerned about the accountability of the your hard earned tax dollars?

A recent Russia Today article revealed that in New York City alone over the last five years, nearly half a billion in tax dollars were used to pay settlements to plaintiffs in cases of civil rights violations against citizens – civil rights violations perpetrated by the police.  Yes, that’s right – legal settlements, payoffs, large sums of money paid from pubic taxpayer coffers to compensate for civil rights abuses wrongfully carried out by police officers.

Documents that were recently made available to the public by the New York City Law Department revealed that these payoffs totaled more than $428 million, and  were the result of more than 12,000 such civil rights cases that have been processed through the New York City court system from 2009 until now, October 2014.

Those are huge amounts of money for just one city to have paid out to compensate for abusive, illegal, actions carried out by paid professional police officers —- and we are talking about New York City alone.  Just imagine how much money is being squandered the very same way in other major metro areas of the United States.  If you’re an American, you know which cities I mean – the ones constantly in the news for police abuse.  Really, if you watch the non-mainstream news, you know that means that virtually all of our cities are guilty.

Let’s think about the basic moral aspects that drive this abuse of taxpayer dollars.  We’re talking about taxpayer dollars spent to defend countless unconstitutional actions carried out in supposed “good faith” by law enforcement agencies dealing with crimes which are, for the most part, completely victimless.

To begin with, how many cases of police abuse should we reasonably expect to hear about each year?  In an imperfect human world, we might expect that every law enforcement agency will experience at least a blip on the radar of individual problems with officer or agent misbehavior.  That’s just human nature.  But, shouldn’t the sum total number of abusive police actions reported every year amount to no more than a few isolated instances, caused by a tiny number of bad cops?

And when those inevitable cases of bad behavior do rear their ugly heads, shouldn’t we expect law enforcement agencies to implement immediate and appropriate correctional actions?  Why is it that following every deadly shooting by a police officer, regardless of the sequence of events that led to the incident, officers who have discharged their weapon killed someone are routinely put on paid administrative leave?  Isn’t something missing in the individual accountability and responsibility requirements expected of the average American law enforcement officer?

If that’s not a relevant issue, then how is it that just last year, New York City paid more than $96 million (yes, that’s right, $96 million!) in settlements to citizen plaintiffs whose civil rights were abused by NYC cops?  Even more amazing is that Mayor Bloomberg, at least according to the claims of the Russia Today article, regularly shrugs these numbers off as irrelevant.  As a taxpayer in New York City, would you also find these figures irrelevant?

A  bigger moral dilemma, and the “war on drugs”

This excessive abuse of taxpayer funds is only a part of an even bigger moral dilemma.  Is it morally sound public policy for police departments to pay off victims whose civil rights have been violated by police with massive amounts of money taken from the taxpayers – taxpayers who quite reasonably expect the responsible use of public funds?

On the other hand, when any citizen’s civil rights are violated as the result of irresponsible police behavior, are those citizens not rightfully due compensation for the wrongs done to them?  Of course they are, and who then is to pay for the wrongs committed by our public servants?

When anyone does wrong, is not the wrongdoer the final responsible party?  Why, then, is the responsibility laid on the taxpayers and not on the police officer?  It is simply because taxpayers are a convenient source of easy cash for large and powerful city operated organizations like police departments.  It is because we all know that the police department itself serves to isolate the officers within that police department, the officers who carry out these cowardly and irresponsible acts, from blame or guilt.

What might be done to begin to curb this massive financial fraud?   Change just might begin with ending the all too common unconstitutional practices of no knock raids, warrantless searches, reasonless traffic stops, unconstitutional checkpoints, and other many varieties of 4th amendment violations.  What is fueling that?

This alarming trend of police abuse and the constant daily violation of individual’s constitutional rights by police is fueled almost completely by a senseless “war on drugs”.

It’s time to stop that nonsense.

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The Militarization of Law Enforcement and their Military Equipment

police tank

Contrary to what you may have heard, the armored vehicles that appeared on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, during the unrest that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown did not come from the Pentagon. “Most of the stuff you are seeing in video coming out of Ferguson is not military,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Defense Department’s press secretary, told reporters last week. “The military is not the only source of tactical gear in this country.”

In other words: Don’t blame the military for militarizing the police. Kirby has a point. Although the Pentagon has played a role by distributing surplus gear to police departments, so have the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security by providing grants that can be used to buy military-style equipment. In any case, the real problem, more pervasive and insidious than BearCats or MRAPs on the streets of our cities, is the dangerously misguided urge to transform cops into soldiers, as reflected in the promiscuous use of SWAT teams.

As the acronym implies, SWAT teams originally wereintended for unusual threats requiring “special weapons and tactics,” threats such as rioters, shooters, barricaded suspects, and hostage takers. But what was once special is now routine. Today the most common use for SWAT teams, which are deployed something like 50,000 times a year in the U.S., is serving search warrants, typically in drug cases.

were here to help you to death

Looking at a sample of more than 800 SWAT operations carried out by 20 law enforcement agencies in 11 states during the last three years, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that 79 percent involved search warrants. More than three-quarters of the searches were looking for drugs.

These raids tend to follow the same basic pattern: Heavily armed, black-clad men enter a home early in the morning, while the occupants are asleep. The police often break down the door with a battering ram, shatter windows, and toss in a flashbang grenade, an explosive device designed to discombobulate targets with a blinding light and deafening noise. If there is a dog in the home that barks at the invaders (as dogs tend to do), the police kill it.

The element of surprise and the overwhelming, terrifying show of force are supposed to minimize violence by forestalling any thought of resistance. It does not always work out that way.

Last December a Texas marijuana grower named Henry Magee shot and killed a Burleson County sheriff’s deputy who broke into his mobile home in the middle of the night along with eight other officers. Magee said he mistook Sgt. Adam Sowders for a burglar, and in February a grand jury declined to indict him in the deputy’s death.

Six months before Magee shot Sowders, a similar mistake resulted in the death of Eugene Mallory, an 80-year-old retired electrical engineer who was shot in his bed because he grabbed a gun when armed men stormed into his home early in the morning. They were Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, looking for a nonexistent meth lab.

Last May police in Habersham County, Georgia, broke into a house in the middle of the night, looking for a meth dealer who no longer lived there. While attacking the house, the SWAT team tossed a flashbang grenade into a crib, severely burning a 19-month-old boy.

No drugs or weapons were found in that raid, which seems to be a pretty common outcome. In the ACLU study, records indicated that police found the drugs or guns they expected 35 percent of the time. The low rate of gun recovery is especially striking because the use of SWAT teams is supposedly justified by the prospect of facing armed and dangerous suspects.

The reckless use of paramilitary forces to attack the homes of unsuspecting civilians reflects a literalization of the war on drugs as well as the unseemly eagerness of many police officers to dress up and act like soldiers. Taking away their BearCats will not solve those problems.

 

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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5 Startling Numbers Reveal the Militarization of U.S. Drug Policy

question everything

The number of Americans that die each year due to violent crime caused by the drug war

This average death toll of Americans murdered in drug-related crimes is higher than the annual fatality rate of US soldiers in either the Afghanistan or Iraq war. In fact, according to an analytical study of FBI crime statistics, the Vietnam War is the only conflict in the past half-century that has been deadlier for Americans. Disturbingly, this figure doesn’t even take into account the numerous individuals who have been killed by law enforcement in drug-related raids.

$51 billion – The amount that the U.S. government spends each year on the war on drugs

This huge figure, which is $5 billion more than the average annual expenditure on the Afghanistan War, is primarily allocated to arming and training the increasingly militarised law enforcement.  According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), weaponry held by US counter-narcotic agencies for use against American drug suspects includes flashbang grenades, sniper rifles, and submachine guns. There is also an increased prevalence of drug-targeting SWAT teams using armoured personnel carriers – vehicles that were originally created to “transport infantry and provide protection from shrapnel and small arms fire on the battlefield.”

61 percent – The percentage of individuals targeted by drug-related SWAT raids who are people of color

The ACLU investigated the impact rates of SWAT teams in sixteen counties around the US, and in every single one, people of color were disproportionately targeted. In Allentown, PA, Latinos were 29 times more likely than white people to endure a SWAT raid, while Blacks in Burlington, NC, were 47 times more likely than whites to face this violence. This bias treatment is ongoing despite the rates of drug use and selling being comparable across racial lines.

18 months – The age of Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, a recent American casualty of the drug war

On May 28, a team of police officers raided the Phonesavanh’s home, with the mistaken belief that the residents were involved with drugs. As they entered, they tossed a flashbang grenade that landed directly in the crib of baby Bou Bou, which exploded within point-blank range – critically injuring him. In  a harrowing article, his mother, Alecia, described seeing “a singed crib” and “a pool of blood”, and later being informed by medics of the “hole in his chest that exposes his ribs.” Alecia said that the sole silver lining to this story is that it may “make us angry enough that we stop accepting brutal SWAT raids as a normal way to fight the war on drugs.” Fortunately, Bou Bou has been making a gradual recovery, but his family is  relying on donations to support their living and medical costs.

82 percent – The number of Americans who believe that the government is losing the War on Drugs

American polling company, Rasmussen,  reported this staggering statistic, which contrasts considerably with the miniscule four percent who believe that the drug war has been successful. Despite the inordinate human and financial cost of the war on drugs, and its lack of success in quelling drug use or trafficking, Republican and Democrat leaders continue to express anti-democratic defiance as they ignore the will of the people and perpetuate the drug war’s inhumanity.

This article first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog

http://www.alternet.org/drugs/5-startling-numbers-reveal-militarization-us-drug-policy

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