Posts Tagged ‘Police’

You may have heard of for-proft prisons, also called private prisons, but have you heard about policing for profit? I remember a time when cops proudly branded the motto “protect and serve” on the sides of squad cars and police stations. I wonder when that was amended to be “to protect our profit margins by serving us your property?”

This is not a new problem, it goes back years with some local police pioneering the practice as early as 2006. Tenaha, Texas, was one of these pioneers and recently lost a major class action lawsuit to the countless victims of highway robbery by the police. State records show the use of asset forfeiture in Texas going back to 2001, with totals seized in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Federally, the Department of Justice claimed $1.8 billion in assets in their asset forfeiture fund. This fund has had time to build up, a good 24 years that we have records, and over that time the Feds seized over $12 billion in property, largely related  to the war on drugs. But it goes back even further than that, all the way to the founding of this country; the 4th and 5th Amendments were created to protect we citizens from abuses like these that were commonplace under the crown. Now we have come full circle and are left with robbers marauding our highways in the employ of “the crown” of the imperial presidency.

You may begin seeing a common thread developing here, black and Latino people are stopped by (almost exclusively) white cops, and forced to turn over all kinds of personal possessions not related to crimes, especially since they are innocent of crimes. Take this case out of Tenaha, the individuals stopped were not breaking any laws; contrary to popular belief it is legal to possess a pipe (for tobacco or as a gift, like in this case). When they get to the police station they see a pile of watches, jewelry, and other valuables; that sounds like a Robin Hood-esque pile of plunder but perversed and reversed stealing from the unfortunate to give to privileged white cops.

I normally don’t use Privilege Talk, as I feel its often counter-productive, but the ability to legally rob someone under threat of pain or imprisonment is certainly a privilege, and it was clearly abused. Is abused, this isn’t over because one class action lawsuit was won. There are local police and federal agents across the country still doing this. A major raid of more than a dozen state-legal dispensaries and two private residences just happened in Denver, Colorado. While on paper the federal and local agents involve claim it is a hunt for connections to Colombian drug cartels, it is also an informal reason to confiscate over $2 million in jewelry and money as well as another million in cannabis plants. As someone who works in the medical cannabis industry I want the bad players out of the game more than anyone. Unfortunately it does sound like there are people with cartel ties in Denver, but more unfortunately it sounds like Feds used this as a blank check to smash and grab all over the place.

This issue of civil asset forfeiture feeds into related issues of racial profiling and stop and frisk abuse, like this extreme case in Florida which is also resulting in a class action lawsuit against an abusive local police force. Yet again it is mainly white cops harassing and abusing non-white folks.

Read for yourself:

“Earl Sampson has been stopped and questioned by Miami Gardens police 258 times in four years. He’s been searched more than 100 times. And arrested and jailed 56 times. Despite his long rap sheet, Sampson, 28, has never been convicted of anything more serious than possession of marijuana. Miami Gardens police have arrested Sampson 62 times for one offense: trespassing. Almost every citation was issued at the same place: the 207 Quickstop, a convenience store on 207th Street in Miami Gardens. But Sampson isn’t loitering. He works as a clerk at the Quickstop.”

I’m not sure what about that one can consider police doing their job. It sounds like they have a vendetta against Mr. Sampson and the 207 Quikstop. It wasn’t just Earl though, police regularly harassed countless customers of the 207 Quikstop, often abusing “Terry” stops to do it. A Terry stop is a stop and frisk meant to search someone suspected of committing a crime for a weapon. New York City police are famous for abusing this to practice to make NY’s legally decriminalized cannabis still illegal as long as you are poor and not white. In fact, the situation in NYC is so dire the courts have stepped in to block the practice.

This is not why we have police, they were meant to protect and serve the public, not brutalize and rob them. This is why it warms my heart to see more discussions of community policing and see police forces actively implement community policing policies.

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I’m not sure if you’ve seen this video that has been making the rounds online today, where a police officer fires at five children and there mother after a traffic stop goes awry. I have mixed feelings on this one, like in many cases of supposed police brutality and other misconduct. I feel like I have a pretty solid hunch on what went wrong here and in what order, knowing that it is easy to see why it went wrong. I feel both sides acted improperly. Oriana was clearly not setting a good example for her kids, but the police were presenting an awful and barbaric image of the state.

A mother is on a family trip with her five children from Memphis to the Rio Grande, as she tells the officers during the stop. She is stopped for driving with expired tags and speeding, going 71 in a 55, a fairly common speed for American roads these days yet because of antiquated traffic laws it is considered a “serious traffic violation” in New Mexico (perhaps even reckless driving). The first problem here is a systemic issue, people habitually drive over the speed limit on every road in this country. The laws are what are on the books, written by generations past and not always applicable to our times, they are not what people habitually do.

In the traffic stop the officer informs the mother, Oriana Ferrell, that she was speeding and she is to turn off her car while he returns to his for something. She takes off and he pursues, she soon pulls over again. Presumably while pursuing he called for back up. While the dash cam subtitles show the cop saying he will be right back, perhaps his exact words were more ambiguous, perhaps they had a miscommunication and that is why Oriana drove off.

The second time around he opens the drivers door and asks her to get out. At this point she mentions the family trip and specifies that she is not trying to run, which is why she stopped again. After she refuses to get out of the vehicle the officer reaches in the car, presumably to pull her out. Refusing to get out of her car was her second major mistake. At this point there is no way to see what the officer is doing in the car and it will be interesting to see what Oriana and her children have to say. Regardless of what is being done it is enough to provoke her 14 year old son to get out of the car to try and help his mother, a quick flash of the taser scares him back in the car. Oriana now steps out of the vehicle, we cannot hear what is said but the body language is not a good sign and she bolts for the open car door. The officer grabs her by the wrist to restrain her which provokes another attempted assault by her son (hard to tell, he may have actually tackled into the cop), again fended off by a threatened tasing.

When back up arrives instead of blocking in her car so she cannot drive off and working to de-escalate the scene they start smashing windows like looters in a riot. The fear of broken glass lacerating her children seems to be what provokes Orianna into driving off a second time. This time things are different, Officer Trigger-Happy is on the scene now and fires at least three shots at the car, and the other two officers (you can even see one dive for cover in the video, clearly fearing for his life). Oriana doesn’t stop her car again until she is in a populated and safe place, a motel parking lot. Her lawyer maintains that she drove away to get somewhere public because she felt the officers were threatening the lives of her children and herself. John Miller, a former assistant director with the FBI, makes note that many departments have laws against firing at moving vehicles and other officers. Miller also notes many other oddities of the case that led up to the disastrous outcome, such as Oriana’s initial choice to flee.

While the video just got released online today, the incident happened a month ago. Since then Oriana and her son are both out after initial arrests. Her son was charged with battery of an officer and resisting arrest. Oriana was charged with five counts of child abuse, aggravated fleeing an officer, resisting an officer, reckless driving and possession of drug paraphernalia. Officers claim they found two marijuana pipes in the car. I have always wondered what, in absence of marijuana, classifies a pipe as a marijuana pipe and not a tobacco pipe or pipe for smoking other herbs. As there was no cannabis actually find I guess I’ll have to put faith in those officers expertise in cannabis smoking and paraphernalia.

Until I read about the drug charges her actions made no sense, now they make complete sense. With a drug charge, Child Protective Services is very likely to take your kids away, even if you are a legal medical cannabis patient. Now this is just my opinion, but I think she was afraid of losing her kids and her life as she knew it, she was afraid of the downward spiral this would set off, for her kids as well. That fear can drive people to do illogical things, like turn a routine traffic stop into a high speed chase which may realize those worst fears. I feel Officer Trigger-Happy should get the book thrown at him, including endangering another officer in the line of duty. The first cop I feel was the most reasonable, but I feel they all overreacted when they should have de-escalated things.

I’ve been there myself. I was 20, with two bottles of alcohol and an 1/8th of pot in a baggie in a messenger bag in my passenger seat. The bottles were half empty from a party the week before, I was sober and was staying that way as the DD. The booze wasn’t even mine, it was my friend’s. I know, it’s an old line, but it is true and fitting. I sat it out, got a public defender and took my lumps in court. It was only about $500 in fines and fees plus 20 hours of community service, spent painting  a community theater. I imagine her lumps wouldn’t have been as bad as mine for the initial stop. After the cop claimed he smelled pot I consented to an illegal search and made it legal, then he found all my contraband. In my case, the smell of pot was a mere hunch, not probable cause; I know this now but I did not when I was 20. After my own run in with police and illegal searches I’ve made it a goal to learn about these issues and raise awareness through the spread of knowledge.

I do not know how it would have played out for Oriana had she not tried to drive off that first time. I am greatly saddened that it went how it did, my thoughts go out to her family. It is worth mentioning that if the paraphernalia is the reason she was provoked into running from the police to protect her rights as a mother, Oriana and her children are yet more victims of America’s thoughtless war on drugs.