Archive for December, 2014

The 8 Arguments Put Forth by Defenders of Bad Cops and Your Complete Toolbox to Dismantle Each

Posted in Uncategorized on December 15, 2014 by thebluebros

One of the goals of this blog is to arm its readers with facts and information for the water-cooler wars—or to more accurately reflect our times, the Facebook wars. This is important because, as you may have noticed, it is a lot easier to repeat lies and ridiculous arguments than it is to thoughtfully debunk them.

This phenomenon has never been as clearly on display as it has been over the past several weeks with the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner all over the news. A person could easily spend his or her entire day trying to debunk all of the insane arguments out there supporting the police in their actions (trust me, I know!).

The good thing about discussing police violence with unquestioning supporters of every police officer is that these people repeat the same eight arguments over and over again. This makes anticipating and putting together a response much simpler. The intent of this article is to provide you with a resource. Say for example your crazy uncle—who only sees brown people when he watches “Cops”—comes at you on Facebook with one his eight predictable and ridiculous arguments. You no longer have to spend 15 minutes articulating the perfect response. Instead, feel free to come back here, cut-and-paste the appropriate response, and send it off. Or if you are really short on time and/or your uncle is shotgunning all eight of his arguments at you, you can simply send him the link to this article. And in case you wish to avoid disrupting any relationships, I have attempted, not without some difficulty, to keep my counter-arguments snark-free.

Without further ado, here are the ridiculous and easily debunked arguments put forth by people who wish to celebrate the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of bad police officers:

Silly Argument #1: Look, stop bashing cops. Not all cops are bad.

I agree. Not all cops are bad. In fact, I think we can agree most cops are quite good. With that said, the fact that we agree most cops are good does not mean we should ignore the bad cops we all know are out there. And that is not a slight on law enforcement. Every profession is going to attract its fair share of people unfit for the profession. One of the greatest harms committed by bad cops is that they make the good cops look bad and cast suspicion on the entire profession. Can’t we agree that everyone is helped (society as well as the good cops) when we put a system in place that can retrain or fire individuals who are in law enforcement but should not be? Instead, our current system allows bad cops to hide behind good cops, and everyone pays the price…except for the bad cops. That is not okay, and criticizing that system should not be mistaken for criticizing “all cops” or being ungrateful for all of the good that police do.

Silly Argument #2: You forget about all the good that police do. Did you hear about Officer Jones who used his own money to buy an impoverished mother a car seat for her child?

This is essentially the same argument as “Silly Argument #1.” You can use the same response provided above.

Silly Argument #3: I can’t feel sorry for someone who gets killed by police when breaking the law. If you don’t want to get shot, don’t break the law.

Police are allowed to use deadly force under two sets of circumstances: (1) when a person is presenting an imminent threat to the life of others, or (2) if a person is evading arrest and the officer has a reasonable belief that the person committed a violent felony, such as rape or murder. In other words, a police officer cannot use deadly force against a person for stealing, resisting arrest, or jaywalking (even if that means the perpetrator gets away).

Police are not judge, jury, and executioner. Our society has intentionally separated these roles so that no one person has too much power. It also ensures (as much as it can be ensured) we kill the right people for the right reasons.

Police who kill in non-life threatening situations also violated the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the 8th Amendment bans the government from performing “cruel and unusual punishments.” I think we can all agree that killing someone for stealing a cigar or selling untaxed cigarettes is “cruel and unusual.”

Further, our society is largely one of second chances. We have all likely committed crimes, some more serious than others, for which we may feel some remorse. Aren’t we glad no one killed us and instead gave us an opportunity to better ourselves?

Silly Argument #4: These “thugs” had it coming. You punch a cop, you can expect to get shot.

I would suggest using a word other than “thug.” Many people feel this word has become code for n*****. With that said, no one should expect to get killed by a police officer unless that person is threatening the life of another person. A police officer cannot even punch someone who punches him unless he needs to do so to effectuate an arrest. Police officers are not permitted to exact revenge upon a suspect—no matter how big of a douchebag the suspect proves himself to be, or how much he deserves to be punched. While the reptilian part of our brain may think it is unfair that an officer cannot automatically hit back after being hit, that is the law. We expect our officers to hold themselves to a higher standard than criminals hold themselves. That is part of why being a police officer is a difficult job, and why we offer so much praise onto the good cops who operate within the law.

Silly Argument #5: Why can’t libtards not pull the race card? Cops shot a white dude last week in Scranton and there weren’t any marches or rioting.

This argument pretends that the protests in Ferguson were just about Michael Brown and the protests in New York are just about Eric Garner. That is wrong. There is an undeniable difference in how police treat African-Americans and everyone else—particularly white people. In New York City where stop-and-frisk is practiced (and where nothing is found 90% of the time), your chances of being stopped are 10 times greater if you are African-American rather than white. If you are a black, male teenager in the United States, your chances of being shot and killed by police are 21 times greater than if you were a white, male teenager. These numbers (and the many more out there) cannot be explained away by population numbers or higher crime rates in the black community. For those willing to look, they will find that dealing with police in this country is much different for black people than white people. This is perhaps best illustrated by “the talk”—something many white people have no idea even exists. People who discuss race when talking about Eric Garner and Michael Brown are not “playing the race card.” They are acknowledging reality. And these many protests (and the relatively few acts of rioting) are not so much about Eric Garner or Michael Brown as they are an out-of-control system that presents a clear-and-present danger to all African-Americans.

I know it is anecdotal, but have you seen the video of the black man stopped because he was walking with his hands in his pocket when it was snowing? The officer told the man, “You are making people nervous [because your hands are in your pockets]” and he had to follow-up because “We do have a lot of robberies.” That is crazy, and I don’t think that would have ever happened to me or any other white person.

Silly Argument #6: No one talks about all the police who are killed on the job. What about that? I don’t see any marches for them.

This is a bit of a red herring. The argument seems to say that because of one tragedy, we cannot acknowledge another tragedy. That is absurd. But let’s examine the content of this argument.

Policing is certainly more dangerous than being an accountant, but it is 10 times safer than being a logger and generally much safer than many believe. Of the 900,000 to 1,000,000 law enforcement officers in this country in 2013, we tragically lost 111. Most of those deaths were due to accidents, and it looks like 33 were actually murdered in the line of duty. When that occurs, there is a huge public mourning and officers show up in huge numbers.

Cop Blog Pic - 1 of 2

And this public outcry is not limited to just the officers. When a police dog is killed in the line of duty, the outpouring is also enormous.

Cop Blog Pic - 2 of 2

Once the funerals are over, the people who kill police officers face a future no one would want. They will very likely be sentenced to life in prison or death. And those who kill a police dog don’t fare much better. In Florida, a 17-year old was sentenced to 23 years in jail for shooting a retired police dog. You read that right.

So perhaps the reason you do not see protests and marches for these fallen officers (and their pets) is that justice has been done. What is there to protest? We work our hardest to keep our officers safe, and when injury befalls them, we go to great lengths to honor them, we erect statues and plaques in their honor, and we make those responsible for their deaths pay dearly.

It is very different for civilians killed by police. While 33 police are murdered a year, police have averaged at least 400 civilian kills a year since 2008. Of significant note, the exact number of people killed by police is unknown because police do not track and/or release those numbers to the public. Of the hundreds of people police kill a year, there are almost no indictments and even fewer convictions. One county in Texas did a study of this. Over the past five years, district attorneys had turned 25 cases over to the grand jury for indictments for use of deadly force by police. Only one officer was indicted, and in that case he was only indicted for manslaughter (it has not yet gone to trial). That 4% indictment rate of police officers is in stark contrast to the 99% indictment rate of non-police officers.

Martin Luther King’s statement of, “A riot is the language of the unheard,” kind of explains why we see people so upset over the killing of black teenagers, but not white cops. While both are tragedies, only one of these tragedies receives justice.

Silly Argument #7: Just wait until you need a cop. Then you will be singing another tune.

Why would I sing another tune? Criticizing bad police officers and a broken system that protects bad police officers in no way means I do not understand the value of having a law enforcement system. Every society has to have individuals enforcing the laws. I understand that and have no qualms admitting I will probably need those people at some point in my life. Understanding, appreciating, and needing police does not mean I need to give police the power to do anything they want.

Silly Argument #8: Are you a cop? Are you a child, parent, or spouse of a cop? No? Then your opinion does not matter because you have no idea what police go through.

By this logic, only police officers and former police officers get to have any input as to what is appropriate police behavior. It also leads to the conclusion that only police officers may set rules or guidelines for police officers. I am of the view that “self-regulation” is an oxy-moron as I have yet to see it work in any field.

The argument that non-police lack the insight to reach worthwhile conclusions ignores the fact that every person comes to this issue with particular insights and unavoidable biases. For instance, a 19-year old black male in St. Louis, Missouri will probably have a very different perspective on police than a 75-year old white woman living in Manchester, New Hampshire. While both person’s opinion will have a certain amount of bias and limitations, each person’s views deserves to be heard and considered.

There is no denying that police have an invaluable perspective on police issues that most everyone else lacks, but they also have an unavoidable and strong bias. And this is to be expected. Anyone would experience internal strife if their profession or colleagues were criticized; however, like the young man in St. Louis and the old lady in New Hampshire, the opinions of police matter. They are just not the only ones that matter.

* * *

So that basically covers all of the bases you will need covered if you enter a discussion with someone who thinks all police officers are above reproach, and that we may only say good things about every police officer. Best of luck at those water coolers, and always feel free to come back here for reinforcements.

– Dylan


Police Officers and How the Job Can Change Them for the Worse: A Psychologist’s Perspective

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9, 2014 by thebluebros

In response to the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, people have been scrambling to explain the violent behavior observed in our police officers. One theory I’ve heard is that the wrong types of people are drawn to police work. Too often this question is posed by someone who has a theory that the people who want to become police officers are controlling and aggressive individuals who are drawn towards careers that will provide them with a sense of power and dominance. While an interesting theory, empirical efforts to substantiate a “police personality” have not been conclusive, and there is little evidence to support the idea.

I believe the issue is not so much about the wrong people being drawn to law enforcement, but rather that being a police officer changes a person. For instance, we know that simply being in a position of power changes a person’s behavior. For those of you who remember your Intro to Psychology course, you probably remember the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Dr. Philip Zimbardo in the summer of 1971. In the experiment, Stanford students were randomly assigned to be prisoners and guards. Spoiler alert: Dr. Zimbardo was forced to end the study early when it was observed that the guards were abusing the prisoners. Seemingly normal American college students turned into sadistic and abusive prison guards almost overnight, simply as a result of being told they were in control. (For those of you interested in watching a fascinating [and brief] documentary on the experiment, click here.)

While the comparison between college students and police officers is not a perfect one, it does point out the fact that people can change when put into positions of authority. By that token, it’s not unreasonable to assert that being a police officer can in fact change a person’s attitude and behavior. There are a number of possible reasons for this, other than they have power. The fact that police officers are subjected to potentially-dangerous and unpredictable situations virtually every day likely takes a toll on their psyche, as does the fact that they constantly interact with people who detest them. Regardless of the potential causes, police work can change a person. But don’t take my word for it.

Check out this blog written by a police officer’s wife. In it, she writes at length about the myriad ways her husband has changed since becoming a police officer. It’s easy to disregard the musings of one woman, but scroll down and read the litany of comments/complaints written by other police wives. Or better yet, read this blog written by an actual police officer who describes the personality changes he has witnessed in his fellow officers. I wish I could say the changes are positive, but they are virtually all negative. Most of the wives describe chronic grumpiness, impatience, irritability, paranoia, and detachment from family. These changes of course do not describe every police officer, but it does identify a troubling pattern.

We know that the psychological distress experienced by police officers puts them at a higher risk for incurring mental health disorders. Also of note is that police officers are significantly more likely to commit suicide than the population at large, suggesting higher rates of depression and anxiety. And because police officers are subjected to potentially-dangerous and unpredictable environments over an extended period of time, they can develop symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some of the common symptoms of PTSD include many of the changes noted above by police wives: irritability, increased anxiety, exaggerated startle response, numbing of emotions, and hypervigilance (defined as an enhanced state of sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors).

For those that don’t know, I’m a clinical psychologist. For the better part of my career in mental health, I’ve focused on studying and treating individuals affected by personal trauma, primarily with military and veteran populations. There are certainly similarities between the police force and the military, but day in and day out, police officers may have it worse because their deployments don’t come to an end. They come into contact with the dregs of society, the lowlifes, the criminals, the violent, the addicted, the degenerates, and the destitute every day on the job. This becomes their basis for forming a negative bias of the world.

The negative bias happens everywhere, even in situations that are undeniably safe. Clients with symptoms of PTSD typically fear crowds; they don’t like to sit with their backs to doors; they want to be able to see the entrances and exits at all times; they watch people’s hands constantly; they profile people; they often report difficulty staying focused on conversations because their attention is so-often focused on assessing and re-assessing the environment for safety. This happens at restaurants, stores, churches, schools, parks, shopping malls, and virtually everywhere else.

One challenge we face in addressing the problem is that many police officers do not see their “condition” as a problem. In fact, many officers report that their experiences provide them with greater insight. What we might call paranoia, they call heightened awareness. When an officer’s spouse points out the unlikelihood of a gunman walking into Applebee’s and shooting up their booth, the officer may be equipped to discuss a shooting that occurred at IHOP three years ago. When the officer’s teenage daughter mentions the extremely low likelihood of that happening to them, the officer will likely pull out the familiar, “It just takes one time” argument. When a friend mentions to his officer friend the fact that carrying a gun actually increases one’s chances of being shot, the officer is quick to say that his training is unique. No amount of facts, data, or scientific research will convince the officer otherwise. These officers work in an environment where other officers think the same way, and when an outsider offers a differing viewpoint, officers can be quick to dismiss the outside opinion and even mock it, saying that they (non-officers) don’t understand the real dangers that lurk out there.

I spent three years working within the VA medical system (one year at the National Center for PTSD in Boston and two years at a PTSD outpatient clinic in Arkansas). I’ve worked with veterans who fought in WWII all the way to veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. In these experiences what I found perhaps most interesting is that regardless of the age of the patient, regardless of the background, and regardless of the traumatic incident(s) experienced, each client with PTSD demonstrated remarkable uniformity in his/her presentation of symptoms. They reported difficulty trusting people; discomfort in crowds; when they go out in public, they have difficulty relaxing because they are constantly looking over their shoulder; they say they used to be fun-loving and quick to laugh, but now they are usually irritable and serious. They say they used to enjoy being around other people, but now they prefer being alone. And many of them say they no longer feel comfortable leaving the house without a gun. They usually develop an overly negative view of the world and an overly negative view of the people in it. These symptoms can potentially result in defensive, reactionary, and exaggerated responses when interacting with others.

Just to be clear, simply because a person has PTSD does not mean that he/she will act violently. That being said, there is evidence to suggest that when pushed, people with PTSD can be more aggressive and sometimes violent. As explained in “The Textbook on Violence Assessment and Management,” the hypervigilance seen in individuals with PTSD can take the form of “reduced ability to tolerate mild or moderate slights, resulting in actions that are disproportionate to the degree of provocation.” This is exactly the charge we so often hear leveled against police officers on a daily basis.

When addressing the violent behavior demonstrated by American police officers, the media is quick to portray them in one of two ways, either national heroes on par with John Wayne or racist sadistic animals. But I believe their behavior can be better understood by noting the psychological factors at work. Police officers are not superhuman. When they experience significant stress, day in and day out, they experience psychological distress like the rest of us. Because of this, they are at an increased risk for developing psychological disorders such as Major Depression, PTSD, and various anxiety disorders. Much of the time, these conditions go untreated

I’m willing to concede the notion that most police officers go into law enforcement for the right reasons. However, for reasons outside of their control, the experience changes them. These changes vary from person to person, but in many cases, these officers become more irritable, more paranoid, and sometimes more aggressive. And in this psychological state, they can act in ways not in accordance with their oath to serve and protect.

– Nathan

Why Nancy Grace is Right About Ferguson and You Are Wrong: A Look Into a Broken Grand Jury System

Posted in Uncategorized on December 4, 2014 by thebluebros

I cannot recall a single event in my life that has been as polarizing as the murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. Not only does everyone have an opinion of these events, but that opinion is held with the conviction of a priest during the rapture. As I talk to more and more people about this, however, it is overwhelming the amount of misinformation that is out there about how grand juries should work and what exactly happened with Officer Wilson’s grand jury.

Grand juries, depending on the jurisdiction, consist of 12 to 23 grand jurors. This group of people is charged with the responsibility of determining whether to indict a person suspected of committing a crime. Being indicted does not mean a person is convicted of anything. It merely means the state is moving forward with its effort to convict the suspect. If the process goes far enough, eventually a trial will occur. In some jurisdictions, only a majority vote of the grand jury is needed to indict; in others, a two-thirds or three-quarters majority is needed.

Because indictments are merely the first stage in the legal proceeding and are basically the state requesting the opportunity to look further into a matter, the legal standard for bringing an indictment is much, much lower than the legal standard needed to convict. At trial, the state would have the burden of proving the suspect is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The exact language of the legal standard for grand juries vary by jurisdiction, but the working standard is essentially the same everywhere—i.e., if there is any evidence that the suspect committed a crime, an indictment is brought.

You may be thinking, “Wow, that isn’t much of a standard,” and you’d be right. And that low, low standard is bore out in the percentages of indictments that grand juries actually bring. In 2010, in the federal criminal system (the most recent year for which we have data), federal prosecutors sought 162,000 indictments and failed to receive just 11. That is a success rate of over 99.99%. In New York City, state prosecutors have an indictment rate of 99%. While I could not find numbers for Missouri, there is no reason to think they would be much different.

These numbers should not be surprising. Cases are brought to a grand jury only if the local district attorney believes an indictment is proper. In fact, if a district attorney took a case to a grand jury when he did not believe an indictment was proper, that attorney has just breached his ethical duties, and the decision to pursue an indictment could result in disciplinary action by the state bar. Once the prosecutor decides to present a case to a grand jury, the district attorney does his or her best to present the strongest evidence for an indictment. It is very rare for the accused to testify (I had a colleague who has done thousands of grand jury hearings tell me she has never had the accused testify). If the accused does testify, you can put good money on the prosecutor cross-examining that person seven ways to Sunday. The district attorney (again, seeking an indictment) will not offer or present exculpatory evidence (evidence that makes the accused look innocent). As Nancy Grace has said, in her exasperation at Officer Wilson’s hole-filled story and the grand jury’s failure to indict, “Grand jurors are sheep.” They are “babes in the woods.” It also why, as you have likely heard repeated over and over, any decent district attorney can indict a ham sandwich. As a University of Illinois criminal law professor stated, “If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong.”

What clearly happened in Ferguson (and very likely Staten Island where Eric Garner was killed), is that we had a local prosecutor who did not want the police officer to be indicted, but did not want the political heat of making the decision not to indict. So the district attorney instead sent the case to the grand jury. But remember, the prosecutor should only have done this if he legitimately believed an indictment was proper, and was prepared to work towards an indictment. It is very clear that did not happen with Officer Wilson’s case in Ferguson.

Officer Wilson was allowed to testify in front of the grand jury (very rare) and then the district attorney’s office did not challenge any parts of his story (unheard of). Meanwhile, the district attorney’s office aggressively cross-examined its own witnesses (i.e., those witnesses supporting an indictment). They also brought in witnesses and evidence that did not support an indictment. The district attorney also gave the grand jury the wrong legal standard, and one that had been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court 30 years earlier. None of this points to a district attorney supporting or working towards an indictment, but rather a district attorney working against an indictment—something that should never happen.

Even if one believes Officer Wilson’s actions were entirely appropriate (even though no one but Officer Wilson can know this), one has to admit that the grand jury process did not work the way it was supposed to in this case.

The question then becomes, “Why didn’t the system work?”

That is a complicated question with a few answers. The biggest reason police officers rarely get indicted is that asking a district attorney to indict a police officer is essentially asking him to indict a beloved colleague. Not only does the district attorney not want to bring injury to the colleague, but he or she fears the repercussions of the other colleagues.

I spent one year working in the largest district attorney’s office in Oregon. Most of my mornings began with meeting police officers to prepare for trial. The police officers needed me to make sure the bad guys they arrested got put in jail, and I needed them to make sure I won the trial. We were very much a team. As time passed, I got to know and admire some of these officers. A sense of camaraderie was built. If I was ever placed in a position where I had to decide whether to indict one of them, I am not sure I could be impartial. In smaller towns, I am sure this phenomenon is only magnified.

Further complicating the process of indicting police officers is that most people respect, or even adore, police officers. Grand jurors, like most people, tend to give police officers the benefit of the doubt. While this benefit-of-the-doubt approach may be a good thing most of the time, it allows bad police officers—who we all know are out there—to literally get away with murder.

While fixing all of society’s problems that led to the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner is something that will take generations to solve (if they are even solvable), the solution to the grand jury system is fairly simple. When police are the target of a potential indictment, we need to remove the indictment process from district attorneys’ offices. Instead, we need these decisions to be placed in the hands of some type of neutral body (or at least the least-biased body we can devise). Police unions will predictably fight such a move with every ounce of their being, but I expect district attorneys would quietly support it—along with most everyone else. Perhaps then, the people in Ferguson, and everyone else, can begin to feel justice is at least possible.

– Dylan