Thursday, August 18, 2011

Steven Greenhut on California's Police State

For us, the work of Orange County Register columnist and Cal Watchdog editor-in-chief Steven Greenhut is like Smuckers: if we see his name on an article, we assume it has to be good. And this article on the police state, in California and America, over at Lew Rockwell is no exception. If you find the term "police state" too extreme a description of today's state of affairs, Greenhut offers 17 observations on the death of Kelly Thomas at the hands of Fullerton police that may make your stomach turn. These observations are as follows:

1. The police response to a complaint about vandalism by a 135-pound man was an overwhelming, five-against-one physical assault.

2. The police then confiscated the camera of a passerby who caught the attack on video.

3. The officers involved were allowed to view official videotape of the incident, and to get their stories straight, before filing reports. If only members of the public were allowed the same privilege when accused of a crime.

4. The Orange County district attorney is refusing to release that official video.

5. The DA has relentlessly downplayed the incident in the local media. Greenhut also notes that district attorneys rarely charge cops with police brutality.

6. The laws governing police violence are written so as to make it difficult to prosecute. A cop can apply deadly force so long as someone's willing to believe his or her claim of being in terrible physical danger.

7. The Fullerton police have repeatedly lied to the media about the incident.

8. The department refuses to release the names of officers involved; indeed, state law prohibits them from doing so. It also took the FPD 30 days to put these cops on vacation paid leave.

9. The six cops involved refuse to answer the district attorney's questions, and the chief of police has taken an indefinite medical leave, presumably as the first step toward a taxpayer-funded disability pension.

10. Fullerton residents who gathered peacefully downtown to protest the killing have been depicted as a lynch mob by city officials.

11. Fullerton councilman Pat McKinley, who happens to be the former police chief who hired the cops involved in Thomas' death, went on national television to claim that Thomas wasn't killed by the beating.

12. Local civil-rights groups, who are paid by city government and the police department, are advocating only the softest of reforms, and no accountability.

13. The local paper of record, the Orange County Register, has printed several stories excusing the cops' behavior and mocking the local blogger who has provided all the substantive reporting on the story.

14. The state attorney general is worrying more about her level of support from police unions than her investigation into the beating.

15. The police unions are rushing to defend the Fullerton officers, saying that split-second decisions (even when the police initiate the conflict) can't really be second-guessed.

16. The union representing the Fullerton cops has threatened legal action against the local blogger covering the Thomas incident.

17. This incident is just the latest in a long, long list of misconduct scandals involving Fullerton police.

With all of this, and keeping in mind the recent shutdown of cell-phone service by BART and the murder of Oscar Grant, Greenhut concludes:
"Police can use deadly force at will. They can confiscate cameras and keep their own official videos away from public view. They can intimidate and harass writers. They can count on their departments to cover up for them. They know the "outside" investigators, mostly their colleagues and allies in the law enforcement community, will do the same for them. They can count on the media and the public to excuse them."
Still think we're living in the land of the free?


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