Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Culture of impunity

The Huffington Post has an excellent piece by reporters Matt Sledge and Saki Knafo on why the NYPD has such a dismayingly repetitive history of abuse. While they are constantly lionized on shows like New York Blue, Law & Order, CSI: New York and countless others, the untold story in those narratives is that these same cops have been getting away with murder for decades. The Eric Garner case (Staten Island chokehold) is merely the latest in a long series, and there is no guarantee that it will be the last.

The HuffPost duo discovered that the main cop in the spotlight for the death of Mr. Garner, one Daniel Pantaleo, already has a rap sheet of accusations for prior assaults on citizens. For example, the city paid $30,000 just two years ago in a settlement of a suit brought by Darren Collins who accused Pantaleo of pulling his pants down in public and fondling his genitals ‘looking for drugs’.

But it was, as always, the city that paid that settlement i.e., us; Pantaleo didn’t suffer a thing. Despite the constant, costly lawsuits the city faces for police behavior, the same patterns emerges:

As anyone who has been abused by the cops can tell you, the question of what should have happened to Pantaleo speaks to a larger problem: When police behave badly in New York, there’s not much that ordinary citizens can do to hold them accountable. . . .

Often, the city doesn’t even look into the claims behind the lawsuits. As Fay Leoussis, a city lawyer, acknowledged to Bloomberg [News Service] in 2012, New York has made a practice of silencing plaintiffs with settlement offers, a "risk-management" strategy designed to save the city money in the long run.

The article describes how the many levels of formal controls over police misconduct and abuse don’t work, in part because the prosecutors who might get tough are also beholden to cops to help them win their cases. Round after round of ‘reform’ measures churn out new citizen review boards and other internal and external checks on police powers but end up disappointingly ineffective.

But this isn’t good enough. We can’t just throw up our hands and say, Oh well, no one knows how to make the guardians of the rule of law actually obey it themselves. Impunity is accepted as an everlasting state of affairs; thus, cops know that they might get a slap on the wrist on the rare occasion that they get caught—or taped.

Meanwhile, chokehold complaints continue to pour in, and violating officers at most suffer a loss of vacation days. Even after the shocking Garner case, two more incidents involving the supposedly banned practice surfaced in recent days, demonstrating that the cops could give a crap what the city thinks of them.

In a way, the NYPD rank and file’s dismissal of any attempts to get them to do a good job without abusing people is reminiscent of post-financial-meltdown bankster arrogance. Just as in that case, Obama decided to let the guilty off the hook, and the plutocrats promptly told him to eat shit and die, that they were going to go right back to what they were doing and make even more money doing it.

Despite the decades of Reaganite celebration of old-fashioned values like personal responsibility, our culture is now dominated by people who believe the exact opposite, that they should be able to do whatever they want. Rules are for the little people. We have spawned a neo-feudal society in which your place in the system guarantees never having to say you’re sorry.

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