Author: Dylan Bordonaro
On March 30, Detective Patrick Cherry pulled over and berated an Uber driver in New York City for no legal reason at all. After the driver honked his horn at Cherry for stopping his car without signaling, Cherry decided to retaliate by pulling over the Uber driver to teach him a lesson. Detective Cherry articulated his hope of teaching the man that he must respect his authority, regardless of law. To Cherry, the Uber driver, who is an immigrant to the United States, is not welcome in his city, his country or even his planet.
This encounter is just another in a long trend of police who use their power beyond their realm of authority. The inherent racism in this incident and so much of the recent police misconduct around the country cannot be ignored. People of color are undeniably disproportionately affected by police misconduct in America.
However, Americans must realize that the problem of police misconduct, including the blatant disregard of our rights, adversely affects all people in our country. The rights of all Americans, regardless of race, are becoming increasingly dismantled through the lawless, militaristic actions of our police.
The culture of law enforcement in the United States must be changed. Police are no longer trusted advocates of the citizens in a community. Instead, they are viewed as the primary source of aggression against citizens.
“Arming ‘peace officers’ like they’re ready to occupy an enemy city is totally contrary to the society envisioned by the founders … They’ve turned ‘protect and serve’ into ‘command and control,’” founder and Executive Director of the Tenth Amendment Center Michael Boldin said.
The federal government is at least partly to blame for the rise of militant police. The 1033 program, which was passed by Congress in 1997, has provided over $2.6 billion worth of military equipment to local police departments around the country.
The militaristic culture of the police, for which the federal government has advocated, prevents police from carrying out their duty as originally intended. If the government is telling police that they are soldiers, then they will act like soldiers. Paranoia and tyranny are rampant within the police culture, and all Americans are considered guilty until proven innocent. Privacy is no longer respected, and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, is consistently ignored. In this militaristic system, citizens are viewed exclusively as the enemy of the police.
One way to combat the increase in police militarization is action at the state level. Montana’s legislature passed a bill in February that will limit the resources police departments can legally have. In their effort to nullify the overreach of the federal government, Montana is refusing to accept military equipment. Limiting the militaristic capabilities of local police departments is a step in the right direction, but restoring accountability and a culture of communal protection requires additional changes.
Police misconduct is an equally troubling problem that has little to do with a few “bad cops.” The problem is pervasive and systemic. Due to a lack of effective training, police officers use excessive force. Due to quota requirements and the desire for revenue, citizens’ pocketbooks are attacked. The judicial system has done nothing but encourage this behavior. In Ferguson, Missouri, Officer Darren Wilson was not even indicted (although this was potentially due to the prosecutor’s incompetence) for killing Michael Brown. In nearby Pasadena Hills, Missouri, citizens have been hammered by excessive fees for failing to comply with a new parking permit law. Unfortunately, as John Oliver eloquently explained a few weeks ago, this is an extremely common practice around the country.
While changes to revenue -ollecting practices will likely require judicial action, reform of poor training practices might come from the local level. Detective Cherry, who worked for the NYPD/FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, has been suspended, but his ultimate fate has yet to be determined. Hopefully, the NYPD will hold him accountable for the injustice he showed the Uber driver.
There is some evidence that local departments around the country can learn from the public outcry and change their policies. In South Carolina, the North Charleston Police Department is instituting changes after Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot in the back seven times and killed by Officer Michael Thomas Slager as he ran away from him. Among other changes, the North Charleston police department will begin requiring the use of body cameras for its officers.
Walter Scott’s death should not have been necessary to spur change in the North Charleston Police Department, but the department’s response is more encouraging than those in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities around the country.
To mend the relationship between police and citizens, the police must treat all people with respect and common decency in accordance with the law. They must protect and serve civilians instead of senselessly attacking them as if they were the enemy. As it stands now, police demand nothing other than fear. They have created a relationship with civilians that must be met with protest.
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