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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Impunity for police abuse by the NYPD

I'm reading Shaun King's harrowing series about unpunished police abuse in the 42nd precinct of the Bronx, and in the NYPD in general.

It's hard for words to do justice to how wrong this is.

Obviously, King's piece can't be quite as accurate as if an investigator journalist gave these stories each several months of focus. King is an activist first and a journalist second. But with that said, he has a good record of accuracy, and he chooses not to write about a lot of cases that come his way because the evidence and details are too vague or unsubstantiated. I've been reading them for years and he is a very careful, thorough and thoughtful writer and thinker. I trust that all of the firsthand accounts he gives are completely accurate, and that his summaries of others' accounts are accurate. I imagine that in some of these cases, the defendants were not as impeccable as the impression you get from King's writing -- not that what he's writing isn't true, but he's selecting the most outrageous details.

I know a veteran cop pretty well who has wide experience in multiple areas of the city, and who is politically somewhat conservative--she's a big supporter of Giuliani--but when I bring stuff like this up she agrees that it's completely true and common. She herself is stopped and harassed by cops frequently. She says she estimates that she would trust about one third of the officers in the NYPD to handle a friend or relative's case in a professional manner.

I think the biggest questions readers should ask after reading this series are about what to do about these quotas and the impunity for abuse. I don't really think there are attentive observers at this point who don't think quotas and impunity for abuse are the norm in the NYPD. The police union's resistance to penalties for even the most egregious abuse really speaks to the degree to which no amount of unprofessionalism is beyond the pale in the culture of the NYPD.

Compare the punishment that police face if they repeatedly arrest people for no good reason, and repeatedly beat people up. Compare this to the punishment one officer got just for going home at the end of his shift (which had already gone overtime, IIRC), according to schedule, on a night that police wanted all hands on deck because an officer had been killed. When group loyalty is in question even a shred, the officers of the NYPD and their union have no problem severing ties with an officer.

Would a story like this matter more if white New Yorkers' children were being serially abused and knowingly wrongfully arrested--essentially, kidnapped--by their government? I think it undoubtedly would. (And that attention would be absolutely appropriate and necessary--and the NYPD must treat white families better, as well.)

That's why the cry of Black Lives Matter is so crucially needed, and why charges that it is dangerous and divisive are at least preposterously misguided, and really racist horseshit. When the NYPD consistently treats black lives, and Latino lives, with the same care that they would give to a white family in Park Slope or the Upper East Side, then Black Lives Matter won't need to make its case. Until then, morality and humanism demand that we cry it out.

Black lives matter!

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