May 312011

At the outset, let me say that I consider the overwhelming majority of police officers to be dedicated professionals,who serve our communities well and faithfully.  That said, there are enough who abuse the authority given them that violation of rights of citizens by police has become a major problem in major US cities.  I have seen examples even here in progressive Portland.  I know one woman personally, a blind women with great grand children.  For arguing with officers she was tased, shoved to the ground and beaten with night sticks.  She sued the city and won a judgment in the $hundreds of thousands.  I am most pleased that the Obama administration is taking this problem seriously.

31police-brutalityIn a marked shift from the Bush administration, President Obama’s Justice Department is aggressively investigating several big urban police departments for systematic civil rights abuses such as harassment of racial minorities, false arrests, and excessive use of force.

In interviews, activists and attorneys on the ground in several cities where the DOJ has dispatched civil rights investigators welcomed the shift. To progressives disappointed by Eric Holder’s Justice Department on key issues like the failure to investigate Bush-era torture and the prosecution of whistle-blowers, recent actions by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division are a bright spot.

In just the past few months, the Civil Rights Division has announced "pattern and practice" investigations in Newark, New Jersey and Seattle. It’s also conducting a preliminary investigation of the Denver Police Department, and all this is on top of a high-profile push to reform the notorious New Orleans Police Department — as well as criminal prosecutions of several New Orleans officers.

The "pattern and practice" authority comes from a 1994 law passed by Congress after the brutal beating of Rodney King by white Los Angeles police officers, who allegedly yelled racial slurs as they hit him. The law allows the DOJ to sue police departments if there is a pattern of violations of citizens’ constitutional rights — things like an excessive use of force, discrimination, and illegal searches. Often, after an investigation, the police department in question will enter into a voluntary reform agreement with the DOJ to avoid a lawsuit and the imposition of reforms.

"Under the Bush administration, the Justice Department disappeared here in terms of federal civil rights enforcement. You could see the shift to counterterrorism at the ground level after Sept. 11," says Mary Howell , a New Orleans civil rights attorney who has been working on police misconduct cases for more than three decades. "Now they’re back doing criminal prosecutions of police and the civil rights investigation, which is huge."… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <Salon>

While this does not excuse Obama’s prosecution of whistleblowers and failure to pursue Bush, Cheney, et al, for their many crimes against humanity and against the citizens of the US, it is yet another area in which his administration is superior to anything Republicans have to offer.

Also, much of the problem could be alleviated by empowering citizen review boards to oversee the investigation of complaints.


  10 Responses to “DOJ Investigating Abuse by Police”

  1. Five or six years ago the Detroit police department was put under federal oversight. Then after having spent tens of millions of dollars of untraceable money, nothing has changed except we found out the woman attorney the judge put in the oversight position was also getting literally boned by Kwame Kilpatrick. (No she doesn’t have to pay the ten million she earned for her firm back, no she is not losing her law license and no Kilpatrick is not getting any in prison, unless it’s from a dude)

    Of course we don’t really worry to much about police harassment here. They never respond or respond the next day to a shots fired call. *shrug* So much for federal oversight.

    • Mark, five or six years ago, the oversight was Republican based. It could make a difference.

      • Nothings changed so far except we have less officers or money for them and the mayor (D) has taken to looting pension funds to cover Kilpatricks deficits.

  2. I hope they add to this the Park District’s beating and arrest for people “dancing” at the Jefferson Memorial the other day. Then they closed the Memorial. Really, you can’t dance in honor of Jefferson’s 265th birthday? What has this country come to? 😯

  3. There was another comment on this thread. It was not censored for content. We don’t approve comments from people who leave bogus email addresses.

  4. I have observed the stories of abusive police over the years, and am wondering if the process of hiring should include a psychological diagnosis on the ability to deal with their anger. And in my work of energy healing, what I know is that people who hurt have been hurt. I would guess that most if not all of those officers who have beaten people up have themselves been beaten up and they have not healed their wounds. Obviously, this is important to address. Anybody out there consider this a possibility? “Managing anger” is not about watching our behavior but truly getting to the source within and healing the wounds.

    • Welcome Anita. 🙂

      Anita, that is probably a good idea. In my volunteer work with prisoners I have often observed the same thing, and in helping prisoners learn to deal with anger, I’ve found a holistic approach is most effective.

  5. How ironic after I just read a story about a couple of cops declared innocent of rape charges, it took two years to come to this decision and it was so obviously a miscarriage of justice (the victim was drunk when they “came to her aid” and escorted her home”), no other cops came to their defense, both were fired, thanks to Bloomberg and Kelly (an excellent duo for the city)!
    “Little Napolean” did a great job in creating “law and order” in the NYPD – his despotic dictatorship of the city had even the most righteous citizen shaking in his boots – I’m speaking of the “9/11” candidate, “g” of course. I wouldn’t call or trust a cop in this city – maybe I have “authority issues”, but after witnessing a beating in an alley, and getting mugged at gun point in front of two of the city’s “blue” – who sat in their cruiser on the other side of the street watching the episode – doing nothing, because my side of the street was “outside their precinct’s jurisdiction” – I could care less about these “defenders of the hood”! I’m sure some good ones exist – they’ve just eludeded me! Obviously there are some that don’t need “investigating” – the city is safer – but I tend to agree with Anita.

    • Lee, I understand your point, but think that the rotten apples tend to stand out like sore thumbs, while no one hears about the dedicated professionals.

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