That item about the NYPD actually brings us right around to our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.
Earlier this month, a committee of the New York state senate held a hearing on protests against police brutality. This was sparked to a significant degree by the Eric Garner case, where a black man was choked to death by NYPD cops.
Among those testifying was NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.
And what was his considered answer to cases like Eric Garners? What was his answer to police violence that has lead to such unnecessary and tragic deaths and the community outrage that followed?
He urged the lawmakers to increase the penalties for resisting arrest from a misdemeanor to a felony. That was his answer. He said later that
We need to get around this idea that you can resist arrest. It results in potential injuries to the officer, to the suspect. And we need to change that, and the way to change that is to start penalties for it.Y'see, cops in New York and elsewhere have been claiming that Garner's death could have been prevented, golly gee whillikers, if only he hadn't tried to resist arrest. Because, you have to understand, if he "resisted" in any way or to the least degree, five or six cops just had to jump on him. Cops just had to put him in a choke hold which had long been banned from the NYPD for precisely the risk of doing to someone what the cops did to Eric Garner. Because the cops just had to keep him in the choke hold even as he lay face down on the pavement, gasping that he couldn't breathe.
Because they just had to blame the victim. Because blaming the victim is always the solution. And that woman should have known better than to wear a short skirt so what happened to her was all her fault.
Why is victim-blaming the only thing Bill Bratton can think of to do? This would be unconscionable even if "resisting arrest" was not usually an add-on charge to cover up for brutality by some cop. Samuel Walker, an author of several books on policing and civil liberties and professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska, said recently that
There's a widespread pattern in American policing where resisting arrest charges are used to sort of cover - and that phrase is used - the officer's use of force.Now, this is nothing new: Indeed, I recall back in the dreaded '60s, it was assumed that if you were taking part in a sit-in or something and got clubbed or in some other way roughed up or beaten in the course of being arrested, you would be changed with resisting arrest (and sometimes assaulting an officer). But its longevity makes it worse, not better.
And it reveals patterns of brutality: A researcher recently looked at NYPD arrest stats since 2012 and found that just five percent of officers accounted for 40 percent of all resisting arrest charges. In fact, a majority of New York officers filed no resisting arrest charges in that time. He also found that blacks in New York City are more likely than whites to be charged with resisting arrest, even if they're being brought in for the same crime.
How is making resisting arrest a felony going to change any of that? The answer is, of course, it won't. It will just mean even greater racial injustice and greater potential for cops to abuse their powers.
That's because cops have wide latitude in deciding what constitutes "resisting." Technically, anything short of active cooperation with an arrest could be called "resisting." During the civil rights demonstrations of the '50s and '60s and the antiwar actions of the '60s, going limp when being arrested was a common tactic: You did not resist in any normally-understood sense of the term, you simply did not cooperate. You did nothing (except make the cops have the hassle of carrying you away). You were passive. All such people, all those people, according to Bill Bratton, should have been charged with a felony and sent to prison.
Because if resisting had been a felony, he's saying, then Eric Garner, angry, frustrated, feeling hassled and harassed, would at the very moment one of those cops said anything about arrest, would instantly have gone "Yes sir, whatever you say sir, of course, sir, here are my hands behind by back, sir." Or maybe the cops playing "blame the victim" prefer to imagine him going "yes, massah."
I called it an outrage when Bratton was first hired. I have had no reason to change my mind. Claiming the answer to cop violence is to give them more power to send more people to prison, now with trumped-up charges of "resisting arrest," claiming that the best way to prevent more Eric Garners is to blame all the Eric Garners for their own injuries or deaths, that is disgusting, it is unconscionable, it is an outrage.
Sources cited in links: