America IS A Police State
by Steven Greenhut: Let's
Finally Dispense With 'Hero' Nonsense
cops, responding to a phone call alleging that someone in the downtown
area might be breaking into cars, approached a 130-pound homeless
man named Kelly Thomas, grabbed his backpack and, according to eyewitnesses,
began Tasering him and beating him into a pulp. He died a few days
later at a local hospital.
eyewitnesses, Thomas, although schizophrenic, did nothing to warrant
arrest, let alone a savage beating. He was a local fixture around
the bar scene, a gentle figure who bummed cigarettes and slept in
the park. Videos
made by bystanders showed pure aggression on the part of the
cops, while locals expressed horror and Thomas cried out for his
dad as he was being beaten.
column about this apparent act of police thuggery, I quoted
Jim Ewert, general counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers
Association, who calls California a "secret police state."
Some readers no doubt find this description to be too much for their
tender sensibilities. So I want to recount some of the ways the
authorities have behaved during and after the incident, and then
ask this question: Does this typical behavior better reflect the
policies of a free society or a police state?
responded to a nonviolent call with overwhelming violent force.
confiscated the video camera of a bystander who was standing
nearby taping the ongoing incident, thereby limiting the ability
of the public to see what actually took place and obliterating the
freedom of the person doing the taping.
offending officers were allowed to review the official videotape
recorded on a bus-depot camera before filing their police reports.
This allowed them to get their stories straight before going on
the record. Here we see a horrendous double standard – the rules
for the authorities are different than the rules for the subjects.
4. The district
attorney’s office has refused to release the official video, arguing
that it would taint a jury.
5. The DA has
been busy downplaying the incident in the local media, arguing,
for instance, that the police had no intent to kill, as if anyone
really thought they had premeditated a murder. DA’s rarely if ever
file charges against police officers for police brutality. I’ve
this particular DA in the past during other use of force issues
and he always is quick to exonerate any police misbehavior in such
cases. The DA doesn’t seem concerned that his statements would taint
6. The law
is written in such a way that even if the DA were serious about
cracking down on police brutality, he would be hard-pressed to do
so. An officer is allowed to use deadly force if he believes that
his life were in danger, and of course such officers always claim
that their lives were in danger, no matter the facts involved in
7. The police
department has released disinformation
to suggest that Thomas got what was coming to him. The Fullerton
PD spokesman released a report claiming that the officers had suffered
broken bones in the scuffle, which was not true. The department
released a menacing photograph of Thomas that does not actually
appear to be Thomas, according to those who know him.
8. It took
the department 30 days to put these thugs on administrative leave
– i.e., paid vacation. The department refuses to release the name
of the killers. State law makes it illegal for the city to release
any information about the accused killers and their previous misbehavior.
9. The six
Fullerton PD officers refuse to be interviewed by the DA. Unwilling
to deal with the tough questions, the police chief went out on medical
leave – the precursor to a tax-funded disability retirement. Try
going on paid medical leave if you were too stressed after the police
were questioning you!
10. After dozens
and then hundreds of local residents showed up downtown to calmly
and peacefully protest the killing and the cover up, city
officials described them as a lynch mob and as terrorists. So
officials act like a true mob and like true terrorists and are coddled
by officials, but when the public gets upset and acts in a calm
and appropriate and All American manner, they are depicted that
11. One councilman,
a former police chief who hired the Fullerton cops in question,
on national television that the police did not necessarily kill
Thomas. He said that the facial injuries – i.e., his face was
beaten so severely it was not recognizable as Thomas – do not mean
that the police caused serious harm to Thomas. He
said the public shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what killed
Thomas. Thomas was walking around and healthy, six cops beat
and Tasered him and then he dies. But according to officials, that
doesn’t mean that the cops had anything to do with the death. What
would the police have said had a gang beaten up a cop who later
12. The local
civil rights activists, who are paid by local cities and police
departments to fight hate crimes and stand up for the downtrodden,
calling for more training of the police, more taxpayer-funded Kumbaya
sessions and for more "outside" investigations handled
by people with a history of whitewashing police abuse.
13. Some in
mainstream media have been making excuses for the cops and making
fun of the local blog that has done all the legwork on this story.
14. The state
attorney general, who could be called in to investigate the killing,
is being advised by one of the most thuggish police union officials
I’ve ever encountered. She is trying to earn more police support
as she potentially seeks higher office.
officials and unions are of course circling the wagons and claiming
that we cannot judge the split-second decisions made by officers
in the heat of the moment, even though six large armed police were
up against one tiny unarmed man and it was the police who started
the altercation – one that lasted much longer than a few split seconds.
16. The police
union hired an attorney to send a threatening letter to a blogger
who had been covering the incident, knowing full well that most
bloggers don’t have the wherewithal to fight these threatened SLAPP
(Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) suits.
17. FYI, Fullerton
police have been subject to various
scandals involving officers – ranging from theft to drug use
to sexual misbehavior in a squad car and official sources have offered
a variety of excuses, mostly related to the stresses of the job.
There’s a clear pattern of special treatment for officers compared
to the treatment received by the public.
The only difference
in Fullerton from the many other instances of police thuggery I
have covered in California is that the public doesn’t seem to be
buying the excuses and seems genuinely mad at what has happened.
But a recent
story in Sacramento reports on how Elk Grove police fired an assault
rifle at point-blank range at a handcuffed man in the back of a
patrol car. The district attorney, of course, found that the officer
feared for his life and did nothing wrong.
this week show that BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) officials shut
down all cellular service after believing that people angry
at the police killing of a man on July 3 would be using their cell
phones to organize a protest. Perish the thought that anyone be
allowed to hold a non-violent protest on BART property.
This is the
same BART where an officer, Johannes Mehserle, shot to death an
unarmed and prostrate man named Oscar Grant in the back. Mehserle
received a two-year slap-on-the-wrist sentence for involuntary manslaughter
and has been treated as a martyr by police unions angered that a
DA would dare prosecute a killer cop. This was the first time in
California history that a cop was prosecuted for murder for an on-duty
killing, in case any readers think that this prosecution undermines
police are increasingly arresting onlookers who videotape police
doing such things. Without the videotape Mehserle would be on the
job and there would be no angry Fullerton residents protesting.
No wonder the cops are grabbing our cameras.
the Legislature to open up police records go absolutely nowhere
as union-loving Democrats and law-and-order Republicans unite to
do the police bidding. The courts continue to rule in favor of police
secrecy, as this
case involving cell phones and this
one involving disciplinary records reveal. City council members
not only fear the political power of local police unions, but retired
police officers frequently win posts on the City Council.
the public generally sides with the cops, especially in Republican
areas such as Orange County.
use deadly force at will. They can confiscate cameras and keep their
own official videos away from public view. They can intimidate and
harass writers. They can count on their departments to cover up
for them. They know the "outside" investigators, mostly
their colleagues and allies in the law enforcement community, will
do the same for them. They can count on the media and the public
to excuse them.
Yet some people
blush at the term Police State.
Greenhut (send him mail)
is editor-in-chief of CalWatchdog.com,
author of Plunder!
How Public Employee Unions Are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our
Lives And Bankrupting The Nation!, and a columnist for The
Orange County Register.
© 2011 Steven Greenhut