Civil Rights…do they still exist in the real world?
I received another call today from a woman who was abused by a police officer for no reason. I get one or two calls like this every day. They all go something like this:
Yesterday I was pulled over by a HPD officer as I was entering my apartment complex. He was about 30 years old, white and seemed really angry and he was yelling at me. I asked why he pulled me over and he told me to shut up. Then he grabbed me by the hair and drug me out of my car. He threw me to the ground and dropped his knee on my back. There was a person stopped in their car near by and the officer told them to leave the scene or he would arrest them too. The police officer wrote me a ticket for no registration and no insurance, although I had both with me in the car and I offered to show him. Several people started coming out of their apartments because I had been screaming in pain. When he saw people gathering around, he got in his car and sped off. I have seen this officer around the apartment complex since and he follows me around sometimes.
The advice I had to give this lady was to move. If you complain, the police officer will probably lie and say you were resisting arrest or you reached under your seat for a gun and that he was justified in the force he used. His buddies at the police station will either say that they would do the same thing or lie and say they were there and saw the whole thing and you did resist arrest. And I told her that if she pushes it any more, the police officer is likely to kill her and put a “throw down” gun in her hand. Like HPD did in the Webster v. City of Houston case. I told the lady we could never win her suit even if everything she said was true. She should just move and hope the officer leaves her alone. Of course her ticket for no insurance and no registration was dismissed (she had both with her in the car) and nothing happened to the officer.
I talked to another man this morning who had been parked outside his bank reading his paper waiting for the branch to open. One of the bank employees called HPD and said there was someone parked outside the bank and could they check it out. The officer that arrived was in his mid-thirties, white and angry. He pulled the man out of his car, threw him on the ground and started kicking him. The bank employee asked why he was doing that and the officer said because he reached for a gun. The employee said “no, he didn’t” and the officer told him that if he knew what was good for him, he would say that he reached for a gun. The man was put in jail for four days without medical treatment and the case against him was, of course, dismissed. Nothing happened to the officer – the police report says that an eye-witness corroborated the officer’s statement that the man reached for a gun.
I get these calls every day. At least one a day. I don’t think that every police officer out there is beating people up, but lots of them are. They give the ones that don’t a bad name, but the good ones aren’t doing anything about it, either.
The repeated calls with the same general story has made me think about why this is happening and what has changed since the days when you could trust the police to protect you. And I have a theory…
When I was growing up, the most widely known police officer was Andy Griffith. He was well-respected in Mayberry, a civic leader, he didn’t even carry a gun. He was rational and did not have any personal bones to pick with lawbreakers or suspects. Back then, people that wanted to be police officers wanted to be like Andy Griffith; they were educated and kind and rational and wanted to do good for their community. And the world was a better place.
So, who wants to be police officers in the post-Andy era? And why?
Well, I can tell you that the typical HPD officer has a high-school diploma or GED. Very few have attended college and almost none graduated college. Almost all of the applicants are males around 30. Most of the applicants are former athletes, football players primarily, who were the cool guys in high school. They had the power that comes with being big and strong and popular. And high school was the best time in their lives. Things weren’t as good after high school. They weren’t good enough at sports to get a scholarship, or their grades were not good enough for them to qualify for college. They discovered that the real world values them differently than the kids in high school did. And that makes them angry. What happened to their power? Where did the respect go that they had in high school? Are they not still the guy that scored three touchdowns in the district championship? And, most importantly, how do I get that back, since I am not smart enough to get into college?
Enter the police academy. In just four months and after passing a multiple choice test, I can have all of that respect back. I will get a gun and a badge and a taser and a baton and pepper spray. I can be back on a team again…a team that looks out for each other and sometimes even lies for one and other to protect the team. I can make people listen to me and do what I say. And if people don’t, I will use my muscles and weapons to make them listen. They will have to respect me again. And if I am having a bad day, I can take it out on some black guy in Sunnyside and no one will say a word. If they do, I can just lie about it…I can never be caught. It will be just like in high school when we duct taped that nerd to the flagpole over night. That was awesome!
And that is what we have. A bunch of ‘roided-up 30 year-old guys that are really pissed off that they can’t still play highschool football. They stay pissed off because their lives didn’t turn out as well as they wanted and take it out on anyone they want to. And if you don’t show them the proper respect, which they have not and will not earn, they are likely to beat you or kill you. And who are you going to complain to? The police department? Good luck. The Courts? That is just a more expensive way to get the same lack of results. Listen to the appellate argument I made a few months ago for an idea of the kind of results you can get from the Courts.
The best thing you can do is treat the police like you treated the bullies at school: 1) try to stay out of their way, 2) if you catch their eye, try to swallow your pride and not say or do anything that might provoke them. You may take a beating from time to time, but there is nothing you can do about it. No one is going to punish the police, just like no one punished the captain of the football team in high school.
So do we have any civil rights? I don’t know…it sure doesn’t seem like it to me. And the police in Houston sure don’t seem to think so. Just be careful out there and recognize that the people we pay with our tax dollars to protect us may be more dangerous than the people we want them to protect us from.