Measured Against Reality

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Unaccountable Police: What's really wrong with our country

I've noticed a disturbing trend lately. There are too many incidents of unaccountable and terrifying police action.

Those are four separate stories detailing several separate incidents in the past few days (though the first is a collection of older stories). The third is particularly elucidating, as it provides the perfect synopsis of what happens in these cases: Police officers did something stupid (repeatedly tasered a man in his own home), and get off without any punishment (cleared of all wrongdoing). This happens over and over again, Radley Balko collects these cases, and there are several per week.

I find this incredibly disturbing. While there are many things to worry about in this world, entirely too many, we really shouldn't have to worry that the people who are charged with protecting us are going to hurt us. That just strikes me as entirely off-kilter.

I'm not one of those people who thinks that all police officers are terrible criminals or anything, but there's not nearly enough accountability. If they kill a child with a toy gun, or taser an 82-year-old woman, or taser a man sleeping on his couch, or shoot a dog during a drug raid, or repeatedly raid the wrong house, then something should be done. Someone should be held accountable. Someone should be punished. If not, nothing will change, and innocent people will continue to get hurt.

The truly depressing thing about this is that I have absolutely no idea what we could do to fix it. Reading the first link above (a story about officers' postings on message boards and similar places), one gets the feeling that there's a culture of resentment for the civilians, almost as though those who they have been sworn to "serve and protect" are the enemy. How do you go about fixing something like that? How do you convince people who potentially put their lives on the line to put their heads on the chopping block if they make a mistake? I don't know, but it certainly appears to me that if we don't do just that, people will keep dying.

Again, I'm not saying that the police officers are to blame. Working a hard, dangerous, and often thankless job would not be easy. But the vast majority of officers aren't the ones tasering grandmothers or shooting children, and when a police officer does something that would get a civilian thrown in prison for 20 years, that officer should be thrown in prison for 20 years. End of story.

The bottom line is that we shouldn't have to be afraid of the people who are protecting us. And without accountability, that's just not possible.

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