On August 19, the Washington Post published an op-ed piece by former Los Angeles policeman Sunil Dutta titled “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.” The big pull quote heard around America was “Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?” I only agree with half of this.
First thing is, I read the entire op-ed piece not just the controversial quote, and Dutta does make a good point about he danger that cops face on the job, the abuse us civilians can hurl at them even after a traffic stop, and how cops are trained to resolve conflicts in a multitude of ways. I agree with him in that civilians can make our own cause better by being polite. I’ve had traffic tickets reduced or been let off with a warning because I was the one guy that day that was didn’t argue with the officer. He also makes a good point that if you are being bullied or harassed by a cop, any resistance will make matters worse. Dutta and I both agree that police should wear body cams to record events for evidence. I think those issues are valid and I can’t argue with him on that. What I do take issue with is blaming the victim for the actions of excessive force.
Dutta says in cases of excessive force, “officers are rarely at fault. When they use force it is in the public’s safety.” So who is at fault when an 18 year old boy turns and raises his hands in submission and is then shot at least two more times? The implication is that the victim brought this on himself because the officer is rarely at fault (It must be noted that Dutta says that “we are still learning” what happened between Mike Brown and Officer Wilson). We saw this when the Ferguson police leaked video of Mike Brown supposedly robbing a convenience store, even before releasing an incident report. Why smear the victim before all the facts are in? It’s to reinforce that “the police are in the right” narrative demonstrated by Dutta’s op-ed.
That Dutta was once with Internal Affairs is surprising he won’t talk about the “blue wall of silence” that goes up after a cop involved shooting. He either misses the point or misunderstands that a big reason “officers are rarely at fault” is that law enforcement institutions have more incentive to protect its own rather than police them. Hence why investigators hadn’t spoken to any of the major witnesses for at least a week after the death of Mike Brown, an incident report was submitted late and woefully inadequate, and the only autopsy completed so far was one paid for by the family. The bully cop only makes it harder on police to be trusted, but doing nothing or slow walking an investigation into cops in a situation like this does even more damage to all good cops.
Dutta later in the article says “cops are legally prohibited from using excessive force: the moment a suspect submits and stops resisting, the officer must cease the use of force.” However this week we also saw the actions of officer Ray Albers, affectionately known in the Twitterverse as #OfficerGoFuckYourself. On protest duty, Albers was shown on video pointing his long rifle at unarmed protestors and media and threatening to kill them; when asked for his name he said “go fuck yourself” hence the nickname. While he was removed from duty, his actions are one of the outcomes of seeing cops as “rarely at fault”: cops can act in a variety of ways with impunity (almost). The other extreme is what happened to Mike Brown. The protest chant of “Hands up, Don’t shoot” are based on Brown’s final actions while he was shot. There is no chance for Mike Brown to complain to a supervisor and lodge a complaint because the officer in this case did not cease his use of force when the 18 year old young man stopped resisting, and is dead as a result.
Finally there is Dutta’s deafness to the others when he writes “community members deserve courtesy, respect and professionalism from their officers. Every person stopped by a cop should feel safe instead of feeling that their well-being is in jeopardy. Shouldn’t the community members extend the same courtesy to their officers and project that the officer’s safety is not threatened by their actions?” This in a nutshell is what’s wrong in this case: the reason Ferguson was in near riots is that the community have not gotten the “courtesy, respect and professionalism” from the police they deserve. Ferguson is 67% Black with a police force that is 90% White, and Blacks made up 93% of 2,013 arrests after car stops. The attorney general’s office says Blacks are twice as likely to be arrested than Whites after car stops. A community that is over-policed—and at the very least over-scrutinized—is less likely to feel threatened by police. Dutta asking for the police to be treated with courtesy when the police don’t seem to show the same respect to the community is insulting; but it does follow his “do what I say “ logic.
The sad thing about the op-ed is that Dutta wasn’t intentionally trying to defend police brutality, but that’s what he wound up doing. Somewhere in that article is good advice about remaining calm and civil during a police stop, but that got buried in braggadocio and righteous indignation defending the police. Meanwhile, we still have another unarmed Black man killed by police hands and waiting for the next one to come any day now.