How the non-action against abusive cops creates a climate of fear and erodes our civil liberties

So I wrote earlier about a particularly gross display of police brutality in neighboring Henderson, NV that went virtually unpunished, as the offending officer is still employed at his previous rank of Sergeant. Randomly I came across this youtube video that demonstrates how to behave during a traffic stop, while still maintaining and asserting your Constitutional rights. One thing that struck me about the video was that the actor playing the cop did a pretty good job of being intimidating, yet the young man remained un-flustered and proceeded to repeat his rights and behave in an ideal manner. I think what bothered me was that the video does not take into account the level of fear one feels when placed in a real-life situation like the one they are trying to depict.

I wondered why should we feel fear in our encounters with the police. I remember being younger (pre-9/11) and not being particularly fearful of police, especially if I knew I was doing nothing wrong. I can't speak for anyone else, but for me personally, that is no longer the case. What has changed, then? The first thing that comes to mind is the knowledge that police can and do abuse people, and consequently face very little if any punishment for doing so. The empty words of Henderson Mayor, Andy Hafen, demonstrates this concept. Here, we are fortunate enough to have videotape proof of blatant police brutality, yet not only are no criminal charges filed, the offending officer remains on duty to this day.

That is scary. It sends a message - we can abuse you and get away with it. Knowing this to be the climate we live in, if I find myself in a confrontation with an angry officer whom is intent on making an illegal search or detainment or whatever, I am more likely to forfeit my rights than I otherwise would be. I am less confident of the effectiveness of the system in prosecuting police abuse appropriately, and consequently, because both I and the officer know this, there exists greater leeway for him to use excessive force and less incentive for him to be concerned with protecting my rights and treating me fairly.

Additionally, the ever increasing definition of what constitutes "resisting arrest" and thus authorizes the police officer to assault you, only makes matters worse. In this clip we see that merely saying "What are you going to do, shoot me? What are you going to do?" is enough to constitute a threat and the person is subsequently arrested. Living in a world where crimes are so vague, and police are legally allowed to assault you and, if necessary, use deadly force based on the increasingly vague  definition of what constitutes a crime has a very precise effect on the citizen, and society in general. It creates a climate of uncertainty and fear. Fear that you will be violently and brutally assaulted for failing to comply with a police officer's command, regardless of whether you are legally required to or not. Fear that they can claim your behavior or speech represented a threat and now they are legally entitled to violently assault you; an assault that if you resist, they are legally permitted to murder you, if necessary.

The most disturbing aspect of all of this is the ultimate result such a climate of fear has on a society. It creates an environment where civil liberties are eroded silently, preemptively. Where there still exists, on paper, the right to remain secure in your person and effects, but no longer does that right function in the tangible world.

This is, of course, by no means limited to Nevada law enforcement. It is a widespread trend across American and most aptly personified by the Federal Government's various police-state agencies such as the TSA and DHS. Still, it always smarts a bit more when you witness the government fail to provide its only legitimate duty - to protect the rights of the people - right in your own backyard. While I expect the road towards the de-monopolization of government-run police is a long one, I would think removing cops who display such abusive and criminal tendencies would be easily achieved. At the very least, the good citizens of Henderson, NV deserve a police force that does not condone and continually employ abusive officers. It would be nice to see the city, and the mayor, make some effort at providing them that service.


  1. well said. The 'shoot first, ask questions later' mentality that most police officers have is only encouraged when they face no real consequences for their actions.

  2. Nice post Robert,

    You're very much right that not holding police and other officials accountable for their actions creates a climate where they are much more likely to commit such acts. Another effect that it has is that it actually makes people less likely to trust cops, thereby making their job that much harder. The fact that people in a community, whose feelings toward police are dictated by fear and distrust, is less likely to cooperate with them on legitimate crimes, is yet another reason why all these good cops we are always being told about need to root out the bad apples amongst them.

    The "Thin Blue Line" isn't any better than the mobsters' vow of silence. In fact, if anything it is worse because we expect them to be criminals going in.