Two DeKalb County police officers, Arthur Parker and Blake Norwood, are accused of attacking Travarrius Williams, on Tuesday. The burglary suspect exchanged words and possibly spit at the officers, after which they apparently dragged the teenager behind a garage at the South Precinct on Candler Road, and relentlessly beat him so badly that a fellow officer overheard the incident. The two officers were jailed and each charged with one count of misdemeanor battery and a felony count of violating their oath of office. Mr. Williams complained of bruised ribs and was taken to Grady Memorial hospital. The officer who reports Mr. Parker and Mr. Norwood has not been named, but he deserves to be commended for his bravery. It’s rare to see an officer report wrongdoing by his fellow officers and he no doubt faces possible retribution from other officers and the threat of being ostracized. God bless you, whoever you are.
Officers (and perhaps soon-to-be inmates themselves) Parker and Norwood have been suspended from duty, with pay, pending investigation. Yes, loyal radish-heads, you read that correctly, the officers accused of beating (and hospitalizing) an handcuffed 18 year-old man because they didn’t like what he had to say, were suspended, but taxpayers are still paying their salary until further notice. So if you pay taxes in DeKalb County, these two thugs are enjoying a paid vacation on your dime, all while the department’s administration searches for some way to quietly sweep this little incident under the rug. Sadly this is most likely the last we’ll ever hear of this incident. The DeKalb Police Department will almost certainly offer to reduce the original charges against Mr. Williams in exchange for his perpetual silence on the matter. The officers may lose their jobs with the DeKalb PD, but will probably find a cozy job patrolling country roads and chasing down speeders in some rural police department that more fully appreciates the abusive tendencies these officers displayed.
Not An Isolated Incident
Following the incident, DeKalb County Police Chief Executive Burrell Ellis claimed, “These actions are not reflective of this department as a whole.” Really? Can he actually say that and keep a straight face? Is he deluded enough to think that’s true? And if we really can trust the DeKalb police Department, why did he even need to ‘reassure’ us that these actions aren’t reflective of him and his fellow officers?
In 2006 a DeKalb County grand jury was convened to investigate the extraordinarily high volume of fatal police shootings of suspects. Many of the suspects in question were unarmed or were shot in the back while fleeing from police. Of course, not much came of this effort, possibly because the only objective parties with material information in these matters, the victims themselves, were unable to speak up. You see, they were dead, and therefore unable to appear before the grand jury to tell their side of the story.
In 2009, DeKalb County paid Robert Williams $165,000 to forget about abuse at the hands of one of their officers. On Halloween night 2004, Officer Ronald Jones encountered Mr. Williams behind a local restaurant. Mr. Williams, who was drunk and homeless at the time, begged the officer to arrest him and take him to jail so he could get a hot meal or two and have someplace warm to lay his head for the night. Officer Jones, being a good and faithful enforcer of the laws of the State of Georgia, should have arrested the man for loitering or criminal trespass. Instead, he drove Mr. Williams to the Rockdale County line (a common practice at the time), ordered him out of the car, and ruthlessly pummeled the drunk man with his fists and kicked him in the ribs. Officer Jones was later charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, and violating his oath of office. Mr. Williams wound up $165,000 richer thanks to the incident. Given his condition, this was no doubt a favorable outcome in Mr. Williams’ mind. Was it, however, worth the mental anguish, the physical and emotional pain, and the shameful indignity he suffered at the hands of DeKalb County’s ‘finest’?
DeKalb County is consistently ranked at the top of national listings of police misconduct. In fact, during the period from April-June 2009, DeKalb County ranked 9th in the nation, with a police misconduct rate of 1.69 (the city of Atlanta was a close 10th with a rate of 1.61). Mind you, the ongoing problem of police brutality and misconduct is, by no means, restricted to DeKalb County and its police department.
Atlanta, Police Abuse Capitol of the South?
You don’t need to look very far to find high profile cases of police abuse against peaceful citizens. Atlanta is a hotbed of police brutality and misconduct. The Atlanta Police Department (APD) raid on the Atlanta Eagle, a midtown bar frequented by gay men, has garnered national attention for the past few years. Police raided the bar in an effort break up purported male prostitution and drug activity. In the process of raiding the Eagle, the APD’s ‘elite’ Red Dog squad left patrons lying face-down on a filthy floor covered with vomit, beer, and who-knows-what-else, all the while subjecting them to an endless barrage of anti-gay slurs and homophobic rants. Twenty-four officers were found guilty of falsely imprisoning the men they harassed for no good reason. Many officers were accused or convicted of violating the mens’ constitutional rights, destroying evidence, lying to investigators, and unlawfully searching victims and seizing property. The Atlanta Eagle and its patrons later received a payment of $1.025 million from the city, along with empty promises of change and reform of APD procedures in the future. Don’t count on it. By the way, none of that $1.025 million came out of the officers’ pockets. If you pay taxes in the city of Atlanta, it came out of your pocket.
All this Atlanta Eagle action happened in the wake of the Kathryn Johnston shooting. Kathryn Johnston was a 92-year old woman who lived in a tiny house the APD claimed was a hotbed of drug activity in the city’s drug-riddled Vine City neighborhood. Unfortunately, their information wasn’t quite as accurate as they’d hoped. Officers somehow obtained a no-knock warrant, meaning they could bust down Ms. Johnston’s door whenever they pleased without announcing themselves. And that’s just what they did. A swarm of APD storm troopers descended upon Ms. Johnston’s home, wielding assault rifles and clad in all-black combat gear. A frightened Ms. Johnston reached for the gun she used to defend herself from burglars and potential attackers, but she never stood a chance against the combined powers of Atlanta’s ‘finest’. The officers mowed her down and, in a classic case of the ‘blue wall of silence’ gone awry, those involved lied about every imaginable angle of the case to cover their tracks.
Three of the officers involved were later convicted and sentenced to 5-10 years in prison for their crimes (mostly crimes committed after the fact to cover their tracks). Sadly, that won’t do Ms. Johnston any good. She wasn’t able to see the APD officers who masterminded the illegal raid of her home be put in prison. You see, she was killed by those officers. Had Ms. Johnston, or myself, or even one of you radish-heads out there, burst into those officers’ homes, guns blazing, and mowed them down in a blaze of power-induced glory, do you think we could have asked for 5-10 years in prison without being laughed out of the court? Probably not. And therein lies the problem. Cops can, literally, get away with murder. And they know this.
This is Not the First Time, It Won’t Be the Last…
Most of you, I’m sure, have seen cops speeding with no lights on, making illegal U-turns for no apparent reason, and violating all manner of traffic rules, simply because they can get away with it. However, the general public rarely has the good fortune to see how the ‘peace officer’ system works from the inside. There are some of us, though, who have had the bad misfortune of finding ourselves on the wrong side of the law, and most all of us can personally attest to much more serious instances of police misconduct. In fact, many of us can personally attest to one of more instances of full-blown police brutality.
My first encounter with police brutality came when I was a mere ten years old. No, no, they didn’t attack a poor little defenseless ten year-old boy. This was back in the “good old days” before the folks in question lost all their decency. I was witness to my stepfather being viciously attacked by the police. Two officers were called to our suburban Washington, DC apartment for noise disturbance (loud music, if you must know). It was about 10 PM on a weeknight and one of the neighbors had called to complain. Rather than do the decent think and ask politely that we turn it down, they called the law. Fair enough.
The officers knocked on our door and informed my stepfather that the music was too loud. He calmly agreed to turn the music down and then proceeded to close the door. Big mistake. One of the officers placed his foot in the doorway and they exchanged some not-so-nice words. The officer then pushed his way into the door, which in most people’s book is well beyond the limits of his constitutional authority. In typical cop fashion though, he just didn’t seem to give a damn. My stepfather made the unconscionable mistake of pushing pack on the door, which apparently gave these cops carte blanche to do as they pleased. They both attacked a man who wasn’t fighting them with fists and elbows, wrestled him to the ground, and twisted his arms behind his back to cuff him, all the while making sure to dig their knees between every pair of ribs they could find. Needless to say, this scene left your frightened little ten year-old author completely flabbergasted, and perhaps scarred for life.
So now my stepfather, clad in nothing but a skimpy pair of cheap boxer shorts, was dragged – and I mean physically dragged – down the stairs, and about 200 yards down a concrete walkway, tossed about, bloodied and beaten, and ominously swallowed up by the grim back seat of their growling patrol car.
Later that night, surprisingly (or not) with no charges, my stepfather was released from the city precinct without incident. Apparently the shift sergeant didn’t think what he’d done was so bad after all. He was free to go, but not without the physical scratches and bruises, and innumerable mental scars, to remind him that, whether they’re right or wrong, you don’t fuck with the cops.
An interesting side note: Both cops were white. My stepfather, black. White on black police brutality was still commonplace in the late 1980′s, even in the supposedly racially enlightened northern states. Sadly, it’s still a problem today, but it seems the cops are less concerned with color and tend to brutalize indiscriminately these days.
Mental Scars May Be the Worst Kind
Worse, perhaps, than physical abuse at the hands of the police, are the verbal and mental games played by jail and prison guards against their captive inmates. This includes name-calling, verbal insults, yelling directly in an inmates face such that spittle from the officer in question commonly finds its way onto the lips or into ones eyes, aggressive and intimidating behavior, and threats of physical abuse, isolation, or loss of privileges such as family contact. I have personally heard countless officers, wardens, superintendents, counselors, and other administrative staff, even the mail clerk (!!!), threaten to ‘lose’ an inmate’s paperwork and that, as a result, he (or she) would be denied parole or may become ‘lost in the system’ and never get out of jail.
While I doubt any officer, or even the warden or superintendent, has the ability to lose someone in the system for a very extended time, such threats reveal the absolute control these people have over inmates and the twisted thought process going on in these men and women’s minds. Of course we’ve heard about cases in which prisoners were kept well past their release date or were denied parole due to paperwork errors, but more realistically, these officers and administrators simply have the power to make an inmate’s life more difficult and significantly less pleasant, and they frequently do so when they think they can get by with it.
They don’t even need a reason. They may not like the way you look. Or maybe they think you get too many letters from people ‘on the street’ or that you have too much commissary. You’re popular and everyone, including the rest of the staff, dislikes them (I have seen one officer who was regularly made fun of by inmates only to have the other officers laugh behind his back and to his face – and he took his anger out on whoever crossed his path when no one else was looking). An officer may even be jealous that, when visitation day rolls around, you have an attractive girlfriend or adorable children who brighten up at the chance to see daddy. When that inmate goes back to his dorm, the officer wastes no time telling you that your girlfriend is dropping the kids off at grandma’s so she can spend the night with (Jody is the imaginary guy who sleeps with every inmate’s girlfriend or wife while he’s away – Jody is known to do the same with the wives and girlfriends of soldiers on tour also), or worse yet, that the kids call Jody daddy when they get back home. This sort of thing may seem trivial and kind of silly to someone who hasn’t been snatched away from his or her family, but to an inmate, such joking can be deathly serious. So serious, in fact, that inmates may lose control and take their frustration out on another inmate, or less frequently, on an officer. There are also countless cases of officers beating inmates that never reach the public, but mental and emotional games like these, whether they wish to admit it or not, are far more damaging to an inmate’s well-being. Whether these little mind-games constitute officer misconduct is a legally and ethically fuzzy gray area. Regardless of legal standing though, it shows that whenever they have the chance to get away with it, many officers will, and frequently do, unjustifiably abuse inmates or suspects in their custody.
It IS Representative of Your Department, Sir
Despite Chief Executive Burrell Ellis’ claim, the actions of DeKalb Police officers Parker and Norwood are, in fact, reflective of a substantial faction of the DeKalb Police Department. But it’s not just happening in DeKalb County. Their actions are reflective of the culture and mindset of a large proportion of most urban police forces across the country. It’s unfortunate officers like the individual who reported these two thugs, whether they make up a majority or not, who dedicate, and even risk, their lives to protect the public end up being grouped with those who abuse their authority and attack the very people they’ve sworn to defend. Those decent, respectable officers deserve better. The taxpaying public deserves better. The prisoners and suspects whose rights are protected by the US Constitution deserve better.
Unfortunately, things aren’t going to just get better on their own. Administration for the countless police departments, sheriff’s departments, jails, and prisons in Georgia and across the country have proven time after time that they refuse to enforce any sort of real positive change. It’s time we demand laws that force officers and their supervisors to be accountable for their action. And even more importantly, it’s time we unite as citizens and demand better from those sworn to protect and serve us.
Too many officers only seem interested in protecting and serving themselves. It’s time we stand up and Occupy our Local Police Force. Our Local Sheriff’s Department. Our County Jail. And Our State Prisons. If they won’t protect and serve us, and protect and serve the least among us, then by God, we need to start protecting and serving ourselves.