I read the most ridiculous headline recently, something that at first glance I presumed had to be 'fake news.' The headline was: Cop attacks innocent woman, tasers her for no reason, calls it 'horseplay', then gives her a 'Sorry I Tased You' cake.

Sounds like a joke, right? I did some digging and the headline is technically not accurate. The officer in question never gave the woman a cake, he just texted her this picture:
'Sorry I Tased You' homemade cake
© The Free Thought Project
The problem here is that everything else is true. This cop showed up at this woman's work for no reason, harassed her, stole her drink and then tased her when she tried to get it back.
The lawsuit states that the officer "used his apparent law enforcement authority to intimidate, harass, and threaten [the] plaintiff ... about her personal life. Because Wohlers did not like how [the] Plaintiff failed to respond to his show of authority, Wohlers became increasingly aggressive toward employees at the apartment complex's office, including with Ms. Byron."

Ms. Byron says that the officer then took a Sweet Tea that was sitting on her desk and refused to give it back to her. When she attempted to get her drink back, the officer tased her in the throat and chest and then jumped on top of her when she fell to the ground, placing his knees firmly on her chest and forcefully removing the taser prongs.
Now, if you or I were to walk into someone's office, harass, steal and attack someone with a deadly weapon, we'd be in jail, facing harsh penalties. This cop, however, was never charged and quietly resigned from his department without any legal consequences. His department defended him, calling this a simple case of 'horseplay', as if this was two young children having a friendly tussle in a schoolyard.

Can you imagine the mentality of someone who can conflate horseplay with assault? How about imagining them having the authority to exercise deadly force on civilians? Reducing assault to 'horseplay' demonstrates the way in which accountability is sidelined, not only in this particular case, but across the US. Obviously, there's a serious problem here.

Manslaughtering the Mentally Ill

Speaking of tasers, a Georgia DA has decided not to prosecute officers after their treatment of a mentally ill man resulted in his death. 32 year-old Chase Sherman was having a psychotic episode as his family drove home from the airport. They called 9-1-1 and officers arrived on the scene in order to get him under control. Shortly thereafter they piled on top of the man in the back of the car, handcuffed him and tased him repeatedly. He died on the scene. Body camera footage is available below:

It's as if these officers have no training on how to deal with someone suffering a psychotic breakdown. Throughout the encounter, they repeatedly issue commands and make threats as if they were dealing with someone who was cognizant and able to make rational decisions. When he dies, the same system that failed to train them properly absolved them of any legal consequences even though this is clearly a case of manslaughter.

This pattern continues across the country. In Sacramento, California, officers apprehended Dazion Flenaugh, a 40 year-old man who suffers from mental illness. After picking him up and putting him in the squad car, he became increasingly erratic, yelling, kicking and making a ruckus in the back of the car. On video, officers repeatedly referred to him as a "nut" and a "freak", indicating they have no idea how to handle someone suffering a breakdown as well as no compassion for someone under their authority. Officers then pulled over and when they opened the door to the back of the car, Flenaugh escaped and proceeded to run through the neighborhood. When a bystander asked officers what was going on, their reply was, "There's some nut, tweak, just freaking out. He's back there somewhere. If you see him, just hit him with a baseball bat a couple times. That'll mellow him out." Flenaugh eventually broke into a house, stole some kitchen knives and shortly thereafter was shot dead by the police. The shooting was ruled self-defense.

In Dallas, another bipolar and schizophrenic 39 year-old man was shot to death by officers after his mother had called 9-1-1 for help getting him to the hospital. After exiting their home, Jason Harrison was seen to have a screwdriver in his hands. Five seconds later, he lay dead on the ground. Officers drew weapons and yelled commands at Jason, again demonstrating their utter lack of knowledge on how to deescalate situations with the mentally ill. Yet again, no charges were pressed against the officers.

Another mentally ill man in Sacramento was shot 14 times by officers after they attempted to run him down with their police cruiser. Joseph Mann was clearly psychotic, but officers were clueless as to how to deal with the situation other than ordering him to the ground sixteen times. When that failed they stalked him for around five minutes, attempted to hit him with their car, and then executed him on the street. He was homeless and his case is 'no pending litigation' and 'private settlement'. Video of that encounter is available at the link above.

Police in St Paul were cleared of wrongdoing after they killed another mentally ill man, also 'armed' with a screwdriver. Philip Quinn's family called 9-1-1 looking for help... and another mentally ill individual is dead due to lack of proper training, or rather, due to very specific training. The police chief in this case made clear that, "Officers did exactly what they were supposed to do," showing us, yet again, that American police officers are a) completely unequipped to deal with the mentally ill, and, b) completely equipped to deal with everyone as if they're fully 'rational' automatons that behave in precisely the same way at all times. These lawmen are a blunt instrument, a hammer, and to them every combative individual looks like a nail. Far worse - their superiors believe this state of affairs is perfectly fine; it's all 'according to protocol.'

Perhaps some of you are thinking, "these officers were attacked and these guys were clearly crazy, killing them was the only option". You'd be wrong. For example, observe how British police were able to subdue a mentally ill man wielding a machete without firing a shot.

Another video contrasts UK cops with US cops, showing how British police are once again able to disarm a man with a weapon while US police immediately resort to lethal force.

These are not isolated incidents, but the norm in European countries. The Washington Post has begun tallying the data: in 2016 a total of 963 people were shot and killed by US police. From March 2015 to March of 2016, the police in the UK fired their weapons a grand total of seven times. If we were to translate that number per capita, that would mean the US police would fire their weapons a grand total of 35 times. Can anyone imagine a whole year where US cops open fire just 35 times?

US Gov't doesn't give a damn about the data

The government doesn't collect data on how many people are shot and/or killed by police each year. Think about that for a second. We know how many people went to a movie over the weekend, or what percentage of millennials are rejecting flu vaccines, but when it comes to cops killing civilians, the data just isn't collected. How is that possible? I'd suggest it's by design. Local, state and national government officers aren't concerned with police violence, as long as people are going to work and buying stuff. If there was any concern whatsoever, these numbers would be tallied and readily available, but they aren't. How can we strive for accountability when we don't even know how many folks are getting shot or killed by police?

Enter Philip Stinson, a criminologist with Bowling Green State University. He set up 48 Google Alerts in 2005 and has the best publicly available data on police shootings in the US. His data shows that out of the thousands of police shootings that occurred in the last eleven years, only 77 officers have been charged with a crime and only 26 of those have been convicted. 26 convictions.

There are many reasons for this incredibly low number, and they demonstrate the systemic problem we have in this country on how police crimes are investigated. For starters, the police investigate themselves, which means they're being scrutinized by people with whom they work every day. Impartiality is impossible, yet police chiefs maintain that this system works and everything is just fine.

"To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way," says Stinson. "It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on."

The Department of Justice has found consistent problems (surprise!) with police investigating themselves in this manner. In Cleveland, for example, "Investigators told us they intentionally cast an officer in the best light possible when investigating the officer's use of deadly force." In Miami, investigations took so long that, "At least two officers shot and killed a suspect while still under investigation for a previous shooting." These same problems are multiplied across the US.

Retaliation against Whistleblowers

Keep in mind that any officer that speaks out against his brethren will likely suffer, making it even more difficult to get an accurate picture of police violence. Officers who come out and 'snitch' are treated with various levels of contempt and some even suffer violent consequences.

In what is perhaps the most infamous case of retaliation against a 'good cop,' Frank Serpico was left to die by his fellow officers after he reported massive corruption within the NYPD in the late 1960s. During a narcotics bust, he got stuck in a door and was shot in the face while two other officers who were on duty with him simply walked away. They didn't call for an ambulance, nor even report the shooting. Later, they would both receive medals 'for saving his life'. Afterward, Frank moved to Europe for nearly a decade before returning to the US. Because of Serpico's conscience, a lot of corrupt officers lost their jobs, and clearly it wasn't safe for him to stay in the US.

More recently, two officers in Chicago publicly stated they faced threats of violence after they had cooperated with the FBI on a corruption case involving fellow officers. Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria investigated officers who had taken money from drug dealers and planted evidence when their targets refused to cooperate.
"I remember reporting to fugitive apprehension and a supervisor told me, 'You're not getting backup. The team is not going to back you up. You guys want to put supervisors in jail. I hate to be the one to knock on your door and tell your daughter you're coming home in a box,'" Spalding said, detailing an example of the retaliation she and Echeverria faced.

"Another incident, another supervisor from the same unit said, 'There are command officers that are so angry with you that you better be careful coming and going from your personal car when you report and leave from the police station or the unit. Wear your vest because they can shoot you from across the parking lot. They will.'"
Clearly, little has changed in the half-century since Serpico's time on the force.

In Pittsburgh, former Lt. Wade Derby blew the whistle on falsifying documents in order to artificially lower the city's crime statistics. He also claimed that the city hid incidents of police misconduct during criminal investigations. This was all illegal, but when the criminals are cops, who's left to enforce the law?

In Maryland, Joe Crystal blew the whistle on police brutality within his own department and quickly found out that breaking the 'code of silence' results in harassment, or worse. After he reported police brutality, he was forced to move out of his home in Baltimore and relocate to Florida, out of fear for what officers from his old department would do to him.

In Florida, Jose Rosado served on the Miami Gardens Police Department for seven years before he was fired. During his tenure, he repeatedly complained that his department was targeting young black men to a degree that was simply unconscionable. He sued the city after he was terminated. His lawsuit states his department "had implemented, enforced, encouraged and, sanctioned a policy, practice, and/or custom of unconstitutional stop-and-frisks, searches, seizures, arrests and prosecutions of Black Males ages 15-30."

In January of 2015, Rosado testified in the case of 28 year-old Earl Simpson. Earl had been stopped and questioned by the police 258 times in 4 years. He was searched more than 100 times and had been arrested and jailed 56 times. Earl exemplified this department's racist policy of harassing people of color. Rosado has a lawsuit pending against the city.

All of the above is just the tip of the iceberg. Google 'cop whistleblower' and you'll get roughly 450,000 results. There are plenty of decent cops out there, but they're struggling against a tidal wave of corruption throughout law enforcement.

An honorable mention should also go to Michael Wood, a former marine and ex-cop from Baltimore. Browse through a few of his tweets. His latest venture was to help organize around 2,000 veterans to go out to Standing Rock in North Dakota and help protect protesters there from institutional violence.

Here's a bit more from Mike in a short interview:

For those short on time, Mike describes a system where harassing and arresting people for minor crimes is the standard. In fact, it's expected of officers. And yes, he explains that most cops are themselves afraid of citizens, perpetuating a vicious cycle where fear breeds more fear. Mike eventually left the department after being no longer able to tolerate the situation. He wanted to protect and serve, not harass and punish people for the crime of being poor (or black - the two went hand-in-hand on his beat).

only 8% of complaints against officers nationwide are upheld to the point of triggering an Internal Affairs investigation. That hard-hitting agency that always gets a bad rap on television rarely exercises its authority to defend citizens from rogue cops. Problem officers can even wipe their records clean of complaints after they've been processed or been cleared by IA. Baton Rouge PD went so far as to make a video - for internal use only - reminding officers to purge their records 'according to policy,' allowing them to periodically remove any record of complaints against them.

Gypsy Cops

Problem officers can also simply resign and move to a new jurisdiction. One cop moved to nine jurisdictions in nine years, moving three times within one year (shades of the pedophile priest scandal) This happens so often that there's a term for cops like this: 'gypsy cops.' The officer mentioned was found drunk-driving with a bottle of whiskey and a bag of assorted pills in his police cruiser. When confronted his response was: "I'm not taking no drug test, I guess I'll resign." He did, then he applied to and joined another department.

The officer who killed Tamir Rice, for example, was in the process of being fired from his previous position when he resigned and took his most current job. There was even a note in his personnel file making it crystal clear that he shouldn't handle a firearm, but police recruiters must have missed that. Whoops. That officer was never charged, and the civil suit was settled for $6 million, paid out of taxpayers' pockets. The city is still adamant that there was no wrongdoing on the part of their officer. So what was the $6 million for? Was the judge in the case just feeling generous that day?

reason that corrupt police officers are almost never charged for their wrongdoing is that officers and prosecutors have a close-knit relationship. Their jobs are symbiotic and they depend on one another. Even when they go to trial, police enjoy enormous privilege in that juries, judges and prosecutors automatically presume their innocence. True, we're all nominally granted that presumption, but officers are guaranteed to a fault, and very often when they're guilty as hell.

Protecting Yourself Against the Police

This is, clearly, an intolerable state of affairs, and yet it continues. The most important thing for every citizen is to know in terms of protecting themselves from the supposed enforcers of law and order, is to know your rights. State laws may vary, but you never have to talk to the police and - unless you're lucky enough to meet one like Mike Wood - you never should. 'Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law' is 100% true, and not only that, some cops will try to use head-games and manipulate you into doing or saying something that they can present as you having infringed the law. Keep in mind, a lot of officers aren't after the truth, they're after a bust and a statistic, and because of that the truth often takes a backseat as officers can and will lie and distort in order to reach their 'target numbers' or that promotion.

Call your congressmen in DC, your state representatives, or your local city council. Make your voice heard. Tell them you're concerned about police violence, that you approve of the use of body cameras, that you want stricter requirements and deeper background checks on the officers they hire.

Another takeaway is avoid calling 9-1-1. A number of situations above were escalated by officers who were called to help, and within moments of their arrival they killed the person they were called to help. As an alternative, build relationships with friends and neighbors. Have a core group of people you can rely on in an emergency. Granted, if there's a car accident or a medical emergency, 9-1-1 may be appropriate, but you should always consider that armed officers will come with the ambulance. If the person is combative or mentally ill, EMTs may radio for police backup.

If all else fails and you have to interact with police, remain calm. If you're uncomfortable you can always ask, "Officer, am I free to go?" and they are legally obliged to answer yes if they aren't planning to arrest or detain you. They may ignore the question or attempt to deflect the issue. Simply repeat the question and when they answer "yes", leave immediately without further interaction. If you do end up arrested or detained for whatever reason, never speak to police without a lawyer present.

One way to combat police crime is to act as a citizen observer and to record video when you think police misconduct is happening before your eyes. There are some simple rules to be aware of while recording the police, and the laws vary by state. If this is something you could foresee yourself doing, read up on your state's laws. Being informed ahead of time will give you confidence that you're acting within the law and can protect you from manipulation or threats from officers who may not be happy you're recording them.

Last, but not least, disabuse yourself of the notion that you or someone you love will never be the victim of police crime. While people of color - particularly in poor neighborhoods - suffer much more at the hands of the police than white people, white people still regularly suffer and die at the hands of officers. Regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender, whenever someone has their rights trampled by those in authority, it is a crime against us all. We cannot be silent in the face of criminal authority. We must educate ourselves on the state of affairs and educate others who may not want to hear it. Changing the world starts with accepting responsibility for the way the world is, understanding human nature - your own and that of others - and making small, daily choices that nudge us towards becoming the people we want to be. Together we can and will make a difference.