This American Life: #547: Cops See It Differently, Part One
February 9, 2015 9:25 AM - Subscribe

There are so many cops who look at the killing of Eric Garner or Mike Brown and say race didn't play a factor. And there are tons of black people who say that's insane. There's a division between people who distrust the police — even fear them — and people who see cops as a force for good. Stories of people living on both sides of that divide, and people trying to bridge it.
posted by bq (4 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This was a really interesting if deeply upsetting episode, and I appreciate that the producer didn't let the police chief off the hook regarding his department's behavior. It really does seem like police have such a cloistered worldview that things that are self-evidently -- statistically necessarily -- racism are easily explained away by something other than racism.

The most striking part for me was the ride-along, where the police treated the people who contacted them with clear, derisive suspicion, even though everything they said had been true, they had been shot at by a neighbor. It seems closely linked to the essential suspicion that caused Derek Williams to suffocate in the back of a car. And I understand that it is part of the job, but so many of these circumstances seemed like unnecessary, even belligerent suspicion, and that path leads to aggressive, psychically invasive, unjustified stop and frisks being dismissed as just being a cop being too eager to be really good at his job.
posted by maxsparber at 12:24 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

That was a difficult listen that took a couple days.

There is no doubt in my mind that the interaction would have gone differently if the call had been made by a well dressed white couple.
posted by bq at 7:48 PM on February 10, 2015

Agreed, maxsparber and bq. This was very upsetting to listen to, yep. I grew up in Milwaukee but was too young to really understand the depth of the history between African Americans and the police.

The thing that breaks my heart about every story like this—I'm reminded of the story of the young man arrested on the subway from another This American Life episode—is the thought that, if I were black instead of white and even if I did everything "right," (i.e., legal, respectful, "on the side" of the police), I would still have huge reasons to distrust and fear the police. The experiences of many black Americans seem to bear this out again and again. It's hard to see how the cycle can be broken.

I'm glad they're making this a two-part episode (though my heart needs a rest). Very curious to see what they bring up in the next one.
posted by Zephyrial at 4:01 PM on February 11, 2015

He checks his pulse. A few minutes later in the video, you see police administering CPR, but it was too late.

That is murder. A few minutes later? After Derek Williams has already spent 8 minutes gasping for help and is now unconscious? That is murder. The police let that man die and they should have been charged and whoever taught them CPR should have been fired.

The excuses offered by the police in this episode for their behavior were appalling. They have a recording of a man being left to suffocate in the back of a patrol car and the explanation is that sometimes people will fake an illness/injury to go to the hospital? So the fuck what? That is an absolutely sociopathic response. You err on the side of not letting people die. It's not like the hospital is going to discharge them with a free unregistered handgun after treating them.

The only reason I can think to have a common practice of ignoring people pleading for medical attention is just a vile desire to punish the arrestee. That's it. There's literally no other reason to not seek medical attention for a person who is gasping and pleading for help. It's hard to imagine a person more under the control and at the mercy of another person, than someone in handcuffs in the back of a patrol car, yet the cops still want to carry out their own little punishments. It's the same passive aggressive drive that leads restaurant, retail, and tech workers to pull petty little shit. Except none of the people in those jobs have the ability to arrest people, and then beat/taze/kill them if they resist, out of concern of their own "safety."

Really, the astounding amount of juvenile hypocrisy that every police officer exudes in this episode is sickening. They live in a world where they can harass and manhandle you on a whim, then tell you to shut the fuck up if you question them. Or arrest you because they don't think your reason for calling them checks out. Who think they are justified in trying to physically grab someone clearly in crisis, then feel equally justified in killing that person when it turns out that, yes, their actions did just escalate the situation. They live in this world where everything they do is justified, because they are conducting Important Police Business. The Us vs. Them mentality of the police comes through here clearly. Because while they are swaggering about, everything we -- the rest of the world, the people living in the actual real world -- do is unimportant and an antagonistic attempt to sabotage their Important Police Business.

How Chief Flynn reacted to people criticizing him for checking his phone during the public hearing into Dontre Hamilton's death is the perfect example of this. He blew up and went on a rant at the people criticizing him for checking up on the shooting of a little girl, but how was the crowd supposed to know that? He was literally at a public hearing about one of his officers acting so incompetently in handling a situation that a man was killed -- and that's the charitable read on the situation. Yet he just assumes the crowd would know that he was doing Important Police Business, and he erupts at them, blaming them for making him angry.

The hypocrisy is astounding. His officers get to ignore a man dying. A man who calls the police for help is treated like a criminal. Flynn gets to check his cell phone and the rant and rage at the disrespect he has been shown. They get to act human, to show emotion and be flawed individuala. All the while the rest of Us are expected to simply cooperate and comply, risking debasement or death if we do not.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:29 PM on February 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

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