When I was growing up in Mexico, one of the first things I learned was not to trust the police. It was not to trust them but to use them intelligently to resolve problems. When I first came to the United States I was struck by the irony that a society that portrays self-reliance teaches its children to obey authority unquestionably. It didn’t make sense to me that a society that values independence teaches children to be subjugated to authority figures. Everywhere you look, US society is taught that when a police officer tells you to do something it is an “order” and you are not to argue. This is subjugation and not self-reliance.
During the recent protests in light of the Ferguson shooting and the chokehold death of Eric Garner many talking heads are arguing that the “system” has worked and that there are “right ways” to protest. The different government officials have been demanding that protests follow certain dictates and that the “system” needs to be allowed to progress.
The problem is that the US judicial system is based on the need to “trust” it do the right thing. I have written numerous times how US citizens always uphold the US judicial system as the best in the world, one that others should model yet the reality is far from the fiction. It simply cannot be trusted.
Let’s start with the most obvious and glaring issue with the US judicial system, the issue of fairness. Most US citizens believe that everyone is entitled to the notion of being innocent until proven guilty. Yet, in reality, the arrest process is punitive from the moment the “presumed innocent” is arrested. There is a difference between handcuffing an individual for security and chaining him like an animal before taking someone to their first court appearance. As a matter of fact, in most jurisdictions, the “presumed innocent” individual is chained, stripped naked, searched and prodded before actually being taken before a magistrate to ascertain there is enough evidence to charge with them with a crime.
As they are “perp walked” by the news media the general community assumes they are guilty of something and the police are held to a higher esteem. There goes another criminal most gleefully proclaim oblivious that the “presumed innocent” are now being punished because of the arrest, before being found guilty of a crime. Even of the arrestee is found not guilty they are nonetheless subjected to continued punishment every time they are forced to disclose the arrest.
The central issue to the recent cases, of many, where citizens have lost their life is that the power bestowed on the government is based on the notion of trust. Children are continuously taught to obey police officers and not question their authority. The notion being that they are infallible and honest. It is the common theme today, just do what a police officer tells you and you won’t be killed. This has created the crisis for the deaths.
Teaching children to “obey” and “trust” does not allow them to question the reality of their surroundings. When a citizen is “perp walked” before the cameras the response is what did the criminal do this time instead of why is the “presumed innocent” being treated like a criminal? This notion is perpetuated by a news media who is content to show splashy images of citizens chained like animals with sensational headlines of criminal activities. Seldom do the news media question the veracity of the criminal charges and much less the process. Instead they shove a microhphone in the face of the chained-up individual and demand an immediate answer on why they were arrested. By the time the judiciary resolves the criminal complaint and unless the outcome is guilty with legal penalties imposed there is seldom an in depth follow up showing that the court did not find the accused guilty.
Case in point, as you all remember, back in March of 2013, El Paso police officer Jose Flores shot and killed Daniel Saenz who was lying on the floor and handcuffed at the time. Adriana Chavez reported on December 6, 2014 that Flores was fired by the police department on October 28, 2014. The only thing we know is that Jose Flores was fired “based on the shooting.” In “The Death of Daniel Saenz and El Paso Police Impunity” I detailed the numerous instances of police abuse in El Paso. I believe that the only reason we know about the firing today is because of the recent protests, otherwise no one, not the news media or the police department would have informed the community of his firing.
Unfortunately, this notion of trusting authority extends to the judiciary as well. US citizens rarely question the process whereby one individual, the prosecutor gets to present one-side of the story to a grand jury that results in either a prosecution or not. Most US citizens today believe that the judicial system is based on the notion that peers evaluate the evidence and then find for or against the defendant. However, the reality is that normally, before a defendant gets a public trial there is a secret one where his future is determined by one individual, the prosecutor. Depending on how the prosecutor chooses to present a case is how the outcome will be determined. Remember the indicting a ham sandwich notion?Ferguson and even more Garner demonstrate this sad fact.
Even beyond the hurdle of punitive actions during the arrest and the grand jury process the judiciary can still be gamed by those with money, the most egregious example being OJ Simpson. Nineteen years after the OJ Simpson debacle most US citizens seem perplexed that Ferguson and Garner are happening today.
The City of El Paso has paid hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of taxpayer monies to settle numerous cases of police abuse and yet no serious repercussions have occurred to the police. UMC paid a little over $1 million to settle the cavity search case while the taxpayers are focused on $300,000 in bonuses. No one seems to be questioning why the monies were paid because most have been indoctrinated that authority is trustworthy and it shouldn’t be questioned.
Through the years I have learned that society needs the police but it also needs an engaged community that demands accountability. That means that the community needs to stop teaching children to trust unconditionally the authority figures and instead use them intelligently. A child needs to be taught to be self-reliant and know that self-reliance means that authority figures are a tool to be used as part of an arsenal of tools for safety. It starts with avoiding situations that require police intervention and when faced with the need for security forces that those are called upon as a result of a series of steps to resolve the immediate problem. Eliminating the dependence on the government to solve all social problems is the first step. The next step is to eliminate teaching blind trust in officials to do the right thing. Taxpayers need to demand that their officials be accountable to them.
There is no reason for El Paso to be paying millions in taxpayer funds as a result of police actions. Likewise, the protests for Ferguson and Garner should have been held before the deaths, not after. US jurisprudence does not deserve the trust bestowed upon them by a gullible US citizenry.