Police Abuse

How Police Killings You Don't Hear About Go Down and Why It's Easier to Throw Darren Wilson Under the Bus than Reform Police Rules


Armand Bennett
family photo

With the national attention protests over police brutality in Ferguson have received over the last week and a half, one could imagine police departments around the country being, at the very least, more self-aware of the way their actions could be misinterpreted. Perhaps they could renew their interest in transparency and communication. No such thing. Police killings continue to happen regularly, largely outside the public eye—victims are painted as security threats and without a lot of independently-verifiable evidence in such cases they tend to disappear.

Armand Bennett of New Orleans, with warrants on multiple charges of marijuana possession, weapon possession, resisting an officer, and property damage, was shot in the head last Monday during a traffic stop. He suffered critical but not life-threatening wounds. Police claim Bennett tried to fight them while Bennett's brother, also in the car, says the shots were unprovoked—familiar competing narratives in cases like this. But does the police department have a responsibility to act in a way that won't damage its believability? Doesn't seem so. The police department didn't acknowledge its role in the shooting of Bennett until the Times-Picayune reported it. The New Orleans paper explains:

NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas apologized to the public, calling the failure to disclose the shooting "a complete snafu."

Serpas said at a news conference that he "personally authorized" a news release at noon Monday, about eight hours after the officer-involved shooting injured a man wanted on non-violent felony warrants. But the release was never sent, and the chief didn't mention the incident to reporters at two news conferences since the shooting, on Monday and Tuesday. "Clearly, it fell through the cracks," he said.  

Unbelievably, when stuff falls through these cracks it almost always benefits the police department. In Ferguson, Officer Darren Wilson is facing a grand jury investigation over his shooting of Michael Brown last Saturday. His department has no dash cams—it had body cameras but hadn't deployed them yet.  Missouri's governor, Democrat Jay Nixon, has called for a "vigorous prosecution," skipping the fact-finding phase along with the mob.

There are a lot of unanswered questions about the Brown shooting, and the Bennett shooting. There are few checks and balances in places to limit police powers—cops are rarely disciplined or terminated. Their public employee privileges, coupled with their authority to use violence and the tendency by the ruling class to give them the benefit of the doubt, has left Darren Wilson fearing he's going to be made an example out of.

Rather than tackle the kind of union and other police reforms necessary to bring transparency and accountability to police departments around the country, it seems making an example out of Wilson is exactly what establishment activists and politicians want to do. It may please Brown's mother and many Ferguson residents, but it won't change the rules police operate under. It may even serve to have a temporary chilling effect on cops. But the solution to police violence isn't to rush cops who kill through the justice system, denying them theirs because of a misunderstanding of what justice for the victim means, it's to give police departments and local governments the ability to fire problem cops—cops who behave inappropriately as well as cops who damage the force's reputation. Repealing laws that criminalize consensual non-violent behavior is paramount too. Every cop, even murderous ones, deserve due process in the criminal justice system. They just don't deserve it for their jobs. Cops concerned about what's happening to Darren Wilson and worried it might happen today ought to be the first advocates for rolling back protections that prevent the worst of them from being terminated.

NEXT: Orwellian University Blocks Students' Access to Harmful Sites, For 'Civility'

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The only thing worse than letting cops get away with murder is convicting an innocent cop to satiate the mob. The problem with Ferguson is that the Progs, being fascists, have co=opted the case from being about police accountability to being about tribal warfare and mob rule. Thus, there is unlikely any good to come out of it.

  2. When cops act out of line they're always painted as bad apples. It's never an indictment of police culture.

    Whenever there's a mass shooting by a civilian, it's always an indictment on society resulting in a call for more laws to be enforced by the police.

    1. Of course it is not an indictment of cop culture. And if the problem is that cops are racist, the solution is to just hire a few more black cops. That way everyone wins. The cops get more money to hire more officers but don't have to change to their culture or run any risk of ever being held accountable. The race hustlers get another jobs program. It is a win win. That is all that is going to result from this. You watch.

  3. Perhaps they could renew their interest in transparency and communication.

    Was there ever any interest?

    1. No. Next question.

  4. I posted this over in AM links, but it's appropriate here. Obo's admin is trying to score political points out of the issue, and it's about as pathetic an attempt as you could find:

    "Obama team more likely than predecessors to prosecute police"

    A raw number of 13% more "filings" than Bush, so vote the D ticket! No comparison of reported circumstances, nothing about convictions, nada.

  5. Body cameras aren't going to fix anything either. The footage will get lost, camera broken or covered up. It will be like the prison story where the guards drag the prisoner out of camera view and beat him to death. And if you think stiff penalties will be handed down for equipment malfunctions see Lois Lerner. The old hard drive camera crashed defense.

    1. They won't be a complete solution but they wouldn't hurt. You are right that all of those things and more would happen. But their being body cameras means the cops have to essentially admit guilt to destroy the footage. That can and will happen but only when they are really desperate.

      The bottom line is that the only way to convict a cop of anything is to have them doing it on film. Otherwise, they will just lie and the jury will believe them. Since that is not going to change, constantly filming them is the only answer, albeit an imperfect one.

      1. The only way the body cameras hurt is another expense passed on to the tax payers. The body cams will work to convict criminals caught in the act by police, which is good, but I'm skeptical of its use for police malfeasance.

        1. It deters police misconduct because it makes getting away with it require destroying evidence rather than just lying on the stand. Sure, police will still do that. But they won't do it as much. You can only destroy so much tape.

          1. You could strengthen the law behind the cameras too. Make it so that any evidence obtained while a camera was "malfunctioning" is inadmissible and must be returned to the owner. Make it so that any testimony by a LEO about events that occurred during a camera "malfunction" is also inadmissible. Things like that won't solve the problem but they will help.

            1. John,
              You are right that it should decrease day to day minor police abuse because they can't delete every days log. I think evidence will get destroyed only when a cop goes berserk and realizes later it is on film, but the public will be skeptical in high profile cases when the camera footage is lost.

              If it was simple to penalize cops we wouldn't need body cams. No way will laws be passed to restrict police.

        2. I would much rather spend the tax dollars on cameras than lawsuits.

          Also, I'm sure the cameras can be set up in a way that the police can't erase the video (much like a black box). Of course they will try and may succeed. But, at that point, you should at the very least, have a policy violation that would allow the brass to terminate the officer. Granted it's not the perfect solution. But, perfect solutions rarely exist. I personally think it's the best solution.

          1. ATX,
            You assume the custodian of the video wouldn't help a brother in blue out.

            1. No, the po-po would not be the custodians of the video, nor have delete/edit rights. It would be offsite with a third party.

            2. I said they would try and might succeed in getting around it. But, I don't think they could get away with it for very long. It's very rare to hear about missing dash cam video. Sure it happens, but it's very, very rare. Why, because it's really hard to explain away. So, they just move out of camera view to do their dirty work. With body cams they won't have the luxury. Like I said it's not a perfect solution. But, I think it's an excellent start.

    2. Mandatory camera check at beginning and end of each shift. Missing footage* is automatic grounds for inadmissibility of testimony for that time period. Cameras both record and live-stream; police personnel don't have delete rights to the live-streamed footage. Etc.

      Not a perfect solution but a start.

      (*)Footage is an obsolete term from motion-picture days and refers to linear footage of motion picture film, but using this term for ease of expression.

      1. Tonio,
        If you could get that passed then you could really make a difference in police abuse. The problem is any law seen to restrict the police will never pass. The law and order element among voters would never stand for it, not to mention the congressmen that writes it will be harassed until the end of time.

    3. And if you think stiff penalties will be handed down for equipment malfunctions see Lois Lerner.

      Point taken but she was one of the King's Men. Local LEO's not so much, particularly if the recording is a federal mandate. I realize that creates a libertarian conflict with states rights values.

    4. I suspect eyewitness accounts will be given far more weight when a cop's body camera "malfunctions." They certainly would if I were sitting on the jury...

  6. No. Next question.

    Will we ever be able to convince a majority of our fellow Americans to disband civil servant unions, stop viewing police as paragons of virtue who never commit a wrong, and demand accountability with consequences for bad if not criminal behavior?

    1. Not until the collapse of America. Next question.

      1. It is coming. Only the morons who believe in American exceptionalism are deluded enough think that it will not happen.

  7. Next question.

    Will cop behavior get worse after this? More aggressive and abusive, perhaps?

    1. Yes. The riots confirm it is us vs them. Look for non-lethal armed drones that will mission creep to hellfire missiles. Next question.

      1. I can't stomach anymore question and answer. Breakfast ruined. Coffee ruined.

        1. Sorry about the coffee. It is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy.
          /starts seconds pot brewing

          1. Second. Needz Moar Coffee!

  8. NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas apologized to the public, calling the failure to disclose the shooting "a complete snafu."

    Delicious since SNAFU is a WW2 acronym for Situation Normal, All Fucked Up.

    1. Yes, of all the things to call it, that was probably the stupidest (from his position)

  9. The officer involved filed an official report saying that she "heard shots" around that time. Omitted was the fact that the shots she heard were fired by her own weapon. This is what NOPD reported:

    Prior to the NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune story, the only public statement released on the shooting was a two-sentence narrative included in a daily police log of major offenses sent to the news media.

    It read:

    Officer was in area, heard shots fried,,had (sic) altercation with subject and sustained minor injury to right hand. The officer was taken to Tulane Hospital by unit 1420.

    Then the NOPD said, "well, we told everyone in the news release that the officer heard shots fired, and, surprisingly, no one asked us about it. It's the media's fault."

    1. I'm surprised she didn't get caught in an infinite loop of shots fired.

      BAM BAM
      "Shots fired!"
      BAM BAM
      "More shots fired!"
      BAM BAM
      "Out of ammo! Retreat and wait for backup!"

  10. Police claim Bennett tried to fought them

    Did you hire an Eastern European proofreader?

    1. Their proofreader is an HP phone support tech moonlighting.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.