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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Politics: Minorities and Law Enforcement

Based on these two stories, you just have to ask yourself, what the hell is in the water in Ohio?

Hope Steffey is a 47-year-old blonde white woman resident of a town named Salem in Ohio. She weighs 125 lb. It sounds as if she's a member of the rapidly disappearing American middle-class.

Tarika Wilson was a 26-year-old Black American woman resident of a town named Lima in Ohio. We don't know much about her except that she had six children under the age of ten years. It sounds as if she's a member of the working/lower class.

Over a year ago, Hope Steffey was assaulted by one of her (apparently female) cousins, who knocked her unconscious and pulled out a patch of her hair. Another cousin called the police for help. The police who showed up decided to help Ms. Steffey by slamming her up against a police car, breaking one of her teeth. They then threw her on the ground, handcuffed her, arrested her, took her to the slammer, forcibly stripped off, with the assistance of some seven officers male and female, all her clothing, including her underwear, and left her in a cell for six hours, stark naked in the cold without so much as a stitch to preserve what was left of her battered and bruised dignity.

She is now suing the police department in Federal court. The police department is denying any wrongdoing, despite the fact that a videotape of Ms. Steffey in handcuffs with two big fat male cops holding her down and having all her clothes torn off (and screaming, begging, and pleading throughout the procedure) is now making the rounds on YouTube and the blogs. Understandably, Ms. Steffey and her family are scandalized at the treatment meted out to her.
"And you have to ask yourself, what was the purpose of the strip search?" said Steffey's lawyer. "What was the necessity of it? This was a disorderly conduct claim."

The lawsuit says that Steffey remained in the cell for six hours and wrapped herself in toilet paper to stay warm. During that time, she was not allowed to use a phone or seek medical assistance for injuries she accrued that night, including a cracked tooth, bulging disc, and bruises.
It is unconscionable that a woman who has committed no crime, and who is, in fact, the victim of a crime, is treated this way by the very police that her tax dollars are paying to defend her and people like her.

The result of the lawsuit will be taxpayer dollars paid out in damages to Ms. Steffey. She deserves damages, and the purpose of the damages is to force the city and county employers of the police to be more stringent in their standards and the training of their employees. But all the officers who participated in the assault should have to face some penalty. Perhaps losing their jobs would be a suitable penalty. Clearly, if they can bring themselves to treat their fellow citizens this way, they should not have this kind of power over others.

About a year later, police in the city of Lima, Ohio shot and killed Tarika Wilson in her own home while purportedly conducting a drug raid on the house. During the course of the raid, they injured Wilson's year-old son, who was in her arms at the time. The child has since had his finger amputated as a result of the injury. Ms. Wilson's partner, 31-year-old Anthony Terry, was arrested and removed from the premises.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has the grim details. Lima apparently has a long history of police misbehaviour as concerns the rights of the Black American community, although for a time that changed. All too briefly, apparently:
In the 1990s, life improved when federal money allowed the city to hire 10 police officers to work in the community. Residents and police point to that time, when officers were friendly and welcomed members of the community.

But by the end of the decade, the money was gone, and with it, the community police officers. Drugs, discontent and confrontations with police rose sharply.
Hmmm. Not to shill for Hillary here, but that would be the Clinton years, yes?

Ronald Gailes, pastor of a local church, speaks about the tense situation around Ms. Wilson's death:
"We have a desensitized law enforcement agency that treats black people as suspects."

Failes acknowledged that drugs plague the community, but he noted that unemployment creates desperation.

"When a man has to feed his family, he'll do what he has to do," Failes said.
The two incidents have only one thing in common - law enforcement officers exercising inappropriate levels of force. If the officers who stripped Ms. Steffey had been punished immediately for their behaviour, it is possible that Ms. Wilson might be alive today. If police officers were given better staffing levels, better training, it is possible that Ms. Steffey's ordeal and the orphaning of the Wilson children would never have occurred.

Law enforcement is a very tough job. Imagine yourself in the position of a cop, knowing that at any moment you could lose your life or limb or job because of one incorrect assessment, one second extra in making a decision. Understandably, cops get pretty fucked up after working a job like that day after day for years. The pressure on one's personal life, one's family life, one's relationships, has to be unreal. But that does not excuse the actions of those officers involved in either case. Ultimately, what it points to is an inability by these men and women with guns and badges to understand that people who are not white or male or do not have guns and badges are still people and should be treated humanely. We do not have to follow the precepts of the madman in charge who tells us that torture is OK, and humans have no innate rights. There is a better way. And most of all, law enforcement officers need to learn not to exercise inappropriate levels of force against others just because they can.

A petition requesting the Attorney General to investigate Ms. Steffey's case is already on the internet. As for Ms. Wilson, we fervently hope that her family files a lawsuit and receives damages also. Even if her partner was actively dealing drugs, the police knew there were young children in that house and behaved inappropriately.

If you know of any attempt to seek justice for Ms. Wilson, please leave us a comment, thanks.

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At 12:49 PM, Blogger Sungold said...

And then there's the pregnant woman who was tased last fall, also here in Ohio. See, our election system is only the start of our troubles ...

At 9:43 PM, Blogger ThePoliticalCat said...

A pregnant woman. It's reports like these that make a person want to rip every last hair out of their scalp, screaming.

At 10:06 PM, Blogger Chuck Butcher said...

I didn't quite blow a gasket...

At 1:16 PM, Blogger BadTux said...

One thing I will point is that police work is *NOT* the most dangerous job in America. Or the second most dangerous job in America. Or the tenth most dangerous job in America, even. In short, police work is dangerous, but this bullshit about "I had to kill someone before I could see clearly that he or she had a gun because police work is dangerous" is just that, bullshit. A police officer is more likely to get hit by a car while crossing the street than shot by a suspect. That's the stats, jack.

If you want to know what the most dangerous professions in America are -- fishing, logging, then various construction industry jobs. Last time I checked, police work was something like 18th on the list -- nowhere near the top ten, and only barely in the top twenty -- and the majority of deaths of police officers were caused by traffic accidents (duh, they're driving 8 hours a day, and when they're not driving, they're on the side of a road where lots of traffic is passing). The number of police officers harmed by armed suspects in the course of duty over the course of a year is in the low dozens -- or roughly how many construction workers get injured on the job PER DAY.

We're being snow-jobbed, folks. And funny thing is, I suspect the cops are snow-jobbing themselves too...

- Badtux the Statistics Penguin

At 3:18 PM, Blogger ThePoliticalCat said...

Thanx for the stats, but I want to argue something back atcha. When you work in logging, fishing, the construction industry, what can kill you is the situation itself. The heavy equipment, the heights, the danger of your own failure to accurately calculate the odds.

Now I am not arguing that cops deserve special consideration because their jobs are dangerous. Not at all.

However, when you work in law enforcement, what kills you is other people. That is pretty fucked, regardless of your sympathy or lack thereof for such people. It has to fuck with your head pretty badly that your natural empathy for people (assuming you ever had any) is gonna be ground out of you just because of your job. So the kind of people who stay on the job either start out as unsympathetic and cynical, or get that way, thanks to the job. Sucks.

I don't know what would fix the problem, either. I sure as hell wouldn't want mechanical or electronic equipment in charge of enforcing the law - too Philip K. Dick.

At 3:19 PM, Blogger ThePoliticalCat said...

I should add that I say this as someone who has had some very unpleasant encounters with the cops, just because of my politics. Oh, and my appearance.

At 8:27 AM, Blogger anthony said...

The worst thing is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Women are regularly subjected to this unbelievable abuse at the hands of men in American police stations and prisons. Every year there is case after case. Either they get strip searched in full view of male guards, or they are forced to take showers in rooms that male guards have unrestricted access to – which they often take full advantage of to deliberately humiliate them -, or they are raped in jail or prison. When women are raped in prison and report it, the first thing they do is put them in solitary. They say its for there own protection, however they are sent there and subjected to the same things and denials of priveladges as women who are sent their for punishment. considering that they have been raped because of them, and have been subjected to far more punishment than they were ever supposed to be given, clearly unless they have commited murder or something like that it is only right that they have their sentences commuted, or at least slashed. It is the only fitting and meaningfull compensation when a woman has been raped because of them and thier policies and procedures. Clearly prison - where they will continue to live under the domination of male guards and continue to be at risk of forced nudity in the presence of men etc - is no place for a woman who is recovering from rape. Instead however what often happens is that they have false bad behaviour tickets issued against them by abusive mysoginistic guards as punishment/revenge, meaning they loose their parole and actually have their stay in prison extended when they have done nothing to deserve it and should be having it shortened. Do the research on the internet. There is a wealth of information and you will find Americas treatment of imprisoned or arrested women to be the most inhuman, mysoginistic, and sexually abusive in the ‘civilised’ world. There are places where what that woman was subjected to is actually a matter of routine – standard practice and a daily occurance for countless women. Women of America take note. If you think when you break the law and get arrested or imprisoned that you will at least be sent to a civilized and humane institution where your born right to privacy from men and to not be made vulnerable to rapists will be guaranteed – it wont. There is every possibility that you will be subjected to sexual human rights abuses on a regular basis by being stripped in front of men, and there is every possibility that you will receive visits from from male guards who will inform you that if you don’t submit to sexual abuse they might just have to fabricate bad behaviour tickets against you and loose you your parole – meaning youl spend even longer in jail for nothing.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger ThePoliticalCat said...

Thank you for your comment, Anthony. Recent events have brought me to consider posting on the subject of police treatment of women. I'll try to get it done over the next day or two.

At 12:09 AM, Blogger Ericwipe287 said...

If her partner is dealing with drugs then what the matter with her? I will support Ms. Wilson.

Personal Injury attorney Houston


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