As you scared of the police? If you’re a white middle-class suburbanite, probably not. If you live in certain lower-income parts of the country, though, you’re probably terrified at times. If you’re not scared, you should be.
The New York Post published video Monday that shows a New York City police sergeant threatening a group of men in Brooklyn. (You can watch the video below.) He tries to intimidate them with his gun, but he makes it clear that he doesn’t mind a little bit of criminal activity.
“You guys are hustling or whatever, I ain’t got no problem with that. Listen . . . do your thing,” he said. “But when I come around and I speak, you f–king listen. Tell your boys.”
The video of Sgt. Lesly Charles was recorded by a man in the group, apparently on a smartphone. The city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board is investigating the video, but if this is like most instances of police misconduct, it will result in a slap on the wrist, if anything. After all, they’ll say, he had good intentions. He was trying to protect us.
At one point, Charles makes it clear that he considers himself above having to follow rules. He tells a man in the street near a car, “This is my street. All right? If you got to play tough, that’s your problem. … I do whatever the f–k I want.”
Inside a restaurant, the officer got tougher and more graphic.
“I have the long d–k. You don’t,” Charles said. “Your pretty face — I like it very much. My d–k will go in your mouth and come out your ear. Don’t f–k with me. All right?”
The man being threatened then said, “I didn’t do anything,” but Charles just said, “Listen to me. When you see me, you look the other way. Tell your boys, I don’t f–k around. All right? … I’ll take my gun and put it up your a– and then I’ll call your mother afterwards. You understand that? … And I’ll put your s–t in your own mouth.”
This wasn’t a lone rogue cop. There were two plainclothes officers with Charles. And one of the men who was threatened was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. The police report claimed he refused to leave after he was told to leave. There’s nothing like that on the video.
Some judges refuse to see that today’s police are out of control in many cases. After all, they’re treated with respect and deference by police. Their wealthy and influential friends are treated well by police. How often do federal judges — and Supreme Court justices — hang out with the sort of men who were threatened in this video?
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote some bizarrely out-of-touch words in 2006 when he wrote the majority decision in the case of Hudson v. Michigan. The issue was a drug case and the appeal was based on police not properly knocking and announcing themselves before breaking down the door of a home to execute a search warrant. Scalia and a majority of the justices thought this was just fine, because we can trust the police on the scene to behave as they should. Scalia wrote:
Another development over the past half-century that deters civil-rights violations is the increasing professionalism of police forces, including a new emphasis on internal police discipline. Even as long ago as 1989, we felt it proper to “assume” that unlawful police behavior “would be dealt with appropriately” by the authorities, but we now have increasing evidence that police forces across the United States take the constitutional rights of citizens seriously. There have been “wide ranging reforms in the education, training, and supervision” of police officers (cite omitted).
Moreover, modern police forces are staffed with professionals; it is not credible to assert that internal discipline, which can limit successful careers, will not have a deterrent effect. There is also evidence that the increasing use of various forms of citizen review can enhance police accountability.
NYPD Sgt. Lesly Charles is the real face of that “increasing professionalism” of police in this country. The reality is that many of them are professional thugs and professional bullies.
I grew up being taught to respect police officers and to assume they were the good guys. I honestly believed it. Slowly, evidence is making me accept that an increasing percentage of them are thugs who we have handed unlimited power to. They might not technically have unlimited power, but when their version of events is routinely believed — and complaining members of the public are routinely ignored — they can act however they want. Sgt. Charles was simply telling the truth when he said, “I do whatever the f–k I want.”
This time, there’s video. Will anything really change? Probably not. It seems as though it should be hard to ignore evidence such as this, but we’ve seen it happen time and time again.
Are you scared of police yet? You should be.
Note: Radley Balko’s site, The Agitator, was the source that led me to the Post’s story. If you’re not reading The Agitator every day, you should be.