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Bad Cop Blotter

Let's Please Not Have an Anti-Anti-Cop Backlash

The execution-style murder of two Brooklyn cops this weekend is an outrageous tragedy, but it shouldn't detract from the broader fight to reform America's police.

by Lucy Steigerwald
Dec 22 2014, 4:30pm

Photo via Flickr user Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916

On December 20, Ismaaiyl Brinsley fatally shot two New York police officers after shooting his ex-girlfriend outside Baltimore. The motive for the former seems clear. Brinsley referenced Eric Garner in an Instagram post, and said it might be his last one because he was "putting wings on pigs today." This was before he ambushed NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu as they sat in their patrol car.

Stretch radicalism as far as it goes, and maybe you'll find a few people who would support cold blooded assassination of cops, but not many. They were random, uniformed targets who might have on the best end of the spectrum for their job, the worst, or—maybe most likely—somewhere in the muddy middle.

But never mind the pointlessness of the murder. A great deal of the right seems to have been waiting for this tragedy. (A third cop—himself a former NYPD office—was killed early Sunday morning in Tarpon Springs, Florida.)

To a certain type of pundit or rabble-rouser, these deaths are confirmation that the darkest parts of police reform protests—the looting, one incident last week where what appeared to be 50-100 protesters chanted, "What do we want? Dead cops!" and a few other occasions where the sentiments were similarly homicidal—are its true face.

Now it's apparently time to score some political points. It's time to waffle and take back the progress towards bipartisan police reform that conservatives have been making ever since Rand Paul has shown that it's okay to notice that police are militarized, there are a lot of people in prison right now, and things like mandatory minimums are to blame for that excess.

According to police and their allies—including law enforcement unions—protesters at large, ones who chanted nasty things, Attorney General Eric Holder, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the Reverend Al Sharpton have blood on their hands. Even President Obama is suspect for offering political platitudes about "dialogue." (And pundits can join in with thinly-sourced accounts of poor people cheering the assassination of the NYPD officers.)

Obviously, police unions exist to defend cops at all costs, so their outrage over this real tragedy makes sense. But the conservative indignation is bizarre. Police enforce laws, many of which target consensual activities, mostly related to buying and selling sex, drugs, or any kind of good or service without the proper regulatory permission. Conservatives and anyone lazily pro-cop seems to have confused wanting reform and accountability within an institution to "making war" on it, or hating it and all its members. They also don't seem to know the meaning of the small government values they profess to hold.

Police should mourn the three officers killed last weekend, but they cannot use this awfulness to shield themselves from the national conversation that finally really got going in August. They cannot be allowed to evade this, or to act as if there is some kind of "war on cops."

Last year, 27 cops were killed with intent—a record low. Meanwhile, 2013 also hit what seems to be a 20 year high—though it's hard to tell, due to lax record keeping—for felony suspects killed by police, at 461.

If you marched and chanted something about killing cops, maybe the fact that a 13-year-old lost his dad the week before Christmas should give you a pang of guilt and a realization that cops are humans, too, no matter how bad our criminal justice system is.

Still, no matter what came out of anyone's mouth during these last few months, the person to blame for a homicide is the person who commits it. Public servants tasked with legal, lethal force should have the the highest standards of behavior, and the most critical eyes pointed at them. They are supposed to be tough enough to take that, even when tragedy strikes.

Now onto this week's bad cops:

-On Friday, the NYPD suspended an officer who was captured on video punching a 16-year-old while he was restrained and cuffed by other officers.

-Little Bou Bou Phonesavanh is recovering from being burned by a flash-bang grenade during a drug raid on his parents' (temporary) residence in Georgia. However, Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh now have $1 million in medical bills to pay for fixing their little boy, who they were told in the minutes after the raid had only lost a tooth. Turns out he needed to be placed in a medically-induced coma because flesh on his face and chest had burned off. Thanks to Georgia's sovereign immunity law, the county can't pay the family's epic hospital bills, nor can the cops. The drug task force that performed the raid was abolished four months later, but they sure weren't held accountable for nearly killing a toddler. All this to find Bounkham Phonesavanh's nephew—who wasn't even in the home at the time. The family could still file a civil lawsuit against the police force and the county, however, and a federal investigation is ongoing.

-Police in Pocono Township, Pennsylvania spent two years of their time investigating several massage parlors for prostitution. The feds, including the Department of Homeless Security (DHS), are also involved, because some of the workers may be undocumented. Two years undercover for multiple victimless crimes—what a valuable use of resources.

-No doubt the bad press, and the Institute for Justice lawsuit, inspired Philadelphia's decision to drop its civil asset forfeiture proceedings against a couple's home because their son sold $40 worth of heroin. The Philly PD took a staggering $64 million in revenue over the course of a decade, which has provoked plenty of armed headlines with good reason.

-John P. Walters, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, is not jumping on the Let's End the Drug War bandwagon, nor joining the Gee, there are some racial elements to the war on drugs party. No, Walters is quite certain we just didn't drug war hard enough.

-A San Francisco sheriff's deputy was arrested on multiple charges on Friday, which include battery and perjury. On November 3, Michael R. Lewelling allegedly grabbed and choked a man who had been sleeping in a emergency room waiting area after he tried to walk away from the officer. In his official report, Lewelling wrote that the man had hit him with his cane, but video footage contradicted that claim. Lewelling now faces four felonies and a misdemeanor.

-Police in my home state of Pennsylvania took $160,000 of legally purchased wine from a couple who collected it, and now plan to dump it because liquor laws there are archaic. The motivation for the search? A complaint, and undercover police asking the man to sell four or five bottles of wine to him. So police in 2014 have the time to stage undercover alcohol buys, presumably to the strains of the latest Count Basie single.

-Austin, Texas Police Officer Andrew Petrowski retired on December 12 when he realized that some of his remarks to a reporter would be publicized. These remarks were about the damn ladies these days, who totally say things like, "We want equal pay, and we want this." His response was, "You want to go fight in combat and sit in a foxhole? You go right ahead, but a man can't hit you in public here? Bullshit. You act like a whore, you get treated like one." Props to Petrowski's boss, Chief Art Acevedo, who actually said, "Somebody [who] has that mentality has no business being a cop."

-On Tuesday, a Salem, Virginia Police Officer and former member of a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) taskforce pled guilty to soliciting sexual favors from drug suspects. Kevin C. Moore was arrested in October on the charge that he traded oral sex and sexual intercourse on three occasions for a lesser sentence for suspects.

-Our Good Cop of the Week is a Kansas City police officer who didn't even want to be identified for being a good guy. On Tuesday, the officer was spotted sitting and petting two dogs by the side of the road by a woman driving by. Her photo made the thing into a gooey Facebook pass-on, but it's one with legs. The officer saw the loose dogs, got off his motorcycle, and sat and petted them as he waited for the Humane Society. For all the stories of untrained and skittish cops shooting someone's pet, it's great to see a cop who likes dogs, and wil go out of his way to reunite them with their owners—which they eventually were!

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