Police misconduct in your community?
What you can do about it
Kellie Bloxsom e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org
Some suggestions from a contributor to this web site who prefers to remain anonymous:
It is imperative if you want to stop such excessive, unwarranted uses of force to act immediately, and to get as much help as possible.
1. Define your goals. After reading your letter, I assume you wish to expose these illegal police tactics and excessive use of force, and possibly sue for damages. Most police departments have very clear instructions on when force may be used, and how they are allowed to handle crowd control situations. The official operating procedure in the cases that I have seen is that police are to make clear announcements to crowds before using force or moving in to disperse a crowd. Local police guidelines are ususally public record, and may be purchased for a small fee. It sounds like these officers violated the guidelines.
2. Get the names, phone numbers, and addresses of everyone you can who was at the bonfire, whether they were hurt by the police or not. Start with the people you know, and then ask them for names and phone numbers of others you don't know. Explain your goals and how they can help out. Repeat the process until you have identified eveyone possible. Ask people if they are willing to help out. You will be surprised by how many people will volunteer. Be sure to ask everyone if anyone had a camera, and took any pictures of the police attacking people. if it was a bonfire/party, chances are someone may have had a camera, and been fortunate enough to have snapped off a few pictures.
3. Get everyone to write down an account of what they personally witnessed AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. People should sign and date their statements. Get copies of their statements to a single volunteer coordinator.
4. Encourage people to write local newspapers. Don't count on anything, as many local newspapers are afraid to write anything negative about the police, but you should make them aware.
5. Use the internet to get the word out on what happened. Police brutality and misconduct affects everyone. Even if local papers do not cover your story, you have an inexpensive publishing medium at your disposal: the internet.
6. Get people to write officials in local government about what happened. Remember, local government officials work for YOU and your tax money.
7. Document any injuries people may have sustained by the police. Use photographs, hospital reports, anything at your disposal.
8. Contact a civil attorney for advice and help on seeking representation. I, personally, would seek representation in a suit against the city and police department for excessive use of force, and violating your rights and police procedure unduly.
9. File claims for damages against your local city or township. This REALLY gets their attention, if local officials fear that police misconduct will cost them money. You can do this even if you do not have an attorney to represent you.
10. Get people to file complaints against the individual officers, as well as against police policy.
11. Get people to attend any city or town meeting, and speak out against police misconduct. Be as graphic as you can when describing what really happened, because people are so desensitized to police violence from television.
12. Police departments often have to answer to a police commission or other body that oversees their conduct. Many of these bodies regularly hold weekly or monthly meetings for public commentary. Organize people to attend such a meeting, and speak out against police misconduct. Suggest means for effective oversight and reprimanding or other action for police who violate procedure, and your civil rights.
13. Spread the word! Make up posters or flyers and duplicate them at a local copy shop. Paste them up all over town (and don't get caught). The cops don't like it when you make them face up to their own misconduct.
14. Be careful when publicly sharing any onformation on what happened. If anyone was arrested or is charged with any crimes or infractions at the bonfire, their own statements or the statements of others may be used against them in court. Police departments will be vindictive when people speak out against police misconduct, and they know how to use the courts to mess with people. Focus on the excessive use of force, without admitting anything illegal on your part.
15. Contact national groups who are speaking out against the abuse of mace and pepper spray. This isd a nationwide problem: the use of chemical weapons on innocent citizens to oppress their rights.
16. Contact any local groups that deal with police harassment and misconduct issues. If there are none, then perhaps you might consider starting one. It sounds like you need one.
17. Don't try to take on everything yourself. get volunteers and others to help you. Meet, strategize, discuss what you know. You CAN make a difference.
18. Get an attorney to subpeona any police records that pertain to the incident. What officers were there, who was the commanding officer, what were the police ordered to do, who gave any orders, etc.
19. Use the internet or libraries to search for past incidents of police misconduct. Ask some attorneys to contact other victims. Chances are, this is not the first time the police in your area have engaged in such an incident. You want to search for a pattern, and get previous victims of police misconduct to come support you.
20. I am not an attorney, so you may want to consult with other people or an attorney to strategize on which of these points are the best course of action for your cause. I recommend a combination of all of them, as police misconduct/harassment/brutality/excessive use of force is a very difficult thing to combat. I have learned these techniques through trial and error, from suggestions from others, in meetings, and strategy sessions. I find it takes approaching this issue from multiple angles in order to generate enough pressure for something to be done.
IF YOU DO NOT FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS AND JUSTICE, NO ONE WILL!
IF YOU DO NOT STAND UP FOR YOUR OWN RIGHTS, THEN YOU ARE EFFECTIVELY GIVING THEM UP!
ANYONE WHO HAS THE COURAGE TO STAND UP TO POLICE MISCONDUCT AND TO STAND UP FOR THEIR RIGHTS IS A HERO IN MY BOOK.
One final suggestion from Ken McCarthy:
Keep in mind that very often police officers who engage in misconduct have been ordered to do so by their superiors who in turn are under orders from their superiors like the mayor. Corrupt leaders use police forces in corrupt ways. Police officers have been used to conduct surveillance of political opponents, engage in election fraud, break strikes, and conduct illegal evictions.
Police officers may also be acting under the influence of private or national authorities. For example, in some localities police officers have been caught "moonlighting" for organized crime figures. Also, researchers point out that the assasinations, and successful coverup of the same, of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and Malcom X and others could not have taken place without the cooperation of insiders within the local police departments in the cities in which these men were killed (Dallas, Memphis, Los Angeles, and New York.)
Therefore when addressing the misconduct of your local police, don't fail to consider the very real possibility that their actions are directed, or at the every least, actively tolerated from above.
That being said, most police officers are working people simply trying to do their best in a difficult job. Support the good ones.