I’ve been reading criminal defense lawyer blogs for years now. It’s an important perspective to have, and it’s a useful reminder about things that have come to the national consciousness lately have long been important issues for people in the trenches.
Here’s Houston defense lawyer Mark Bennett, talking about UC-Davis Police Lt. John Pike, and the way that the social contract between citizens and police ought to work both ways:
Neither should John Pike be let off scot-free. Fired? Perhaps, though if he loses his job it will be a political move, intended to make people forget the institutional—and, indeed, societal—failures that allowed him to so cavalierly injure peaceful protestors.
But firing is too good for John Pike. John Pike should spend the rest of his life, until he publicly repents, feeling insecure. And so should every officer who followed him at UC-Davis.
They should not be able to go out to eat without knowing whether their food will be spat in, or worse.
Their babysitters should be chronically unavailable.
They should not be able to get their oil changed without knowing whether their drain plugs will be left loose, or park without knowing if they are going to get another door ding.
They should not be able to rely on the people who collect their trash, who cut their lawns, who cut their hair. All of the conveniences of modern American life that we take for granted should, for these officers, be unreliable.
There are so many things that are chilling about the 9-minute UC-Davis video, but one that I found surprisingly disturbing is the friendly-looking cop keeping the cameras back. He makes his first appearance about 1:15 in, and he’s a normal-looking dude in a black police jacket with an aw-shucks smile and his hands up peacefully — no riot gear here. When directing people in the crowd away from the scrum where Lt. Pike is pepper-spraying their friends, he looks downright approachable. You could be convinced that he’s a nice guy and on your side. He probably answers questions, when you have them.
But he also serves alongside that guy. He may not hold the pepper spray, but he doesn’t do anything to stop it. And that is what chills me about the video — it’s easy enough to believe that any one shitty cop might enjoy the role of the bully, and might get off on teaching the hippies a lesson. Sure, there are bad people in any group. It’s not much of a stretch, either, to imagine that militarized police, all equipped with the same weapons and wearing the same armor, would be poised for conflict, and so his fellow riot troops might feel the need to also maintain command presence. But it’s not just them. It’s the smiling, friendly police officer who just wants you to stay back for your own safety who enables Lt. Pike to spray your friends in the face. He doesn’t have to hold the can — he’s part of the operation.
That’s what sticks with me to my core about UC-Davis, I think — not just that some asshole cop sprayed students, but that none of the other officers on the force dreamed of stopping him. I hope they all check their sandwiches for suspicious stains for the next decade.