'Heroes' View Us as Little More Than Collateral Damageby Steven Greenhut
Feb. 09, 2013
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Rarely, will Americans witness the kind of full-scale manhunt now going on throughout Southern California and the San Bernardino mountains, as hundreds of heavily armed and armored police and federal agents hunt down Christopher Dorner, a 33-year-old former Los Angeles cop and former Naval officer suspected of three murders.
Homicides are ever so routine in Southern California, but this one is different. As Reuters reported, Dorner is "a fugitive former police officer accused of declaring war on law enforcement in an Internet manifesto." He allegedly shot two officers in Riverside, killing one of them, and also allegedly murdered the daughter of the former police captain who unsuccessfully represented him in the disciplinary proceedings that led to his firing.
This isnít about protecting the public, but protecting themselves. When one of "theirs" is threatened or killed, that police act like invaders. And like any invading army, thereís going to be collateral damage. While the national media focused on the basics of the manhunt, there have been too-few reports on the casualties of the ramped-up police presence.
"Emma Hernandez, 71, was delivering the Los Angeles Times with her daughter, Margie Carranza, 47, in the 19500 block of Redbeam Avenue in Torrance on Thursday morning when Los Angeles police detectives apparently mistook their pickup for that of Christopher Dorner, the 33-year-old fugitive suspected of killing three people and injuring two others," according to a Los Angeles Times blog. "Hernandez, who attorney Glen T. Jonas said was shot twice in the back, was in stable condition late Thursday. Carranza received stitches on her finger."
The quotation from Jonas was priceless: "The problem with the situation is it looked like the police had the goal of administering street justice and in so doing, didn't take the time to notice that these two older, small Latina women don't look like a large black man."
Reports suggest that Dorner was driving a different color and different model of Toyota from Hernandez and Carranza, but whatever. If I were in Southern California this week, Iíd keep the Toyota in the garage given the number of police eager to mete out such "street justice." Police defenders will no doubt argue that this was a fluke, a case of some poorly trained cop overreacting (because he certainly believed his life to be in danger).
But apologists for police brutality will have a hard time with this one. As the Times blog also reported: "About 25 minutes after the shooting, Torrance police opened fire after spotting another truck similar to Dornerís at Flagler Lane and Beryl Street." Fortunately, no one was hurt at that one, but in any case the cops would just shrug it off if there were tragic results. The second shooting reminds us that this is how police will routinely behave. And police officials will adamantly defend this behavior even in the federal court system.
For instance, a case that just recently headed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal highlights the disturbing attitude of police officials toward innocent bystanders that get in the way of police work. The following are details from plaintiffs, in their lawsuit against the city of Sacramento and two of its "finest":
On April 10, 2009, California Highway Patrol officers stopped a Honda Civic for illegal taillights. As the officers approached the car, the driver, Manual Prasad, drove away and eventually crashed his car into a wall and started running in a residential neighborhood. Sacramento city police were called in and used their helicopter to pinpoint the fleeing man who climbed a tree in a backyard.
James Paul Garcia and six of his friends had the misfortune of being in the yard, relaxing and enjoying the spring evening. Officer Gary Dahl approached the house and, without any apparent warning and without checking to see if there were innocent bystanders in the backyard, released a police dog into the yard. Police dogs are highly trained to attack and hold suspects, but they are not trained to distinguish between suspects and bystanders.
So "Bandit" headed into the yard, spotted the first person he saw (Garcia) and did what vicious police dogs do to people: bit the heck out of him and held him at the ground, as its teeth punctured Garciaís leg in several places.
The police and the city of Sacramento argue that this behavior did not violate Garciaís rights and of course sought every type of immunity and special privilege to delay the case and keep its officers from any accountability here. The city argued that its officers have no responsibility to provide a clear warning to innocent bystanders and that giving such a warning would Ė letís repeat it now in unison, given that this is the trump card police always use Ė "jeopardize officer safety."
I covered a case in Anaheim a few years ago, when police were tracking a burglary suspect through a neighborhood. A young newlywed came out of his house with a wood bat or broom handle to see what the ruckus was about. The officer shot the man to death and then went and handcuffed him as he lay dying even though he knew this was an innocent bystander. When the police chief offered a weak apology to the family, police officers were angry at him for doing so.
Thatís the mentality among our highly militarized police forces. I wasnít surprised, then, when years later the Anaheim Police Department would act like an invading army after residents protested some deadly shootings by police (including, apparently, of an unarmed man in the back).
Whenever police are pursuing suspects, it is official, acceptable policy for officers to do anything they need to do to protect their own safety regardless of what it means to your safety. My advice Ė if you see police anywhere near you, stay very far away. And hope they donít mistake your Toyota for a suspectís car. Remember that you're nothing more than potential collateral damage.
Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a Sacramento-based writer and author of Plunder! How Public Employee Unions Are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives And Bankrupting The Nation.
Copyright © 2013 Steven Greenhut