Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Asking America’s Police Officers to Explain Abusive Cops

with 4 comments

Very interesting article in the Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf (via Radley Balko’s morning links):

The radio show This American Life recently broadcast a number of stories on policing. They’re collected in the episodes “Cops See It Differently,” Part Oneand Part Two.

The episodes illuminate why police and their critics often see the same events very differently. For example, one anecdote concerns a man in the back of a police car who told his arresting officers that he was having trouble breathing. They ignored him. He died. Many who watched the video saw callous cops who placed no value on a human being’s life. But police officers who watched the same tape saw two cops who thought that their seemingly healthy arrestee was faking, as so many people fabricate medical conditions to avoid being taken to jail.

These differences in perspective are useful to understand, even if one believes that a given incident is clearly the fault of the police or the person they’re arresting.

In that spirit, I’d like to focus on “Inconvenience Store,” the This American Lifesegment where the behavior of the police officers struck me as most difficult to comprehend. I’ll relay what happened to a man named Earl Sampson in Miami Gardens, Florida, and invite any willing police officers to write in with their thoughts.

Most of the action takes place at a Quickstop convenience store. Back in 2008, police approached its owner, Alex Saleh. Did he want to make the Quickstop part of “The Zero-Tolerance Zone Trespassing Program”? Saleh said that he was “pro-police, pro-cop,” and agreed. A sign to that effect was posted in the parking lot.

But soon, he says, cops started harassing his customers, especially the black ones, when they were doing nothing more than standing in line waiting to make a purchase. Set that aside. Our interest is in Earl Sampson, a black employee at the store.

Here’s what happened to him, according to This American Life producer Miki Meek’s reporting:

Meek: Before long, it wasn’t just the customers being questioned. The police started including a guy named Earl. Alex paid him to do odd jobs around the store. One night, right before closing, Alex sent Earl out to the parking lot with a broom and a dustpan. When he didn’t come back, Alex want out to check on him.

Saleh: I see only the dustpan and the broom. And I don’t see Earl.

Meek: It wasn’t like Earl to walk off the job. The next day when he arrived at the store, Alex asked him about it.

Saleh: Earl said, I was in jail last night. I said, why? He said, for trespassing.

Meek: Trespassing at the store—Earl says he was charged with trespassing where he works.

Saleh: I was upset. I was burning myself inside. I was, like, this is impossible.

Meek: Alex is more than just a boss to Earl, more like a father figure to him. Earl has some mental health issues, and in general, he has a kid-like quality. He first started coming to the Quickstop years before, when he was 14. He had just moved around the corner, but his family life was rough. And his mom couldn’t really take care of him. So Alex started keeping an eye on him. Here’s Earl.

Earl: That’s why I started hanging around the store, you know, it’s because Alex treat me like a son, though. Sometimes he let me credit stuff, like milk or something, bread or something. I’d go to the store and get it. I’d holler at him. And then he gave me a job, and I started working. I love my job. I love working at it. We’re like a family, though.

Meek: That incident with the police, where Alex walked outside to check on Earl at the end of the night and found only a dustpan and broom, that happened two more times that month.

Earl: They’ll like, come and grab me from, like, outside. Like, they won’t go in the store and ask Alex or nothing, though. They would just grab me, put me in a police car, take me down to jail, you know? I’m like, well, I work here, though. You feel me?

Meek: So you would say, I work here. And what would they say? . . .

Continue reading. As Balko points out, criminally harassing an innocent man will not get police officers fired—but soliciting a prostitute will.

It seems as though Friedersdorf doesn’t know about the “Blue Code of Silence” and the punishments meted out to officers who report misconduct of other policemen. It seems quite typical for strictly hierarchical, highly authoritarian organizations (e.g., police forces, the military, the Catholic church) to develop a culture of cover-ups, in which members of the organization (“us”) are ALWAYS protected against those outside the organization (“them”). Police have an additional layer of protection in that they can quite effectively, as a group, retaliate against any prosecutor who brings charges against a police officer. Thus police in practice have a great degree of immunity for misconduct—which, after all, is typical of a police state

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2015 at 10:50 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

4 Responses

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  1. Somewhere on reddit, I read this was actually a quota filling thing. This particular town has arrest quotas, and they keep arresting this guy because it fills their quota, and he doesn’t fight back.

    What gets measured, gets done in this case. Apparently no one is measuring and refining the metrics though.


  2. Reblogged this on



    2 March 2015 at 11:09 am

  3. The same thing was observed in Vietnam and some subsequent wars in which the metric was number of people killed by the US military—body counts. Given the weaponry we have, that metric was easily satisfied: we killed any number of them, combatants and civilians. It didn’t matter which to the military: a body is a body, and bodies were what was being counted. (Cf. drone attacks on wedding parties.)



    2 March 2015 at 11:17 am

  4. Reblogged this on Brian By Experience.


    Brian Dead Rift Webb

    2 March 2015 at 8:39 pm

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