Mom & Dad: There is a BIG Problem With America’s Justice System

As a kid, I was raised to believe that the police were my friends. If I was ever in danger, any police officer I would find could be trusted to help me. They were valiant, self-sacrificing men who held the weight of society up on their strong shoulders. Their noble duty was printed on the side of every squad car and on the front of every badge- ‘To Serve and Protect’.

I remember the precise moment when the police turned in my mind from trusted protectors into hazards that must be avoided at all costs. It was in the middle of a cross-country road trip with my girlfriend and our friend Alicia. We pulled into a gas station in Brady, TX at around 2 AM to fill up on fuel and coffee. Three squad cars were parked out front, and six officers were standing around inside taking a break from what was no doubt a long night. As soon as the girls and I stepped out of the car, all eyes were on us.

Now I’m a shaggy, bearded chap. My girlfriend has several felted dreadlocks, as did Alicia. We looked a bit like hippies, which was enough to set off alarm bells in the minds of these officers. As soon as I walked out with my coffee, two of them were standing in front of my car, staring at me.

“Sir, do you realize a front license plate is required in the State of Texas?”

I did not. I’d been stopped a few times in Dallas for unrelated things over the last year and not one single officer had ever mentioned the lack of a front license plate as a problem. And this cop wasn’t actually concerned about it either. Within thirty seconds he was asking me if I had any illegal drugs in the vehicle, and then he began pushing for a search. We spent ninety minutes out there in all. The cops patted us down several times, and threatened to call out the police dogs if we did not consent. Unfortunately for them, the dogs were “asleep” at that late an hour and they eventually let us go. But not before doing their level best to pressure me into consenting to a search.

This may surprise some of you, but I have a concealed handgun license. Which, among other things, is a card that certifies I have not so much as a misdemeanor to my name. Despite my lack of a record and the fact that we hadn’t actually broken any law, two cops spent over an hour grilling me in an attempt to trick me into revealing my suspected drug usage. The lead cop (who informed me he had been trained to sniff out lies) asked me if I had ever in my life smoked Marijuana about fifty times.

“Ack! You’ve forced me to reach my daily lie limit now. Yes, I DO smoke pot, officer.”

What incensed them most was that I did not immediately consent to the search of my vehicle. I never carry drugs, but I also never consent to any search. I believe I have a right to be presumed innocent by law enforcement, as well as a right to freedom from unlawful search and seizure. The problem is, no police officers seem to share my belief in the importance of those rights. Thanks to this incident- and three others like it, I no longer feel safe when I see police officers. I know for a fact that any one of them could decide at any time that I look like a criminal. And if they decide that, it is up to me to prove my innocence.

Now then- that’s all one first person account of police wrongdoing. I wouldn’t be typing up this column if I didn’t have specific, factual, systemic allegations to make. And I do. So, mom & dad, here’s my thesis: the American criminal justice system is fundamentally broken. This is not a minor problem. It is not something we can wait to fix. It represents the single greatest abuse of human rights our country is currently guilty of. I’ve divided my argument into three parts.

1. The Police are Not Here to Protect Us

That’s not some pseudo-anarchist ‘rage against the machine’ bullcrap. It is a cold hard fact that you cannot deny or argue with. Despite what is printed on those squad cars and badges, protecting you is not the job of any police officer. My proof for this? The United States Supreme Goddamn Court. In 2005 they ruled:

“…the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent husband making an arrest mandatory for a violation.”

You should take that motto as seriously as you take McDonalds’ claims of using ‘only the finest’ ingredients.

This isn’t something I have an issue with. Nor do I believe it represents a problem in and of itself. In most cities, the average police response time is somewhere between nine and eleven minutes. Which is plenty of time for any rapist or axe murderer worth his salt to do whatever evil shit he has planned for you. If some bad person attempts to do violence to me, I am the only person I can rely on to defend myself. That is cold hard brutal fact, and no amount of technology or surveillance drones will ever change it.

Even if a police officer were to arrive on scene in time and choose to risk his life protecting me against a madman, the odds are very good that said bad guy is much more skilled with a weapon than Joe Patrolman. Violent criminals practice frequently with their weapons, while most police officers fire a few hundred rounds per year in training at best. The average cop, in a combat situation, hits about 17% of the time. So yeah- if you’re ever in immediate danger of harm, the odds of a police officer arriving in time to help, being capable of helping and choosing to risk his life to help you are extremely low.

So those are the facts. It isn’t any cop’s job to protect you, nor are most of them competent enough with their weapons to do so. And yet, in spite of all this police in America are more heavily armed than ever before. Suburban cops in Allen, TX troll around with submachine guns. We have tens of thousands of men as well armed and armored as soldiers, but without the training or responsibility to go with it. Even our SWAT teams- ostensibly formed to deal with heavily armed supercriminals- are mainly used to enforce non-violent misdemeanor warrants. In Maryland, only 6% of SWAT deployments were in response to the sort of violent situations those teams were formed to deal with.

If you really want to depress yourself, do a Google search for ‘officers shoot dog’. Hell, I’ll even screengrab the results for you:

There are stories about breaking into the wrong house and shooting animals, shooting caged animals while serving misdemeanor warrants. It seems like every week brings a new story about some cop firing off his weapon just for the sake of seeing it draw blood. When you give a man a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you give a man a machine gun and tell him he’s fighting a war against ‘crime’, everyone looks like a criminal. And it sure doesn’t help that some large departments specifically reject candidates that are too smart to be cops. The reasoning for that move?

“…those who scored too high could get bored with police work and leave soon after undergoing costly training.”

This is in spite of the fact that smarter, less brute force strategies have actually proven far more successful at reducing crime. In New York City, crime keeps dropping even though they’ve had to trim their active force by 16%. I could go on and on about why the militarization of our police is a terrifying trend, but I think I’ve made my point. When you treat police like soldiers, they treat civilians like an occupied enemy population. And no one is safer.

2. The War on Drugs is Fundamentally Racist

As much trouble as my bearded, shaggy self has with cops, I know I have it easy because I hit a jackpot in the skin pigment lottery. Being white is the best protection from the law a person can get. Now I know you’ll probably expect me to go about ‘proving’ this by quoting individual stories of cops murdering unarmed black men in their own homes for no reason after calling them ‘niggers’. But I won’t. Tragic as those stories are, anecdotal evidence is the weakest sort of evidence. I want to prove a systemic problem. And, boy howdy, there’s plenty of facts to support that allegation.

Blacks, whites and hispanics are all equally likely to be pulled over. But ‘equality’ ends there. Blacks and hispanics are more than twice as likely to be searched by the police. And these stops end in police violence 4.4% of the time for blacks, 2.3% of the time for hispanics and…1.2% of the time for white people.

“Police were much more likely to threaten or use force against blacks and Hispanics than against whites in any encounter, whether at a traffic stop or elsewhere, according to the Justice Department.”

“Those dreadlocks are all the probable cause we need.”

White people are more likely to do and possess drugs, but black people are arrested ten times as often for drug related offenses. And the disparity doesn’t end there. If a black person and a white person are caught possessing the same amount of an illegal substance, said black dude is eight times more likely to serve prison time for it. Not only that, they serve an average of sixty percent more prison time than whites, even when both commit the same crimes. African-Americans make up 12% of the U.S., do fewer drugs than white people, but still somehow account for 33.6% of all drug arrests.

Make no mistake about it: the war on drugs represents a disaster for blacks on par with slavery. That isn’t hyperbole. More black men are in prison right now than were enslaved in 1850. And yes, slavery is an apt comparison for what is going on in our prison system right now. Our government currently ‘employs’ tens of thousands of prisoners in factories that produce everything from munitions to license plates. They make about 23 pennies per hour, have no unions, no restrictions on overtime, and very little safety oversight.

“What began in the 1970s as an end run around the laws prohibiting convict leasing by private interests has now become an industrial sector in its own right, employing more people than any Fortune 500 corporation and operating in 37 states.”

The only thing that separates these prisoners from slaves is a daily wage that seldom breaks $5. And it’s worth noting that these aren’t all or even largely violent men being forced to work off their debt to society. One million of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in our country are non-violent offenders. They’ve never harmed a soul or stolen any person’s property. But they’re forced to labor with precious little rights or legal protections.

This brings me to my last point…

3. American Imprisonment is a Business

If any nation on earth is a police state, it is the United States of America. Despite holding only 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s imprisoned people. And it is directly against the stated interests of many state and local governments to make that number go down. An increasing number of our prisons are corporate owned entities. Which means a huge, influential and wealthy business has keeping more American’s locked up in their best interests.

The Corrections Corporation of America operates the majority of our nation’s for-profit prisons. And they recently made an offer to the cash-strapped governments of 48 states. They’re offering twenty year contracts to manage state prisons. And all they want in return is the state’s promise that it will keep incarcerations at a steady level. Among the requirements that those state governments must agree too?

“An assurance by the agency partner that the agency has sufficient inmate population to maintain a minimum 90 percent occupancy rate over the term of the contract.”

That is the exact wording from the exact letter the CCA sent out to those governments. In case you’re not quite grasping the whole horror of it…states who agree to these terms will be in breach of their contracts if crime and incarceration goes down. This means it is now paradoxically in the best interest of many states to keep as many people in prison as possible, regardless of whether or not they deserve to be there.

If that doesn’t have the bile rising up in your throat, I don’t know what more I can say to you. Our criminal justice system isn’t a little bit messed up. It doesn’t need a few procedural changes to work better. It is fundamentally broken and corrupt at its core and fixing it is one of the single greatest challenges we as Americans face today.

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26 Responses to Mom & Dad: There is a BIG Problem With America’s Justice System

  1. Dan says:

    The conclusion that “if you’re ever in immediate danger of harm, the odds of a police officer arriving in time to help, being capable of helping and choosing to risk his life to help you are extremely low,” seems overdramatic. I think there’s a big leap between articles concluding that police tend to be less adept at gunfighting than violent criminals (which should be a good thing, since you don’t want the police force to be militarized) and the idea that police are therefore all-around incompetent. In the hypothetical situation in which you in unspecified “immediate danger” I think there’s a lot more an average officer could do beyond immediately engaging in an intense gunfight, and you offer no evidence that says that most police officers are incompetent at the rest of their basic police tasks. It seems to me then that that the implication that an average police officer would likely be incapable of helping in a situation wherein a citizen was in danger of immediate harm is a little overdramatic.

    I also think you make a big leap by saying the odds are low of an officer being willing to help you in such a situation. Your evidence for this is the “Castle Rock v. Gonzales” decision. However, you offer no proof that police officers throughout the country are taking Justice Scalia’s decision to heart. The idea that there’s a legitimate risk of a police officer seeing a person in immediate danger and completely disregarding that person is an extremely bold claim that, to me, requires a little more proof. There has to have been a study on this. There is the case of the Castle Rock police force, but, as you say, anecdotal evidence isn’t something you should rely on, especially with so bold a claim.

    I finally take issue with your treatment of the Castle Rock case; legal decisions are generally pretty complex and not as simple as a bunch of high-horse justices deciding the police don’t need to do jack shit if they don’t feel like it. The actual decision of the Supreme Court was the the *US Constitution* (not the law in its entirety, just the Constitution) does not provide for the police action Gonzales believed she was entitled to in that particular case. Now, that does NOT mean the Supreme Court issued a blanket statement that the police aren’t obligated to protect the citizenry, but that the Due Process clause of the Constitution (what was being argued in the case) allowed the police to use their discretion in the case (which turned out to be totally wrong). The decision was thus focused on one narrow area of Federal Constitutional law. I suspect that most laws dealing with the police force are handled at the state level, being that the Constitution does not specifically provide the creation of a police force.

    I don’t mean to come off as a dick or a hater; it’s a great article. I agree 100% with points 2 and 3. I just had some issues with the assertions you made in point one. I don’t necessarily disagree with what you’re saying, but I think the evidence you use to support your arguments (which were fairly hyperbolic if you ask me) is a little shaky.

    • greybuscat says:

      All it takes is one cop NOT doing his job, which they apparently aren’t legally required to do, to result in YOUR death. It doesn’t have to mean that all cops are worthless, or that even most are. What matters is whether YOUR cop is going to protect you or not. Try to think a little deeper next time.

    • RJ OGuillory says:

      ..if your goal was to “not come off as a dick or a hater”…you failed…you want to talk about finite judicial processes that almost always end up supporting the “state” and their ability to steal your property, lie and jail you..and kill you…police departments are as corrupt as they can be, and all of your lawyer BS will not change that fact…I grew up in a family of corrupt law enforcement parents and brothers…they are individually corrupt and organizationally corrupt…all of them….all across the nation….and the world….

      Regards,

      RJ O’Guillory
      Author-
      Webster Groves-The Life of an Insane Family

  2. Gray Scarollo says:

    I am hero worshipping you for this article. Very well thought, very well researched, all sorts of who gives a fuck passionate.

  3. Rebecca Trotter says:

    I would have “Liked” this, but your like button isn’t working. Completely true. We’ve lost control of our government, imo. You should look at the juvi system – especially in places like Florida. It’s really fucked up.

  4. Dave in Indianapolis says:

    Awesome post, well done! I linked over to your blog after reading your articles on Cracked, which are pretty hilarious.

  5. snarkyrabbit says:

    To be upfront from the get go I will tell you that I am a police officer, and I have been for over a decade now. What may surprise you is that I am also a Libertarian and currently in the final semester of finishing graduate school at (hold your breath) a private university rather than a state run program to make high ranking officers look good. I say it that way because to many police go to places like http://command.columbusstate.edu/ for no other reason than to make it look like they are educated.

    You may think I am going to argue with your post, but I am not. More of us than you think agree with your assessment of the state of law enforcement. However, the problem is one that is hard to solve. It is hard to get more educated people into law enforcement, or to convince officers to get an education beyond that of a HS Diploma or a GED. Many simply don’t feel that it is needed to succeed. The odd thing is that they are right. I could go the rest of my career, and likely be in a command position without any more education than I had the day I left the military.

    So why do some of us take the time to get more education? Because we see the problems that fill our once noble profession, and we are sickened by it. The biggest problem for us is that we are not yet in a position to make the changes we know are needed. Many of us are still under the thumb of chiefs that have been police officers since the 1970’s. You and I both know that the world has changed a great deal in 42 years, but convincing these old timers can be somewhat …well lets face it…impossible. Those of us that want to make the changes sit here and basically have to wait for the older generation to die before any changes will be made.

    What scares me is the damage that these old school officers do to impressionable rookies when then “tell em like it is”. Some of us were able to resist the insanity, but many do not.

    In closing, I hope to restore at least a small amount of your faith that not every officer is as you describe. There are many of us waiting in the wings that want to make the profession better, and I promise to all that read this that I will try to do just that.

  6. shawnmt6601 says:

    Rob, if you think most conservatives or libertarians believe cops are your friend, you do not know as much about talking to conservatives as you think you do. And as far as your CCW, It is a shame that one has to get permission to use a constitutional right. All people have a right to defend their life. The gov does not give you that right, it is inherent. And most non religious conservatives have no problem legalizing drugs. Is this blog aimed at religious right wing kooks, or normal conservatives who believe in personal liberty? Because if it is the latter, you do not understand real conservatives very well.

    • greybuscat says:

      The problem comes in that most people disagree about what ‘defending you life’ means. I direct your attention to a recent high-profile self-defense case in Florida.

  7. Hey Robert,

    I’ve been a big fan of your captions at Cracked for a really long time, and your round-up of the core things that are wrong with our criminal justice system is the absolute best, most clear and concise explanation I have ever read about The subject. I’ve had this conversation with a lot of friends and the words you choose to lay out your argument are eerily similar to my own. It’s super gratifying to hear a similar voice rail against a similar problem, (I’m a white dude in his 20s who also learned the hard way in Texas that the cops aren’t his or his friends of colors’ ‘protectors’).

    You just earned a new fan, in the sense that I’ve always been one and didn’t know it. Your recent Cracked article was fantastic, and your blog here is really spot on. Keep singing the good song man, and I’ll do the same. Cheers.

  8. bankshot says:

    This was eloquent, well-researched and…horrifying.

  9. leaveareply@mailinator.com says:

    Interesting article. You seem to have left out the fact black people are the majority population in jails for the heinous crimes they committed in the form of rape, murder, armed robbery, etc. This most certainly isn’t “slavery” — it is justice.

    • calhoun says:

      But what about the millions dead by our corrupted government (largely white males)? The crimes are by far worse, yet Americans back this garbage daily, and the Criminals make lifelong “careers” out of doing these death campaigns, in the Name of “freedom” and in your name. There’s been a few brave people that have compiled numbers on how many we have slaughtered and maimed overseas, with some White dude or dudette in government calling it “collateral” damage. It is in the millions.

      Blacks can’t even begin to compare to the crimes of whites!! I’m white, btw,

      There is still about 40% Americans who are willfully (ignorant?) supporting the false idea that Saddam Hussein had WMD and will use the deteriorated Iraqi nation as “proof” these people are “animals”, when their nation was systematically destroyed by YOU and me…and our criminal networked government.

  10. maxchaves says:

    Reblogged this on The Max Chaves Blog: Left, but Not Alone. and commented:
    Aside from their primary role in the protection of the ruling capitalist-class and suppression of working-class and popular movements to that end, this is a spot on summation of the problems with policing in the United States today.

    Courtesy of Robert Evans, blogger at “Letters to Conservative Parents” and comedy writer at cracked.com

  11. I know that conservatives like myself tend to have more confidence in the criminal sanction than liberals, but I don’t see how the police violence things is a partisan issue. I don’t think you could find many people of any political persuasion who think that it’s a good idea to beat the crap out of unarmed black people.

  12. greybuscat says:

    Yeah, just being a young male and being out at night is enough to attract the attention of law enforcement. It’s hard to appreciate the trade-offs (safer streets) when you see them drop the ball so often while still persecuting people for no reason. I’ve had the ‘I suspect you are high’ conversation more than once, and never while actually high.

    In my town, there was a gunfight at a club, and the police, who were parked across the street, did nothing until it was over. But if you park somewhere at night, you clearly are a drug user, in the eyes of our police.

    Another time, I noticed a confused soldier driving on the wrong side of the road, changing speeds from 20 to 70, in a 50mph zone, and falling asleep at the wheel. I called 9-1-1 because I didn’t know if he was drunk, stoned, or dying, and it took took 20 minutes to get a physical response. By the time I stopped following him, only an ambulance had arrived. The police were nowhere in sight. My town is only about ten miles across.

    Someone could have died. I could have died. The police are not your friends. They are doing a job, which I appreciate, but like any job, most of them appear to be pretty useless without immediate direction.

  13. Great article, but a little further explanation is needed for your SC quote. When the court was discussing ‘duty,’ they weren’t using the term in the dictionary sense. Rather, they were using ‘duty’ in the legal sense, where duty is one of five elements necessary to recover in a civil action. Before someone can recover for the harm inflicted by another, they must prove that the other person or entity had a legal duty that was breached and ultimately led to the injury being sued over. Had the court said that a police department had an affirmative duty to enforce the restraining order, it would have opened the floodgates all over the country to suits against police forces. Some police forces are understaffed and simply cannot respond to every single call; if the court had imposed a duty on them to do so it would take up massive amounts of police time and resources, thereby taking those resources away from situations where they would be put to better use.

  14. Pingback: Bloggy Linky Goodness – My 500th Post « The Upside Down World

  15. JJ says:

    the single most disturbing thing I’ve read in 2012

  16. Entro says:

    When seconds matter, the police are only minutes away.

  17. Jay says:

    you’d like theagitator.com

  18. matt says:

    These comments are disheartening in their raw form, however, i believe with a little further exploration, some of these ideas become less scary. The 90% occupancy rate seems appalling at first glance, then you remember that there are multiple prisons in each state and the Corporation won’t be running them all. Private companies have the burden of producing a profit, so streamlining and efficiency is their goal, and contracting minimum populations is essential to building a workable business model. To not do so will be idiocy. This 90%a does not mean more incarcerations, it means an adequate number of transferred prisoners FROM STATE RUN FACILITIES, thereby lowering the cost of incarceration by the state. More later on the other issues above.

  19. calhoun says:

    We can begin the process of correcting our “Justice” system by paying attention to the criminal conduct we do overseas. Americans are completely dazed and disgusted by James Holmes’ crimes, yet when our President orders the killings of thousands of people nobody hardly bats an eye. What is being done overseas in our names with our money is of top importance to the deterioration of what is happening at home. Our government is providing money and support to Death Squads throughout the Middle East and then using heavy handed propaganda to pin the blame on others, while innocent children slaughtered in brutal ways by these death squads are being used for propaganda purposes to spread hate and lies.

    When people are serious about stopping the corrupt Government of the U.S. in its war crimes, where millions are affected daily, THEN I will take U.S. citizens more seriously when they say they want to correct our corrupted domestic affairs. Americans are still lining up daily to have their genitals, and their children, patted by strangers at Airports (soon coming to a checkpoint near you), yet they do nothing. For all the brave talk, we continue to slide towards a major WWIII scenario, as well as a totally gutted constitution at home….After 10 years of lies, you would think that most Americans would start understanding that something has captured the government. But the American people spend all their “shock” on another typical shooting by a fellow deranged member of society.

  20. Billy Baine says:

    Useless, violent cops, yet another violation of our rights. The gov’t constantly violates our rights.
    They violate the 1st Amendment by caging protesters and banning books like “America Deceived II”.
    They violate the 4th and 5th Amendment by allowing TSA to grope you.
    They violate the entire Constitution by starting undeclared wars.
    Impeach Obama, support Ron Paul.
    Last link of “America Deceived II” before it is completely banned:

  21. Robert, this is awesome stuff. Also suggested is a two-part lecture by James Duane (YouTube it) called “Don’t Talk to Cops.”

  22. RJ OGuillory says:

    I had a very similar experience. Arriving in California after a cross country drive, I stopped for a few beers on my birthday, early in the evening. Hours later, at about 0100 I stopped in a gas station off the highway and found a donut cluster of state-troopers and police. I knew the minute I pulled in that they would gig me, as I was raised in a family of corrupt law enforcement folks, and I know what bored cops are capable of….I received some idiotic DUI, having to take the stupid test multiple times before they could claim I was intoxicated….what BS…! However….in managing that court ordered debacle… I met my wife…and I happily live in the mountains of N. California as I watch the country decay….so maybe it was for a good reason! Ha!

    Regards,

    RJ O’Guillory
    Author-
    Webster Groves-The Life of an Insane Family

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