When I was little, we were told that the policeman was our friend and that if we were ever lost or scared, we should go to a cop for help. And the NYPD makes an effort to look friendly by doing things like playing cricket to build bridges with desi muslim populations.
At the same time, I’d find their friendly face a bit more convincing if they didn’t throw arrest obviously wrong people, (allegedly) call them “sand nigger” and (allegedly) throw them in the clink without giving them the phone call they’re entitled to.
Recently, poet and professor Ravi Shankar was arrested and detained for 30 hours for a crime that had obviously been committed by somebody else:
I hadn’t been read my rights or granted a phone call. After an hour my arresting officer returned — but only to take me for a mug shot and digital fingerprinting. Eventually he showed me my arrest warrant. It was for a 5-foot-10, 140-pound white male. I happen to be a 6-foot-2, 200-pound, Indian man. I pointed out the discrepancy. “Tell it to the judge,” he said. [link]
The music world is lucky they didn’t pick up Norah Jones’ dad on that same warrant. I mean, we all look alike, even when some of us are white.
Shankar was stopped on a routine sobriety test, which he passed. From his account it seems he was caught up in a sweep, part of a quota of arrests to be made, no matter how good or bad these arrests turned out to be afterwards. He also claims they said, while arresting him:
The officer turned to his partner. “Always a good day when you can bag a sand nigger.” [link]
Shankar does admit to having a 4 year old unpaid speeding ticket from another jurisdiction, but that’s not the sort of thing that you usually get held in jail for. We can see this by the fact that the judge’s reaction, when she finally saw him:
At noon, I was called to the judge. She stared down at me as the public defender reviewed my charge, noting that the warrant was for a 5-foot-10 white male. Yes,” she said, “he’s clearly not white. Dismiss that.” She then did a double take on my file. “Why does this man have a public defender?” [link]
If accurately reported, this confirms the fact that not only did the cops lock him up on something that would clearly not stand, but also that he had been denied a phone call to counsel and only given a public defender when he walked in. To me the abrogation of his rights is far more disturbing than the policeman’s alleged casual racism, and easier to confirm.
I’m sure many of you will defend the cop, saying that Shankar shouldn’t have had the speeding ticket. Really, is this what you want your tax dollars going to? You want to keep people locked up and waste a judge’s time over a moving violation and an obviously false bust?
I’m with the libertarians on this one, cops abuse their discretion routinely and the public accepts it rather than calling them to task.
The same thing happens with judges too: one judge sentenced a bystander in his courtroom into jail for 6 months for yawning loudly, another threw 46 people in the courtroom into jail when a cell phone rang and nobody would admit it was theirs. And yet the comments under these news stories are full of people applauding the judges.
It’s very simple. In America, the founding fathers believed that authority confers responsibility and that when governmental power is unchecked, it corrupts. Many years later, Zimbardo confirmed how quickly it can corrupt. Minorities are disproportionately the targets of such behavior but this is an issue for all Americans not just a few.