Cultures of Authority and Presumed Guilt

Fred notes some further disturbing developments in the case of a young man suspected of stealing a PlayStation 3:

The unfortunate death of Durham teenager Peyton Strickland took an incredible turn as police revealed they used Facebook pictures to justify their paramilitary-style entry of the residence. An image provided to the media, allegedly sourced from the Facebook, shows Strickland accomplice David Ryan Mills and friends holding an array of firearms, including a shotgun and AR-15 assault rifle.

Because of this image, UNCW police requested backup from the New Hanover county SWAT team in serving the warrant. It was the SWAT team that killed Strickland, unarmed and holding a wireless game controller.

Because of an online picture, which Strickland wasn’t even in, the cops went in like they were raiding a drug supply house.

A few points:

  • In a way that I don’t think anyone could have predicted at the time, this incident goes toward proving right the conspiracy theorizing of gun-rights libertarians from the 1990s. As it turns out, paramilitary-outfitted police – as the NRA would have it, jack-booted thugsdid come in blasting, not to take away the residents’ guns but on suspicion of video game system theft.
  • I don’t want to become a one-trick “authoritarianism” pony here, but the earlier digg users’ reactions to this shooting and the actions that police apparently undertook leading to the shooting are really two sides of the same authoritarian coin. Suspicion of guilt for one crime plus legal possession of guns (entirely unrelated to the crime) added up to killing an unarmed man.

These are substantial issues, and are part of the same problem apparent in a wide range of current and recent incidents. The central issue is that cops feel empowered to use deadly and highly violent force at very early points in their confrontations with suspects. This isn’t a mistake and it’s not “bad apples” – it’s the product of a culture where suspicion of criminality is enough to negate any and all human rights. Just off the top of the newsfeed, we also have:

And the list goes on and on, and will continue to do so unless and until there emerges a political consensus – from the ground up, among Americans outraged by these behaviors who realise that there’s little to nothing keeping them from being on the receiving end of such treatment – that this is not the culture we want to be prevalent among our nation’s law enforcement officers and institutions.

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