By Quiscalus Texicanus
Photo by Fred Moon
“Police brutality is now a formality — they’re kickin our ass and we’re payin’ their salary…”— Willie D, “City Under Siege,” 1989
While it may seem that incidents of police brutality are on the upswing all across America, it seems to this Grackle that the total number of such cases has remained constant or perhaps even decline. What has changed is that is becoming increasingly difficult for cops to sweep such cases under the rug — body cams, pesky citizens with cellphone cams everywhere — what is a bent thug cop to do? No longer can he or she deny deny deny everything and retreat behind the wall of badged omerta that is the famous thin blue line.
This is a good thing. Their immediate bosses — the top brass in the police department — are feeling the heat from their bosses: mayors and other politicos. Cops are actually being tried and even convicted of felonies they would have skated from without so much as a sternly-worded warning letter of a personnel report just four or five years ago. Progress in this area has been agonizingly slow, but it’s progress nonetheless.
To name just one example, there’s the case of Walter Scott, the North Charleston, South Carolina man shot in the back and killed while fleeing from policeman Michael Thomas Slager. The North Charleston PD attempted to cover up the killing with the time-honored bag of thin blue line tricks — bogus police reports attested to by other cops alleging that officer Slager feared for his life because Scott had attempted to take away his Taser. Bystander video put the lie to this tale (and showed Slager apparently planting his Taser near Scott’s still-warm corpse). After the footage made the news, Slager was charged with murder and held without bond for nine months. To make a long story short, eventually the cop accepted 20 years in federal prison for having committed a civil rights violation, and Scott’s family settled with the city of North Charleston for $6.5 million.
While you can’t call that a happy ending, you could at least say that some form of justice was served, and that modern technology, and the sea change in public attitudes regarding filmed episodes of police murder and lesser brutalities have brought about, can be termed progress..
But what about that $6.5 million payment? Where did that money come from? And the $5.9 million awarded to the family of Eric Garner, the New Yorker killed after a tussle over his selling of loose cigarettes? Or the $6.4 million paid to the family of Freddy Gray, the Maryland man who died in the back of a Baltimore paddy wagon? Who pays for all that?
Well, the taxpayers of North Charleston, New York, and Baltimore, that’s who. Presumably including members of the Scott, Garner, and Gray families, who presumably also had long been paying the salaries of North Charleston, New York and Baltimore cops with their tax money.
Meanwhile, cities across America are facing municipal budget armageddons. In just about every election cycle, we get to hear ad nauseam about which mayoral candidate is tougher on crime than the next, and almost always the “tougher” candidate is the one who just happens to pledge the most money to the police, both in terms of salary and their post-retirement pensions. Municipal pensions are a millstone around the neck of every city’s budget, and the major Texas cities are no exception: according to a detailed 2017 Mimi Swartz report in Texas Monthly, the city of Dallas then owed $7.6 billion to retired city employees (including also firefighters and other municipal workers); Houston, $10 billion; Austin, $2.7 billion, and San Antonio $2.3 billion. In each of these cases, the debt load is equal to several times the amount of each city’s total operating expenses.
In short, all of these cities are spending much more money than they have, and if you ever wonder why your property taxes keep going up and up regardless of what the economy is doing, here is a large part of your answer. And in Texas, the ability to pay these liabilities to retired cops and such has always been pegged to the idea that the price of oil would keep rising higher and higher forever, and, well, ello fucking ell to that proposition for now. These cities will cut back on parks, garbage, street repair, every little quality of life measure they can before they go after the pension funds of municipal workers, most of all the cops, whose endorsements carry far too much weight in mayoral elections. I mean, why have we bequeathed any more validity to the political wisdom of Joe Flatfoot than say, your average teacher, bartender, or barber? In the end, they are always just looking out for number one, meaning them, just like any members of any profession do.
But the thing is, when they fuck up, we all pay. And they drag these cases out in the courts forever and ever, racking up legal bills we all also have to pay.
Nah, man, fuck that. When the survivors of and relatives of victims of police brutality are awarded cash settlements in police brutality cases, let’s take that money out of police pension funds rather than having it come from taxpayers as a whole. If the cop loses his / her case, let that cop’s legal bills come out of that fund as well. We don’t need to pay twice or three times for their dereliction of their duties. Once is enough.
We pay them to protect us and serve us, not kill and maim us, and then try to lie about it en masse, all on our dime.
I get it — theirs is a tough and thankless job — but they have to quit acting like they are separate and apart from the people they are sworn to protect. This conspiracy that finds almost all cops pledging to once they get their badges and guns — that they never, ever, ever roll over on another cop — has got to go, and perhaps a financial disincentive to maintaining badged omerta is one way to bring about its end. Hit them where it hurts — their own pockets — and start that shit rolling downhill, from the retired cops to their buddies still on the force. Maybe then they won’t be so quick to engage in guns-drawn no-knock warrants on alleged drug suspects like Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle, the Pecan Park couple gunned down by that team led by bent cop Gerald Goines.
Quoth the Grackle: nevermore.
I am sure there are financial experts out there who will tell the Grackle that this proposal is impossible for some reason or other, but again I say, fuck that — change things until it is possible and make it happen. — Quiscalus Texicanus