State-Inflicted Gang Violence Is “Helpful,” Not “Hurtful”

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In May 2008, three innocent Philadelphia men were surrounded by armed strangers, dragged out of an automobile, and severely beaten. Each of them was surrounded by a scrum of at least four assailants and repeatedly beaten, kicked, and struck with clubs. One of the victims had his head slammed against the asphalt.

This attack was recorded on video and broadcast to the world via television and the internet, resulting in widespread outrage.

One would think those responsible for this potentially fatal attack would face criminal charges. One would be wrong: A grand jury empaneled by Pennsylvania’s First Judicial District Court of Common Pleas ruled that the assailants had a “right” to beat the victims, and that “the kicks and blows” were “helpful rather than hurtful.

This is because the twenty “men” who conducted this assault were wearing state-issued costumes identifying them as “police officers.”

After a year of being immersed in the culture of state-authorized violence that defines contemporary law enforcement, the grand jury ruled that “the police on the scene used only the amount of force — and no more than that amount — that they reasonably believed was necessary to bring under control and into custody three suspects in a shooting who had tried to elude capture, who were resisting arrest and who were creating a potentially significant danger to police.”

Section VI of the grand jury report deals with “What We Did Not Consider” in reaching that conclusion. Among the factors not deemed relevant by the grand jury was the fact that four of the officers were fired, eight others were disciplined, and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, a 40-year veteran, described the beating as “not justified.”

More importantly, the grand jury ignored the verdict in the trial of the three victims (referred to as “suspects” throughout the report), in which all three were acquitted of all criminal charges arising from the shooting incident.

This is because the only aspect of the incident the grand jury was instructed to examine was what the police officers “knew or reasonably believed” — and only the perspective of the police officers on this use of brutal force was to be considered relevant.

Despite the fact that the victims were not “combative,” as the report acknowledges, the beating was supposedly justified because of “the officers’ assessment of the hazards they confronted”; the perspective of the victims regarding the hazards they confronted simply wasn’t relevant here, since the single most important consideration is always “officer safety.”

Needless to say, the local police union is now agitating for the officers who were fired or punished through demotion to be restored to their previous positions — with back pay.

(Thanks to David Kramer for bringing the grand jury report to my attention.)

8:46 am on October 15, 2009