Here’s a familiar scene of casual violence: A cop shoves a 75 year old man in Buffalo (peacefully protesting), he falls backwards and the cops claim he ‘slipped’. Here’s the video:

It doesn’t look like he ‘slipped’ to me. Here’s a quote from the article:

On Friday, John T. Evans, the president of the Buffalo police union, said all 57 officers on the Emergency Response Team, a special squad formed to respond to riots, had resigned from the team in support of the suspended officers, according to The Buffalo News. The officers remain employed by the department.

“These officers were simply following orders from Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia to clear the square,” Mr. Evans told The News. “It doesn’t specify clear the square of men, 50 and under or 15 to 40. They were simply doing their job. I don’t know how much contact was made. He did slip, in my estimation. He fell backwards.”

Now, it isn’t just the expectation on the part of the officers involved that their word would be taken as gospel here that irks me (cops depend on that, especially the douchebags)…it’s the ‘I was just following orders’ defense that I’d thought had been debunked in the late 1940’s in a city called Nuremberg. Not to mention Evans’ continued insistence that Mr. Gugino ‘slipped’. If it weren’t for the video, Mr. Gugino would have been charged with something or other, and the cops would have passed off any complaint as ‘sour grapes’ or attempting to leverage the incident as a defense against whatever charge police brought against him, or some other story that blames the victim. Just like any other bully (or pack of bullies) does. It’s the victim’s fault.

The ’57 officers on the Emergency Response Team, a special squad formed to respond to riots’ who ‘had resigned from the team in support of the suspended officers’ should be unemployed. They obviously don’t get it.

Here’s a clue guys; Nobody told that officer to knock an old man flat on his ass. “Clear the square” doesn’t mean “Run roughshod all over the protesters” (who were peaceful). The kind of casual violence on display in the video happens in Canada all the time too, as do the casual lies to cover it up, and the deep seated attitude that it’s perfectly acceptable and ‘part of the job’. Arrest his ass, sure, (just like you did the guy walking behind Mr Gugino) but there was no reason to knock him flat on it. Police are supposed to keep the peace, and no violence was necessary to accomplish that in this case. None.

All 57 of those cops should be out of a job. They’ve all displayed the exact attitude that leads to a douchebag cop casually kneeling on some guy’s throat, with his hand in his pocket, for nearly nine minutes. Derek Chauvin really didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. George Floyd died as a result, and like the Buffalo police the Minneapolis police tried to cover it up and/or blame the victim (recall that first autopsy?). Mr. Gugino survived the casual violence committed against him by that officer.

Luck of the draw, I guess.

As an added kick in the head to Mr. Gugino (figuratively speaking, at least this time), the two officers who were involved in the incident weren’t charged or disciplined until the video became public. On Saturday, June 6, the two officers involved, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, were charged with second degree assault. When those two officers appeared in court and entered their not guilty plea, there was applause by their fellow officers as they left the court. Apparently, this was a show of support for the two officers. Earlier, the Daily Mail article states “Members of the crowd were seen deliberately blocking members of the media who had gathered at the scene” and there are photographs of it happening.

And, not to be outdone in the ongoing public display of douchebaggery in Buffalo, the President weighed in on Twitter;

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump · 10hBuffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?

Update: June 9, 2020 – Mayor Brown was misquoted; he was referring to someone else when he spoke the words quoted in the Daily Mail article, not Mr Gugino. My apologies to Mayor Brown. However, the president has weighed in on Twitter on the matter, and the public display of douchebaggery has gone far above a Mayor’s pay grade, so the same arguments apply. It has also highlighted the role police unions play in the dysfunctional sh*&show going on south of the border. I’ll expand on that later. This is going to be one of those posts that I update a lot. The situation is a bit fluid.)

Trump’s words might carry more weight if it weren’t for the fact that the only violence visible in the multiple videos of the incident was committed by police. But Trump apparently knows that blaming the victim is an effective strategy. Everybody ‘knows’ that bad things never happen to good people, so if Gugino was a “provocateur” why, then he must have had it coming. Good law abiding citizens don’t try to ‘work up the crowd’ or refuse to leave when asked by police (even if you do have the right to peacefully protest). Trump seems to be saying ‘Gugino was a shady character, he had it coming.’

{Tuesday June 9, 2020 – Heh. To update this paragraph, all I had to do was search and replace “Mayor Brown” with “Trump” and change “agitator” to “provocateur”. It still makes perfect sense 🙂 Same argument, same douchebaggery, just at a much higher level of “leadership”. The quotes are necessary around that word when discussing President Trump.}

{Update: July 28, 2020 – Attorney General Barr was testifying to the House of Representatives today. His testimony made it clear that he considers no instance of disobedience to law enforcement’s orders under any circumstances to be “peaceful”, and therefore force is justified in response, at least in the context of police dealing with the protesters. Holy sh%t. The top law enforcement official in the “shining city on the hill” is defending the general kind of douchebaggery on display here. I’m not sure what to make of that, but I’m happy to keep the borders to the south closed for awhile and not only because there’s an outbreak of Covid-19. Almost everywhere in the continental USA. They’re due to hit 150,000 dead any hour now.}

I have no idea what Mr Gugino was protesting (racism? police brutality?) or if he was protesting (rather than showing solidarity or sympathy towards the families of those killed by police), or what he was saying to the crowd. And it doesn’t matter. Mr Gugino was exercising his right to peacefully assemble (which Americans have) and was not engaged in or inciting violence when he was injured by police, hence violence against Mr Gugino was not justified. Period. It doesn’t matter if Mr Gugino is a saint or a devil. Apparently it does to the Mayor. And, if it doesn’t matter to the Mayor, it does to President Trump.

Full Disclosure: I was acquainted with at least a dozen Buffalo cops (for professional reasons) between 1996 and 2006. For the most part, they’re racist pricks and bullies. I can think of only one exception offhand. I tend to believe claims of misconduct by that particular police organization.

I likely would not have updated this post, it I hadn’t witnessed the same attitude on display by a Hamilton Police Services officer about an hour after I’d read the Daily Mail article linked above and a few other media reports of events connected to the protests.

I was dressed like a taxpayer on a hot summer weekend, clean shaven, collared shirt with company logo, baseball cap with same logo, dress shorts and leather sandals. As I waited at the bus stop, some guy (I’ll call him Brian) asked me for a cigarette. Usually I don’t give any out (if you do, there’ll be five more guys there in the next ten minutes all asking for a smoke) but for Brian I made an exception. He had an obviously split lip, dried blood on his shirt (about as much as you’d expect from a bloody nose, and hours old at least) and some dried blood on his face. He’d had a few, but wasn’t falling down drunk. He saw me looking at the blood on his shirt and said “I’ve had a tough night. A smoke would help.”, so I gave him one. As I did, I asked him if he was okay, he replied that he was, and just wanted to go home and “finish sleeping it off”. A minute later, a police officer came walking up, so I fished my camera out of my pocket and turned it on.

2020-06-06

There are a few things about this video that I’d like to point out.

  1. Blurring Brian’s face in the video disguises a lot of his unease at dealing with police. Some of that still shows in his body language. I’ve removed conversation that contained personal information about Brian, and irrelevant conversation from the recording.
  2. I have no objection or criticism of the way first officer conducted himself (other than being a bit too insistent that Brian identify himself. Brian hadn’t wanted to, but the first officer pushed a bit and Brian gave up a name and address. Brian claimed not to have identification on his person, and the first officer didn’t push it further. I’m just libertarian enough to be a bit annoyed by police pushing a citizen to identify himself when they have no right to do so. At that point, Brian had stated that he had fallen, that he was capable of getting home on his own, and that he had no complaint to make to police. It was clear from Brian’s body language that he was uncomfortable. That should have ended the conversation, in my opinion. Even if Brian did have some blood on his shirt, he was lucid, not intoxicated (just tipsy) and clearly expressed his desire to be left alone.)
  3. Both officers were aware of my camera. The first noticed it as he walked past me (I was holding it at my side, in my right hand and later clipped it to my belt). The second noticed it as soon as he arrived. Hamilton Police are (as a rule) very much aware of cameras, at least ones displayed openly. Many of them have a strong aversion to cameras.
  4. The second officer arrived and almost immediately began putting on gloves, which made Brian more nervous. When a police officer gloves up in front of you, chances are you’re about to be touched by that police officer. There was no reason for it and he started before he had any information from the first officer. The first officer hadn’t put on gloves. I have no idea if the second officer was aware of the effect of his actions (I suspect he was), but Brian was clearly intimidated. I’ll say this much for the second officer, however. He did not rest his hand(s) on his weapon(s), which is a habit many HPS officers have (and I wish they would lose).
  5. The second officer asked Brian the same questions as the first. As he did so, he was well within the 2m distance mandated by the social distancing bylaw (which, as far as I know, was (and is) still in effect). That made Brian even more nervous.
  6. The second officer’s attempt to ‘establish rapport’ (or whatever he was doing) by “fist-pumping” Brian fell rather flat. I suspect the second officer’s look at me as he said “You don’t wanna fist pump a cop?” was seeking support. He didn’t get it. I explain why a bit later (see Chapter 9 for a few of the details). (And this blog might easily lead the reader to believe that I’m anti-cop. I’m not. I’m anti-douchebag-cop, which is another way of saying “I don’t like bullies. Especially uniformed ones.” There are a lot of them on the HPS payroll. Not a majority; but too many. And there have been enough incidents of bullying, unprofessional, uncaring douchebag behavior by Hamilton cops in my lifetime (that I have personally witnessed, let alone what I’ve read about in the media) that by this point in my life I regard anyone wearing that cap badge as untrustworthy until proven otherwise. This is a police organization noticeably more f&*ed up than the NRPS, where the cops shoot each other. I’ve had enough experience with both (including Parker himself, a world class prick; under the circumstances I don’t blame  Donovan all that much for shooting him, especially if the two were acquainted) that I can say that with some confidence. I had that conclusion confirmed in June 2019, shortly after witnessing a clash between Pride demonstrators and some neo-nazi assholes and religious zealots in Gage Park. I’d planned on including the details of that fiasco in a future post.)
  7. The thing that highlights one of the root causes of the problem with police in today’s society comes next. When I responded to the officer “Not many people do, these days Constable”, he responds “Nah. Not the five percent we deal with” as he points to Brian. That’s the same attitude displayed by bullies in general: unspoken was ‘Anybody who doesn’t show immediate support and deference to us/me must be a bad guy.’ Isolate the victim, dehumanize and discredit them, and nobody will complain, or listen to their complaints, when you mistreat them. The cop didn’t like my answer, and his body language became defensive. He also responds to my comment that it’s “more than five percent, I watch TV” by saying “Video? I don’t believe that shit on video”. After watching report after report of police violence against peaceful demonstrators (and some instances where violence was justified, but not to the extent it was used) and after doing the best I can to place the videos in context, it’s pretty clear that there’s a problem, and that it isn’t just the criminals objecting to police behavior.
  8. As he gets in the vehicle to leave, the second officer tells me “Don’t believe everything you read in the news.It’s not all true.” I know that already, which is why I use multiple sources and try to filter out opinions. Brian’s reaction to the second officer’s comment is interesting; he throws back his head and laughs outright. When the officer turns his head towards us, Brian turns his back to him, hiding the ear-to-ear grin the officer’s comments inspired. Brian believes what he sees in the news. To put it in terms that a downtown Hamilton cop would understand: “Even the downtown drunks know better than that, dude. Who you shittin’?”
  9. <rant>I don’t mean the term “downtown drunks” in any derogatory sense. It’s meant to describe that ever-present (and ever-persecuted) downtown subculture that hangs on doggedly in this city through good economic times and bad. They’re the ones who somehow get 20 or 30 tickets every year (which go unpaid, because they just don’t have the money), for this and that, and routinely hassled about anything by police and/or bylaw officers. I have a few friends among that subculture; they’re a gold mine of intelligence on the seedy underside of this city, neighborhood goings on, and other matters that I would have thought concern HPS. (Their ability to accurately report events seems to exceed that of the average HPS officer. What they tell me checks out. Wish I could say the same for the police). Instead, HPS does everything in their power to alienate and antagonize that particular subculture (even more than they used to go after the LBGTQ. That got politically unacceptable, but cleaning out “those homeless bums” is always fine with the taxpayers, it seems. </rant>

Sooner or later (and sooner, by the looks of things) it will become very difficult to “keep the peace” in a population that fears its own police. It’s happening in Canada too. What’s most disturbing about the short conversation I had with that officer was his apparent belief that anyone protesting police misbehavior was “one of the five percent we deal with”, meaning ‘the criminals’. The “us versus them” mentality is on full display here. In some places, it looks more like the cops are rioting at a peaceful protest (which brings to mind some unpleasant analogies to the G-20 protests a few years ago when Toronto police were more or less openly inciting violence as justification for a response. And then couldn’t identify one of their own featured in a video that called for explanation, and criminal charges. It doesn’t just happen south of the border. Thanks to the efforts of a Toronto Star reporter, it ended the way it should.)

It doesn’t look that way to me. The police who deny there is a problem are part of the problem. So are the ones who divide the population into “five percenters” and “taxpayers” (often on the most superficial basis) and treat those groups differently. Maybe they ought to take a hint from Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin. He gets it, or at least part of it.

For myself, I’m just plain tired of dealing with uniformed bullies in general, and ones wearing that cap badge in particular. I guess that makes me one of the “five percent”.

Update – June 17, 2020

There have been two more incidents that, to me, highlight the problems with policing in North America in general.

The first happened on June 3, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It seems that a relatively peaceful (but noisy) protest had taken place and then ended about an hour before the incident.

From the CNN article:

Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Rick Maglione said the incident occurred about an hour after the main protest ended, when one officer told her colleagues she was surrounded and felt threatened, and another officer who was in her vehicle said she came under attack. Police are still piecing together a timeline, he said, but they believe the officer was filmed pushing the protester sometime during that police response.

The video posted on CNN was (according to Chief Maglione) recorded during the police response. It shows Officer Steven Pohorence somewhat aggressively telling protesters to back off. Poherence turns away from one protester and begins walking away. It’s quite clear from his body language that he is angry. Another protester (a young woman) is on her knees with her hands in the air in his path. He angrily shoves her to the ground. The young woman was no threat, and her posture was about as non-threatening as possible.

Casual violence, just because Poherence knew he could. Why not take out your anger on the “five percenters”? Cops (the ones who are bullies) have been doing that for a long time with relative impunity. This time, the protester didn’t end up with a fractured skull. Another officer, Krystal Smith, intervened and clearly ripped Poherence a new one, even though you can’t hear her words (her body language makes it quite clear, as well as Poherence’s reaction). The still below says it all:

That still also highlights that here was no danger to any officer during the interaction; there were at least two heavily armed cops within 15 m of the interaction between Poherence and the protester, and the only weapons in the crowd were in police hands.

There was no reason for this at all. Poherence shouldn’t be a cop. He’s a bully. His casual violence against the protester, combined with his surprise and disdain for Smith intervening (also evident in his expression and body language) lead me to that conclusion. I wonder how many complaints he’s had in his career?

Police are supposed to keep the peace, and no violence was necessary to accomplish that in this case. None. If Poherence is capable of casual violence against a citizen who had done nothing wrong, he shouldn’t be given a firearm and let loose in the streets.

Poherence has been suspended.

The other incident took place a few days ago, in Atlanta. This one is a lot more complicated and highlights the other mentality that pervades modern policing; the militarization of police.

By militarization, I don’t just mean the hardware. It’s the attitudes and culture of the police. Rayshard Brooks died because Atlanta uses soldiers as police (so do a lot of other places, including Hamilton).

In 1984, I was a reservist (artillery), about to attend Brock University in St Catharines. I attended a seven day training course at CFB Borden called pre-RESO which putatively prepared us for officer training through the RESO programme (which was twelve months of intensive training over four years, timed to coincide with summer breaks for university students). There was a two day break after the course, after which we all were shipped to CFB Gagetown for the summer.

One of the other reservists was a Hamilton cop, who I’ll call Don. We got along on the course; Don was helpful, a team player and had just enough snark in his humour to appreciate my jokes. So I ended up at his house (in east Hamilton) for a night, while we emptied a case of beer. After the third or fourth, I disposed of the caps in the garbage. When I lifted the lid of the garbage can, I noticed a Browning 9mm pistol attached to the underside of the lid (it was hard to miss). When brought it to Don’s attention, he laughed and took me on a tour of the house. There were firearms hidden everywhere in that place, all loaded with a round in the chamber. Don’s wife was a cop too, with no kids in the house.

Don told me most of the weapons were “throwaways” that he’d picked up “here and there”. That led to a conversation about what was wrong with Hamilton. Don’s opinion was that the “niggers and scumbags” had taken over the city. As he drank, his conversation became more racist, homophobic and misogynistic. At some point he asked me why I wanted to be a soldier. That led to a conversation about why he wanted to be a cop.

Quite simply, Don became a cop because he wanted to know what it felt like to take a human life. He wanted to do it legally, without consequences. Period. That was his sole reason for becoming a cop. I thought he was putting me on at first; when it became apparent that he was serious, I offered to go on a smoke run. He was low too, so he agreed (he was one of the very few smokers on course, another bond we’d shared). I left and didn’t go back. He was an infantry officer; I knew I wouldn’t have much to do with him going forward, and at that point I didn’t want to know him.

Don is now the deputy chief of another police force here in Ontario.

Officer Garrett Rolfe acted like police right up until Brooks ran (as he was being handcuffed). It surprised me that the two cops were not able to control Mr Brooks during the struggle on the ground. Brooks was tipsy (Blood alcohol was 1.0) and displayed no ability or training in close combat during the struggle. But neither did the cops. Neither of them knows how to fight hand to hand. Surprisingly, Brooks not only managed to land a punch on Brosnan (the other cop), he also took Brosnan’s taser and broke free.

A taser isn’t much use for running combat. If your target is moving, a taser is pretty much useless. You have to hit the target with both probes, and it’s hard enough to hit the side of a barn with one of those things under ideal conditions. And, once the probes are deployed, you have to stop running. If you miss, which was very likely under the circumstances, the weapon is useless. Both cops knew Brooks was unarmed except for the taser; he’d been searched previously.

As Rolfe chased Brooks, he drew his sidearm and holstered the taser he was holding. Brooks turned and fired Brosnan’s taser in Rolfe’s direction. Rolfe reacted to the noise of the CO2 cartridge in the taser like a soldier. I very much doubt Rolfe was thinking “That’s just a taser, no big deal”. I doubt he thought much at all (there wasn’t time). He reacted to a weapon being discharged at him at close range, and he reacted like a soldier, with immediate and overwhelming deadly force. Rolfe fired three rounds, hitting Brooks with all three (and that was a truly impressive display of markmanship under the circumstances. It’s a shame Rolfe and/or Brosnan did not have the same level of skill at hand to hand. Brooks would be alive if either could fight as well as Rolfe could shoot).

Whether or not race was a factor in the events that led up to Brooks being handcuffed is open to debate. I don’t think it was a factor in the shooting itself; once the chase started I think Rolfe would have reacted the same way if Brooks were white.

It seems that Rolfe had been involved in a previous shooting which somehow was never reported. <sar>What a shocking revelation. </sar>. Some other complaints were whitewashed. Apparently, the city of Atlanta felt that Rolfe was just ‘doin’ what he hadda do’ to ‘keep us safe’. All police organizations (with a few notable exceptions) worldwide seem to have this feature. Nobody polices the police effectively. It’s expected that police will respond with deadly force, and that response is considered justified until proven otherwise. The standard of proof is both unreasonably high and different from the standard of proof applied to anyone else. Cops can lie with impunity in such situations, with no consequences.

The usual police response to questionable behavior by police is to pile on charges against the victim, or discredit them in other ways. It appears that custom is being applied in reverse; both Rolfe and Brosnan have been charged with criminal offences, eleven charges for Rolfe (including a felony murder charge) and three against Brosnan (who is now a “co-operating witness” against Rolfe. One cop testifying about another’s misconduct is rare, anywhere. A cop (or a soldier) labelled as a “rat” is in for a very hard time. I suspect Brosnan knows he will never work as a cop again; he has nothing to lose).

Brooks died because Rolfe was a warrior, not a guardian.

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