Christine M. Flowers: Vigilante justice
POLICE Commissioner Ramsey must be feeling a little like Barack Obama after Hamas endorsed him for president. Rev. Al Sharpton, the carpetbagger from New York who specializes in race-baiting, slander and farcical presidential campaigns, made this public overture to our top cop:
POLICE Commissioner Ramsey must be feeling a little like Barack Obama after Hamas endorsed him for president.
Rev. Al Sharpton, the carpetbagger from New York who specializes in race-baiting, slander and farcical presidential campaigns, made this public overture to our top cop:
"For you to take this action now shows some real muscle and seriousness about addressing police brutality. For you to step up like this, the police union is not going to be happy. This is a new era in accountability."
He was, of course, talking about Ramsey's decision to summarily fire four police officers in the wake of allegations that they'd brutalized "defenseless" suspects earlier this month.
Without a hearing.
Two weeks to the day.
Frontier justice in the big city.
But, hey - at least he has the Rev. Al, defender of Tawana Brawley, poster child of false rape claims, in his corner.
Someone, hand me a bucket.
This whole affair is sickening, from the way the media have portrayed the police as a marauding band of savages, to the sympathy shown the shooting suspects and their publicity-savvy relatives, to the clucking of clueless defense attorneys turning the phrase "zealous representation" on its head.
To the praise rained down on the heads of Ramsey, Mayor Nutter and other top brass.
Even more upsetting than the Rev. Al's infecting our town with his noxious presence is the fact that four police officers have been denied their right to due process. And almost no one except the FOP seems to care.
Perhaps if the officers were named Mumia or Abu or Jamal and had amassed a coterie of Hollywood hypocrites in their defense, they'd still be on the force.
Perhaps if Alan Dershowitz or some other constitutional bright light had gotten involved, they could rail against the system for violating their right to due process.
Perhaps if they'd actually killed someone, the American Bar Association would empanel a commission to determine whether the punishment was unjust, as it did with the death penalty a few months ago.
Let's be clear: No one defends police brutality. The days when stick-wielding predators could march into a neighborhood and bash heads with impunity are, if they ever truly existed, over.
The police aren't always right, and there are inevitably a few bad apples in every occupation (including journalism), plus a few more who help cover up their colleague's misdeeds.
We've all seen "Serpico," right?
But despite the minority who make a mockery of the uniform, police are almost always the good guys, from the moment they walk out their front doors without knowing if they'll come back until the moment they hang up their hats. This gives them the right to at least as much legal consideration as the criminals who troll the city streets.
That's why it's offensive and abhorrent to me, as it should be to ever fair-minded Philadelphian, that Commissioner Ramsey and Mayor Nutter have decided to circumvent the process and deprive four men of their livelihoods.
They've also demoted a 15-year veteran, and disciplined three others without giving them the benefit of a hearing.
Of course they'll say that arbitration will go ahead and that the men will have their day in court. They'll also have the right to defend themselves against charges that may be brought by any future grand jury.
But it does seem as if the city, under this new and progressive regime, has decided that public relations is more important than due process. That it's better to appease the salivating crowds than to do the right and compassionate thing: allow the police to be proven wrong according to our system of laws instead of letting the camera take a shortcut for us.
I don't care how high-def the tape was that captured the encounter. Or how talented the technicians were who analyzed the tape. Who cares if the acts of the officers could be freeze-framed and diced and sliced into tidy little accusations?
None of this is a substitute for allowing the process to follow its natural course, with all of the protections that the Constitution provides for the accused. The truth is, investigations like this are messy and complicated, and what seems apparent at first doesn't always stand up to real scrutiny.
Are we now to accept that the protections are provided only to the ones who prey on innocent citizens, who make the neighborhoods uninhabitable, who put children in their graves?
Or can we save a bit of that compassion and legal protection for the men and women who represent the thin blue line between civilization and chaos?
And, yes, sometimes step over the line? If wrong, they should pay. But 14 days between crime and punishment? No hearing, no process and a public flogging?
No wonder Rev. Al is smiling. Philly is his kind of town. *
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.