Monday, September 14, 2009

You were thinking maybe they'd admit fault?

And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.
Joshua 6:5.

You'll recall Jericho, Arkansas. That's the place where the fire chief got steamed at getting his second ticket of the day and went to court to complain. In court were 7 Jericho police officers (Jericho's only 7 police officers or, to put it another way, the entire police force, and why the hell does Jericho need 7 officers anyway, a subject we'll return to shortly).

Chief Payne told, or started to tell, the judge what he thought of the local constabulary and their approach to traffic tickets. So they shot him. In the back. I wrote about it here.

One of the things we've learned over the years is that when police wrongly abuse people, they promptly charge their victims with an offense: resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, something.

And so it is (with thanks to Turley for the update). The West Memphis City Prosecutor (Lindsey Fairley, J.D. University of Arkansas 1963) has announced that Chief Payne will be charged with assault. (Attacking the bullet, perhaps?) None of the officers will be charged. As Lacey Crisp of Eyewitness News reports,
Fairley says Payne went after officers, and the officers had every right to detain Payne.
Maybe they did. But detaining and shooting are two separate things. Shooting people is the use of deadly force. It's a last solution, not a first one, and the Constitution mandates that it not be used against unarmed felons trying to escape. That's been settled law at least since Tennessee v. Garner (1985). As Justice White said in that case,
It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape.
Gee, ya think?

Of course, Payne wasn't trying to escape from a felony. He was trying to get out of a traffic ticket. Surrounded by cops. Seven of them.

Which raises the question of just why Jericho, population 174, needs 7 police officers. I suppose one answer is that even with 7 they can't contain an unarmed man without shooting him. But that's probably not fair. How dangerous is Jericho? At a guess, unless you're talking about the risk of being shot by one of the 7, probably not very.

So let's do the math. 7 cops. 174 residents. That's one cop for every 24.8 something residents (including the cops, but nobody seems to be policing them). Let's call it 1 for 25. Not a bad ratio for a classroom, but for a police force? Not even, I think, in a police state - which, come to think of it, may be a pretty good description of Jericho.

I don't have much of a moral here, just a bit of cynic's philosophy that routinely gets confirmed as true:
It's always as bad as you think it will be. Except sometimes it's worse.

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