I didn't intend to write three columns in a row about police and/or criminals; it just sort of happened. That said, if any of my really diehard fans are looking for a sweet label to affix to this era of my creative output, please know that "The Justice Trilogy" gets my vote.
I'm joking, of course. I don't have diehard fans. I have casual readers, and a lot of them are already in the comments section complaining about me needing to write about something else. I don't care. Crazy police forces are the topic of discussion on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comics Maria Shehata and Griff Pippin. It's also the topic of today's column. Let's get to it!
#5. Puerto Rico
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If there was an award for the most brutal police killing video of all time and I had a vote, mine would go to one that comes courtesy of the Puerto Rican Police Department. I know that, given their American commonwealth status, it's tempting to assume their version of the police would just be us sending in the military to shoot protesters when they start asking for crazy things like independence or rights. But it turns out that they've had their very own police force since shortly after we took over, and they've been awful for a long damn time now. The Department of Justice conducted an investigation that, when released in 2011, described the PRPD as "broken."
Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images
Oh yeah? Then how come they get to escort Miss Ecuador around?
It listed complaints and incidents involving everything from excessive force to failure to investigate domestic violence and sex crimes to discriminatory practices against the island's Dominican population, because of course there has to be a little bit of that involved.
Between 2005 and 2010, more than 1,700 PRPD officers were arrested for various crimes, including murder, assault, and theft. That's nearly three times the number of NYPD officers arrested during that time, which is even crazier when you consider that the NYPD is almost twice the size of the PRPD.
How about that video I mentioned earlier, though? I've gone back and forth about five times while writing this as to whether I even want to embed it here. I figure you'll just go find it on YouTube if I don't, and I certainly don't want you to click away from the article in the name of something as petty as common decency, so here you go:
If you decide to watch, what you'll see is the videotaped killing of a man named Miguel Caceres Cruz. The 43-year-old father of three was helping to direct traffic outside a girl's quinceanera when he exchanged words with a car full of cops that came close to hitting him. The video picks up with the cops in question stepping out of the car to confront Caceres, who ends up backed against a wall on a nearby sidewalk.
This would be a really awkward place to put a joke.
A struggle ensues and, for about 30 seconds, he holds onto the leg of a cop named Javier Pagan Cruz as if his life depends on it. That's because it did. He was most likely trying to keep Pagan from pulling his gun.
Eventually, the gun comes out and a shot is fired. The person working the camera and the other cop on the scene are startled by the sound. Then there are three more shots. Then another. When the camera once again focuses on the scene, Pagan is leaning against a wall, out of breath, as Cacares lays bleeding in the street. At that point, he leans over and fires a final shot into the back of his motionless victim's head ...
No jokes here!
... before stumbling away from the scene.
Naturally, Javier Pagan Cruz was initially cleared of wrongdoing, because that's just how this kind of thing works. After the tape became public, however, he was charged with murder, and eventually sentenced to 109 years in prison.
#4. Chicago, Illinois
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I briefly mentioned it last week, but the Chicago PD isn't on this list because of their well-documented history of police brutality, but for something almost no one knew existed: Homan Square. That's the name of the sketchy "dark site" where people taken into police custody are detained and interrogated for hours on end without ever being officially booked.
At least it doesn't look terrifying.
See, without that official booking, there's no publicly available record of where they are, meaning concerned family or -- even more importantly -- lawyers have no way of locating them. Even a first-year cop show procedural fan knows a person who's taken into custody is supposed to get a phone call and a lawyer if they so desire.
By far the scariest thing about Homan Square is how well they kept it hidden. It was first brought to the public's attention by way of an investigation by The Guardian. Even the guy who founded Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions didn't know about it, and he's in Chicago. If you'd expect anyone to have the scoop, it would be him.
Hey! Have you ever wondered why the Governor of Illinois just up and commuted every death sentence in the state to a life sentence? Most of the credit for that goes to a man named Jon Burge, and he's definitely not a hero for it.
From 1972 to 1991, Burge presided over Chicago's notorious Area 2 precinct, where suspects were routinely abused and tortured into confessing to crimes before family or lawyers even knew where they were.
There's a picture of a cattle prod on his Wikipedia page, if that gives you any idea what he was like.
His actions led to countless false confessions which only happened after suspects were subjected to things like having their pets shot or guns held to their children's heads. Eventually, enough tales of coerced and potentially false confessions poured in that Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on death penalty executions in Illinois.
Is any of that happening at Homan Square? Well yeah, the part where people are detained and interrogated without access to legal counsel certainly happens. As for the torture and abuse, who knows? They don't exactly give public tours of the place. Either way, that Chicago has built an institution around depriving American citizens of their basic rights means that, somewhere, someone thinks Jon Burge might have had the right idea all along.
#3. San Francisco, California
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San Francisco is generally thought of a pretty progressive place, and I suppose it is in a lot of ways. If you think that means they're immune from a plague of racist cops, you definitely put too much faith in the inherent goodness of police. As it turns out, San Francisco's police force is just as chock full o' racists as any other.
That came to light recently, while former Sgt. Ian Furminger was being investigated on federal corruption charges.
This guy is a racist cop? No way.
Among the files relating to that case were transcripts of text messages between as many as 10 different SFPD officers. As you might have guessed by now, they were all racist as shit. Examples? Sure, here's one from Furminger himself:
You know what? I think that should be sufficient. No one casually fires off a "white power" text without having a huge cache of other equally racist texts in their phone.
Interestingly, one of the cops at the center of the controversy is Michael Robinson ...
Is this a TV show yet?
... who, as that Advocate cover implies, is openly gay. Because who said gay and racist have to be mutually exclusive? I guess San Francisco is pretty progressive after all.
Anyway, as a result of the texting controversy, the city has launched an investigation into at least 1,000 cases relating to the officers in question, in an effort to determine if racial bias played a part in any of them.
On the bright side, this controversy goes a long way toward dispelling my long held belief that San Francisco doesn't have police at all.