Luther Ricks Sr., age 63, was attacked in his home: his son stabbed, his family threatened with death. Mr. Ricks managed to break free, grab a gun, and save his son by shooting one of the burglars who had invaded his life and attacked his family.
Unfortunately, then the police got involved.
While they cleared him in the shooting, they found a small amount of marijuana in his home, which Ricks claimed he used for treating his ailments. Based on this, and with no further charges filed, let alone any case proven in a court of law, the police department treated itself to more than 400,000 dollars that Ricks had kept in his home safe (Ricks and his wife had never opened a bank account, worked at a steel foundry for 30 years, and lived modestly).
The pretext here were the shameful drug forfeiture laws, by which police need only lazily suggest that any significant quantity of money they find was at least partially related to drug trade in order to seize it all. Once taken, there’s no chance at all of them ever giving any of it back voluntarily.
Mr. Ricks is in every sense of the term being treated as guilty until proven innocent here. It’s his burden to produce pay stubs dating back 30 years showing that every cent was earned legally (a sort of financial “one drop” rule). It’s his responsibility to hire a lawyer to lobby his case in court: though with his life savings stolen, this is perversely impossible. And even if he did all this and won, the government does not have to pay him back any of his legal fees (which in cases like this could run up to a significant percentage of his lost money, presuming he ever gets any of it back).
So you’ve just stolen 400,000 from an old man and his wife after their son was stabbed. What next?
Why, you go and execute a mother of six, of course! I’m speaking here of this same police department’s entry in the seemingly endless number of botched SWAT raids, in which the police are shocked, shocked to find that rushing into a house (often the wrong house) screaming and attacking sleeping people could lead to chaos, confusion, and death. I mean, that almost never happens… well, except in the hundreds and hundreds of documented cases in which it does… that we know about.
As often happens, the police are refusing to release details about their own conduct, brushing off questions with references to an investigation that will (oh surely!) reveal the truth of how it was totally sensible and justified after all to knowingly burst unannounced into a house full of children in the middle of the night with riot gear and fingers jiggling on the triggers of machine guns. And if anything went wrong, it was the fault of the people inside for not responding exactly correctly in the split seconds between waking up and realizing what was happening. Or maybe all the fault of the suspect they were after, since he somehow forced the police to shoot a baby (as they also did, whether before or after gunning down its unarmed mother we don’t know).
Why is it like this? Why are police departments in the position of taking money without due process in the first place? Why are they ramping up no-knock SWAT raids for seemingly every minor warrant when these tactics seem to harm public safety and even the safety of officers themselves? Why are they acting like they serve the interests of a professional clique instead of serving the public? Why, when one of their own testifies to the truth instead of lying to help fellow officers, is he slandered, attacked, and penalized (note the absolutely incredible regulation mentioned in this story too: officers can only wear their uniforms when testifying for the prosecution, despite the fact that they are supposed to be public servants interested in justice and facts, not on anyone’s “team”)?
The Lima police department should be ashamed of itself and searching for ways to change, not scrambling to find ways to ride out the Public Relations storm until people just forget, and things can go back to business as usual. But it’s not even clear that anyone at the department acknowledges that there is a problem.
This is not the relationship that the police should have with the public they serve. And conforming to this warped status quo is not something that most honest officers should be faced with. It would be easy to blame the drug war, and that’s part of it. But the institutional and legal corruption aren’t going to be solved even by abolition: they have their own momentum at this point.
It seems like we as a society really need to figure out just what the role of law enforcement in our society is: what it should be accomplishing, how it should see itself, who its responsible to. What we have now increasingly is not working: its turning the police into a tribe of its own rather than an extension of the public will.
Update: The SWAT department has still refused to release any real details of the case (the seemingly S.O.P. here is to stall like this under the media coverage goes away, and then quietly drop the issue) but they have seen fit to remove the animated graphic of an officer shooting visitors to their website that I included above. Classy move guys!