In what is possibly the most counter-productive proposal under a head-shaking euphemism of police “reform”, a county Sherriff is urging lawmakers to double down on the very things people are trying to fix. Instead of listening to the community to understand why law enforcement is under scrutiny, he decides it’s time to carry a bigger stick against anyone doing the scrutinizing.
Let’s scrutinize his proposal, shall we? Here are points from interim acting Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti’s press conference earlier this week.
Resisting Arrest — Class E felony
“Resisting arrest” is the “go-to” of charges when police want to detain or bring in someone, even if there is NO OTHER CHARGE. Confused at the logic? We would be, too, except some of us have seen the game board. It has been common for officers to “rough up” people they deem “uncooperative” and use this charge as a bargaining chip to not get sued. That’s right — if you agree not to sue for false arrest on whatever they cannot prove they had just cause to charge you with, they will let the charges of resisting arrest go.
The result: Apart from using the accusation of resistance to explain injuries, increasing this charge gives more leverage in nullifying complaints against unlawful arrests, and further threatens a citizen’s right to resist being detained without a lawful arrest. And for those not in their cozy privileged bubbles, this happens every day across America, just because it can.
Failure to Retreat — Class D felony
The proposed rule is that people must stay at 25 feet or more from officers whenever they ask. Why so far away, you may ask? Law enforcement agencies in America already lost the battle in court to prevent people from photographing or video capturing their actions, though on the streets, they continue to arrest people uninvolved in incidents (on vague charges), and unlawfully confiscate and destroy evidence. A simple Google search will suffice if you don’t already know people personally who have been at least confronted and threatened with such bogus arrests.
Video footage by citizens and press has been the bain of policing in the eyes of both bad cops and those who think they can do no wrong. This makes officers accountable and answerable to the public in a way they never have been before, to a standard we want to believe they meet and so many people cannot get themselves to question. Think about this — people are saying effective law enforcement is somehow being stifled by scrutiny we would demand of teachers and other professions. We argue they are afraid to do their job because they would get in trouble if people could clearly see them doing it.
The result: Fewer incidents of police brutality will be brought to light and there would be less useful evidence if it does get investigated or litigated.
Increase each Assault on a Police Officer crime by one degree; Aggravated Harassment of a Police or Peace Officer a Class D felony
This sounds like being tough on crime, but includes any “attempt to strike any police or peace officer … with a substance or object [that includes] bottles, rocks and bodily fluids.” Sound familiar? He is clearly referring to protests, so many of which were peaceful UNTIL the tear gas and rubber bullets flew. Police already bear military-grade Golaith capabilities on otherwise unarmed citizens, but they have to make an example of every David with a pea shooter.
These actions are already illegal, but getting hit with a water bottle — in the same “heat of the moment” police literally excuse the indiscriminate injury of people in a crowd — is a false equivocation you expect from totalitarian regimes, not the Land of the Free. In other words, the sheriff is trying to send a message, and that message is their might will make it right.
The result: The rights of assembly and speech will be further conflated into a criminal act by the less aware public, and crowd control measures will be even more uncontested, and asymmetric violence further justified.
Institute Hate Crime Status for Crimes Against a Police Officer
Giving something already illegal a special designation or additional charge as a hate crime is something we may not all agree with. But this is head-twistingly ironic, even if you don’t believe police regularly commit or downplay hate crimes. Between qualified immunity, unions, and a “blue wall” that indiscriminately protects good and bad actors alike, law enforcement is arguably already the most protected class of people in the country.
The sheriff is again making a statement. It’s politics. And it reinforces the already heavy fawning public’s notion police are being unfairly persecuted. Maybe they are to some extent, but focusing on themselves as victims is the ultimate effort to shift the conversation from the elephant in the room that brought us to this point — and away from their responsibility.
The result: For the first time in America, people in authority will be openly given special status. At worst it will solidify the notion in many people’s minds that “there’s nothing to see here, move along…”
Aggravated Offering a False Accusation Against a Police Officer — Class D felony
One more idea might sound reasonable on the surface, it’s yet another elevation of the double standard. It will be against the law to “falsely accuse a police officer or peace officer of wrongdoing in the performance of their duties” while there is almost never consequence for them to falsely accuse you all day long.
Here’s the problem. This places a huge burden on YOU rather than a court to decide with certainty your rights were violated or not. if you’re not a lawyer, you may not know of the countless laws that make otherwise illegal actions legal because they are wearing a badge. On the other hand, it’s no secret that police officers in general don’t know the law very well. (Admittedly, there’s no way anyone could given its volume and complexities, but that’s another issue our society refuses to solve.) I personally know first and second-hand so many times laws and bizarre interpretations of laws were made up on the spot, or they refused to name the law they were supposedly enforcing altogether (especially if they are being filmed). Even having a copy of the law on you isn’t enough because their “discretion” trumps all reality, and they can figure out their narrative AFTER they arrest you for nothing in particular. And if you’re wondering, not having seen it yourself, this isn’t a fantasy but a day in the life.
And this is really rich — the sheriff also calls for civil action for the officer against the accuser. Imagine how we could have solved so many abuses by law enforcement if people could sue an officer personally for their actions, unshielded by spurious laws and unions?
The result: This will put a chilling effect on all complaints against police, legitimate or not, especially with law heavily in their favor before the start.
Criminal Doxing of a Police Officer or Peace Officer — Class D felony; Stalking a Police or Peace Officer — Class E felony
This means you can’t make public information about an individual police officer, i.e. where they live, etc.. And it makes it illegal to “follow or survey a police or peace officer with no legitimate purpose, or get within 100 yards of an officer’s residence or place of lodging without the officer’s consent”. The “intent of intimidation” is included in this manifesto, but basically “no legitimate purpose” can be construed to there not being one unless they say there is.
Stepping back though, let’s agree “doxing” is not cool and can result in real-world harm. It’s an invasion of privacy. But let’s also consider why someone would do that other than be an Internet troll. There have been so many law enforcement officers that have not even been openly investigated or brought to justice for gross violations of civil liberties, even with notorious repeat offenders and some involving deaths. If the police department won’t do anything, and the justice department won’t even subject them to the due process the rest of us are entitled to, public shaming to the point of questionable moral judgment is all that is left short of vigilante violence. People who forget they must share a world with the people they serve outside of their on-the-clock duties are far more dangerous than people picketing their lawn. We can say it’s wrong. We can say someone in law enforcement should have their personal life protected from their professional foes, i.e. real criminals. But this isn’t about criminals anymore. It’s about people organized to demand justice and change.
The result: Right or wrong, codifying personal space to insulate officers from the public further increases not only the perception of professional unaccountability, but demands a debate over the moral justification of extrajudicial action when the system unambiguously fails to bring justice.
$500,000 Disability and Death Benefit
There’s no idealistic reason to be against it, but what people often don’t know is that members of law enforcement in some places already have substantially above-average salaries and benefits. And not to disrespect the risks involved, but it nudges along people’s exaggerations of extremely high danger on the job. I would suggest this proposal is again, political. It counters the “defund the police” voices while making the blindly uniform-loving citizens all warm and cozy.
The result: You got me here. I don’t see a moral or ethical reason to argue against anyone getting a benefit other than putting budgets — the one thing municipalities may have as leverage to push for reform in their respective police departments — less in the hands of the people.
Police Memorial Day — State Holiday
Why not? It never hurts to honor those who serve the community and that absolutely includes law enforcement for all its unique challenges and shortcomings. If this were any other time, I would vote for it. But this is not the time unless you want to up the adversarial politics ante. And I would rather have one for ALL first responders. The reason we seem to have such a specific fetish about police is because of people taking sides on current events instead of helping citizens and police to work together to make things better. We fail to realize the real sides are those who see and demand the need for reform and those who want to be defensive and blame citizens. An actual quote from the sheriff’s speech:
“It should be readily apparent to all that most of the recent tragic incidents that resulted in the injury or death of an individual at the hands of the police have begun with a refusal to comply with a lawful order.”
If you don’t think this isn’t insane, you have not thought it through. This is up there with childish “you won’t be arrested if you did nothing wrong” fantasies. He may as well said, “You won’t die if you comply”. We’re talking about our men in blue in our towns and villages, not the Gestapo in 1930s Germany. Who can stand by this sentiment and still fly the banner of America on their porch without the gravest hypocrisy? This one statement alone, even if it were materially true, should bar him from public service, in my opinion.
The result: We continue to put law enforcement on a pedestal but don’t actually hold to any standard except by assumption of heroic innocence. This is why, as silly as it seems, cop shows are being canceled. We have unrealistic trust and allowances for people doing what is admittedly a hard and dirty job at times, and this has made us complicit in the very events we desperately want to deflect or reframe in favor of more “law and order”.
Why this is dangerous
Except for departments with proper independent oversight, whistleblowers (who pay a heavy price), and public outcry from videos of blatant brutality, police are de facto above the law. The result is predictable and inevitable. THIS IS WHY ENTIRE COMMUNITIES DO NOT TRUST THE POLICE. And when protesters confront city halls across the country, what are they met with? The very people that represent that injustice, using weapons and tactics against civilians that would be a court-martial offense if they were in the military. People are resisting and fighting police because they honestly believe there is a real chance they will die in their custody. And what’s worse is it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more people defend themselves, the more trouble they’re in, even if they are a bystander or a member of the press, and there’s little to lose if you know the game is rigged and you already lost.
So when a sheriff responds with asking for more room for unchallenged force, he’s not doing what common sense and decency require in these times. Maybe interim Sheriff Filicetti needs serious mental training in de-escalation. Maybe he needs to be defeated at the polls before being elected to that position officially to send a message. But it’s not really about him. We have a whole culture of untouchability when it comes to law enforcement and the fight against even admitting the need for accountability. The more people praise and support this sort of iron-fist-shaking, the greater the gap between law enforcement and the community’s trust, not to mention more spinning in our Founding Father’s graves.
This divisive path will not end well. We should know better. A sheriff should know better. We can’t accept that expanding criminalization as a response to confronting institutional corruption is the future of a free society.
Write to your officials. Take the fight to Facebook. Visit the Change.Org petition HERE. And if you need to, change yourself.