The gross misuse of government power has been scattered across the headlines lately in the wake of the NSA leaks. But power abuse isn’t only being exercised on a federal level, but on local levels also. Law enforcement on all levels has been exuding a severe lack of discretion and has been over-exerting their authority.
Recently in Miami, 14-year-old Tremaine McMillian was taken down, subdued, and choked by city police while out with his 6-week old puppy. The reason for the suppression? Supposedly “threatening” body language. McMillian was reported to have clenched his fists and given Miami police officers a “dehumanizing stare.” It was then that the officers removed the dog from McMillian, injuring the animal, and brought McMillian to the ground. Because of McMillian’s body language, the officers reported that they felt threatened.
“Of course we have to neutralize the threat,” said Miami-Dade Detective Alvaro Zabaleta. “At that point we are not concerned with a puppy. We are concerned with the threat to the officer.”
What Zabaleta said about neutralizing threats is valid. But how, exactly, is a 14-year-old kid out with his family and pet such a threat as to warrant such force? Law enforcement can be a very dangerous career, and officers have to aware of their surroundings and assess situations to deem them dangerous. But the magic word is discretion.
Officers are given a good deal of discretion from environmental assessment, to deciding whether to take a stoner to jail or just destroy his stash and send him on his way. In this instance, the Miami officers made a poor use of their discretion which led to an abusive, overexertion of authority.
Despite eyewitness accounts and video taken by the victim’s mother, McMillian has been charged with one felony count of resisting an officer. Which, technically, on paper, he did resist officers in that he struggled against the cops after being taken down, but because of the lack of law enforcement discretion, he was treated and charged as a dangerous and violent assailant.
In Bakersfield, Calif., it was reported that up to eight police officers beat a single man to death with their batons one night in May. David Sal Silva was stopped by police who had suspected him of being intoxicated. According to eyewitness reports, a number of deputies proceeded to beat him with their batons and reportedly continued to do so even after Silva was said to have been on the ground for some time. After the beating, the deputies collected cellphones from the eyewitnesses who had recorded the incident.
“It makes it look like a coverup,” said David Cohn, the Silva family’s attorney. Cohn’s concern of the police confiscation of the cellphones stems from the possibility of any sort of tampering or destruction of evidence by law enforcement. Such an event would be an absolute shirking of government responsibility and would only further tarnish law enforcement’s image to those who already view police negatively.
As with the case in Miami with Tremaine McMillian, these officers over-indulged in their use of physical force. Obviously, it’s granted with reason, sometimes police officers have to use force in dangerous and life-threatening situations. By numerous witness accounts, McMillian’s body language was neither, and the point at which Silva was bludgeoned to the ground eliminated any threat that he may have posed.
Joshua de Leon is writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.