SYNDICATED COLUMN: You’ll Get Arrested Someday. Will You Survive?

Are you male? The odds say you’ll be arrested by the police at least once.

What happens to Americans after the cops slap on the cuffs, therefore, is not an intellectual exercise, or a matter of liberal guilt. It doesn’t just happen to other people.

You. It could happen to you.

It’s happened to me twice in the United States, and more times than I can count in foreign dictatorships. (In Third World countries, it’s usually corrupt cops shaking you down for a bribe.) On each occasion, I was thunderstruck by an overwhelming sense of helplessness.

No one knew where I was.

I was trapped.  Think this is a democracy? Think again. Whether you’re in Turkmenistan or the United States, victims of arrest are every bit as “disappeared” as if they were living under Orwell’s dystopian Big Brother.

Your family doesn’t know where you are.

You don’t show up to work — so you might lose your job.

If you need medication to live, you may die because the cops won’t give it to you.

When I was arrested, the policemen could have done anything they wanted to me — beat me up, rape me, even murder me — and get away with it. They didn’t. But they could.

That’s not a good feeling.

It’s certainly not a feeling you should have to experience for trivial offenses. (My case #1: arrested for possession of marijuana. Not mine. My friend’s. Because he was in the same car as me when I got pulled over for forgetting to turn on my headlights at night. My case #2: pulled over for speeding. Arrested for a suspended license. Which had been suspended in error.)

This kind of thing should not be a death sentence. A Justice Department study found that more than 2,000 criminal suspects died in police custody over a three-year period. Fifty-five percent were ruled as homicides by police officers.

Christopher J. Mumola, who authored the study, notes that most people make it out physically unharmed. “Keep in mind we have 2,000 deaths out of almost 40 million arrests over three years, so that tells you by their nature they are very unusual cases,” said Mumola.

But that’s still too many. And jail is still a gratuitously terrible experience. Guaranteed constitutional rights — to legal representation, a speedy trial and to communicate with the outside world –are routinely denied. Detectives bully and harangue suspects past the limit of human endurance, frequently extracting false confessions from innocent men and women. Basic needs, including access to medication, are often ignored.

Some conservatives will counter that the police shouldn’t coddle suspects. That if you do the crime, be prepared to do the time. But that’s precisely the point: under U.S. law, suspects haven’t done any crime. Until a judge or jury delivers a guilty verdict, arrestees are innocent under the law.

The Miranda decision — the last major reform that improved life for those who get arrested — is a half-century old. It’s time to update the rules to bring the experience of getting arrested in line with the high-flying rhetoric of human rights enshrined under U.S. law and with common decency.

You have the right to communicate.

     Or you should. In New York City, for example, suspects being processed through Central Booking are supposed to be allowed to place three local phone calls for free. In New York and most other municipalities, this right is routinely delayed.

“Disappearing” people is unworthy of a modern nation-state. It’s also dangerous. What happens to children waiting for their parents to pick them up after school when they don’t show up?

“Prepare yourself and your family in case you are arrested. Memorize the phone numbers of your family and your lawyer,” advises the ACLU. But in the age of the cellphone, many people don’t know important phone numbers by heart.

Suspects should be permitted to keep their cellphones, and use them as much as they want, while waiting to be indicted or released.

     You have the right to your meds.

Cops are extraordinarily cavalier about the health of the people they arrest. Members of Occupy Wall Street arrested in 2011 reported that jail guards in Manhattan routinely jeopardized their health. “At one point,” wrote Dave Korn, “the cops wheeled out a stretcher holding one of our girls; she was lying motionless, oxygen tubes connected to her face.  She had been denied her medication and was now unconscious.  The stretcher was left in the hallways, and cops were either walking past or photographing her.” A 22-year-old Washington state man was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession and sent to jail. He told the authorities that he had an extreme food allergy. Cops fed him oatmeal anyway, and told him it was safe. “Over the next half hour, the video shows other inmates looking in Saffioti’s cell as he jumped up and down. The legal claim says he pressed his call button and was ignored,” reported local TV. He died.

Congress should pass a federal law guaranteeing Americans’ right to keep their medications with them if they’re arrested, as well as access to food conforming to their medical, dietary and religious needs.

You have the right to be speedily processed.

Anyone arrested in the U.S. is entitled to respect. Which includes the right to be charged or released quickly. In many jurisdictions, the 24-hour rule before seeing a judge is ignored — especially if you’re nabbed on a Friday night. Then it goes to 72 hours. Which is stupid. Jails don’t suspend business over weekends. Neither should the courts.

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  • Liberals only have themselves to blame, as usual, for rogue cops who get away with such abuses. Why? Because of the blind liberal support of, you guessed it — unions.

    You want to get the cops under control? Step one is to smash all law enforcement unions into little pieces. A permanent dismantling of law enforcement unions will results in immediate accountability for one’s actions as a police officer, with no union to spew propaganda and help a corrupt cop lawyer up and easily get away with these crimes.

    But “no” whines the liberal, always thinking unions are a citizen’s best friend. Next time you see a cop get away with murder, assault, or any other number of crimes — thank a liberal.

    • Historically, one of the most important jobs the police perform for the corporate state is breaking up unions, and any other political activity that does not comport with the interests of the 1%.

      It matters little if the police are unionized because they will get their exemption from accountability under law from other quarters, if not there.

    • And of course being entirely unable to negotiate for reasonable pay for a hazardous job will improve the calibre of the employees no end!

      • This kind of simple-minded thinking is exactly what I’m talking about. Knee-jerk reactions.

        Here’s something: Police unions spending infinitely more time protecting their cops from legitimate consequences of their abuses of power than they do negotiating salaries. In fact, lawyering up their cops is what they do almost all the time.

        But — go ahead and believe that these poor, poor put-upon cops wouldn’t be paid fairly without a union. Whatever makes you feel all warm and cozy. Don’t complain about cops not being held accountable though. You can’t have it both ways.

    • Liberals are to blame for the police state, eh?

      Two questions:

      1) What are you smoking?
      2) Did you bring enough for everybody?

    • @ex: The problem with blaming unions for police brutality and abuse is that most police departments are non-unionized. Yet the abuse occurs there too.

      • Total nonsense. Please provide evidence of your claim, specifically with respect to abuse and legal defense of those abuses.

        It is a fact that NYC, Chicago, and Los Angeles police departments are all unionized. So, the three largest cities have unionized police — fact. If you want to argue that Bohunk, Kansas is not unionized, fine. Go ahead. Most of the abuse cases we read about are in major cities, and when the defense of such abuses finds its way into print, it’s the police unions leading the charge. Period. End of story.

        But, Ted is not unique in his defense of unions in a case where he clearly should not. Most liberals heads explode when they find out things they support (blindly, I might add) actually are detrimental. It’s the old cognitive dissonance thing. Their brains just can’t deal with the dichotomy that perhaps something they support has caused abuses they don’t like.

        Unions in America are outdated and no longer necessary. Cops would make exactly the same without unions, but their real function is circling the wagons when abuses happen. Liberals enable that.

      • @ex: The reason we read so many stories about abuse in big city police departments is because things that affect large groups of people tend to be bigger stories than things that affect small groups of people.

        The fact is, most police departments in the United States are nonunion. And there is at least as much abuse going on in small-town lockups then there are in big cities per capita.

        I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I don’t really care if cops are unionized, except to the extent that I believe all workers deserve the right to union representation.

        I will say, however, that your assertion that unions are antiquated and that workers/cops without unions would earn exactly the same as they do with them is transparently ridiculous. The fact is, unions demonstrably provide upward pressure on wages and benefits. I have personally experienced it over and over again. The converse is also true. Unions are often corrupt, inefficient, lazy, and in cahoots with management, but they are much better than not having one at all.

        Do you know who is the one person I least trust in the world to care about my well-being? A boss.

    • Do you work a 6×12 work week?
      Do you have no paid sick leave, no paid holidays, and no retirement benefits?
      Do you get fired for calling in sick?
      Do you have unsafe working conditions: are you exposed to toxic chemicals on a regular basis: do you have no protective shields on dangerous machinery; no warnings about possible hazards in the workplace, no fire extinguishers and no safe routess to evacuate the building in case of fire?
      Does your employer claim the right to tell you how to dress off hours? What you can drink, where you can go, and who to vote for?

      If not: thank a liberal.

      • alex_the_tired
        January 9, 2014 1:26 PM

        How many people would answer a whole lot of these questions with something like, “No, but I don’t dare (phone in sick/complain about unsafe conditions/etc.)?

        The importance of collective bargaining is that it prevents things like this from happening. Look at the Actors’ unions. When you’re a union member, if the director screws you around — like making you stand out in 20 degree weather doing nothing for half an hour — the union rep goes up to the director and says something like this: “I got a complaint you’ve got union freezing in the cold. You can’t do that. Here’s the fine.”

        Business has no memory and no gratitude. Any arguments that start with some notion that business is reasonable is, by definition, incorrect. Unions prevent individuals from being destroyed by a system that is set up to make it misery to have even a minor reversal of fortune.

      • Alex – right you are.

        Today’s union-bashers are like antebellum slaves sticking up for massa. Work hard, keep your nose clean, and one day you’ll own your own plantation.

        Oh, yeah, if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge for sale…

      • alex_the_tired
        January 9, 2014 3:27 PM

        Lemme guess, it only had one previous owner, a governor from New Jersey …

  • The solution?

    Disarm police to the full extent possible.

    If only one life is saved it will be worth it.

    The job of police does not include the responsibility to protect vulnerable people from crime, but only to apprehend perpetrators of crimes after the fact (so has the Supreme Court ruled).

    Disarmed police should not worry about being harmed in performance of their job. I’m sure that any crime perpetrated on them during their interaction with criminal suspects will be thoroughly investigated, and any police who die will die assured, just as any other disarmed citizen must, that the guilty will be caught and justice will prevail.

    Disarmed police need only demonstrate their faith in the system, just as any other disarmed citizen in their interaction with criminals must , and I’m sure things will work out just fine for them.

    • Beautiful, Glenn.

      Ted, this is in the top 4 of my concerns with surveillance and drones and the Fed. Without these things changing, no other changes will matter.

    • I for one welcome our newly disarmed gendarme overlords. I might even be willing to voluntarily speak to them.

  • […] money on weapons of mass destruction than any country in the world, and more money on surveiling and incarcerating its citizens than it does on educating and caring for them. Increasing militarization and […]

  • To whomever knows more about US law enforcement than I do,
    Are the contents of this chart mostly accurate?

    • I’m not an expert, let’s just say I’ve had some experience with law enforcement and cause to study the laws pertaining thereto. On the whole, the page seems to be good advice.

      The colorful charts at the top are mostly accurate. When I was younger, I didn’t know that had the right to refuse when the officer said, “may I look in your trunk?” – but again, I don’t know what would have happened if I’d said no.

      I had an officer come to my door one day when I was a little older, but still sporting my freak flag. He had a legit reason for knocking: my neighbor had trashed the house & skipped out on the rent. He might have thought he smelled some suspicious smoke or something. He asked “May I come in?” I said no, and there was no problem, the cop continued on without missing a beat.

      My understanding of breathalyzer rules is a little different than stated. Some states you can lose your license or be taken into custody if you refuse to blow. It’s related to ‘implied consent’ – by driving a car your are implying your consent to be tested. I had to sign a statement to that affect when I got my license. This wouldn’t be so bad in itself, but the cops tend to abuse it. They’ll ask to open your trunk, pester your passengers and shine their flashlight every which way they can.

      Sobriety checkpoints, etc, damn well are illegal by the constitution, but the wrongnut activist judges have pretty much rendered that old parchment irrelevant. Their anti-American rulings have withstood many challenges.

      And of course, that page just lists the rules as they are *supposed* to be followed. Go ahead, tell the officer about your constitutional rights – that’s otherwise known as ‘shot while resisting arrest’. Who’s the judge gonna believe? An upstanding officer of the law, or the perp? (What was that you said? Innocent until proven something-or-other? Now why would an upstanding officer arrest an innocent? )

  • alex_the_tired
    January 9, 2014 11:13 AM


    A question you didn’t address: Forget people who DIE in police custody. How many people are injured in police custody?

    • Q: “How many Corrections Officers does it take to push an inmate down the stairs”

      A: None. He tripped.

    • Quite true, Alex, unfortunately I wasn’t able to find statistics on injuries in police custody. That’s often the case whenever you’re trying to look for casualty numbers, whether in the military or in this example. Killings get registered, injuries not so much.

  • Our son is missing and we love him very much. Its very important to us that you bring him home DEAD OR ALIVE. (fictitious headline)

    The police officer who responds to your call for help may be the domestic abuser who lives down the block.

    North Carolina police say teenager in custody shot himself

    DURHAM, North Carolina Fri Jan 10, 2014 9:09pm EST

    (Reuters) – A teenage suspect who died in North Carolina while he was handcuffed in the back of a police car shot himself in the head with a gun he hid from an officer, according to a police report released on Friday.

    Jesus Huerta died on November 19 after he was arrested on an outstanding warrant for trespassing. His family had called authorities and reported that he ran away from home and requested police search for him.