News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Saturday, September 15, 2018

When police are not heroes

JT, the managing editor who had spent decades as a city hall and police reporter,  said police scandals  within a department broke about every ten years.  Then the department would follow a ritual of winnowing out the misperformers, and a new batch of them would develop.  He said the problem was with the personality traits and motives that made people want to be police.  They may say they want to serve and protect in the interest of law and order, but many really want the opportunity to f***k over people with their authority.  He also said that dealing with the lowest and meanest of humankind on a regular basis warped the human spirit, and  many officers developed a doubtful attitude about humankind.

However, JT had close friends who were or had been police officers.  When police scandals broke, JT would consult and often get quotes from them from the police perspective.  One such quote came up after a strange, but somewhat funny incident.  That night a very senior police detective visited an old friend, who was a woman who had owned bars where gambling, among other things, went on, and they sat in his police cruiser and reminisced about the good old days  when she paid for police protection.   Somehow the detective left the switch for his radio microphone on, and the entire conversation was broadcast on the police band.  Reporters who were working the night shift at the Moline, Ill., Dispatch heard it on the scanners in the newsroom.  The scanners had voice-activated tape recorders, so the conversation was on tape.

The conversation was reported in a news story, but it did not result in any court actions.  The evidence of a department on the take in the past was embarrassing to the department and to former city officials.  There was some reshuffling and sudden retirements in the police department and the incident became the spark of anecdotes and memories of the past.  A quote came from a former chief of police and friend of JT's:  "There are good cops and some who never should be cops, but most are just people trying to make a living like the rest of us.  And if they are good cops, they know their jobs and do them.  The cases of graft are more matters of the pay scale, and that's the first thing to examine if your cops are augmenting their salaries with early warnings or ignoring back room activities.  I hated having to fire cops because they were poor."

And that leads to the story about  Claus,  a long-time chief of police in Rock Island, the town abutting Moline on its western border, and Mills Cafe.   Mills Cafe was notorious, as was the 101 Club by the  Centennial Bridge over the Mississippi River to Iowa.  They were brothels.  They were fixtures so prominent that most people in the area knew about them by the time they entered high school. The clamor to do something about them was constant, so the police raided them periodically, but never managed to do so while business was being conducted.   

Until one night in the 1960s.  The state's attorney and the sheriff's department raided Mills Cafe and found the place bustling with business.  They hauled Jenny Mills, her staff of young women, and some  customers over to the county jail for booking.  Jenny Mills' first telephone call was to the home of Chief of Police Claus during which she told him she was arrested, and  asked just what the hell was she paying him for?  Thus ended the careers of Jenny and Claus.  Claus had not managed to give Jenny a warning that a raid was coming, as had been an arrangement of many years.  That was because he didn't know.  His department was left out of the loop.

Moline's chief of police stepped into the news last week when when he was stopped by an Iowa state trooper going 90 mph in a 65 mph zone.  Then he blew a .201 on the breathalyzer.  In Iowa the percentage at which one is legally drunk is 0.08. Two Moline police captains were in the truck with the chief when it was stopped.  They are all on suspension.

There have been problems with chiefs of police and other officers up here in Aberdeen.  Early in this  century, the Aberdeen police department went through a flurry of firings and resignations of police chiefs, detectives, and officers with a lot of infighting.  It was almost as if Trump was running the department.  The difference between what goes on in Aberdeen and Illinois is that in South Dakota the people are never told what is going on.  When officials in South Dakota screw up and screw around, the rule is that it is none of the people's business what officials are doing with their tax money or in their behalf. State law provides many loopholes through which truckloads of corruption and incompetence may be driven.  And officials can always fall back on the ploy that it is a personnel matter and personnel matters are confidential.

In Illinois, people are so backward that they think what goes on in government and those who work for them must do so with the people's consent.  So, all matters of how government  operates are personnel matters and the people, Illinoisans think, damned well better be told about it.  There is a lot of corruption and foolery in Illinois and we know about it because it has been exposed and dealt with.  A number of recent Illinois governors have served jail terms.  South Dakota has had the EB-5  and Gear Up scandals and the people tend to think it is really none of their business.  And no disciplinary action has been taken.   Corruption is considered good economic policy by many South Dakotans.  In Illinois an inebriated police chief racing around Iowa with two of his captains is considered public business.

Police misconduct falls into distinct categories.  Some departments have a culture of intimidating and shaking down people for bribes.  Groups of police in larger cities have run elaborate criminal enterprises.  Some police set up individual arrangements of corruption, as did Chief Claus.  Sometimes personal failings such as addictions are involved.  And there is the matter of police brutality and the individuals prone to it.

What brings all this to mind is the police response to the Colin Kaepernick-led protests against police gunning down black men, many of whom were unarmed. Police unions have joined Trump in contending that the protests dishonor the military and the first responders.  The protests are the result of the undeniable fact that unarmed black men are a constant target of police bullets. The police union complaints are gravely troublesome to those of us who support the unions.  Rather than take leadership within the profession to acknowledge the problem, examine it, and offer solutions, they join Trump and further excoriate the people they are exterminating.  They echo the Gestapo knocking on the doors of Jews.  And their refusal to confront the problem gives further reason to distrust the police.

Meanwhile, the protest against the police shootings has taken form around specific incidents.  The shooting of Philando Castile in a suburb of St.Paul, MN, has become an icon concerning the police in the minds of many.  Castile was pulled over ostensibly because of a broken tail light.  The policeman who shot him, however, said he resembled the picture of a bank robber in a wanted poster.  Castile's girl friend was sitting in the passenger seat and recorded the stop on her phone.  Her four-year-old daughter was in the back seat.  When Castile tried to get his identification. the officer shot him five times.  The officer was charged, but was acquitted in a jury trial.  

Those fives shots blasted and the acquittal blew away any pretenses that America is a country of liberty, equality, and justice.  Philando Castile and scores of bodies of dead black men gunned down by the police show that the United States  is replacing the Third Reich.  One of the latest bodies to be thrown on the heap is that of Botham Jean in his own apartment.  A police officer who lived on the floor below him entered his apartment by mistake and shot him because she said she thought he was an intruder.  God bless America.

The vast majority of police "know their jobs and do them" well.  They don't strut around claiming to make life possible for all the rest of mankind. And people appreciate when police come in harm's way in dealing with the lethal elements of society.  But police unions have established due process procedures that give police accused of misconduct extensive access to protections of justice.  That is something that is denied men like Philando Castile and those many whose right to life has been denied by police bullets.  Those who defend indiscriminate killing and want punishments for protesting it are standing up for Third Reich rule.  The protesters are the defenders of liberty, equality, and justice.

In the age of Trump, the irony of alleged defenders of American values being the ones blowing those values away is lost.

If people want a Third Reich system, they can't claim to be defending America.  The country they want is not the one many of us served and defended.

1 comment:

Porter Lansing said...

OUTSTANDING INSIGHT … I can't begin to compliment the accuracy of your characterizations of South Dakota authority figures. My God. You're the most woke writer in the state!! ✯✯✯✯✯

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States