Bob Franken: The rules of the rule of law

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, August 23, 2014 3:28pm
  • Opinion

Let’s face it: We have a law-enforcement problem in this country. Far too often, the people who are supposed to protect us from the bad guys ARE the bad guys. Thanks to the widespread use of video devices, or perhaps because of them, we have witnessed a rash of violent encounters: one of New York City’s finest on July 17 used a banned chokehold on Eric Garner, whose main crime seemed to be that he was arguing that the cops were hassling him.

Earlier in the same month, a California Highway Patrol officer was taped repeatedly punching a homeless woman he had thrown to the ground after she was spotted by him walking on a roadway.

And of course, we have the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Law-enforcement forces, seemingly on a rampage at times, have been charged with overreacting to a few troublemakers while grossly mismanaging the protests of the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, who was black, by white Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson. In the aftermath, their efforts to contain the spreading violence, which they arguably share the blame for inciting with their heavy-handed tactics, have included arrests of journalists covering the mess.

What is most tragic about these incidents is that they seem to have become routine. We are constantly being exposed to images or reports of abuse by those who are supposed to protect us — all of us — without regard to race or economic status. Statistics show, however, that a wildly disproportionate share of arrests, traffic stops and searches are conducted against minorities. That is totally unacceptable in a country that promises equal justice.

It is also an embarrassment on the world stage. The New York Times recently compiled a catalog of criticisms from officials in Iran, Egypt and Russia, who charge that U.S. complaints about their human-rights deficiencies amount to sanctimonious hypocrisy.

It’s important to note that the vast majority of policemen and -women are dedicated to enforcing the law in a fair and compassionate way. They endure low pay and tremendous hassles, and face constant danger to make sure we enjoy a safe and orderly society. Sad to say, their superhuman efforts are sullied by a small number of uniformed bullies who seem to think they can mete out brutal violence without accountability whenever someone questions their authority or judgment.

The Michael Brown reaction has featured raised hands and people yelling “I surrender. Don’t shoot!” It has spread even to the point that a few members of the Washington NFL team came onto the field with their hands up. It was dramatic, although it might have been more so if they weren’t playing for and accepting big money from a team whose R-word name is a hateful slur against Native Americans.

Unfortunately, it’s not just some police who run roughshod. Every once in a while, we catch prosecutors in the act. The ease with which they can gain indictments using low standards of proof occasionally causes a district attorney with an agenda to misuse his or her power. It’s often said that, with a malleable grand jury, a prosecutor “can indict a ham sandwich.” In one current case, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the ham. Usually, the Texas governor would not be portrayed as a victim — his policies draw scorn for ranging from cruel to misguided to blowhard — but suddenly he is. After being charged with a criminal offense by a Democratic district attorney for using his veto power to try to force out a colleague who was arrested for driving while seriously under the influence, Perry is now a GOP hero, his booking mug shot a badge of honor. It’s just the latest example of prosecutorial abuse.

We cannot exist as a stable country with perception that our freedom and economic well-being can be threatened by an arbitrary law-enforcement system. That’s the definition of a police state.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

More in Opinion

This July 16, 2019, file photo shows the Capitol Dome in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Opinion: The Respect for Marriage Act represents a balanced approach

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has supported a “fairness for all” approach

Deven Mitchell greets his fellow members of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.’s Board of Trustees at the start of his interview to be the APFC’s new executive director on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: It’s an honor to now lead Alaska’s largest renewable resource

As a lifelong Alaskan, leading APFC is my childhood dream come true

t
Opinion: Freedom in the classroom sets precedence for the future

We advocate for the adoption of legislation to protect students’ First Amendment rights…

A roll of “I Voted” stickers await voters on Election Day in Alaska. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the prospect of a state constitutional convention. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Election winners, losers and poor losers

Tshibaka and Palin misread Alaskans by thinking Trump’s endorsement all but guaranteed they’d win.

This 1981 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an electron micrograph of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV. Children’s hospitals in parts of the country are seeing a distressing surge in RSV, a common respiratory illness that can cause severe breathing problems for babies. Cases fell dramatically two years ago as the pandemic shut down schools, day cares and businesses. Then, with restrictions easing, the summer of 2021 brought an alarming increase in what is normally a fall and winter virus. (CDC via AP)
Alaska Voices: What Alaskans need to know about RSV

By learning more about respiratory illnesses and taking helpful actions, we can all take steps to improve the situation

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Multiplying the power of every local dollar given

Each community foundation is a public charity that focuses on supporting a geographic area by pooling donations to meet community needs

The Homer Public Library as seen on Aug. 18, 2021, in Homer, Alaska. (File photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Point of View: Banning books corrodes diversity and inclusion in our community

Recently, a community member requested that a long list of books be removed from the children’s collection

Peninsula Oilers fans display encouragin signs for Oilers’ pitcher Bryan Woo, Friday, June 28, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: Judging judges — balancing the judicial selection process

Alaska’s method of selecting judges can be and should be improved.

Sarah Palin speaks at a July 11 Save America Rally featuring former President Donald Trump at Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The realities of Palin’s political demise

Palin wouldn’t be running for the seat if Rep. Don Young was still alive

Former Democratic state Rep. Beth Kerttula holds up a sign reading “Vote No Con Con,” during a recent rally at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza in Juneau. Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: What can a liberal and conservative agree on? Voting against a constitutional convention

“We disagree on many issues. But we… urge Alaskans to vote against Proposition 1.”