Sunday, February 03, 2008

This Happened in America

A young woman in Ohio -- the victim of an assault -- was arrested, hogtied face down in a jail cell by seven police officers, female and male, strip-searched, and then left, completely naked, in the jail cell for six hours, using toilet paper to try and keep warm during that time. Raw Story reported this atrocity:

Hope Steffey's night started with a call to police for help. It ended with her face down, naked, and sobbing on a jail cell floor. Now, the sheriff's deputies from Stark County, Ohio who allegedly used excessive force during a strip search 15 months ago face a federal lawsuit, and recently released video won’t help their case.

Steffey's ordeal with the Stark County sheriff's deputies began after her cousin called 9-1-1 claiming Steffey had been assaulted by another one of their cousins. When a Stark County police officer arrived, he asked to see Steffey's driver's license. But instead of handing over her own ID, she mistakenly turned over her dead sister's license, which she contends she keeps in her wallet as a memento. That's when the situation became complicated.

The video below shows what happened. It is, I think, the most horrifying thing I have ever viewed. It's very hard to watch. I was shaking through most of it. The sound of Hope Steffey screaming and sobbing in terror and humiliation will stay with me for a long time.

John Cole:
Things are out of control when people can do things like this and think they are doing “the right thing.” Check their faces- an odd sort of professionalism, going through the motions pinning this defenseless woman to the ground and essentially raping her, and no one stops to think it is inappropriate for men to be in the room (not to mention against clear procedures). No one asks “why are we doing this?” No one asks “Why is this woman here” (she was the one who called for help- I bet she will not make that mistake again). No one asks why she needed to sit for hours naked, humiliated, hysterical, and alone in a cell for anyone to walk by and gawk at her in a completely vulnerable state. No one thought to give her a blanket or talk to her as she was covering herself in toilet paper to keep warm.

What is wrong with our system? What is wrong with the police that it is not a radical belief for me to think “I should probably cross the street, there is a cop walking down this side.”

The Political Cat draws a line between Hope Steffey's ordeal, and the police killing of an African-American woman a year later, allegedly in the course of a drug raid, also in Ohio.
During the course of the raid, they injured Wilson's year-old son, who was in her arms at the time. The child has since had his finger amputated as a result of the injury. Ms. Wilson's partner, 31-year-old Anthony Terry, was arrested and removed from the premises.

Obviously the common element in these two events is police brutality -- and that brutality is nourished and grows in the soil of indifference:
... If the officers who stripped Ms. Steffey had been punished immediately for their behaviour, it is possible that Ms. Wilson might be alive today. If police officers were given better staffing levels, better training, it is possible that Ms. Steffey's ordeal and the orphaning of the Wilson children would never have occurred.

And then there is this paragraph, in which Political Cat writes about the balancing act between understanding -- with empathy and compassion -- the difficulty and stress of police work, while at the same time not using that understanding as an excuse for abandoning accountability:
Law enforcement is a very tough job. Imagine yourself in the position of a cop, knowing that at any moment you could lose your life or limb or job because of one incorrect assessment, one second extra in making a decision. Understandably, cops get pretty fucked up after working a job like that day after day for years. The pressure on one's personal life, one's family life, one's relationships, has to be unreal. But that does not excuse the actions of those officers involved in either case. Ultimately, what it points to is an inability by these men and women with guns and badges to understand that people who are not white or male or do not have guns and badges are still people and should be treated humanely. We do not have to follow the precepts of the madman in charge who tells us that torture is OK, and humans have no innate rights. There is a better way. And most of all, law enforcement officers need to learn not to exercise inappropriate levels of force against others just because they can.

Well said. In fact, this being Blogroll Amnesty Day, and Political Cat being a smaller blog, and one I did not know about before finding the link on Memeorandum, I am going to add her to my blogroll.


Nick said...

I came across your blog in a Google alert about police brutality. I am the author of a blog which focuses on prison reform, police brutality, and stopping the drug war. You blog is great and I added you to my Technorati favorites and my blog's blogroll. The video in your post from February 3rd was slow in loading and I didn't get a chance to view it.


ThePoliticalCat said...

Thank you for adding me to your blogroll, Kathy! I didn't know about you till I followed your breadcrumbs home. I will link to you too. Kudos once again to Jon Swift and Skippy for keeping the blogrolls rolling with an Amnesty Day.

Chief said...

I live about 40 miles south of Lima, Ohio where the 1-year old baby was injured while its’ mom was killed. First, there has been absolutely nothing in the media regarding this incident. Second, the police claim to have found illicit drugs.

It doesn’t make any difference whether it is a large city, small town or some place in between, low pay for police officers discourages the best and the brightest from considering law enforcement as a career choice.

Until someone can convince the electorate that taxes are not automatically bad, the situation will get worse.

Kathy said...

welcome, Nick, and thank you for adding me to your blogroll. I have given you a reciprocal place on mine.