A history of violence

The video above was taken by a surveillance camera maintained by police in Denver, Colorado last year.

Michael DeHerrera (Source: DenverPost.com)

The video shows Officer Devin Sparks brutally slamming a young man named Michael DeHerrera to the ground. After the take-down, the camera pans away, but the officer can still be seen repeatedly striking DeHerrera with an object that the Denver Post later identified as “a department-issued piece of metal wrapped in leather.” After the beating, the officer violently lifts a barely-conscious DeHerrera up then lets him fall back to the ground. He then picks him up again and drags him to his police cruiser. After forcing Dehererra into the back seat, the officer appears to slam the car door on him several times.

In his police report, Officer Sparks justified his brutal attack on DeHerrera by claiming that he “spun to his left attempting to strike me with a closed right fist,” however, the video proves that this was an outright fabrication.

Deherrera received cuts, bruises, and broke several of his teeth during the beating. He was taken to a hospital where he was given several stitches. He also claimed that he blacked out during the beating.

Officer Sparks should have been fired and criminally charged for attacking DeHerrera and lying on the police report. Instead, he was only given a three day suspension without pay. DeHerrera’s family was awarded $17,500 and were excused from paying the ambulance bill, but this money was taken from taxpayers instead of the thug who attacked him.

Click here for a shortened version of this video.

This incident occurred earlier this year, but it was also filmed by a police surveillance camera in Denver. It shows two cops slamming Mark Ashford into a metal fence, repeatedly striking him in the face, then throwing him to the ground. Later, one of the officers forces Ashford’s head into the sidewalk with his knee. Ashford was charged with “interference” and “resisting arrest.”

After the beating, Ashford was taken to St. Anthony Central Hospital where he was treated for a cut on his right eye and a concussion.

According to Ashford’s lawyer, this incident occurred after Ashford witnessed the police ticket a man for failing to stop at a stop sign. Ashford told the motorist that he had seen him stop and was willing to testify in court. This prompted the officers to detain him and ask for his ID which he provided. At some point, Ashford tried to photograph the officers with his cell phone and they began to attack him.

It’s difficult to interpret the video without audio, but the footage still seems to make it clear that this arrest was prompted by photography and not any actual crime. The officers did not seem interested in arresting Ashford until he started photographing them. They had no problem standing around leisurely while Ashford pulled out his phone, but when he pointed it at one of the cops, they instantly became extremely aggressive. One of the officers can be seen raising a closed fist at Ashford which I interpret as a threat to strike him in the face.

In any case, all the charges against Ashford were dropped. According to Ashford’s lawyer, the prosecutor acknowledged that the police never even had a right to detain Ashford, let alone arrest him or brutalize him.

Nothing new

While I hate to say it, this reprehensible behavior shouldn’t really come as a shock to anyone.

If you followed the coverage of the 2008 Democratic National Convention which was hosted in Denver, then you’re probably already aware that police turned the city into a miniature police state. They attacked peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and even random bystanders in a violent effort to stop people from exercising their most basic freedoms. According to a report from Democracy Now!, police boxed in large crowds of people (including random bystanders) then shot pepper spray into them. They also rounded up huge crowds of people and conducted mass arrests. Furthermore, they failed to wear appropriate forms of identification and refused to identify themselves when asked.

One video taken at a demonstration shows a raging Officer Scott Stewart knocking a woman to the ground with his baton while screaming that she is a “bitch.” The district attorney refused to press any charges against the officer.

ABC reporter Asa Eslocker was attacked and subsequently arrested by police for “trespassing,” “interference,” and “failure to follow a lawful order” for taking pictures on a public sidewalk. Video of the incident shows a uniformed thug forcing Eslocker off the sidewalk, shoving him in front of oncoming traffic, then accusing him of “impeding traffic.” Interestingly enough, Eslocker was doing research for a story about corporate lobbyists and wealthy individuals who donated money to the convention and the arrest was apparently prompted by a complaint from inside the Brown Palace Hotel, a gathering spot for Democratic officials.

After the convention, the Denver Police Protective Association, a union that represents most of Denver’s police officers, started selling this shirt.

According to Detective Nick Rogers, the officer who produced the shirt, every Denver police officer received one. Furthermore, he reported that officers from other police departments like the Lakewood Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department were delighted by the shirt and bought dozens of them.

So, when the police in Denver perpetrate acts of brutal violence against people for no reason whatsoever, their crimes are not ignored by their fellow officers. On the contrary, their peers actively encourage them to commit more acts of brutality.

Not just Denver

This sort of brutality is not limited solely to Denver. In fact, the violence perpetrated by the police during the DNC in Denver was modeled after the actions of the police (the so-called “Miami Model”) during a “free trade” summit in Miami back in 2003. During the summit, protesters took to the streets to voice various grievances. Among them was Attorney Elizabeth Ritter who attended not to protest the summit, but the heavy-handed and often illegal tactics used by the police. Ritter peacefully marched through Miami with other demonstrators while displaying a homemade sign reading “Fear Totalitarianism.”

So, naturally, a police officer shot her from behind with a rubber bullet.

After being shot, Ritter turned around and asked the advancing army of domestic soldiers, “Did you shoot me? A lady in a suit? Who has been walking peaceably in front of you for half an hour and you shot me when my back was turned?”

Shortly after this incident, the police opened fire on the crowd with more rubber bullets. Ritter was hit three more times. One of the bullets hit her in the face while she was cowering behind her sign. Ritter later said that she “felt there had been angels sitting on [her] shoulders because [she] had not been blinded by that shot.”

A commanding officer, Sgt. Michael Kallman, thought this assault was so hilarious that he joked about it the next day while addressing dozens of officers, emphasizing in particular the fact that the defenseless woman had been shot in the face. “The good news about watching you guys live on TV was the lady in the red dress. I don’t know who got her, but it went through the sign and hit her smack dab in the head,” he said to applause, cheers, and laughter.

When I read about police misconduct stories, I frequently hear people use what I like to refer to as the “bad apple” theory. According to this theory, police misconduct is rare. In fact, instances of police misconduct are almost always “isolated incidents” perpetrated by “a few bad apples.” While this theory is probably applicable to some cases of police brutality, stories like the ones above make it clear that police brutality is often more than incidental — indeed, it’s an integral part of a cynical, authoritarian culture that glorifies violence.

Update:

Another police brutality settlement in Denver:

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