Behold the words of an American judge, who, upon discovering the type of police brutality that goes on in this country every day, is shocked: “Defendant’s motion describes facts so extreme and unusual that this can truly be deemed sui generis,” Judge Steven M. Statsinger wrote.
Sui generis?? Are you kidding me? What rock has he been living under?
No, Judge Statsinger, it can’t be deemed sui generis. It’s just that most victims are poor, powerless, and don’t have a reporter standing by to tell their story.
These two college professors had just gotten back to their Upper West Side apartment in New York after walking their dog. (Don’t catch your breath yet—the only typical thing the cops didn’t do was shoot the dog, a favorite pastime of American police, and that was only because the dog ran away in the middle of the fracas.)
The husband, Karl Anders Peltomaa, 50 years old, had recently had heart surgery and was on medication. That night, after walking the dog, he and his wife, Suzanne LaFont, were enjoying a glass of wine, when he started to feel his heart racing. He was afraid the wine and medication were causing a bad reaction. His wife called 911.
What happened next was, I repeat, a common occurrence in the U.S. The police somehow got it into their heads that they were dealing with an “emotionally disturbed” man and, bien sûr, that meant they had to brutalize him.
. . . Officer Giambra had thrown Mr. Peltomaa up against a hallway wall and was trying to handcuff him. The professor’s surgical wound was pressed hard against the surface, she said. She gripped the officer’s shoulder and yelled at him to stop. “You’re under arrest,” the officer told her, as another officer hustled her back into her apartment and handcuffed her.
LaFont was under arrest because it is forbidden to touch a police officer. Even a glancing touch with your finger can be considered assault. As the cop later said, he was determined to “teach her a lesson.” This would be after he had shoved her husband onto the ground, split open his chin, and dislocated his thumb.
But hey, I guess they should count themselves lucky that they weren’t beaten to death like Kelly Thomas. (Or tortured like Abner Louima. Or like so many victims in Chicago. Or beaten like Rodney King. The list goes on. And, of course, it’s not limited to Americans.)
Mr. Peltomaa would spend two days in St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center with five stitches in his chin and electronic monitors keeping tabs on his ailing heart.
Nineteen hours after her arrest, Ms. LaFont was brought before a judge in Manhattan Criminal Court to face charges of obstructing governmental administration and harassment. The prosecutor on duty offered her a common deal for people who have tussles with the police: plead guilty to disorderly conduct and be released with a penalty of “time served.”
Ms. LaFont refused. “I didn’t believe I did anything wrong,” she said. Over the next months, she also turned down offers from prosecutors to drop the charges in return for meeting certain conditions. What she wanted, she said, was exoneration.
She eventually got it. Most people don’t. Because most people aren’t upper-middle-class college professors with the means, both psychological and financial, to fight back. Most people who get beaten up by the police suffer in silence, and don’t get their stories told in the pages of the New York Times.
Instead, they fill our jails. Or they end up in the hospital with head trauma or organ failure. Or they get returned home with permanent injuries.
LaFont is now wary of the police. Afraid. Now maybe she understands how millions of poor or black or Hispanic or otherwise marginalized people in this country feel, why so many people look upon the police not as pillars of the community but as an occupying force.
They’ve had too much experience. They know what the police are capable of. They see it every day. They know the police get away with it every day. They also know that whatever depravity fiction can come up with is nothing compared to what cops
Lisa Simeone is a writer, editor, political activist, Glamour Girl, and radio host. She publishes ABombazine, where this originally appeared.