“Police and Thieves,” from the movie Rude Boy (1980). The Clash’s original version is on both the UK and US releases of their debut album, The Clash. It’s a cover of a song originally written and performed by Jamaican reggae star Junior Murvin in 1976, highlighting the occasional similarity of actors on both sides of the law:
Police and thieves in the streets
Scaring the nation with their guns and ammunition
Police and thieves in the streets
Fighting the nation with their guns and ammunition …
Here’s Junior Murvin performing “Police and Thieves” live on the BBC in 2004:
In any event, I chose this song because two friends on Twitter, @MarkBrooksVA and Urbana-Champaign’s own @RelUnrelated, alerted me to this prime example of police-and-thieves confusion from my bailiwick:
When Chicago police answered a domestic disturbance call at the home of Tiawanda Moore and her boyfriend in July 2010, the officers separated the couple to question them individually. Moore was interviewed privately in her bedroom. According to Moore, the officer who questioned her then came on to her, groped her breast and slipped her his home phone number.
Robert Johnson, Moore’s attorney, says that when Moore and her boyfriend attempted to report the incident to internal affairs officials at the Chicago Police Department, the couple wasn’t greeted warmly. “They discouraged her from filing a report,” Johnson says. “They gave her the runaround, scared her, and tried to intimidate her from reporting this officer – from making sure he couldn’t go on to do this to other women.”
Ten months later, Chicago PD is still investigating the incident. Moore, on the other hand, was arrested the very same afternoon.
Her crime? At some point in her conversations with internal affairs investigators, Moore grew frustrated with their attempts to intimidate her. So she began to surreptitiously record the interactions on her Blackberry. In Illinois, it is illegal to record people without their consent, even (and as it turns out, especially) on-duty police officers.
The Huffington Post article cited above goes on to detail the growing number of cases in which ordinary citizens have been arrested and prosecuted for taping public officials engaging in public business … in public … right here in my home state, and in particular in Cook County. Another particularly egregious example comes from Buffalo, New York, where a police officer threatened to physically assault a citizen who took his picture (NSFW). Unbelievable.
These days, the out-of-control police state is on a collision course with itself as it attempts to place us all under nearly constant surveillance, a fact which is particularly true here in Chicago, yet tries to insulate its officers from … being surveilled by ordinary citizens. The absurdity of local officials arguing on the one hand that private citizens have no expectation of privacy out on the streets – which is the supposed legal justification for placing surveillance cameras everywhere – yet arguing that police officers need to be protected from your video camera or camera phone is beyond absurd, and it’s only a matter of time before one legal theory runs headlong into the other.
But here’s the thing. We all know why states are trying to criminalize the act of videotaping or otherwise recording police activity. They are trying to cover up embarrassing and potentially illegal, even criminal, acts of police officers. Here in Illinois, these cases are particularly troublesome given that our courts seem to be applying absurdly lenient standards in cases involving police officers accused of criminal conduct – even violent criminal conduct – as I documented previously. But in any event what we have here is a clear-cut instance of the government using the force of law – including the threat of criminal prosecution – to cover up its own criminal conduct.
If you ask me, this is a much bigger deal than WikiLeaks or Julian Assange or even Bradley Manning. It isn’t happening in Washington, DC, or in the military, or in some foreign service office half way around the world. It’s happening in your own backyard. And yet, no one cares.
Well, at least “Police and Thieves” is a great song. So: Turn. It. Up.
© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.