It could happen anywhere, really. A gang of thugs enters a small grocery store, terrorizes and abuses the proprietors, smashes the video cameras, and makes off with merchandise. The thugs have probably selected this small grocery because its proprietors are recent immigrants, making them more helpless and less likely to seek or find redress for the thuggery.
What makes the situation notable, and not just another crime in another bodega in another bad neighborhood of America?
The thugs had badges.
Via Radley Balko — whose relentless coverage of police abuse from a libertarian perspective is both indispensable and very bad for your blood pressure — read the story of how shopkeepers David and Eunice Nam experienced official thuggery at the hands of Philadelphia Police Officer Jeffrey Cujdik and his narcotics squad. And they weren't the only ones:
The Daily News interviewed seven store owners and an attorney representing another. Independently, they told similar stories: Cujdik and fellow officers destroyed or cut the wires to surveillance cameras. Some store owners said they watched as officers took food and slurped energy drinks. Other store owners said cigarette cartons, batteries, cell phones and candy bars were missing after raids.
The officers also confiscated cash from the stores – a routine practice in Narcotics Field Unit raids – but didn't record the full amount on police property receipts, the shop owners allege.
In one case, the officers failed to document about $8,200, and in another, about $7,000, the store owners said.
In all eight cases, Cujdik applied for the search warrant and played a key role in the bust. The store owners were charged with possessing and delivering drug paraphernalia, specifically the tiny bags. In the cases that have been settled, judges sentenced the store owners to probation or less.
Cujdik, of course, is offering the standard response: these are all crooks who hate the police, making up stories as crooks always have.
But it sure sounds as if the wheels are coming off of Cujdik's wagon. Corroboration begins to emerge:
At least three former police informants who worked with Cujdik told the Daily News that he often gave them cartons of cigarettes.
"When he raided a corner store, he'd give me cigarettes," said Tiffany Gorham, a former Cujdik informant.
And there's no defending the destruction of cameras, which is the sort of thing that crooks of all stripes do:
As for those broken surveillance cameras, officers have "no reason to cut camera wires or destroy cameras," said a high-ranking Philadelphia police official, who requested anonymity. "None whatsoever."
"It would look like they're trying to hide something," the official said. "It would look like they don't want to be on the surveillance camera themselves."
Read the whole story, and Balko's whole reaction, both of which are bracing.
How can this sort of thing continue to happen? Well, part of it is the ingrained notion that police are by definition do-gooders and people arrested by the police are by definition evil-doers. That's a concept deeply ingrained in our culture, thanks in part to decades of cop shows and movies and more recently forty years of null-content "tough on crime" rhetoric. Somehow the entirely defensible concept that we should vigorously defend citizens from murders, rapists, and robbers — and that the system was giving crooks sentences that were too short — got twisted into the indefensible "thin blue line" vision of an America torn between those who support criminals and those who support cops.
This vision is most often supported and advocated by those who consider themselves conservatives. Yet there is nothing truly conservative about it — at its root, the vision is one of craven and servile acceptance of government authority. If I launched a campaign premised on the theory that IRS officials and government regulators are the good guys — and that anyone who complains about how they are taxed or regulated are by definition the bad guys, making up stories just to save themselves — nobody would see me as conservative for a moment. They'd say I had a canine view of government, unbecoming in a free man. Yet if I say that cops are by definition the good guys, and that complaints about police abuse are largely the fabrications of fee-seeking lawyers, bleeding-heart liberals, and crooks looking to get off, I will fit comfortably into the mainstream of conservative discourse. Pity.
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