Sunday, April 06, 2008

Damned, Evil Denver Police Department

Denver Post reporter Susan Greene relates a story that needs to be heard about a young man arrested erroneously, held for eight days without a court appearance, held under a name that wasn’t his, and, ultimately, treated poorly by DPD. I agree with Greene that these are all horrible things and everyone who erred should be held to account. The apology offered to Mr. Muse Jama hardly makes up for shabby treatment.

But Greene makes this into something much larger than the facts seem to warrant. First, she suggests that the actions of the DPD are similar to the actions of militias in Somalia.

Jama’s family fled their native Somalia in 1994 partly due to that country’s own problem with people disappearing mysteriously without cause.

What happened to Jama was purely wrong, but it hardly compares to what has happened to hundreds of thousands of people killed and displaced since Somalia began its civil war and descent into anarchy in 1988. When someone “disappears” in a country like Somalia, they don’t generally come back a week later with even a perfunctory apology from a court.

The evils of the Denver police can’t be contained in an oblique reference to a country with no real, functioning government for more than the last 15 years, though.

What kind of twisted, Abu Ghraib reality are law enforcers working in when they insist — over several days and despite evidence to the contrary — that you are someone you’re not?

One can only imagine that Greene has some inside information about the torture or abuse of Mr. Jama that she hasn’t shared with the class. Accidental incarceration happens, is horrible, and always deserves attention and consideration. But that hardly makes what happened to Mr. Jama similar in any way to the detention and abuse of prisoners in any way similar to what happened to prisoners at the hands of Charles Graner, Lynndie England and Co. much less the even more terrifying years of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib under the rule of Sadam Hussein. The sickening part of Abu Ghraib isn’t that some people were mistakenly imprisoned for a few days, but that they were subjected to inhumane abuse at the hands of American soldiers.

Bringing the emotionally charged Abu Ghraib to this story is dishonest.

Innocent people are being plucked from their lives and caged because of police work that is beyond sloppy.

Yes, they are. In fact, Greene points out a grand total of three somewhat similar stories of errors made by Denver police. That doesn’t begin to justify the hysterical, unrelentingly outraged tone of Greene’s story or her suggestion that DPD is somehow similar to the militias of Somalia or the rogue US soldiers who abused detainees at Abu Grhaib. That distortion undermines her story, in fact.

Three documented mistakes (Are there more? If so, how many?) doesn’t constitute an epidemic of official misconduct. It does warrant investigation, public scrutiny, changes in policies and procedures, and punishment if criminal wrongdoing is found.

It’s just hard to see that the average Denver cop is working in some “kind of twisted, Abu Ghraib reality,” and her suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong. 


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