Street Justice Feeds the Frenzy of Institutional Injustice

Street justice feeds the frenzy of institutional injustice. That is the thought that crossed my mind while compiling a news story about a police officer convicted for “putting the boot” to an arrestee at the termination of a pursuit.

I use the phrase “putting the boot” in lieu of “assault and battery” because that is apparently what occurred according to evidence submitted at trial. And it’s also a term used by cops in the inner sanctum of their departments, even in justified circumstances, although it is not meant to be taken literally.

News outlets described the encounter as a “beating,” while I simply described it as a “battery” in the article that LET compiled. Nevertheless, I hated the story, but concluded that all police officers need to be aware of these incidents, so we published it.

Even so, I felt compelled to offer the following editor’s note at the conclusion:

Law Enforcement Today does not enjoy publishing a story like this. Yet it is in the news and we believe all police officers should be aware of these incidents. Sadly, they feed the frenzy that cops discriminate against minorities. We fight hard against lies told by people who hate the police. Institutional injustice is one of the deceptions. However, those who argue it exists will exploit an isolated case like this. We understand that emotions run high at the termination point of a pursuit, but encourage you to be wise. There is no amount of “street justice” worth sacrificing your freedom or career. Be safe, but be smart!

found guilty

Booking photo of Byron Harris / Image from helicopter of assault that landed officers in legal trouble. (Boynton Beach Police Department / Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.)

Police officers need to know where to draw the line. I am the first person to defend officers using appropriate force when dealing with non-compliant or combative suspects. The longer you allow them to maintain the upper hand, the more violent the situation tends to become. So I believe cops should deploy levels of force to quickly to eliminate the belief by the “bad guy” that he has the upper hand.

But I’ve been around a long time, and “street justice” was common in my early years on the job. It wasn’t right then, and it isn’t right now. Nevertheless, it absolutely feeds the frenzy that cops discriminate. Our antagonist fail to realize these events are not discrimination. They are simply bad decisions in the heat of the moment. As a result, we are all painted with a broad brush that institutional injustice is alive and well.

No it isn’t! Isolated incidents of stupidity exist, but not rampant corruption at all levels of the criminal justice system.

Moreover, street justice occurs when police officers cannot professionally control their emotions during volatile encounters; it could simply be a bar fight, or the termination point in a vehicle pursuit. In any case, once the combatant has demonstrated compliance, or the inability to strike back, it’s time to take a deep breath and back away after the suspect is cuffed and secured. The extra “lump,” will eventually lead to administrative, civil, or criminal trouble. And it isn’t worth it!

Beyond making yourself vulnerable to punitive action, you place your peers in a compromised position. Ultimately, it is a very selfish thing to do.

Furthermore, we need to remember there are CAMERAS EVERYWHERE. They will prove your innocence when falsely accused, but will condemn your actions if you step over the line.

Finally, there is a reason we demean and yell at recruits in the high stress environment of the police academy (at least I hope yours is still high stress). It is to practice self-control. When you’re at the termination point of a vehicle pursuit, act like you’ve been there before. Do not participate in street justice, thus adding fuel to the fire that institutional injustice exists.

– Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today

(Photo: Flicker)