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Arlene Violet: Police are under fire and most don't know why

By Arlene Violet
Posted 6/22/20

In the wake of the despicable death of George Floyd, many police departments are under siege by the very citizens they are sworn to protect. Some FOP lodge presidents are lashing out against what …

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Poli-ticks Poli-ticks

Arlene Violet: Police are under fire and most don't know why

Posted

In the wake of the despicable death of George Floyd, many police departments are under siege by the very citizens they are sworn to protect. Some FOP lodge presidents are lashing out against what they consider unfair and unjust rhetoric and the “revolting opportunistic anti-police grandstanding… spewed by many of local, state and federal political leaders”. (Warwick FOP Statement, June 8, 2020). These FOPs also criticize the “defund” movement as an act of outright ignorance.

Defunding is extreme, and the blanket criticism with the racial epithet thrown at all police members is unwarranted. Police departments, however, have to do more listening than complaining. Many of them have a lot to learn.

It is true that most police perform their duties without prejudice. When it comes to their brethren who are racist, however, far too many mum up. The conspiracy of silence is wrong and rightly subjects officers to criticism. The code of silence blankets the evil actions of some of their confreres so police officers who look the other way share blame for dereliction of duty. In the George Floyd case there were 18 instances where the accused officer was charged with abuse of power. During the snuffing out of the life of Mr. Floyd, three officers remained in place and allowed the action of the bully/alleged murderer among them. Their acquiescence makes them unworthy of the uniform they wear but show how rooted the “code” is.

For far too long the code of silence has prevailed among the rank and file even with officers who wouldn’t commit a heinous act themselves. One of my first cases was defending a police officer in Warwick who did speak out and who was disciplined while the perpetrator continued in his job unabated. Eventually, he was ostracized and ended up quitting the force.

I lived in Oakland Beach and far too often saw bullying of the poor residents there. Ten years later as Attorney General I argued a case in the Rhode Island Supreme Court to uphold the conviction of 2 Providence police officers who had dumped a "drunk" into the City of Cranston at the end of their nightly shift since they didn’t want to do the paperwork to bring him to a “drunk tank”. The man asphyxiated on his own vomit. The Supreme Court held that the police manual didn’t explicitly say that they couldn’t do that so without a police manual directive forbidding the dumping, there could be no crime. Far too many police officers knew of their colleagues’ action and remained silent. It was all a big joke.
Silence in the face of disparate racial treatment also should have no place in law enforcement. By analogy, not all priests sexually abused children but many more did know of the abusers’ predilections and their silence was an inexcusable acquiescence. Both the perpetrators and the enablers are the ones responsible for the disrepute accorded police and clergy. Only cleaning up the code of silence can the return of respect for either institution be regained.

So, rather than lashing out at Allie’s Donuts (Warwick FOP) and other vocal citizens, look inside at your own rank and file. Weed out the racists and bullies if you want respect. Act.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

2020 by East Bay Newspapers

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.