Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Cop Show

We've gotten desensitized. The world is full of big horrors. The ongoing bloodbath in the Middle East. China in Tibet. East Timor. Rwanda. We see these on the news and it just rolls off.

But the little horrors can still shock. The other day, there was a bank robbery. Robber fled, armed and considered dangerous. FBI investigated. Nothing unusual; bank robbers are almost always pretty dumb. Even if he avoids getting tracked down at once, he'd probably start spending money like a drunken sailor. Easy to track as the Potomac River. As a matter of fact, they did catch him a couple of days later with no particular trouble.

Problem was, at one point, a couple of FBI agents pulled over a suspect. Ordered him out of his car, hands up. And blew his face off. Literally. Rifle bullet to the jaw. Then they made him lie on the ground and handcuffed him.

The more I hear about this, the worse it gets. The FBI agents' car was unmarked. They had no lights or siren. They never showed ID. Joseph Schultz, the victim, did not resist.

What the Bloody Hell Is Going on Here?

Back when I was in college, J. Edgar Hoover was running the FBI. He didn't have a good reputation. It was years later that the story of him blackmailing US Presidents came out. Ditto the story of him being blackmailed by the Mafia to deny the existence of organized crime. However, his persecution of Martin Luther King was well known, as was his enormous ego. One antiwar organizer described being detained for several hours at an airport while a couple of agents very earnestly tried to convince him that Hoover was really a good guy, working very hard to do what's right for America.

Even among the antiwar organizers that I knew who were the subject of FBI investigations, there was no questioning the professionalism and integrity of the agents themselves. Mostly they were a joke -- the agents' dress code wasn't relaxed while investigating antiwar activities and you could spot them a mile off. The one at the antiwar rally or Grateful Dead concert in the gray suit was the FBI agent ...

Hoover retired, to be followed by a bunch of undistinguished directors who tried to keep up Hoover's professionalism without his overarching ego. Then came William Sessions. He was forced out as Director for a number of severe ethics violations. However, scuttlebutt has it that he was forced out because he "wasn't a Hoover man". He wasn't the first Director that didn't start out as an agent, but he was the first one to try to pull the FBI away from the Hoover style of organization. The agents loathed him. From what I heard, the "ethics violations" consisted of one occasion where he had his official driver pick up his wife from shopping.

His successor was Louis Freeh, who had a firm reputation as a Hoover man. Unfortunately, he is best known for putting Larry Potts, with no qualification except for being his best friend, in charge of two of the biggest disasters in the history of the FBI -- Ruby Ridge and Waco. At Ruby Ridge, Potts issued a "shoot to kill any adult" order, which was carried out. (I've heard people dispute this. However, I've seen it. It says "shoot to kill", in some of the most turgid bureaucratese I've ever seen.) At Waco, he disregarded the FBI's own procedures for dealing with religious nuts and insisted on treating Koresh like a bank robber.

The result was a severe demoralization of the Bureau. In addition, the "War on Drugs" started taking its toll of the overall professionalism of the Bureau. (Topic for another time.) They've lost their squeaky clean, uncorruptable image.

So What Will Happen?

Nothing. After all, Joseph Schultz didn't die. That seems to be the criterion for getting something done in this society -- somebody gets killed. Crippled, disfigured, ruined financially or emotionally, nobody cares. Gotta die first.

The FBI will pull in around the agents. Can't tell why they pulled over Schultz's girlfriend (who was driving). Might jeopardize sources. Can't identify the agent. Against policy. Anne Arundel county cops are investigating; they have no authority over Feds.

The agents involved will be quietly reassigned to somewhere else. "Investigations" will turn up the fact that Schultz isn't a Nice Man (whether he is or not. Point is publicity.). His lawyer will go away when he runs out of money -- and it'll be a long time before he can work a normal job.

There will be no criminal charges. There will be no civil action -- takes years, costs a fortune, almost certainly won't win. Cops in the "performance of their duty" get a lot of leeway.

And we move a step closer to a strict two-class society. Cops and politicians on one side, all the rest of us on the other.

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