Instances of police brutality often make their way through the news cycle in clusters. A string of controversial police shootings will dominate the news cycle for several weeks, as they did last summer, and after sparking headlines, angry Facebook conversations, and further societal rifts, these attention-grabbing stories tend to away from the spotlight.
But as many Americans know all too well, instances of police misconduct are not limited to those highlighted by the mainstream media. Beatings, shootings, and other abuses of power occur daily. Police in America have earned a reputation for the transgressions many officers have committed, from murder to rape to drug trafficking, tampering with evidence, and lying under oath.
They seldom receive criticism for what they don’t do.
Police in Sanford, Florida, have been facing harsh scrutiny after they refused to respond to desperate 911 calls from a mother who was eventually murdered, along with her son. Fox 31 summarized the events that took place early Monday morning after police visited her residence and decided to do nothing:
“Three hours before Latina Herring was killed, she can be seen on police body camera video arguing with her boyfriend, Allen Cashe.
“Cashe is accused of taking his AK-47 and killing Herring and her 8-year-old son, and attempting to kill her 7-year-old son, her father and two other bystanders.”
Though police came to the scene following her initial call for help, they dismissed Herring’s concerns.
“Video shows Cashe and Herring arguing over keys. It is clear from the video that police are not taking Herring’s concerns seriously. ‘She’s making false accusations. It’s the second time she’s done it,’” one cop says.
“‘She’s been calling all night. She first said he had a gun when he didn’t.”
Police eventually told Herring to stop calling 911.
“‘We’re going to handle it. Just stop calling 911 and making accusations that you don’t know about.’”
Cashe did have a gun, and he is alleged to have used it to take Herring’s life and the life of her young son.
“Sanford PD’s a big disappointment to me and to other[s],” Herring’s friend LaDasha Beasley said.
Unfortunately, while police are increasingly known for violent, aggressive actions, police inaction in the face of overt threats is common across the country. In a recent example, reports have emerged indicating police in Michigan have left hundreds of rape kits untested since 2009, failing to conduct vital procedures following alleged sexual assaults. This systemic lack of concern for victims has been a trait of policing institutions for years. Reports of tens of thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of untested rape kits cropped up several years ago and continue to mount (to say nothing of repeated instances of officers committing sexual assault against civilians).
Perhaps the most widespread example of harmful police inaction is the lack of dissent within police departments against such behavior. Police officers often view their occupations as ties that bind fellow cops together. As police accountability activists often wonder, if officers who commit crimes and unjustifiable behavior are simply “bad apples” — as many cop apologists claim — where are all the good cops to call them out and hold them accountable?
Unfortunately, very few are willing to come forward, whether out of loyalty to the force or fear of it. Rather than uphold justice and honor the justice system, many officers prioritize their fellow cops, even if those cops are committing crimes. Those who do speak out are often bullied and harassed by their fellow officers for violating perceived loyalty. The power and influence of well-funded and influential police unions that unwaveringly go to bat for criminal officers often compound this problem.
Because of this established order and the political influence law enforcement wields, it is relatively easy for officers to get away with otherwise morally reprehensible behavior — as well as inaction. With the system backing up criminal officers and “good cops” terrified to speak out, accountability seems near-impossible to achieve.
Rather than take Latina Herring’s cries for help seriously, police dismissed her, accused her of providing false information, and left her to die even as one of their own observed she was in a dangerous situation.
These stories do not only occur in clusters, as the news media’s coverage indicates. They occur every day, and every day, police fail to uphold their basic commitments to citizens, often in favor of upholding their ties to their brethren.
As Herring’s friend LaDasha Beasley asked:
“To protect and serve who man? Who? Justice needs to be served, man.”