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Joshua Ostroff Headshot

To Police Unions: Stop Protecting Rotten Cops

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toronto police march
Police in riot gear look on as demonstrators pass by during an organized march in Toronto. (Photo: AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

People like to excuse police violence by claiming that it's just a few bad apples. Perhaps that's true, but then who is electing the police union leaders who make it their job to defend these bad apples?

See, here's the thing about bad apples -- if you don't root them out, then the whole barrel will rot.

If the police union was really protecting the police force, then they'd be the most outspoken critics of police brutality and unnecessary police-involved shootings. But they're not.

In fact, they're warning the public about journalists who dare question these bad apples. This is a real thing the Peel Regional Police Association tweeted earlier this week.

You may recall Desmond Cole from his award-winning Toronto Life article "The Skin I'm In" about his experience with being black in Toronto where he's been stopped by police over 50 times for no reason.

The success of that article led to his current job as a biweekly columnist at the Toronto Star. His, yes, journalism job is to have strong opinions, and I don't see the Peel TPA warning against Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington when he writes about how great carding is.

But that's how police unions roll.

The world's largest police union, America's 330,000-member Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), endorsed Donald Trump in spite of opposition from black cops.

Then they blasted their own chosen racist candidate for daring to posit that Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer Betty Shelby may have "choked" when she shot Terence Crutcher on Thursday. Two days later, Shelby was charged with first-degree manslaughter.

terence crutcher
Still image captured from a video from Tulsa Police Department shows Terence Crutcher after being shot during a police shooting incident in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Sept. 16, 2016. (Photo: Courtesy Tulsa Police Department/Handout via REUTERS)

The FOP, which was the subject of Black Lives Matter protests this past summer, has lobbied against bills ending the transfer of military equipment like tanks to police departments and "sought to impede efforts to gather data on deaths in police custody," according to Huffington Post reports.

"This is about making visible an institution that often works in the shadows and is often allowed to cover up the accountability process when it comes to police killing black bodies and black lives," protestor Jonathan Lykes, co-chair of the Black Youth Project 100's D.C. chapter, said at the time. "We're just trying to shine a light on that picture. We're trying to do it in a coordinated way."

This week over in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the streets have seen days of unrest over the killing of Keith Scott, there has been a dispute over whether the late father was reading a book while waiting for his son, as witnesses claim, or holding a gun, as police claim.

The police chief has said the video, which has not been released to the public, has no "absolute, definitive, visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun."

But that didn't stop the police union boss from contradicting his supposed boss in an attempt to publicly exonerate the police shooter.

This follows the M.O. of other police unions who have opposed dash cams and body cams, as well as opposing the release of any official footage. As news host Joy Reid said on The Rachel Maddow Show on Sept 22, "police unions are fighting to have less and less disclosure. They believe that the presence of cameras is actually making officers reticent to do their jobs and putting them in legal jeopardy."

But police unions are not just opposed to cameras, they're also opposed to criticism.

The Las Vegas police union has tried to get Black Lives Matter buttons banned from courtrooms.

And though they eventually backed down, the Santa Clara Police Officer's Association threatened to deny policing to San Francisco 49ers games over Colin Kaepernick taking the knee during the national anthem.

In a letter to the 49ers management, the police union threatened to "not to work at your facilities" unless Kaepernick was "disciplined" over "these intentional acts and inflammatory statements" such as when "your employee further insulted all law enforcement officers in America by stating, 'There is police brutality. People of colour have been targeted by police.'"

mike mccormack police
Mike McCormack, head of the Toronto Police Association, reacts to verdict in the trial of Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani, accused of assaulting G20 protester Adam Nobody with a weapon. (Photo: Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack has also reacted against claims that people of colour are being racially profiled. As I've written before, last spring he attacked the premier for saying that systemic racism exists. His double-speak argument is that since the police don't keep racial data, there's no empirical evidence and therefore no proof that it exists.

"But what I want to ask the premier is for her to show us the data that she is referring to when she says we still have systematic racism in our society," McCormack railed to the Toronto Sun. "If she has data to show there is such a racism problem in policing or any of her departments, then the question I have is what is she doing about it?"

Then, for good measure, he added, "It's not true and it's not acceptable to suggest it."

Of course, that didn't stop him for using anecdotal data to preposterously claim last January that a prohibition on carding (due to the racial profiling of its practice) increased gun violence.

But that's par for McCormack's course. After Const. James Forcillo was found guilty for the attempted murder of the successfully killed Sammy Yatim, he told the press the verdict "sends a chilling message to our members, and that's going to be a challenge for our frontline members."

Fair enough, but I would hope the police are up to the challenge of not killing people unless there is literally no other option.

black lives matt
The crowd chants at the Black Lives Matter rally at Toronto Police Headquarters at 40 College in Toronto. (Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

He also sent a memo to the rank-and-file that said "be aware that even if you carry out your duties lawfully, to the best of your ability and training and requirements of law, your actions may be subject to review. The Association questions how our members can effectively carry out their duties if they don't have the confidence and support from the [Toronto Police Services Board], City Council and the Province."

And he has dismissed Toronto City Council asking for a review of the Special Investigations Unit, which investigates police violence, as "political masturbation" and blew off Black Lives Matter as a "special interest group" -- their special interest being, apparently, not getting shot by police.

This was echoed in Ottawa when Abdirahman Abdi was killed by cops in the summer. Ottawa Police Association President Matt Skof told CBC that discussions of race were "inappropriate," adding "I'm worried that the conversation is even occurring, to be quite candid."

Police associations are not technically unions because police are banned from forming them -- their job description gives them too much bargaining power in case of a strike. But they fulfill the basic labour organization functions of a union.

Police unions are going to have to start upholding their members' honour and stop defending these rotten cops.

Public-sector workers should be allowed to collectively bargain, even if they are armed, and it would be hard to object to TPA's other official objectives such as "promote and advance the social, wellness and economic welfare of its members" and "generate public and political interest on the vital importance of police work in the everyday life of our community."

But the most important objective, the one that the TPA and all other police unions should remember right now as images of black bodies killed by blue uniforms fill our screens is:

Uphold the honour of the police profession

Yet, as retired LAPD sergeant Cheryl Dorsey admitted to Vice News last year, "Police unions are much like police chiefs. When an an officer is caught doing a very bad thing, they start to circle the wagons. 'That's their job, that's their story.' They stick to it no matter how nonsensical it is and how much it insults our sensibilities, no matter how unreasonable it is to a reasonable person."

If the police want to restore confidence in their ability to protect and serve everyone, including people of colour, then their police unions are going to have to start upholding their members' honour and stop defending these rotten cops.

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