This month with several death penalty executions going forward, there has been a great deal of media attention focused on “what is done in our name”. In a democracy authority figures, whether they be military, police or prison guards perform a service for we the people. They are paid with tax payer dollars to maintain order and protect the people. But what happens when they abuse the power that has been entrusted to them?
This past Wednesday the ACLU released a report documenting deputy on inmate abuse in the Los Angeles County Jail. The ACLU has been the court appointed monitor of the jail since 1985 and has filed numerous previous reports detailing abuse of non-resistant prisoners; what makes this report different is that this is the first in which along with over 1000 complaints, there are also first-hand accounts given by civilian witnesses, including a chaplain.
The report describes attacks so severe that inmates required surgeries, suffered long-lasting injuries and experienced psychological trauma. It goes on to describe systemic abuse by deputies that have formed gangs and commit human rights violations.
The FBI reportedly bribed a deputy $1,500 to smuggle a cell phone to a prisoner who was actually an FBI informant reporting abuse to agents on the outside.
The ACLU has called for the immediate resignation of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. Rather than expressing outrage that one of his deputies took a bribe, or vowing to help the FBI get to the bottom of the misconduct and brutality allegations, Baca has criticized the FBI for failing to notify his office about the cell phone sting.
The ACLU has also called on U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to investigate the Los Angeles County jails system and put an end to the unconstitutional abuse.
The report made national news when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow led off her Wednesday evening show with a segment on the subject.
Many may think these are just criminals and not really think or care about how they are treated. But what if that criminal is your son? What if the crime is subway fare evasion? And what if the ultimate punishment was leaving the jail with a concussion, four broken ribs and a collapsed lung?
Rachel Maddow summed up the implications for our society quite eloquently,
”It is not about whether you like the person who the guy in uniform is beating up. What this is about is the fact that the guy in the uniform is us. That [this] is in our name. This is a democracy. Government of, for and by the people…These political fights, every bit as much as who we elect in the next election, will write what history says about who we are as a country.”