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Why Did Police Beat an 84-Year-Old for Jaywalking?

Our streets have turned into a battle zone.

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This article originally appeared on Truthout, and is reprinted here with their permission.

Eighty-four-year old Kang Wong is recovering today from a brutal attack on the streets of New York City.

Wong’s attackers jumped him as he jaywalked across a busy street in Manhattan, threw him up against a wall, and left him with cuts all across his face that have since been sealed up with four metal staples.

The attackers then brought Wong to the nearest police station, where he was booked on charges of jaywalking and resisting arrest.

Kang Wong’s attackers, you see, were New York City cops.

That city’s police commissioner, Bill Bratton, has said that excessive force wasn’t used in his arrest, but that statement doesn’t really face up to much muster. It’s pretty clear that the cops overreacted.

Wong doesn’t speak any English, and if it looked like he was resisting the officers in question, that’s almost certainly because he didn’t understand a word they were saying.

Understandably, his family now plans on pressing charges.

Wong’s brutal arrest is outrageous in its own right, but it also speaks to the broader problem of police brutality in this country. In some places, police culture is very professional; in others it’s just plain militaristic.

I know this from personal experience.

Back in 1996, the Olympics were coming to Atlanta. Just like right now, with Sochi trying to ramp up their security, Atlanta needed more security for the Olympics than was available from just the local police.

At the time, I was writing a novel about a private detective, and shadowing an Atlanta PI, a now-longtime friend named DeWitt Wannamaker, who has held a variety of jobs in law enforcement.

The Georgia Police Academy had opened their doors to civilians that year with an “executive protection” training course for people who’d work for Olympic athletes and visiting VIPs, and DeWitt got me into the course. I ended up not only completing the course but getting licensed for two years as a private detective in the state of Georgia.

Most of the guys going through the course were small-town cops who’d never had any professional training at all, and what I discovered was that there are a lot of really good, really dedicated, and really smart people who aspire to or work in law enforcement.

I also discovered that there are a small number of yahoos who are just really, really excited about the chance to get a gun and a billy club and have the legal authority to kick the stuffing out of people. I encountered one of those guys in the “hand to hand” part of the Academy’s course, and still remember the bruises.

It’s cops like that who do things like beat up an 84-year-old man for jaywalking and it’s cops like that who crack open a protestor’s head at an Occupy Wall Street protest.

Part of this, I believe, has to do with how we talk about law enforcement in the United States. We don’t solve crime, we “fight” it; we don’t have a campaign to stop drug addiction, we have a “War on Drugs.”

We tell cops that they’re in a battle with crime, and then they act accordingly: like soldiers, not public servants.

It shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that the number of SWAT team deployments - something unheard of when I was growing up - jumped from around one hundred in the 1970s to over 50,000 in 2005.

While we’ve turned our public servants into warriors, we’ve started to give up - at the federal level, at least - on the whole idea of community policing.

The federal Community Oriented Policing Services program, or COPS, which provides resources for local police forces around the country was initiated in 1994 during the Clinton administration as part of an effort to put 100,000 police officers on America’s streets.