The Role of the Police

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by Tiassa, Sep 22, 2007.

  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    We'll try again ....

    Actually, I provided a range of oaths because they vary from state to state. The Colorado oath, for instance, is fairly basic. The ISP oath asserts that the cadet should adopt "unimpeachable behavior". The Florida code of ethics goes so far as to explicitly state that the officer will keep private life unsullied, while the oath of office declares that the he or she will perform their duties fearlessly.

    These ideas pertain to the public myth about the police. This kind of service is what motivates such statements as included in the topic post, the proposition that "all cops are to be respected". In another topic you're familiar with, one of our fellows asserted that being a cop was a mitigating factor in assessing culpability because it "generally shows what kind of character you are when you are willing to risk your life for others".

    Where do these ideas come from? Whence comes this public myth?

    What you're looking past in favor of your obsession is a simple concept. The myth arises from unfair expectation on the part of the people.

    A simple concept, indeed, but one that seems to be wrong. It would appear that the people do have the right to expect certain extraordinary standards of the police. And many people perceive that many police departments fail to meet those standards. But what are those standards? Is the public myth fair in its assignations? If not, from what should the standards be derived? Should we build the standards solely around the oath? What about the authority placed in the hands of the police, both collectively and individually? Should police officers be entitled to extraordinary protection under the law? (This would make them "above the law" in relation to the U.S. Constitution.)

    It's not a matter of what one officer does wrong. What is important is that, in the case of the WTO '99 deputy, the Sheriff's department cannot reassure the people that such behavior will not occur again. In the case of SPD officers beating a man in a wheelchair and planting evidence, the Chief of Police made it clear through his behavior that his officers ought to have carte blanche to do what they wish. These are things that the people ought to be worried about. The people need not let the actions of one officer stain an entire department when the department is willing to do the staining for them.

    Literally, riot police can run amuck in Seattle, and there's nothing to be done about it. The Chief of Police has made it clear that planting evidence, beating suspects in wheelchairs, and filing false incident reports are commendable behavior for cops. It only takes a few to undermine public confidence. Third-world corruption in our police departments is worrisome. If they're tasering people for convenience, it needs to stop. If the evidence they provide is tainted, they have failed to do their job. You know, the idea of signing off on equipment testing that has not been done doesn't seem either far-fetched or tremendously difficult. But when it's the equipment used to construe evidence against suspects--e.g., breathalyzers--that little lie affects hundreds of convictions. And when the potential wrongful convictions reach a systemic proportion, the people are supposed to be concerned.

    You don't get to write off such concerns as petty hatred. You don't get to give the police a break because of their service to the community. In such cases, their badges don't mitigate culpability, but augment it. In the case of the autistic teen, deputies either tased him because he was in danger or because he posed a danger to the cops. The department has been unclear about that. (1, 2)

    Consider two comments from the coverage of the story:

    The first asks some vital questions. The second makes the obvious point. The first asks the questions that demand the split-second decisions referred to in the second. Now, here's the thing, Max: law enforcement personnel ask for the job, and thus accept the expectation of assuming risk. Transferring risk to a mentally-ill teenager in order to reduce risk to oneself does not rise to meet the obligations a sheriff's deputy invites when applying for the job.

    Because of the public myth about what police officers are supposed to be, the split-second decision should not be settled by deferring to self-preservation above all else.

    Now then: Is this expectation fair? Is it fair to hold the police accountable according to such an expectation? Is it fair that the expectation should mitigate their culpability in unrelated matters?

    • • •​

    Max, in your zeal you've overlooked the central issue, the role of the police in society. Now, I recognize that your holy crusade requires you to regard things like rocks and pencils as functional equivalents to devices designed specifically to kill human beings, but you need to put all that aside for a moment.

    In Oklahoma, some people think it is unfair to hold the police accountable for shooting a five year-old boy specifically because they are the police. Others would hold that the officers involved have been extraordinarily stupid; when asking to be a police officer, you're asking to be obliged to conduct yourself better than the average citizen.

    In the case of a Wyoming accident, some have asserted that the fact of military service in and of itself is a mitigating factor in assessing culpability, and for the same reasons have extended that mitigating influence to the police. So goes the argument, accepting certain extraordinary obligations speaks well of character, and thus makes it harder to believe that the accidental death was in fact deliberately effected.

    These arguments orbit a certain focal point, which is the public myth of the police. Because if we are to give the police certain credit, they owe the public something in return. Don't make contradictory excuses that make you sound like you're bullshitting the people (e.g. tasering an autistic teen); for heaven's sake, when you have the luxury of knowing what you're shooting at, take the opportunity to find out as much as you can; if the guy is guilty, why plant evidence, beat him, and file a false incident report? And of this last, if this is honorable conduct among a city's police department, what the hell are the people supposed to think?

    Now, if the role of the police reflects something similar to the public myth, there is a serious discussion to be had about what that myth equals. If the role of the police is to be donut-packing, lethally-armed yahoos no brighter than the next criminally-stupid idiot, we just might have a problem. If the role of the police is to serve the public by taking no risks except by accident--e.g., If having the suspect run into traffic is dangerous, how is incapacitating the suspect in traffic any safer? If it's dangerous to chase the suspect into traffic, is it any less dangerous to retrieve an incapacitated suspect from traffic?--how can they really serve the community?

    Consider one we hear from time to time: Police back off a high-speed chase because it becomes dangerous. Well, who is it dangerous for? It is dangerous for the community at large. Indeed, it is dangerous for the police, as well, but that danger is part of their job. Another part of their job is protecting public safety. So it's better, in many cases, to simply back off. If a cop rolls his car in a high-speed chase and gets hurt, that's part of the job. If a cop loses control and plows through a crowd of pedestrians, that's a really bad mistake.

    Wouldn't it be silly, then, if it turns out the myth is unfair? Wouldn't it just be ridiculous that police let suspects get away for no good reason? That they deferred to public safety when that wasn't their job? How tragic would it be that an arrest was delayed by hours or maybe a couple of days because the cops erroneously believed they shouldn't put large numbers of civilians at risk?

    Here, let's try two questions that are easier to ask than to answer:

    • When is it a police officer's job to kill someone?

    • When is it a police officer's job to die?​
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2007
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  3. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    As usual, Tiassa, you type up a helluva bunch of words in some misguided attempt to actually say something which amounts to very little.

    That's the gist of your entire post want humans to guarantee that humans won't act like humans in any and all situations. You expect perfection in the actions of the police, and that's idiotic! The police are human, and they make human mistakes and errors. What you want are robots programmed by Tiassa.

    And, Tiassa, if you don't recognize that that's one of the most idiotic things anyone could ask, then I'm done with this topic (unless you make another long, involved, convoluted, accusatory, derogatory post about the police).

    If you've already decided that there's nothing to be done about it, why are still complaining about it?

    **Never, even if the bad guy is viciously beating and slashing an innocent victim. Because the officer might miss and injure someone a mile away ..or it might turn out later that the "bad guy" was an FBI agent and the "victim" was preparing to detonate 4,000 nukes in Seattle.

    In fact, we should take guns away from police officers and issue them pom-poms and cute little cheerleader's skirts.

    **Every day of his life, including off-duty hours.

    I'm through talking to you about this issue, Tiassa, simply because you're expecting perfection in the police officers and you don't recognize that the police are only humans. Everything you say about the police, you could make the very same arguments about doctors, and many other professions. Perfection is only for idealistic bullshit discussions that have virtually no bearing on the realities of life.

    Baron Max
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  5. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    ¿Max Quixote?

    This is why you really shouldn't try to assign people's thoughts according to your desires. It's not about perfection. In the case of the WTO '99 deputy, a bad cop got caught doing bad things. His boss tried to handle the situation, and was prevented from doing so. In the meantime, there has been no change in the status of riot police in the area, so that even the best-intended law-enforcement official simply cannot tell the community that the problem has been fixed. There's a difference between expecting perfection and expecting that at least some remedy is attempted.

    And if you can't figure out the difference, perhaps it's best that you be done with this discussion. You never really intended to contribute anything but your ego to the topic in the first place.

    And you think I have a problem with the police? Fuck, Max, even I'm not that hard on them. What caricature are you playing now?

    Yeah, that's my understanding, including what I can figure out from the police themselves. See? If you throw enough darts, Max, you'll eventually hit one: in your sarcasm, you've hit damn close to the public myth in question.

    Yeah, I know. I'm so mean to doctors, aren't I? After all, I expect them to not leave their Porsche keys inside a patient. I must hate teachers, too, because I once cancelled my subscription to a Communist newspaper (Workers' Vanguard) because they protested the removal of a self-identified NAMBLA member from the classroom. Oh, the oppressive district! They gave him a higher-paying administrative job with fewer responsibilities. I mean, I expect schoolteachers to not acknowledge their desire to fuck their students. I must hate them.

    Then why do you keep raising the issue? Oh, right. You're arguing idealistic bullshit with virtually no bearing on reality.

    Stop tilting windmills, Max. The discussion at hand suffices. If you really need to have a different discussion, go start the topic.
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  7. Panjabster Registered Member

    I've never met a penis-head police officer. Everyone I've seen while in public, I "how you doin" them, they politely respond, and that's that. I've several times reported crimes to them, they come to my place of abode, take the report, give some advice on how to be safe, shake my hand, and carry on. I ain't ever had a problem with them.
  8. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    Tiassa, for all your wordiness and convoluted posts, it seems to me that all you're saying is .....cops shouldn't do bad things.

    Well, ...duh. Is there anyone who SHOULD do bad things?

    Baron Max
  9. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    You're almost there, Max

    And for all your self-righteous outbursts, Max, you've missed the point.

    Of course the police shouldn't do bad things. In this country, most of them actually take an oath on that point.

    However, there's more to this discussion than that:

    In the first place, it's not about whether or not people should do bad things.

    If we start with the idea of one cop doing something wrong, and consider that nothing ever happens to him--e.g., professional courtesy, "boys' club", "wall of silence"--the public realizes that any cop who does something wrong can expect some degree of the same escape from accountability. It's a very basic notion at this point.

    Now start adding up the spectacular shit. For instance:

    • Mayor Giuliani breaking the law in order to make excuses for NYPD officers who shot an unarmed man after provoking a confrontation.

    • Chief Kerlikowske interfering with and then misrepresenting the contents of investigations into his officers' conduct (e.g., beating suspects, planting evidence, and filing false incident reports constitute honorable and professional conduct that deserves our respect).

    • I was actually surprised to find the argument that the bad guy in the Tulia case was a patsy of someone even worse.

    • Sheriff Reichert cannot discipline his deputies for their conduct in a riot; specifically, he is forbidden.

    • How did the Rampart CRASH scandal actually get so far out of hand?​

    This does have a corrosive effect on the public's perception of its institutions. What about the mundane?

    • Cops let drunks drive, as long as the drunk is a cop?

    • A police officer whose conduct constitutes an offense worthy of dismissal cannot be dismissed because the department failed to cite him for said offense?

    • False incident reports and false testimony are common.​

    One need not hate the police, Max, in order to question such assertions that the police should always be respected, or that the fact of being a police officer is an automatic testament to character that mitigates criminal culpability. While you've spent many words reiterating your sentiments regarding blanket condemnations of the police, what of other blanket generalizations? What about generalizing positively about the police? Do sentiments such as "all cops are to be respected", or the mitigating effect/character testament of being a police officer create unrealistic expectations? Does an exaggerated public myth exacerbate the situation when questions arise?

    • Blanket positive generalizations about the police are unfair.

    • Such generalizations exaggerate the public myth of the police, thereby distorting both perceptions and expectations.

    • These distortions exacerbate peoples' perceptions of and responses to police (mis)conduct.​

    Consider the incident with the autistic teen:

    Did the taser save the boy's life? Maybe.

    Did the taser protect the officer's life? Minimally at best.

    Was the taser the only option? No.

    Was the taser simply the most convenient option? So it would seem.

    Should we be thankful that the officer tasered an autistic teenager because it was simply the most convenient thing to do? I can't imagine why.​

    These aren't the final answers, by any means. There is still information we don't have. But compared to the public myth of the role of the police, the use of the taser was questionable at best:

    • Yes, the officer could (should?) have pursued the suspect.

    • Now, just whose safety was the question about?

    • What made you think that the suspect might possibly have a weapon?

    • Given that the kid went missing from a mental health facility, given that a missing-persons report had been filed, and considering that the officer did not realize he was dealing with an autistic teenager who had been reported missing, what the hell happened?​

    I don't think these are unreasonable questions. I think the public has a right to know the answers. When the solution seems counterintuitive (shocking the kid in traffic), the reason for the solution varies ("for the kid's safety" vs. "he might have had a weapon"), and when it seems that the department could not connect the description of the missing, mentally-ill teenager to the suspect allegedly behaving erratically, yeah, the questions seem fair.

    To be specific: From reading the press accounts, it seems like shocking the kid was simply the most convenient thing for the deputy to do. This is not a good reason to jolt someone with that much electricity when your job is to take those risks, above and beyond mundane obligations, for everyone else's safety. The problem comes, of course, with the fact that these are press accounts. Of course, we can't turn back to the incident report; complaints about the nature of incident reports are widespread, and, having seen a corrupt incident report involving my arrest, I tend to consider the things unreliable. The incident report is not written as an account of what happened, but as a pitch to justify an arrest or other action taken. EmptyForceofChi is not alone in considering the report on his arrest bogus. One thing the guilty and innocent have in common is that they tend to think their incident reports are full of shit. So the incident report doesn't help much.

    That the department is splitting hairs and shifting its story suggests that it is not confident about its account of events. And this is the thing:

    Nobody can ask perfection of the police. But the police should not rely on that fact as an excuse.

    It's kind of like that bizarre expression about "having your cake and eating it too". No, when you are the government, you do not get to be that way. It's part of the social contract. It's part of what police officers ask for when they apply for the job.

    And even though it's crass for everyday citizens to act in such a manner, it is a greater offense when the people who ask for authority over everyday citizens to conduct themselves in such a manner. But some of them do, and apparently can still expect the respect that comes with the myth of nobility surrounding the office.

    I can only encourage you, Max, to realize that the questions you're complaining about are more subtle and dynamic than the monolithic windmill you've created in order to LOL at how clever you imagine yourself to be.

    And remember: in the United States of America, this myth of the nobility of the police lends to a fairly serious, but largely overlooked problem. The Supreme Law of the Land says we are all equal before the law. The public myth of the police includes the presumption that police are ... uh ... "more equal" than others. That is, many perceive them as being "above the law".

    The mere fact of someone's badge speaks nothing of their character. The record of their service with that badge? Yeah, that can speak volumes.

    Do you agree with either of the following:

    • All cops are to be respected.

    • Being a police officer is a mitigating factor in determining culpability because it generally shows what kind of character you are when you are willing to risk your life for others.​

    Of that second, I should note that there is some question as to whether or not officers should risk their safety for others. It's one of the small questions, for instance, in the Taser case. And it's part of your argument in your discussion with Spuriousmonkey (#74). But, as a general question, do you agree with those statements above?

    I'm curious about how automatically we are expected to defer to the mythical nobility of the police. Hence, the question of the role of the police.

    • • •​

    As to your histrionic question itself, Max ... there is a fair question about when people should do bad things. But that question treads onto whether or not that something is bad, how it is bad, and how bad it is. Let's consider a few things:

    Vandalism: Was it Emmaline Pankhurst who once said, "I just want to go out into the street and smash, smash, smash everything"? I'm pretty sure it wasn't Sylvia. Another quote that goes with that is, approximately, "The broken pane is the most effective political argument." Now, vandalism in general is still bad, but let's consider it in light of ....

    Women's Suffrage: One of the worst excuses for denying women the vote was that it was cruel to women to ask them to think about such things.​

    Given that the normal, civilized methods of expression and recourse were denied women, I think hurling bricks through the windows of government offices is a far better solution than, say, gunning down MPs or bombing fish stands.

    Breaking the Law: Two words, "Civil Rights".​

    In a more contemporary context, I'd hold that shutting down traffic in the city center by occupying the streets in order to protest international political and economic exploitation that brings suffering to millions around the world is a more proper form of protest than, say, flying airplanes into buildings, strapping dynamite to your chest and blowing up a bus stop.

    Masturbation: Really, how evil do people have to be to worry about whether or not you masturbate? To a certain degree, wanking and sexual promiscuity saved Western society.​

    There's something to be said against public masturbation; it's not the most aesthetic, and there's always the health risk if you're not aware of some disease you carry. And it's just not very nice to ask someone else to clean up the produce of a hundred wankers on the bus. But by and large, masturbation in and of itself is more of a problem to those conditioned against it than it is to those who get themselves off.

    Marijuana: The effective prohibition of marijuana occurred, coincidentally, as nylon hit the market. Harry Anslinger, one of marijuana's biggest enemies in 1936-37, had formerly been an advocate of the plant, including consideration of industrial farm equipment for marijuana (e.g., decorticater). Despite the move to prohibit marijuana, though, the U.S. government would, only a few years later, appeal to American farmers to grow the plant in support of the war effort. (The government even produced a propaganda film, released in 1942, called Hemp For Victory.)​

    Given that nicotine and alcohol are legal, it's really hard for me to accept that marijuana is bad any more than it is bad to consume cigarettes or alcohol. In fact, in terms of the user's health and the impact on those nearest the user, marijuana is not as bad as cigarettes. In fact, alcohol and nicotine both kill exponentially more people than marijuana; if you restrict the statistics to certain years or blocs of years, that "exponentially" can become "infinitely"--after all, what is a ratio of 10,000:0?

    Now add to the consideration that marijuana has, indeed, helped some cancer patients. It's all anecdotal, of course, but if you ask the cancer survivors and patients, AIDS patients, and their families, you'll find it difficult to convince them that they're wrong.

    And let's consider a joke among my circle of friends. Once upon a time, not so long ago, a friend countered his girlfriend's bizarre issue about marijuana (she was drunk as hell at the time) by joking that I was one of the few people on the planet who functions better while stoned. And, frankly, there is at least some merit to the assertion. I'm a hell of a lot more patient with people, and for some reason people think I communicate better when I'm stoned. I won't stand on the latter, but it's just something worth considering.

    In any of these cases, though, we come back to the questions of how something is bad, and how bad it is. There are plenty of reasons for people to do "bad" things, but in nearly (practically, virtually) all of those cases, I would assert that the bad thing isn't really so bad, or isn't bad at all.
  10. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    Interesting, Tiassa, you typed all that knowing that I can't respond under the threat of banishment. Is that like twisting the knife after you've already stabbed me?

    I agree with whatever you said in the last post ...why did you bother typing so much?

    Baron Max
  11. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    News to me.

    Because you're so close, Max.

    Look, when you finally put your bitterness and self-righteous zeal back on the shelf where they belong, and genuinely try to take part in this community's discussions, you'll most likely have much to say that is entertaining, enlightening, or otherwise useful. And in this topic, you're very, very close.

    And since part of my point is that the subtleties prevent this discussion from being as simplistic as you've attempted to cast it, why would I try to one-line my way out of it?
  12. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Portland ingrates sue police for valiantly protecting the neighborhood

    From The Portland Mercury:

    The four complaints:

    (1) Greg Benton claims police arrested him at gunpoint after Benton asked to see a warrant before permitting them to search his home on a hunch. (Police were looking for a shooting victim.)

    (2) Frank Waterhouse is suing for $30,000 after police shot him with a beanbag gun and Taser. His crime? He videotaped the police as they conducted a search. The Taser discharge appears to be in violation of the department's own policies.

    (3) Richard Prentice has filed a tort claim after police arrested allegedly intimidated him in a holding cell. His crime? Putting up posters that accused law enforcement officers of murder.

    (4) Ryan Dunn has filed a $30k lawsuit after being arrested during an anti-Bush rally in October. His alleged crime? Telling the cops, "We pay your salaries!"​

    Some links:

    Davis, Matt. "Thought Police". The Portland Mercury. June 28, 2007. See

    Davis, Matt. "Crowded Courthouse". The Portland Mercury. October 18, 2007. See

    Davis, Matt. "Today's Cop Lawsuit Number One: Man Sues Cops For Retaliating Over Free Speech". Blogtown PDX. October 15, 2007. See

    Davis, Matt. "Today's Cop Lawsuit Number Two: Man Claims Cops Retaliated Over Free Speech". Blogtown PDX. October 15, 2007. See

    Davis, Matt. "Today's Cop Lawsuit Number Three: Man Sues Cops For Arrest At Gunpoint For No Reason". Blogtown PDX. October 15, 2007. See

    Davis, Matt. "Today's Cop Lawsuit Number Four: Man Sues Cops For Retaliating Against Videotaping". Blogtown PDX. October 15, 2007. See

    Make sure you catch the video of the Waterhouse hit. I mean, can you believe these ingrates? How dare they complain about such noble, proper, and risky police work?
  13. Roman Banned Banned

    It's funny; bad cops is why Americans (supposedly) have guns. Yet the same douchebags that scream loudest about having guns also find fascism the most favorable form of government.

    At least authoritarianism. I used fascism cause it went well with favorable.
  14. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    Hmm, four complaints out of how many cops in the USA, Tiassa?

    And does the behavior of those four cops somehow mean that all cops are bad? What percentage do those four cops represent, Tiassa?

    Can we draw the same conclusions that you seem to be drawing by looking at the actions of a few criminals as representative of the human race?

    Why don't you like cops, Tiassa? Why do you have such a hard-on for cops? What did one of them do to you, Tiassa?

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    Baron Max
  15. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Wrote a false incident report. Duh. I mean, shit, Max, for all the complaining you do, I would think you'd have been paying attention.

    But my thing with the police is a bit more complex than you're capable of understanding, Max. Don't hurt yourself trying to figure it out. Oh, that's right, you won't even bother. You just like complaining.
  16. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    Isn't that what all criminals do ......deny that they're criminals? Should we believe all of the criminals as you'd have us believe you?

    Baron Max
  17. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Max ... tsk, tsk. You forgot one element: I've never been convicted. In fact, the DA chose to not take it to trial. So, say what you want about those who have been convicted. I mean, you will, anyway.

    You know, the flip side to that story is that it involves one of the things the police did that I do appreciate, except for the fact that, technically, the State Trooper failed to do his job. He had me right there, in the middle of a mess on I-5. The guy whose car I hit at 40 miles an hour was such a prig that I think the cop decided to give me a free pass. Either that, or he didn't want to write the paperwork. (Would have been really cool if the battery caught fire in the police lot, eh?) Long story short: he had me, had my license, and ran it. Later, I would find out that there was, in fact, a warrant for my ass that day. Nice guy. Didn't say a thing about it.

    But for the purposes of this discussion, it's hard to set aside the fact that he ignored a warrant and let a wanted man walk.

    Still, though ... you really should pay attention if you're going to complain.
  18. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    Read what I asked, Tiassa, and explain to me where it has anything to do with you being convicted or not. I said:

    "Should we believe all of the criminals as you'd have us believe you?"

    And I stand by it. Ain't nothin' in there about your status as a criminal or being convicted of anything or even arrested for anything.

    Baron Max
  19. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Fine. Have it your way.
  20. oiram Registered Senior Member

    Maybe the short school but is parked nearby?.......

    Maybe the person walking slowly down the street with a knife arguing with himself could be an indication?..

    Maybe a person claiming to be God?...........

    How can police tell if they are trying to hurt themselves or another person?

    . Maybe the way the gun is pointed???????
  21. oiram Registered Senior Member

  22. codanblad a love of bridges Registered Senior Member

    i've had good experiences with cops, they were always nice to me. i'm 20yr old white male in a nice area though. was speeding and they let me go, my registration expired they were kind and helpful, was having sex with gf in my car they let me go lol. what i thought was secluded turnoff turned out to be a popular area for staging robberies. my bad.

    the only exception was one night at the local club there was a serious fight and police were called. as everyone was kicked out of the club for some reason, the police called to the fight managed to get into an argument with the drunks, and it escalated to the point riot police were called, and people were getting cuffed on the street. soon as one person got shoved to the ground by cops, all his drunken mates were pushing the cops off him. stupid of the police to let the situation escalate so badly, if they'd remained calm it would have subsided. just drunken teens.

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