Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Police brutality and criminality, 1938 and today

I was looking through the 1938 book Man Against Himself by psychoanalyst Karl Menninger (1893-1990). He addresses the issue of criminal behavior by cops. A problem which did end in 1938, as The Young Turks remind us here from a Michigan case, Video Catches Cop Planting Drugs, Assaulting Unarmed Black Man 03/31/2015:

Menninger writes (pp. 200-1):

... almost at the same moment that crime prevention agencies are assuring the public that crime never pays, the police departments of many of our largest cities openly proclaim their intention of using criminal methods in handling criminals. The police commissioner of one of our large cities, for example, announced, "There'll be promotions waiting for the men (police) who muss them (gangsters and suspects) up. I'll promote the men who kick these gorillas around and bring them in." In the same week, a lynching was defended by a district attorney in the South and only a few years ago Governor Rolph of California made his celebrated defense of lynchings. The American public is periodically shocked by such frank confessions on the part of prominent individuals that criminal acts are permissible, providing favored individuals commit them. [my emphasis]

James "Sunny Jim" Roth, Jr. (1869–1934) was the longest-serving Mayor of San Francisco (1912–1931), which was famous for its vigilante justice in the 19th century, and the Republican Governor 1931-34. The state site just linked for Governors' biographies says of him:

On November 4, 1930, he was elected Governor of California, and on January 6, 1931, he was sworn into office. Rolph was criticized for many things, including signing legislation that caused taxes to fall unfairly on the poor, endorsing a brutal jailbreak lynching in San Jose, and openly ignoring prohibition laws. During his term as governor, Rolph instituted the California Sales Tax, then known as "Pennies for Jimmy."

Menninger gets into some speculation on particulars of crime in America, some of which seems to rest on dubious national character assumptions. Still, this is thought-provoking social criticism:

This mental reservation that others should not commit crimes but for me it is all right is a characteristic element in American psychology. Indeed, only a little reflection is necessary for us to realize that our country was founded by a group of people who defied and violated the laws of England persistently from the outset. Furthermore, most of the financial fortunes and the so-called economic stability of our country in the early days depended upon a criminal destruction and waste of natural resources, the iniquity and sad results of which we are only now beginning fully to realize. Even yet, there are millions of American citizens who feel it to be their God-given right to destroy timber, to kill and maim wild birds and wild animals, to pollute streams, and to exploit land without any regard to the anti-social consequences of such ruthless destruction.

If I have wandered somewhat afield from the topic, it is because I am somewhat dubious about the possibility of convincing the average American reader that criminality is actually self-destructive. Our whole national ideology disputes it. [my emphasis]

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