The SEPTA rape case is the latest in a US pandemic of police lies. There must be consequences

You know the old adage that a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on. Following a shocking rape on a SEPTA El train as it entered the 69th Street station in Upper Darby last week, Truth’s pants were apparently out of the laundry for a few days.

The alarming first draft in the history of this SEPTA subway car that came out of the mouths of police officers such as Upper Darby Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt – only in a brutal sexual assault of a passenger who lasted about six minutes, a car full of passengers watched and even filmed videos but did nothing to stop the attack – fits the larger post-pandemic “public order” narrative of a modern world amoral gone mad.

“I am appalled by those who did nothing to help this woman,” Bernhardt said days after the rape arrest of a 35-year-old man. “Anyone who was on that train has to look at themselves in the mirror and ask why they didn’t intervene or why they didn’t do something. Fueled by the internet and the greenhouse environment of right-wing radio, the SEPTA rape saga has not only traveled halfway around the world, but has made many orbits.

“The criminals have taken over the city, Dom,” said Dan Borowski, producer of WPHT’s Dom Giordano show, where the episode sparked days of conversation – as he blamed Democratic officials like District Attorney Larry Krasner and Mayor Jim Kenney. The Philadelphia Citizen, often obsessed with the decline of our civic life, published two separate stories, including one titled Spinning Toward Gomorrah and one by its publisher Larry Platt which cited the legendary Kitty Genovese murder in New York in 1964, calling it the episode of “A metaphor for how we chose to be spectators in our own democracy.”

For some observers, however, the summons of Kitty Genovese – the famous New York Times story that 38 people watched her kill and did nothing has been completely debunked – reminiscent of just how much the first version of the story is so often wrong. So, it was hardly a surprise when Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer came out a few days later and – after reviewing footage from the car’s security camera – said the version of the story that had been circulating for days “just isn’t true – it didn’t happen.” Of perhaps two passengers who filmed the assault, one tipped SEPTA police and was filming to provide evidence that could help convict the accused rapist in court.

In this case, I have a strong feeling that Bernhardt and the SEPTA officials who aired the original version were not lying on purpose, but were far too keen to tie this horrific crime to the larger narrative than the police leadership, cop unions and their “Blue Lives Matter” allies have been so desperate to enact after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020 shed a harsh light on the distorted ways of law enforcement in the United States. The police, the story goes, are not the problem but rather the thin blue line that keeps cities from descending into anarchy. The problem is how often the police are ready to spread disinformation, or even blatantly lie in some cases, to make you believe it.

In New York, for example, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea – on a nearly two-year crusade to claim, despite the complete lack of supporting evidence, that the state’s bail reforms have long been cause an increase in crime – held a press conference to claim that a man with 11 open criminal cases was released on bail and then brutally assaulted a woman. Problem is, the man Shea fingered was still behind bars when the crime happened. When New York lawmakers pressed Shea for this and other lies, America’s largest city lawyer suddenly seemed to develop amnesia, insisting that “I don’t know the case you are referring to ”.

Did you know that the natives of Alaska have 50 different words for snow? In the current crisis, we probably need at least a dozen or more words for the various police fogs of disinformation and outright lying, as it seems to take multiple forms:

Lying to cover up police brutality and misconduct. Recall the now infamous May 2020 initial press release from the Minneapolis Police Department on the death of Floyd – man dies after medical incident while interacting with police – in which the central fact that the officer Derek Chauvin rested his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes was omitted? This is the most famous of many instances in which the police, with their ability to implant their narrative in the media, created a fake story of a brutal encounter – a mark of dishonesty that was ultimately reduced only by the advent of video on smartphone. .

READ MORE: When media trust what police say, they miss key truths about crime, black communities | Will be bunch

Lying about the underlying causes of the crime. This has become critical in the 17 months since Floyd’s murder literally prompted millions of Americans to protest, as storytelling becomes a critical way for Big Law Enforcement to avoid calls to drastically reduce budgets and invest more of the taxpayer’s money in the type of utilities. that could reduce both crime and violent encounters with the police. It actually dates back to 2015, when then FBI Director James Comey claimed crime was on the rise due to a “Ferguson effect” that blamed the Black Lives Matter protests – an effect that criminologists have largely demystified.

Lying, even, about the mandates of COVID-19 vaccines. This is the latest fad in police-fueled disinformation, with cantankerous Chicago Cop Union leader John Catanzara comparing the once uncontroversial idea that requiring vaccines is a good way to protect people’s health. officers and the public they serve in “Nazi Germany (beep)”. While the vaccine controversy may appear to be outside the ongoing debates about crime and punishment, in another sense, it is all in one piece. American cops – not all, but too many of them – feel they are waging a culture war against the changes that threaten their power. And as in any war, the truth is often the first casualty.

READ MORE: Infect and Serve: The Cops Vaccine Crisis | Will Bunch newsletter

The problem is that keeping citizens honestly informed and preventing the widespread flow of disinformation should be a critical part of ensuring public safety – the exact opposite of the current policing climate. In the SEPTA rape case, for example, the false account that passers-by could be held criminally responsible only discouraged citizens from coming forward in such cases, making it more difficult to prosecute the real culprits. Lying by the police is a serious crime against a civil society. There should be severe consequences.

And yet, there are seldom consequences. We are currently witnessing a dramatic example as former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who this month apparently lied about the reasons and his role in the cover-up of the 2015 police murder of a teenager named Laquan McDonald, nonetheless heads towards his confirmation. as President Joe Biden’s US Ambassador to Japan.

Much more accountability is needed on the part of the news media, which – in their rush to fill a gap in the news or a 30-minute broadcast – all too readily accept police press releases as undisputed fact. , despite the dismal record of the police in terms of veracity. . Police documents should not be treated as gospel but with extreme skepticism, and the media fact-checking firm that targets lying politicians should be redirected to take a closer look at law enforcement statements when they enter Donald Trump’s territory.

There needs to be a lot more accountability on the part of mayors and other public officials who are supposed to exercise civilian control over these departments, lest we become a police state. When a police chief publicly lies – as New York’s Shea did recently – he must be reprimanded or, in the most extreme cases, punished or even fired.

There needs to be a lot more accountability on the part of district attorneys who too often support the regime with disinformation rather than serving as a civic watchdog. The term “testify” became commonplace decades ago, but court officers are rarely charged with perjury for these serious offenses. Indeed, it was a breath of fresh air when Krasner of Philadelphia recently filed perjury charges against three city homicide detectives accused of lying to the stand in an unsuccessful and shameful effort to uphold the murder conviction. wrongfulness of a man named Anthony Wright.

The lack of consequences for police lies is why – at a time when the very legitimacy of our law enforcement regime is called into question (and rightly so) – the fog of disinformation continues to grow. thicken. When the best cops show up on cameras and spread blatant lies, they’re not fighting crime. We can say that they are committing it.

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