End Police Brutality with Active Smartphone Surveillance

By Chand Bellur

June 6, 2020 at 6:54 p.m. PT

  • Police in the United States are notorious for brutal treatment of minorities, elderly, indigent, and impoverished Americans.
  • This brutality, obfuscated for years by a code of silence, was considered hearsay, as courts and the public tended to side with law enforcement “heroes”.
  • Smartphone video recordings finally show the truth about police brutality, turning public opinion against law enforcement.

Public Opinion Turns Against Law Enforcement

In the past month, the American public is finally witnessing the truth about race relations and law enforcement. For decades, minorities have been complaining about police treatment. Even highly educated, affluent minorities are often treated like second class citizens by law enforcement, for merely living their lives.

My own experience with law enforcement has not been favorable. I’m half South Asian Indian and half Danish, but as far as many Americans are concerned, I should be picking crops in the field. Although I have a degree from a top school (despite Asian quotas at American universities) and worked on an electronic prescribing product that saved 360,000 lives, I’m not considered a hero. I don’t consider myself to be one anyway.

The rugged white guy who goes hiking in the mountains or takes a selfie with a tiger is a hero. There’s a low bar for white, male alpha-toddlers to be considered heroes. The mixed-race citizen who saves thousands of lives with technology is considered a zero. The word “hero” is thrown around so freely and haphazardly that it no longer has value.

In the eyes of law enforcement and many white Americans, I’m considered a menace. My very existence is upsetting to them, as non-white people make them feel uncomfortable and threatened. Although black people have it much worse, anyone who is non-white faces suspicion and possible brutality at the hands of cops or deplorable vigilantes.

Even in San Francisco, I’ve had security guards called on me for standing next to my car in my condo complex’s garage — after living in the building for 16 years. Store employees will follow me around to ensure I don’t pocket any items. Police officers, for the most part, have treated me with suspicion. If I’m walking alone at night on a suburban street in a mostly white neighborhood, a police car will almost always appear out of thin air. I used to get stopped and questioned by the police on campus quite often in my youth. They look the other way when white frat boys rape women, yet I can’t even walk on campus without suspicion.

In my entire life, I have had one positive experience with a law enforcement officer. He is Latinx. It’s not a coincidence that the only police officer who has treated me with respect is a “minority” himself. (Most Californians are Latinx; however, most of our police officers are white.)

I believe that law enforcement is dominated by sociopaths and white supremacists, many of whom are unaware of their biases. Racism is a reflex for them. Even this Latinx officer will most likely remain silent when his fellow officers abuse minorities.

Politicians Create Racial Divisions and Mythology

I thought it would get better over time, but it’s becoming worse. With a vocal racist in the White House, deplorables have slithered out of their holes, feeling triumphant and empowered. Their time has finally arrived. Proud of their racism and bigotry, they gather in masses, growing more powerful every day.

Both 2020 Presidential candidates are white men accused of rape. The most recent Supreme Court justice, appointed for life, was similarly accused of rape. Former President Bill Clinton also stands accused of rape, with his wife and former Presidential candidate Hillary threatening the victim into silence.

My experience in corporate America also informed me that many white executives relentlessly sexually harass women. At the same time, mostly Asian engineers do the hard work, treated as if they don’t even exist. White rapists not only avoid prison time — with the right pedigree, they rise to the highest positions in society.

Adding insult to injury, they cover their despicable acts by creating myths of the black or “Mexican” rapist. Donald Trump famously stated that “Mexicans are rapists”, however, he is accused of sexually assaulting multiple women. Sociopaths establish themselves as moral authorities so that no one will question their criminality.

The criminal justice system, from police to courts to correctional institutions, has always favored white Americans. White rapists go free, skewing crime statistics and creating the myth that minorities are rapists. Our criminal justice system sent black people away for decades for crack cocaine while letting white people off the hook for the powdered version. Once again, crime statistics skew because white people are rarely convicted. If an affluent white man is convicted, he experiences kinder and gentler incarceration than other Americans.

At its core, American justice favors wealthy white men over everyone else. This is our fault. Affluent white men are a minority, yet American hero worship and Ayn Rand objectivist occultism has too many Americans mesmerized.

For a long time, one’s opinion of law enforcement depended on race. White people consider them to be heroes. Minorities fear and loathe law enforcement — even many educated, affluent ones. George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of the police changed this to a great extent. Some white conservatives now admit there’s a problem with policing, and it has to change. At least this is what they tell pollsters.

Protesting Won’t Solve Anything

There’s a cycle of obsession and burnout in this country. Technology plays a massive role in this condition. We’re constantly bombarded with and overdosed on one news story. A few days later, we’re fatigued by this once compelling issue. Twenty-four-hour news stations and social media overdose us on one trending news story until we’re sick, fatigued, and completely burnt out. Change never happens.

How many mass shootings have there been, where we all shake our heads and believe something will change? After a few weeks, it all blows over, and nothing has changed at all. Similarly, the public will lose its will for opposing police brutality. It always happens, and it will transpire yet again.

Protesters will eventually tire out and go home. What happens after that? Police will continue brutalizing the powerless, obscuring it with their code of silence. The only solution is for the American people to watch over the police.

Surveillance of Law Enforcement Will Change Behavior

Protests and chants don’t solve problems. They only bring awareness of issues. Authorities are waiting for it to all blow over and return to business as usual. Our militant police forces will continue to brutalize Americans based on race and appearance. Protesting is not a solution, and a lot of people are out there to loot or take selfies for their social media profiles.

Protesting also builds a backlash against the issue. The other day I was out for a 5-mile run and saw a Blue Lives Matter flag flying on a flagpole. This was the same day that the 75-year-old man was shoved to the ground by police and left bleeding. People with empathy often don’t realize that many Americans are sociopaths and have no compassion or conscience. They relish police brutality, supporting every chokehold, billy club blow, and death meted out by their deplorable “heroes”.

Instead of protesting, concerned activists can accomplish much more. With a simple smartphone police scanner app, the conscientious can find out where police are responding and meet them with video cameras.

Taking as much video footage as possible is critical to ending police brutality. I do not believe this is the case of a few bad apples, because police officers have a code of silence. We saw this with George Floyd. We saw this with the 75-year-old man and the solidarity this engenders with law enforcement. We saw this with countless others.

Ideally, concerned Americans should set up a federated organization to surveil police activity. Participants can volunteer for shifts where they listen to a police scanner, follow the police to the scene, and record video. Any police action that brutalizes our people should appear on a central location (website, social media hashtag) so the whole world can see the truth.

If we record as many police interactions with the public, we get a better idea of how common police brutality is. Of course, widespread surveillance of law enforcement will eventually force them to behave and do their jobs properly.

I don’t advocate any specific police scanner app. Both iOS and Android have dozens of these apps, some being free. With a decent police scanner app and your smartphone’s video camera, you’ll have all the tools necessary to watch over the police.

Activists Should Stay Safe

If you decide to take on surveillance of the police, be careful. Don’t head out to a massive firefight and park in front of the crime scene. If your smartphone doesn’t have a telephoto lens, consider buying add-on lenses that keep you at a safe distance. Better yet, use a drone to capture footage from afar.

Also, police officers probably won’t appreciate your video recording everything they do. Keep your surveillance clandestine, so the public can see how they truly behave. Eventually, if enough people watch over the police, they will assume they’re always under surveillance. This will force police officers to behave, even if they shut off or cover up their body cams.

Although tailing the police has its risks, it’s far safer than protesting. Peaceful protesters get shot with rubber bullets and poisoned with teargas. An astute police watcher with a drone shouldn’t be in harm’s way.

Police body cams are simply a case of the fox guarding the henhouse. There have been multiple cases of police officers tampering with and deactivating body cams. The images are off-limits to the public, often protected by complicit, pro-law enforcement prosecutors and judges. This solution won’t work. The people must watch over the police now. Sadly, it has come down to this.

Police Are Public Employees, Not Heroes

The US has a huge problem with “hero” culture. Americans love superheroes, sports heroes, military heroes, and the like. They don’t seem to consider software engineers who save lives as heroes, because the designation hinges on race, machismo and violence, not rational intellect. American heroes typically engage in violence. This lopsided hero culture pervades America.

Police are well-compensated for their profession. In the SF Bay Area, a BART police officer’s starting salary is $135,000, and they make up to $160,000 or more. Software engineers from top schools don’t enjoy these starting salaries, although their skills are in higher demand. Some primary care physicians don’t make this kind of money, at least at the start of their careers. In other areas of the US, police tend to make more than many other professions, with much less education.

A certain segment of society believes that law enforcement only does good. Being heavy-handed with minorities makes them heroes, and, for some, they deserve the utmost respect. Police do help people and solve crimes, but it’s their job. Considering them heroes for doing their job enables police brutality. Some police officers are heroes, and some are a menace to society. In either event, they’re paid well for what they do, which should be sufficient. Anyone with a similar educational background would make one-third of what a police officer makes. Detectives and higher-ranking officers make even more.

Most police officers are in poor shape. I can’t count the times I’ve been on a 5-mile run, seeing a few police cruisers pass by with obese officers on board. How can they do their jobs when they can’t even run a block? Their massive bellies and buttocks crammed into those uniforms may contribute to police brutality. 

Protected by unions (the few that right-wingers respect) and mitigated liability, these law enforcement officers enjoy tenure while being too obese for the profession. Perhaps if the police in Minneapolis were in better shape, they wouldn’t have needed multiple officers to restrain and murder George Floyd. Handcuffs would have sufficed if the officers had sufficient physical strength through exercise and training. The fact that it took four police officers to take down one handcuffed man speaks volumes of their physical weakness. These are not heroes. They’re big, fat zeros.

The stereotype of police officers shirking responsibilities and eating donuts didn’t come out of a vacuum. Previously living near a Winchell’s donuts in Los Angeles, I saw police officers who took very long breaks. In fact, they seemed to live at the donut shop. Eating donuts and shirking responsibilities is not heroic. They’re cheating the public. Perhaps the sugar rush combined with pre-diabetes makes them more aggressive? For every heroic cop, there seem to be many more who avoid work or brutalize the people who pay their salaries.

Prisons are the Next Frontier in Criminal Justice Reform

If you think cops treat people poorly, the entire corrections system in America is beyond reproach. You’d have to look back to the 1930s and 40s in Europe to find more despicable and horrific incarceration. Like other aspects of the US (roads, schools, transportation, human excrement in cities), American prisons are similar to those of developing nations.

Our overcrowded prisons are schools of crime. The two-thirds recidivism rate demonstrates that prisoners don’t get reformed. They get worse.

If you know anything about prison life, it’s easy to see why the incarcerated develop contempt for society. Prisoners are beaten and brutally sexually assaulted by other inmates. Sometimes correctional officers use these tactics to control unruly inmates.

Europe and Canada don’t have these problems in prisons. In fact, some European prisons are nicer than most American motels. They actually reform inmates, who return as productive members of society. American prisons, however, are simply schools of crime. Inmates learn how to commit crime better, while the suffering they endure breeds contempt for society. Our society doesn’t want to hire ex-cons, exacerbating the revolving door of incarceration.

The best way to quickly reform prisons is to put offending police officers, politicians and affluent white men into general population. It’s time to end upscale incarceration for wealthy white men. Let them face the reality they created. They won’t fare well, but it will provide the political will from conservatives to reform prisons, so their “heroes” stay safe. 

Equality in incarceration may seem brutal to some, but none of the piece-meal, baby-step solutions seem to work. Most American penal institutions mete out cruel and unusual punishment. Perhaps if these experiences aren’t limited to the powerless, the powerful may develop sympathy. They’ll never develop empathy. If Donald Trump were convicted of rape and incarcerated in general population at a penitentiary, conditions would improve rapidly. Unfortunately, the #metoo movement only seems to apply to non-white and Jewish men.

That’s what it would take to get conservatives on board with prison reform, just like Reagan’s Alzheimers finally got them to accept stem cell research. They don’t have empathy. At best, we can engineer sympathy by putting them through trials, much like the Biblical characters they pretend to admire and understand. They don’t practice the golden rule. Perhaps a taste of their own medicine may finally cure the disease.

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