by Bob Fitrakis

Recently, a white suburban woman who refused a lawful request to sign a traffic ticket became a cause celebre when she threw a fit about being groped by the police. Obviously she’s never exercised her First Amendment rights at a Klan rally where groping is the order of the day. Her story is news precisely because it is so unlikely. But what about the more common and constant victims of police abuse like Rashad Grayson, his parents and little sister, who are just a few of many African-American citizens currently suing the Columbus police for abuse.

On August 15, 1993 at nine in the evening, the 13-year-old Rashad was admittedly in front of his house playing with fake nunchakus, a harmless plastic toy with foam-rubber covering. One of Columbus’ newest and finest police officers, Samuel Feldman, was out to make perhaps his “first arrest.” According to Feldman’s deposition on file in Franklin County’s Common Pleas Court, he had just finished his probationary “coaching” period. He had already been suspended for 10 days during that probationary period for an “unreported use of force” violation.

Now Feldman was on his own and he knew a criminal when he saw one. Feldman decided to arrest Rashad for “disorderly conduct.” Feldman, who admits under oath to having played with real nunchakus himself while a teenager, found Rashad to be “recklessly engaged in some type of turbulent behavior.” The white Feldman, “considered Rashad a suspicious person” because he was swinging his toy nunchakus in a “proficient manner.” He also assumed that there might already be an unseen “possible victim.” Officer Feldman explained his theory of probable cause: the black youth “could have used the nunchakus on this person” who didn’t exist.

“Bad boys, bad boys, whatchya gonna do when they come for your toy nunchakus?” Rashad did nothing but comply with the officer’s deranged prejudices, but his parents made the mistake of questioning Officer Feldman’s actions and attempting to videotape the arrest. By the time it was over, Rashad’s mother, who was videotaping, was tackled, his sister was Maced, and his father, Samuel Grayson, was beaten with a police baton. The “suspicious” Rashad was quickly forgotten as up to 30 police officers and a helicopter cordoned off the area and his family was dragged off to jail. The police later returned and arrested Rashad for “disorderly conduct.”

Rashad was acquitted of this charge and the prosecutor’s office refused to bring charges against his parents. This is a far more common scenario in Columbus, but not as sensational as a black cop arresting a white, middle-class woman.

We live increasingly in a police state as politicians whip up irrational and emotional fears of “bad boys” with black faces. We’re convinced we need 100,000 more cops on the street even though per-capita violent crime has declined since the early ’70s and is no higher than it was in the early 1930s. The prison industrial complex is involved in promoting a new, dehumanized, all-powerful, all-consuming enemy. And it is disproportionately minorities and the poor that are the victims of overzealous police tactics. A few years ago, a survey showed that two-thirds of Americans didn’t think a police officer should have to have a search warrant to enter the home of “a suspected drug dealer.”

If police officers want to be respected, they ought to respect our Constitution and our fundamental human rights. They ought to be required to continue their education, particularly in liberal arts. A decent Social Problems class might help offset their authoritarian mindset that has been documented in study after study. Police, whether they like it or not, are the foot soldiers defending American liberties. But now, with the Cold War over, there appears to be an “enemies gap.” With no Soviets to hate, we’ve turned a lot of that savage aggression inward towards our own citizens. The real lesson of Waco is the eerie similarity between the bomber pilot in Vietnam who said, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it,” and the militarist in the law-and-order establishment who argued that they had to kill the kids in order to save them from Koresh.

This helps to explain state Attorney General Betty Montgomery’s new “air force.” You may have seen the blurb a few weeks ago about Betty copping three 1970s-vintage military copters for the War on Drugs, specifically marijuana, the demon weed. There’s never been a more stupid, misguided and unwinnable war than the one against pot. And if the cops took my Social Problems course, they would learn that most addiction and drug abuse is legally prescribed or purchased at the liquor store. If Jesus had rolled one up after the Last Supper, sucked it into his lungs and passed it around to his disciples and proclaimed: “This is the breath of my life, this do in remembrance of me,” those copters would be out searching for stills instead of hemp stalks. And Betty Boop would be pledging a zero-tolerance policy against alcohol and soliciting campaign contributions at Three-Reefer Power Luncheons.

Dr. Robert Fitrakis is an associate professor at Columbus State Community College