Sometimes the ghosts of our past stubbornly cling to the present, reminding us we share a collective fate for better or worse. In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, a ghost warns:
“Doomed for a certain term to walk the night
And for the day confined to fast in fires
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away.”
With the surfacing of coins from the Phoenix Police Department that symbolically mocked the incident in which Phoenix police officer Christopher Turiano struck Joshua Cobin in the groin with a pepper ball during an anti-Trump demonstration in August 2017, we can hear the rattling of the bard’s ghostly chains. The crassness of the coin’s front side, which depicts a caricature of Cobin being struck with the words “Good Night Left Nut,” is only eclipsed by the oafishness of the back of the coin emblazoned with the words, “Making America Great Again One Nut at a Time.”
I want to be completely clear about my perspective on this issue. I am not a fan of Antifa, and I thought the way the media depicted the riots of 2020 in which our cities were trashed, personal property was destroyed, people were unjustifiably attacked, and businesses were set on fire was a sickening form of journalistic malpractice, one that endangered the very foundations of our republic. There were most certainly criminal elements involved, pushed by people whose agenda had little to do with justice and more to do with a perverted sense of opportunism.
And, I continue to this day to support police officers and acknowledge the vast majority of them are professionals who often go beyond standard expectations to help the people in their communities, sometimes in ways that put their lives at risk.
Still, there have always been, and likely always be, people who exploit the negative energy of the times. Mob mentality, by definition, is not noted for a sense of logic or deliberativeness. Rather, it is characterized by more base emotions and shields bad actors from personal responsibility.
But, we expect more from our professional law enforcement personnel because anything less puts our Constitutional liberties on the line, sending a dangerous message that civil disobedience won’t be tolerated and the use of excessive force is permissible. This kind of dynamic is the genesis of a police state, something both the Left and the Right should principally oppose.
To make matters worse, according to AZCentral, an investigative report compiled by Ballard Spahr law firm found that, “Other memorabilia similar to the challenge coin such as hats, T-shirts and patches were also distributed” and that “. . . “a Sgt. Jantra Palmer possessed dozens of challenge coins and had sold or given them to various officers throughout the department — including subordinates in her own squad.” The other officer implicated in the distribution scheme was Sgt. Palmer’s husband, Detective Sam Palmer.
Although Ballard Spahr could not conclusively determine the origin of the coins and other artifacts definitively originated from these two individuals (Detective Sam Palmer refused to be interviewed), they concluded the bulk of the evidence pointed in their direction, stating, “In total, it appears likely that Detective Sam Palmer and Sgt. Jantra Palmer were together responsible for the purchase and distribution of the majority of the coins at issue.”
The Phoenix Police Department denies this was a department-wide orchestrated event, and in an official press release said, “. . .the Phoenix Police Department did not participate in, encourage, fund or sanction the creation of any such challenge coin. There is also no indication such a coin was used for any public or official purpose on the Department’s behalf. A review at the time by a Commander with the Department was unable to substantiate any claims of misconduct related to a challenge coin.”
In response to the findings of the report, Phoenix City Manager, Ed Zuercher said, “Legally, police officers cannot be disciplined based on the results of this outside investigation. Rather, the City Manager’s Office and Human Resources Department are completing their own internal investigation of this incident which will lead to appropriate employee discipline.”
Yet, ghosts have a way of making their presence, as well as the full truth, known. In this case, the full truth goes back to how not only individual Phoenix PD officers acted in response to the protestors, but the way the department as a whole used the might of the law in an irresponsible, oppressive manner against protestors by charging them with official affiliations with and open support for a street gang known as “ACAB,” meaning “All Cops Are Bastards.”
However, the Ballard Spahr report dismissed this notion, finding that there was “. . . no credible evidence to support the assertion that ACAB is a criminal street gang, that it organized the protest of October 17, or was prone to violence.”
Moreover, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel’s office filed a motion to drop all charges from the Oct. 17 protests “with prejudice,” meaning they cannot be refiled. But Adel clarified her official position, stating:
“I want to be clear this decision does not mean that no crimes were committed. This decision in no way reflects negatively on the hard work law enforcement performed that night in preventing violence and property damage, and other crimes to keep our community safe. The events of that night were captured on video. It clearly shows there was probable cause to arrest and file charges against certain individuals who committed misdemeanor crimes. However, as we highlighted in recent pleadings to the court, the more serious charges as originally filed did not meet our standards.”
For his part, Cobin, who kicked a tear gas canister back at the police in the October 17 incident, admits culpability, saying, “I was pretty frustrated at that point. I got shot in the back while helping someone and that’s what provoked me to kick a tear gas canister back at them,” adding, “I would still go help the woman. But I let my emotions get the best of me. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I think I was just frustrated.”
Cobin’s words are instructive. We all need to be more grounded going forward as we work out the ethical and democratic components of our republic. We should not dip to the lows of embracing violence as a way of dealing with the tumultuous changes we experiencing as a society. Simultaneously, we should not be calling for our brothers in blue to be defunded or to continually vilify their crucial roles of keeping law and order, the foundation of civil society.
At best, to fail to do so reduces our essence to that of an animal, incapable of controlling its more vicious instincts. At worst, it imbues us with a sense of irrationality bordering on insanity. As Shakespeare put it in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Lovers and madmen have such seething brains/Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/More than cool reason ever comprehends.”
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