|REM870 is a reference to a shotgun commonly used by police|
On August first, ASU English professor Ersula Ore will be sentenced for "passively resisting an unlawful arrest" after Officer Stewart Ferrin confronted her for jaywalking and obstructing traffic in closed off a construction zone near the university.
The case sparked outrage, protest and even some drama at one of the Tempe city council candidate forums when outraged community members vocalized their frustration with local cops. As the scandal put pressure on ASU, the officer was put on leave and the two top bosses at the university cop shop were eventually replaced. Local dissident cop blog, The Integrity Report, has been documenting the internal shakeup which at least some officers seem to hope will create an opportunity to rein in a police force that they allege (with a good deal of evidence) is unaccountable and out of control.
|Professor Ore (Photo via Phoenix New Times)|
Notable exceptions include a recent exchange of letters to the editor, one by former Mesa cop Bill Richardson defending Ferrin's character, followed by a response challenging it ("Letter: Police officer's personality doesn't matter"), both run in the State Press, ASU's east campus newspaper. Over the course of the scandal, one particular local weekly news blog/magazine left some very interesting things out of the story, but we'll come back to that at the end.
We at Down and Drought pay a lot of attention to the police, including cop online forums. So when we saw last week that New York Magazine had run a piece focusing on the comments from officers on various cop websites regarding the recent death of a cigarette vender, who appears to have died as a result of very rough treatment by the NYPD, we thought we'd give the Ore case the same treatment. We thought: let's see what cops have to say online about her case, under the cover of (what they think is ) anonymity.
As the NY Magazine article points out, in order to post on cop forums like PoliceOne.com, you have to register and be verified as an actual cop or retired law enforcement officer. PoliceOne.com boasts over 200,000 members and claims that they "confirm the status of all officers registering... by calling that officer’s department directly." Which means when you read opinions from commentators on their forums, you can be pretty sure you're getting the thoughts of a cop or former cop.
We were able to track some of these officers back to their departments ourselves through basic internet searches and confirm that they are in fact cops, but we weren't able to link any of them directly to ASU -- although some of the comments we looked at demonstrated knowledge of policing in Tempe and Arizona.
That said, it's important to note that the comments we're sharing here, while outrageous, weren't out of step with the general tenor of comments we found. No comments defended Ore and most posters thought that Ferrin had been too forgiving with her. As we've demonstrated before, Phoenix and Tempe police have notoriously bad senses of humor (see here, and here, and here). So there's no reason to think that they are any better than online cops in terms of their opinions.
So let's dig in and see what some cops had to say about the Ore arrest. To get things started, here's one officer making a joke referencing sexual assault. Remember, Ore objected vocally on the video about Ferrin's manhandling of her causing her dress to hike up. Thus an officer naturally thought this was an appropriate joke to make.
In a different post on the same site, user "SgtDavidWilliams" rushes to Ferrin's defense, counseling that she's lucky she didn't get the rougher treatment he thinks she deserved:
Advocating for less tolerance and a higher degree of violence was common in the online cop forums we looked at. Most officers took the position that Ferrin had been too kind in his interaction with Ore.
Officers also frequently argued for liberal use of the Taser. One user hinted in a "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" sort of way that "I did see a taser on his belt, correct?" In the comment below, the reference to "sparky" (the taser) may or may not be a double entendre also alluding to the ASU mascot, but it certainly indicates a casualness that is disturbing when it comes to the use of a weapon that has been linked to many deaths over the years.
Along similar lines was another comment boasting that the "college professor would've met the pavement far sooner had I been arresting her." Yet another joked that Ferrin should "probably work on that straight arm bar takedown." Later in the thread another member says, "She really needed to taste the color of the paint on the hood."
Another set of comments focused on Ore's race and gender, reflecting the usual tact and sophistication that one tends to expect from the reactionary right.
In an era of increasing skepticism and worry about the police, even on the traditionally law and order right, comments like those we found don't do cops any favors in the PR department. If white middle class people -- the traditional base of support for law enforcement, no matter how brutal -- are worried about their interactions with police then it's an indication of something significant going on. Police should be worried. The carte blanche they've had for, well, basically forever may be in danger.
And those curious omissions I mentioned at the beginning? One of the curious features of the Ore coverage was the oddly reactionary treatment from the Phoenix New Times, spearheaded by Ray Stern. Stern went pretty hard against Ore. He conceded Ferrin's approach appeared "mildly thuggish," but when Ore pleaded guilty he pronounced somewhat smugly that, "it looks like Ore's done fighting the good fight. We're not expecting her to follow up on the threat she made in the video to sue the (bleep) out of the officer or ASU."
In one article, Stern in passing gives us a brief history of Stewart Ferrin, who it was revealed early on hails from a law enforcement family and had long harbored aspirations of continuing that legacy. But what legacy? Strangely, Stern fails to mention another little bit of Ferrin law enforcement family history -- one detailed in the very archives of the Phoenix New Times itself!
In a September 1998 article entitled "Thrust and Parry," the New Times detailed in a feature article the story of Alvin Yellowhair, a Native American student at ASU who alleged that Stewart Ferrin's father, John Ferrin, then an officer with the Tempe PD, had beaten and sodomized him with a nightstick after arresting him at a party.
"Advocating for less tolerance and a higher degree of violence was common in the online cop forums we looked at."
The case, which involved missing evidence and allegations of obstructionism from city officials, was eventually ruled in Ferrin's favor, and he came out the winner in a lawsuit by Yellowhair, too, which was finally resolved by jury in 2005. But the case led to allegations of an out of control police force without proper supervision and the revelation that the senior Ferrin, at that point, had had four citizen complaints against him which the city didn't want to reveal. Does any of this sound familiar? White cop, civilian person of color, ASU, use of force, out of control police force, potential cover up and lack of investigation? Quite an omission, if you ask me!
But Stern's probably right when he says that "ASU's very sensitive to the pubic perception, especially given President Michael Crow's goal to attract 100,000 students to lucrative online-degree programs." Indeed, the University should be concerned about how they will be viewed by prospective or returning students and their parents. Especially if those students aren't white.
|Nothing to see here!|
As Professor Ore faces sentencing, with a shakeup going on at ASU PD, and with residents in the surrounding neighborhoods increasingly fed up with both the actions of local cops and the complete failure of the politicians to do anything about it, the university and the city would each be well-advised to consider taking immediate public steps to address these concerns with concrete actions.
Locals have put forward several options, from repealing the loud party ordinances that so quickly can escalate under heavy handed policing, to canceling the upcoming "safe & sober" campaign (in which cops invade the neighborhoods and detain residents at rates higher than NYC's "stop & frisk" program), or selling off controversial spy equipment like the Stingray mass cell phone monitoring device.
How about a program of de-militarizing TPD in general? In an era of mass corporate tax giveaways downtown, why not raise some cash by selling off that useless cop clutter? On a related note, does the Tempe Citizens’ Panel for Review of Police Complaints and Use of Force even meet? Down and Drought has been following the public page for this supposed oversight board for a year now and have yet to see a single posting for a public meeting nor any updates on what they're up to.
Meanwhile candidates for city council have to be forced by angry crowds to discuss the police, and the only solutions they seem to have is lavishing them with even more expensive toys which residents can be assured they will abuse. Increasingly, Tempe government looks completely out of step with a public that is asking themselves just what the hell is going on with the cops that patrol their neighborhoods. Does the city have any answers for them? It appears that answer is, no.