Thursday, April 25, 2013

The joke's on us: Phoenix cop mocks Olympic athlete, the mentally ill, and wins gold medal in anti-black racism

Police Humor

You'd think in this day and age of internet hacks and data dumps (like, for instance, the one that targeted DPS in 2011), police would have their online information on lock down.  And you'd think, considering the various instances in which these leaks compromised what cops deem important and secret information, and also pointed to ongoing police racism, any officer who didn't have their personal accounts set to private would be very careful about their public posting.  However, if you thought that, you'd be wrong.

In fact, it turns out a casual virtual stroll through the Twitter hashtag #phoenixpd reveals quite a bit of interesting material thanks to one user, @Yuli8987, a Phoenix police officer out of the Maryvale precinct.   @Yuli8987, who a simple Google search reveals to be Officer Yuliana Sobarzo, gave anyone with even a basic understanding of Twitter a glimpse into the life of a cop.

A life which happens to include a casual racist joke comparing highly accomplished Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt to an "escaped prisoner" from county hospital, as well as insulting commentary on proper courtroom attire, the role of divine intervention in our court system, remarks about the out of date hair styles of other cops and some disturbing photos that should give pause to anyone concerned with the increasing militarization of the police in the Valley.

In the above exchange, Officer Sobarzo posted out the photo above.  She tags it with #phoenixpd for some reason, which certainly begs the question of where it was taken and who was the intended audience?  Was the picture taken inside the Maryvale police station, or maybe at the county hospital?  Does it reflect the attitude of Phoenix cops in the Maryvale precinct towards the people in that part of the city?  Is it racist?  It certainly seems so.  At the least, residents of the city deserve an answer as to what message this photo is intended to send.

Indeed, a couple weeks after Officer Sobarzo posted out the picture it elicited a stunned response from another twitter user, who admonished the officer that the photo was offensive and that she ought to "be ashamed of [her]self" for posting it.  "SMMFH", she adds.  The usually loquacious cop failed to respond, but she also didn't take the image down, leaving the obvious impression that she condoned it.

To be clear, comparing Bolt to an escaped prisoner from a mental hospital not only carries the obvious racist connotations about black men and criminality, but it also makes reference to the past racist medicalization of black resistance to white racism  Bolt being a runner, the farce of drapetomania comes to mind immediately, a "medical" diagnosis of mental illness that Southern doctors invented to explain the mysterious tendency of black slaves to try to run away.  It's possible  that Officer Sobarzo doesn't know this bit of history, but in a country that still massively and disproportionately targets and imprisons black men it's worth pointing out.  One doesn't have to know the history of racism to perpetuate racism, and while the institution may have changed, the function has not.

Besides sharing that pic, Officer Sobarzo, who's very religious judging by her tweets, also dishes out advice to women in court, defendants presumably, mocking their attire.

 And here noting the hand of God in the court room.

And here making fun of a fellow cop's hair style.

But it's here with these last couple of images that the joke, such that it is, wears off and we get a disturbing look at another aspect of modern policing.  Officer Sobarzo shared a photo of someone (we assume it's her) holding a loaded magazine with what looks like an AR15 in the background.  Accompanying it is the text "It's a dirty job.... but someone's gotta do it" below it, followed by an enthusiastic emoticon to emphasize its irony.

Then, consider the following photo which shows someone, presumably Officer Sobarzo, holding a hat sporting the Pipe Hitters Union logo (see it for sale here), which features a crusader's shield emblazoned with a skull and crossbones.  Embroidered on the back of the hat is the phrase, "OUR MEETING IS NO ACCIDENT, IT IS GODS WILL [sic]".  Such phrasing and imagery reeks of a judge, jury and executioner attitude.

The Pipe Hitters Union online store describes their mission this way:  "We started 'Pipe Hitters Union' in 2004 as an informal way for all those who live the Warrior lifestyle to show their unification. All of our products are designed to represent the Warrior Attitude and Lifestyle."  Pipe Hitters is slang for  "Someone or a group of people who are willing to go to the extreme in order to get things accomplished." The Urban Dictionary offers this complementary definition: 'A serious thug - Dedicated, professional and highly capable of "gettin' medieval on yo' ass" in highly unique and creative ways, from urban combat to hands-on work.'

The PHU is popular with law enforcement and special forces, two groups that intermingle more and more these days.  So in an era in which the police are increasingly militarized, and staffed by former soldiers, this kind of crusader, take-no-prisoners and go to any length to accomplish the mission attitude is deeply troubling, and even more so when combined with Christian imagery.  For anyone with any doubts about the practical implications of this, last weekend's spree of killings by Valley police officers ought to be proof enough.  Considering that 4 of the 5 people who were directly or indirectly killed by Valley officers last weekend died at the hands of Phoenix cops, does that sound like the kind of image that the Phoenix Police and Chief Garcia want to present?

It's yet another example of the logic, methods and style of the "War On Terror" coming home to roost in our neighborhoods -- poor and nonwhite neighborhoods in particular -- where the domestic version of the War on Terror, the War On Crime, takes place.  These are parts of the city, like Maryvale, where the adversarial command and control nature of policing is no surprise.

In fact, it's all summed up by the PHU's own motto, "The World Is A Battlefield, Dress Accordingly".  Is this the way we want police to look at the neighborhoods they work in and the people they allege to serve?  A worldview in which, for example, a highly accomplished gold medal athlete is reduced in the eyes of police to a racist caricature of an escaped mental patient?  Not to mention the "us vs. them" orientation that it describes, an attitude that evokes the specter of the worst of the the Blue Code of Silence, where officers defend each other above all else, including refusing to rat each other out for breaking the law.  This kind of disposition among police isn't a positive sign for the general public's interactions with the Phoenix PD, especially for a police force asserting its desire to reform and clean up its image.

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