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Cop’s ‘Just Do What I Tell You’ article sparks fury in wake of Ferguson

Police officers stand on alert as a peaceful protest escalates between police and protesters along a street in Ferguson, Missouri on August 19, 2014.

Police officers stand on alert as a peaceful protest escalates between police and protesters along a street in Ferguson, Missouri on August 19, 2014.

St. Louis (CNN) — In a single column, a veteran police officer has catapulted himself into the national debate over the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me,” the Washington Post headline blares. The piece was written by Sunil Dutta, a 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department.

“Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you,” he wrote.

Dutta cautions against arguing, insulting, or screaming at officers, “and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?”

If you believe an officer is violating your rights or bullying you, Dutta says, don’t challenge him then — save that for lodging a complaint later. “Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you.”

It took no time for the anger over his message to explode.

“The outrageous thing is not that he says it. The outrageous thing is that we accept it,” writes Ken White of the blog Popehat, which tracks American legal issues.

“Do we have a justice system? By name, yes. Is it effective in deterring cops from abusing citizens or punishing them when they do? No… If you hope the cop will be charged criminally for misbehavior, you’re going to be waiting a very long time for no result.”

Dutta’s message is to “shut up and take it, because even the slightest bit of intransigence is grounds for the cops to unleash a world of hurt,” writes Benjamin Freed of the Washingtonian.

“To say that putting up a verbal argument warrants bringing out the billy clubs, stun guns, or actual guns only stokes what’s been seen coming out of Ferguson in the past week — images of peaceful demonstrators being met with a lines of officers rigged with military-grade equipment, marchers being fogged with canisters of tear gas, and people being slugged with rubber bullets after not moving quickly enough,” Freed complains.

Authorities in Ferguson say force has been needed to stop the minority of “agitators” who have fomented violence, through gunshots and Molotov cocktails.

“So, ‘Do what I say or I will hurt/kill you?’ How does that even remotely correspond with ‘To Serve and Protect?'” Carter Gaddis wrote on Twitter, citing the police motto.

But Rhonda Heim wrote on Facebook, “I think an officer puts his life on the line on a daily basis. He wants to go home after his shift like everyone else. No one should challenge him.”

Mike Knox, a business owner and father of four in Ferguson, told CNN “people are just tired” of being pulled over when they did nothing wrong, so it’s common to give police attitude in the area. But he teaches his children not to.

“When you see police, respect the police,” he tells them. “Say ‘yes sir and ‘no sir.’ It’ll get you a long way.” And since loitering can lead police to think you’re up to no good, he adds, “keep it moving.”

“If you let your attitude take over, that can be you laying on that ground,” Knox adds.

In Dutta’s column, published Tuesday, he writes, “Cops are not murderers. No officer goes out in the field wishing to shoot anyone, armed or unarmed.”

Still, he does not defend all police. “I know it is scary for people to be stopped by cops. I also understand the anger and frustration if people believe they have been stopped unjustly or without a reason. I am aware that corrupt and bully cops exist. When it comes to police misconduct, I side with the ACLU: Having worked as an internal affairs investigator, I know that some officers engage in unprofessional and arrogant behavior; sometimes they behave like criminals themselves.”

Dutta notes that people don’t have to submit to illegal stops or searches, and can refuse consent to search a car or home without a warrant. “Always ask the officer whether you are under detention or are free to leave. Unless the officer has a legal basis to stop and search you, he or she must let you go. Finally, cops are legally prohibited from using excessive force: The moment a suspect submits and stops resisting, the officers must cease use of force.”

But protesters throughout the country say submitting to an officer doesn’t always avoid police brutality. They point to the case of Eric Garner, killed by New York policein a chokehold in July. And in California, a 51-year-old woman was seen on video being repeatedly punched by a Highway Patrol officer.

In a CNN.com column last week, Iris Baez of the Justice Committee in New York wrote that her son died nearly 20 years ago in an illegal police chokehold. “These tragedies and injustices happen year after year, and people of color — primarily black and Latino — are usually the victims.”

“Police-community relations can only start to improve when individual officers who abuse civilians’ rights are held accountable with a zero-tolerance policy for police brutality,” she says.

Dutta wants all police to use body cameras and video recorders in their vehicles, which “will prevent a situation like Mike Brown’s shooting, about which conflicting and self-serving statements allow people to believe what they want.” The events that led up to the teen’s shooting remain unclear, with very different descriptions emerging.

While Dutta comes off as “reasonable,” he is demanding “unresisting submission to police without argument or even legal protest,” J.D. Tuccille writes at Reason.com. “Just how do you ‘refuse consent to search your car or home’ without running afoul of the no-nos Dutta warns may get you ‘shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground?'”

Journalists who were arrested amid Ferguson protests have reported they did nothing wrong.

Dutta, a professor of homeland security and criminal justice at Colorado Technical University, could not be reached immediately for comment Wednesday on the uproar over his column.

In a tweet linking to his response, the Washingtonian’s Benjamin Freed wrote, “I challenged Officer Sunil Dutta. Hopefully he won’t come hurt me.”

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13 comments

  • Michelle Pendley (@kaemicha)

    This is total bs. I’ve seen cops throw an innocent man, unarmed man, who was begging the cops to leave him alone, while they continued to tase him and beat him. And, this isn’t isolated. Cops kill innocent / unarmed people all the time. I can totally do what you ask me to do but I have no assurance that the cops wont harm or kill me.

    • sv1g

      If you don’t think anyone should have to do what the police tell them to do then they serve absolutely no purpose. Should we just get rid of the police altogether? What you’re saying is that if I break the law and a cop stops me, I should be able to tell them to leave me alone and they should just walk away??? They call them “the authorities” for a reason. They have more power than you do, like it or not.

    • baceba

      I agree, in may area 95% of cops have a rule. They are KINGS who have the power of life or death. They are experienced in court testimony and know how to say, and practice what to say to get the results that they want. They are also allowed to LEGALLY LIE to anyone for any reason, under the pretext of “investigation” and many times this lying carries over to report writing and testimony in a court room. How can so many cops be crooks? it’s easy. Many are attracted to the high pay, pensions and benefits such as free drugs, evidence, meals, drinks and special gifts such as free sports tickets. They also get a free pass by showing their badges when they need a :”favor” or don’t want a citation for their bad driving.

    • baceba

      Cops also get the benefit of carrying a gun, baton and even brass knuckles which are illegal in most states. The recent case in California where a CHP officer was video recorded beating and punching a 51 year old for “not following orders fast enough”. Look carefully at the video. This cop who was driving a marked patrol car is shown relentlessly beating this woman with SAP gloves which are illegal in most states and it is a felony to use them. SAP gloves are a LETHAL weapon under the law. It is illegal to sell or possess them , yet the video CLEARLY shows he is wearing them. SAP gloves look like motorcycle gloves but have lead shot sewn into them, sometimes as much as a pound of lead in each glove. The marks left on the victim of the cop beating do not show the evidence of the illegal lead pellets. Cops can easily buy these in police supply stores. Anyone else goes to jail. This trooper needs to be investigated for violating the law as well as Assault with a Deadly Weapon. There is more. SAP gloves make it very difficult to drive a car, so the cop had to put on his gloves AFTER he exited his vehicle to administer his street justice. Look up SAP gloves and read all about them. They are also known as weighted knuckle gloves. Many motor officers wear them supposedly to “protect” their knuckles. Why are they illegal for other motorcyclists? They are deadly weapons. We need to see prosecutions of these crimes.

  • EB

    People are told comply with muggers and rapists to avoid being injured so why is there an uproar about people complying with the police. This is just the media and activists stirring things up. This is very sad.

  • nmbr1cupcake

    PEOPLE ARE STUPID! this guy is exactly right – Here we are battling police because people are doing things they aren’t supposed to be doing – and this ok. WTF is wrong with people. If you don’t rob the store – you have no reason to feel threatened. If you don’t run – they don’t chase you. if you don’t fight them – they have no reason to fight back. Why are we a nation of fools who think that bank robbers and store robbers and people who come at you with a knife or a gun are the ones we should be protecting. When did we become a nation of people who think that John Doe’s downtown store should be looted to protest the police action 3 states away is acceptable behavior and that these are the people we should be protecting. When did Americans become so stupid as to think that to destroy each other is how we teach someone else a lesson. Wake up people. Get your head out of your butt. Stop burning down hotels and stores and homes in Ferguson because you don’t like what one cop did – and it’s not even him you’re hurting. It’s innocent people and their belongings. All for a guy who robbed a store and than tried to stab a cop? Why are we protecting this guy?

    • baceba

      I know cops who have RAPED on duty. it happens all the time. Recently a cop was caught wearing a mask and robbing a store with hsi police weapon. What happened? NOTHING. He was given and OR release and told to go home and relax. “He was just having a bad day”. Until video showed him robbing three other stores. And still, he probably got a promotion and award for “hard work”. Every year THOUSANDS of police are arrested, but they rarely do “hard time” because it is “dangerous”. I say when the next cop gets convicted, he gets to have a “cellie” by the name of KILLER. YES!

      • baceba

        Not made up. I wear a RETIRED detective badge. your the one in the “made up world”. How many felony busts have you made? Go back to your parking enforcement detail, “Uni”, and eat some more donuts on your all day 10-7’s. NO race baiting here. Most cops would LOVE to kick ass on anyone they want, as long as they don’t get caught. Blacks and Latinos are easy picking because most of them don’t know a “top brass” who can “make things better”. It’s that simple. ABSOLUTE POWER AND CONTROL is what it’s about. Tell me that IAD units are “against police”! Why do we have IAD? Honest cops? Go back to your Trike and don’t choke on a donut.

  • Alejandro

    I come from a long line of police officers, who have seen this kind of thinking and behavior. They are appalled at this police officer, and those like him. They are seasoned officers who have said the new police are out of control, and their behavior needs to be stopped.

  • baceba

    Why are most cops short or FAT or both? They have been beat up all their lives for being wimps, now they have a BADGE…which makes them like a GOD. They are still short, FAT-Chunky, and cry when they see their own blood—from a scratch.