An 18-year-old woman was raped in New York by two larger, older men. There is no other sensible way to describe the incident. And, yet, in the legal world in which we’ve created, a uniform, badge and state-issued gun delayed what should have been an obvious conclusion.
Those two men raped a teenage girl. The facts were not in dispute. Two Brooklyn drug officers, Richard Hall and Eddie Martins, pulled over the girl and two male friends. They found loose anti-anxiety pills and a little bit of marijuana. Hall and Martins took the teenage girl into custody, handcuffing and placing her in a police van and driving off.
They made the girl perform oral sex on each of the officers, one of whom also had intercourse with her. DNA confirmed the sexual contact within days of the act. Rape. The officers were placed on modified duty instead of being immediately arrested. Why? They claimed the sex was consensual.
It took a month and a half, but the officers were finally charged with rape, kidnapping and official misconduct. The most disturbing part of the story – other than the rape itself – is that the officers believed anyone would buy that an 18-year-old woman taken into custody and placed in handcuffs had the option of consenting. I suspect they felt they could rape an 18-year-old woman in the back of a police van and get away with it because we’ve created a system in which the people with the most power and most responsibility are rarely held accountable.
Maybe they felt they could get away with such behavior for the same reasons Donald Trump said he could get away with casually sexually assaulting women and Harvey Weinstein hurt so many women for so many decades. They were in position to force young women into impossible choices and took advantage of them. Given their incredulous defense, it’s unlikely this was the first time these cops, or others, committed such acts.
Their individual actions are horrific enough. But how many times has similar behavior within the ranks led to a slap on the wrist or a wink and a nod? And why aren’t police officers throughout the country screaming at the top of their lungs about the awfulness of such things? If this isn’t enough to penetrate the blue wall of silence, nothing will.
In recent years, I’ve had several private conversations with police officers. I’d quiz them about what were clear-cut cases of abuse or misconduct; they would often agree but still felt they had to add caveats to their conclusions. They can’t be certain, they’ve told me repeatedly, because they don’t know a particular department’s internal policies and training procedures.
It’s a logical response. They don’t want to be second-guessed so are slow to second-guess other officers, which was essentially what Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney said when his officers were caught on video shooting a man who was holding a gun and had his hands over his head.
But that rationale no longer holds. You don’t have to know intricate details of departmental policy to admit truth. What those officers did to that 18-year-old was immoral, criminal. It matters not that they were police officers. In some ways, it’s worse that they were.
As long as cops don’t find the strength to declare that in clear-cut cases, it will hurt their cause when the events are murky.
“Typically, when officers are charged with crimes, their colleagues come to court in a sea of blue uniforms to support them,” The New York Times reported. “But on Monday, not one officer appeared in court with Detectives Martins and Hall.”
That’s a start, but not enough.