Looking at my recent web stats – particularly the keyword searches that bring people to this site – I see that I’m getting a big spike in traffic from people googling police brutality in Ottawa. They’re coming from all across Canada, as well as the US and other countries. And they’re coming, of course, because of the Stacy Bonds case.
Stacy Bond’s experience may be shocking to those who previously believed the cops really are the good guys. Unfortunately it’s not an unusual story. I’ve heard it – and worse – from a number of people who have been assaulted by police and corrections officers. The only real difference is that in the absence of video evidence, it boils down to ‘their word against yours’ and it’s a lot easier to give the benefit of the doubt to the police. After all, the police rank much higher on our collective hierarchy of credibility than criminals. I even find my own natural tendency is to give more weight to the police version of events, and I know better.
In this case there’s video evidence to back up the prisoner’s version of events, along with a judge’s outright condemnation of Stacy Bonds’ treatment at the hands of the Ottawa Police. And this means that all kinds of people who previously believed in the system, and who believed that the police are the good guys, are having their eyes opened. Because if the police will gang up on and brutalize a small woman with no criminal record in full view of their own video camera, then they’ll do it to anyone, anywhere.
Some people will still maintain that this is a case of a bad apple. If that were true, there would not have been five officers actively participating in the acts committed against Ms. Bonds. Some of them would have refused to participate, or would have objected, or would have reported the abuse after the fact. The fact is that every officer visible in that video was an active participant. This suggests that this manner of treating prisoners is common, if not routine.
Conducting an investigation into the alleged brutality is a good start, but it’s not enough. If you look back on my Bank Street Bully experience, you can’t help but wonder how one tiny woman ended up unconscious at the hands of Ottawa police officers. The subsequent investigation resulted in no action taken against the officers involved, because there was no evidence. This is not unusual. An internal investigation that yields no evidence and results in no action is a typical outcome. Same thing with an SIU investigation.
I very much hope that Stacy Bonds is the catalyst that brings some much-needed and long-overdue changes to the way people are treated while in police custody, the way the police are policed, and the way allegations of misconduct and brutality are investigated. Anything less will result in more of the same.