Throats Slashed! Sold Into Human Trafficking!

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Oh my God. Did you hear? Homeless people are getting their throats slashed. Women are being grabbed in parking garages and sold into human sex trafficking. Children are being grabbed up off the streets. The media isn’t telling you about these things and the police are hiding these terrible stories from you.

More and more this is the sort of thing I see on my social media feeds and it’s almost always bullshit. The difficulty here is that all it takes is one person making something up. Then some well-meaning people share it thinking they’re helping, usually with a ‘Be careful out there’ warning to their fellow social media users.

I’ve been covering Tacoma homicides for over a decade now. Over the years I’ve received countless ‘tips’ about all sorts of horrific and gruesome murders that never happened. I will do my due diligence and contact the police department, the Medical Examiner’s office, and local reporters to see if there is any meat to the rumors, but there rarely is.

It’s gotten to the point where I can spot a lie before I research it. Here are some things to watch out for.

Lack of Detail: Exactly where did this happen? Who was involved? What did they look like? What time was it when it happened? How many perpetrators were there?

Sensationalism: If the story sounds outrageous and there isn’t any media coverage whatsoever of the story, then it’s likely false because the media LOVES outrageous stories. Last week I saw a story about a guy who stole an airplane from Sea-Tac. When it first appeared on social media I was skeptical, but within minutes the story was picked up by mainstream news because a story like that when true is worth covering.

Personal Anecdote (and nothing else): Personal accounts of terrible things are always compelling, but they’re also among the least verifiable forms of evidence. That’s not to say that everyone who tells you something terrible that happened to them is lying. But if there is no other evidence to back up their story, it’s healthy to be at least initially skeptical.

Secondhand Information: Occasionally I’ll get emails from people who will tell me that my depiction of a homicide is inaccurate because they know a guy who was there and… But of course if I ask to talk to that guy, they can’t produce him.

Now it should be noted that in all of these cases it’s possible that the story you’re being told is actually true. Sometimes things happen quickly and it’s hard to give details as to what happened. Sometimes the true story is so sensational it sounds false. Sometimes things happen to you and you have no evidence that they did. Sometimes you hear a story from someone and never talk to them again. This is why it’s good not to just assume that they’re lying to you.

Instead what I suggest is to believe the story until you find reason not to, but not to share the story until you have some sort of corroboration. Multiple sources are good. Confirmation from authorities or experts is better. Physical evidence is even better.

Ask questions. If someone says something happened and they talked to the police, ask for the incident report number. If someone tells you something incredible happened, ask for the source of that information.

Do your own research. If someone has supposedly been killed, ask the Medical Examiner’s office. Contact the police department’s spokesperson. Check various media websites.

Be respectfully skeptical. There’s no reason to call someone a liar until you have evidence that they are one. The truth is occasionally hard to prove. My rule is fairly simple when it comes to sharing information: Trust, but verify. If it can’t be verified, depending on the source I might still believe it, but I’m not going to share it.

– Jack

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To Protect And Serve

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It took me a long time to understand people who hate cops. I grew up a middle class straight white boy in the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t have much trouble with police. When they did show up, I’d talk to them and they’d go away. And for far too long I was under the impression that this was how most people interacted with your average American police department.

My view of police officers growing up was that they were the good guys. They were the heroes. They were the men and women risking their lives on a daily basis to protect our society from chaos and harm. Some of my favorite television shows and movies involve good cops trying to do good work.

For a time I even worked for law enforcement. For two years I transcribed police records for the Law Enforcement Support Agency which handles records from the Tacoma Police Department, Puyallup Police Department, Lakewood Police Department, and Pierce County Sherriff’s Department. I went on ride-alongs with police officers. I learned what kind of people become cops and what being a cop is like. And for the most part, I gained tremendous respect for the police in general.

It was exhilarating reading and transcribing 50+ police records every day and seeing what their day to day life is like. One cop described it to me as ‘vast amounts of time of complete boredom punctuated by moments of absolute terror and action’. I’ve read hundreds of accounts of local police officers saving lives and making the streets safer.

That’s not to say that I saw nothing wrong. I lost count of how many times I transcribed phrases like, ‘suspect apparently fell on pavement’ or ‘suspect hit head on top of police car’ or ‘suspect lost a few teeth after we cuffed him and lost hold of him’. There was even a guy known for going through pairs of boots at an alarming rate due to the amount of people he kicked with them.  But most of the reports weren’t like that and the reports that were, I told myself were reports in which ‘bad guys’ got hurt. So what? Right? Does anyone really care if an accused rapist gets his ass beat by cops?

I learned that there are basically three kinds of cops or at least three primary motivators for cops.

There are the Boy Scouts. These are the Captain America sorts who genuinely want to help and embody the spirit of protecting and serving their community. These are what people tend to think of as good cops. If you have to personally deal with a police officer, this is the guy you want.

There are the adrenaline junkies. These cops joined the force because action movies made being a cop look like an adventure and what other job puts you right in the thick of it like being a cop? These are the cops who love a foot chase because of the unwritten rule that if ‘you make us run, we make you pay’. They love a car chase too. Anything that gets the blood pumping. These guys can go either way and it’s largely a personality thing as to whether or not they’re going to end up being a positive part of the police force.

Then there are the bullies. These are assholes who picked on other kids growing up in school and quickly learned that the only way to keep picking on people is to get some authority. These are the guys who will bounce your head on their car. They’ll take your license and not give it back just to fuck with you. They’ll arrest you for domestic violence and ask your wife out. They’ll make sure your arrest comes with at least a little bit of pain. These are the last kind of cop you want personally dealing with anyone you care about.

A good police department has the right mix of all three.  You need the boy scouts to keep the department honest. You need the adrenaline junkies because they’re never going to freeze or bitch about the danger. And you need the bullies to hurt people who are hurting people. Finding the right mix is difficult.

If you’re a boy scout cop, the worst part is you’re likely doing your job in a way that benefits the community but never makes the papers. The result is that the public thinks that you’re all bullies because wild dogs make more noise than domestic ones.

Before it appears that this is just me telling you how great cops really are, understand that I said all of that, so that I can say the next part with what I feel is a fairly informed opinion on the topic.

For the most part my defense of police officers and police departments can be seen as essentially #NotAllCops. This is a weak argument in favor of cops because ‘not all cops’ means ‘some cops’.  And if it’s your loved one lying dead in the street with bullets in him from a police issued gun paid for by your tax dollars and the only reason he’s dead is the color of his skin, saying ‘not all cops’ isn’t helpful. In fact it’s cruel. So what if not every cop is willing to murder an unarmed black man just because they can. The fact that any one cop would is bad unacceptable. It’s like having 1% cancer.

Unfortunately it is more than one bad cop. Over 1,000 people lose their lives to police bullets every year in this country. The Black Lives Matter movement was the result of an epidemic in lethal run ins between people with brown skin and the police departments across this country. It’s a simple slogan asking for the simplest of rights. A right that any true conservative should care about: the right to life. This is why NFL players take a knee for the anthem contrary to what you might have heard from Fox News or the White House). It’s the simple idea that when the police show up, they’re there to help everyone because black lives matter too. Sadly that is far from the reality we live in.

The problem is that the actions of police departments across this nation show again and again that black lives do not matter to police departments. In fact, this is where everyone seems to agree. The systemic racism of police departments throughout America is so well known that in Charlottesville, three of the most popular flags the Nazi thugs marching in the street flew were the Nazi flag, the Confederate flag, and a black and white flag with a thin blue line representing the police.  The combination of African Americans being killed by police, actual Nazis infiltrating the police force, and officer after officer getting little if any punishment for killing people of color has made it practically impossible for one to differentiate between those who fly the thin blue line flag who are just supporting the police and those who would feel at home in Hitler’s Germany.  And increasingly, the difference barely matters. Once the killing of a certain group of people is allowed, the only real difference is number of dead. Then the only question to be asked is how many you’re willing to allow to be killed before you pull your support?

Much like how so much of our news media has been corrupted, the same can be said of our police departments. Just as we need good journalists we also need good cops. The answer cannot and should not be that there should be no police whatsoever. Such talk is anarchy and while I know anarchy has its fans, I’m not one of them.

This is why though I am an atheist I take the ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ approach to police departments. I like the idea of police, but I hate how they’re going about it. Those who hate cops make perfect sense to me now. I don’t hate all cops. I hate the bad ones and applaud the good.

I want to share a bit of a thought experiment. Imagine having such a sense of civic duty and righteousness that you want to risk your life on a daily basis genuinely making your city a better and safer place in the most direct way possible as a police officer in your town. Now imagine being that person and having to deal with the modern day militarized, gung-ho, racist occupying force mentality of the modern police department in any sizable city. Not every cop is experiencing that. Some are there for all the wrong reasons. But some are exactly those guys.

The last thing I want to say is to any cop reading this is that you stop being a good cop the second you let a bad one keep hurting people you’re supposed to protect and serve. I know speaking out against fellow officers is dangerous both from a career and personal standpoint, but I was under the impression you joined the police force to risk your life for what’s right. Do that. Be the hero I looked up to as a kid. It’s the only way things get better.
– Jack Cameron

Dealing With The Police

I was pulled over by the State Patrol last week. I was driving on a two lane road at around 40mph in my 1965 Galaxie. I was about to turn left. I noticed the police car going the opposite direction just as a BMW passed me in the outside lane doing about 80mph. I turned left and went up the hill and soon found the blue and red police lights behind my car. I pulled over, turned off my car and rolled down my window. The officer asked if I was racing the BMW. I told him I wasn’t and that I thought the BMW was going much faster than me. He said “You were going pretty fast too. At least sixty and it’s forty through there.”

“I don’t think I was going that fast officer. I think the BMW was the one that was speeding.”

“Well, he was gone by the time I turned around.”

“That’s because he was speeding.”

“License, insurance and registration.”

I already  had my license and insurance card pulled from my wallet. Before reaching in the glove box for my registration, I said, “I’m going to take my right hand and grab my registration out of the glove box.” And then I slowly did exactly that.

He walked back to his car with the information and came back with a ticket for $154 for going 15 over the speed limit. He handed me my registration and insurance card back. It would be a few days before I noticed he did not hand my license back.

There was a time in my life where I was dealing with police officers on a weekly basis. There was also a time in my life when I worked for them in police records. I have had friends who are cops and former cops. So I know a few things about how to deal with the police. I even wrote a chapter about it in my book, Ruin Your Life. But there are some new rules since then and there are situations I didn’t cover.

DON’T POKE BEARS WITH STICKS

This is something my grandfather used to say. It can easily be applied to dealing with cops as well. Here’s the thing. A few years ago, it seemed like it was open season on police officers. Locally, a couple of cops were shot and killed. And then the four Lakewood police officers were gunned down while drinking coffee before a shift. The result of these killings has been that police officers are taking their chances with a shooting investigation rather than waiting to see if a suspect is definitely a deadly threat.

Some people think this is wrong. And make no mistake, there have been unnecessary tragedies due to this increase in police violence. But if you’re paying attention at all, you can at least understand why. I’m getting a bit off topic here though. The point here is that police are now more than ever willing to use deadly force if they feel it is necessary. You’re not going to fix that social problem in a confrontation with a cop.

So the thing to do is make yourself as little of a threat as possible. If you have anything in your hand, drop it.  Don’t wait to be asked. If you need to grab something, tell them what you’re going to do before you do it. Do not let them have a chance to guess wrong what you’re doing. Move slowly at all times. And do what they tell you to do.

You may not like what they’re telling you to do. They may not be following the rule of the law. They may be complete dicks about it. They may be absolutely wrong on all levels, but you are dealing with someone who will very likely not see any prison time if they kill you. So it’s best not to do anything that can be construed in any way as threatening. Do not think about what you’re doing. Think about what someone could say you were trying to do.

PEACEFUL PROTESTS

The Occupy Wall Street movement is the latest but far from the only protest that has been forcibly broken up by the police in recent weeks. When this happens, the police tend to not be nice about it. There are reasons for this.

One is that there are members of every police department who joined the police department simply so they could hurt people and get away with it. Believe it or not, they are in the minority. Most cops, believe it or not, simply want to do their jobs and go home at the end of their shift. However, if you happen to run into one of those dicks who just wants to hurt people, you should know that the second you retaliate violently towards one of those dicks, every good and bad cop will be more than happy to beat the living shit out of you.

Another reason is that ‘shock and awe’ tactics tend to scare the shit out of people and when you’re outnumbered, that’s usually the best route to go. It’s not pleasant, but the cops are like any other authority figure. They have bosses and the bosses give them orders. Their job is to follow their orders the best way they can.

Understand this. You will never beat the police on the street. They are going to do what they’re going to do. You can witness it. You can document it with pictures and video. You can post it up on the web for the world to see. And none of it will matter the second you are violent.

The police know how to deal with violent people. They are very good at it. Non-violent people are very difficult to deal with and control. Especially in this age of youtube.

REVOLUTION

The police are there to enforce the law. They aren’t in charge of what the law is. They don’t have to agree with the law. They don’t even have to follow the law themselves. But they aren’t going to change the law or how they enforce it to accommodate you.

If you’re looking to change things. Whether it’s a traffic law or the way the world works, you don’t start with the cops. You can’t. You save them for last. If you eventually find a way to change things, then the cops will be on your side.

Now don’t get me wrong, if a cop is wrong, you should fight the cop, but don’t be so silly as to play his game. A cop will beat you on the street every time because that’s his home. You beat the police in court. You beat them online.

Just understand that regardless of the situation, the second you are violent towards the authorities, they have won.

I didn’t argue too much with the cop that pulled me over. I disagreed with him politely and took the ticket that he gave me. I didn’t admit to any wrongdoing and mailed the ticket in so I can have my day in court.

–          Jack Cameron

King of Methlehem – Book Review

Most novelists, even successful ones have day jobs. This is just an economic fact. If you’re a resident of Western Washington, you’re probably at least remotely familiar with the name Mark Lindquist, but there’s a good chance that you don’t know him from his novels. You know him as a Pierce County Prosecutor. Just last night he was on the local news prosecuting someone who killed three-year-old. While his actions in the court room are admirable, that’s just his day job. When he’s not prosecuting criminals, Mark Lindquist is a novelist and after reading his latest book, ‘King of Methlehem’, I’m happy to report he’s a good one.

As you’ve probably guessed by the title, ‘King of Methlehem’ hangs its plot around the significant problem of meth amphetamine use and the damage it does. This problem is personified in Howard Shultz, a Tweeker with an obsession for cooking up meth subsidized by identity theft scams. The mentality of a hardcore meth user and cook is so well captured in ‘King of Methlehem’ that if Mark Lindquist were anyone else, you’d ask him how long he had been on it.

Pursuing Howard is Tacoma Police Detective Wyatt James. From the beginning, James is almost as addicted to finding Howard as Howard is addicted to meth. The dialog is quick and fun. You can tell that Lindquist used to write screenplays. The whole thing is written in present tense which gives it a feeling of urgency.

Aiding Detective James is his friend and prosecutor, Mike. While Wyatt is the cowboy, Mike is the guy who tries to keep Wyatt grounded. When Mike gets going in the court room, you can really see Lindquist’s day job influencing his writing. You get the feeling Mike’s frustration echoes his own.

If you’re a Tacoma native, you’re going to feel right at home with ‘King of Methlehem’ . Lindquist uses real bars, businesses, streets, people, and history. In fact, there are times when I think he overdoes it. In one chapter where two characters are driving down Tacoma’s 6th Ave., he manages to mention seven businesses on one page.  So while the book is seasoned with local color, I’d have to say sometimes it’s ‘over-seasoned’. This is as close as I can come to a criticism of ‘King of Methlehem’.

Ultimately, if you’re a fan of crime fiction, and definitely if you’re a local, ‘King of Methlehem’ is well worth your time. It’s like a local version of The Wire. And as anyone who knows how I feel about The Wire, that’s high praise indeed. I look forward to his next book and may check out his other books.

– Jack Cameron

F*ck The Police

I worked for the police department for two years in police records. My favorite show when I was a teenager was Homicide: Life on the Street. The best show ever on television in my opinion was The Wire. I’ve gone on ride-alongs with cops. I’ve read books about and by cops. There was a time when I wanted to be a cop.

So it’s safe to say that when it comes to any situation that involves cops, I’m probably going to be on the side of the cops. And for most of my adult life I didn’t understand how anyone who wasn’t a career criminal could hate cops.

It wasn’t until the first and only time that I got arrested that I really understood the hatred. In order to explain, I have to get into the specifics of what happened. Since it’s been many years since it happened, I don’t feel too bad about that.

My ex-girlfriend had come over and started an argument with me. She got loud. And as anyone who knows me can attest, if someone yells at me, I’ll yell back. Not mature, I know, but that’s how I am. And it’s not like I have a quiet voice anyway. Eventually she left my apartment and when she did, I called my friend and told said, “Hey, whatshername just came over and freaked the hell out on me for no reason at all. So glad I’m not with her anymore. I’m ready for a beer. Come pick me up.”

Ten minutes later, my friend pulled up in his 1966 Sparkle Blue Impala. As I got into his car, I saw a patrol car pull up in front of my apartment. I figured someone must have called the police. At the time I had just recently stopped working for the police department and my opinion of cops in general and Tacoma Cops in particular could not have been higher.  This is why I chose to get out my friend’s running car and explain to the officers what happened.

I walked up and introduced myself and told them I lived at the apartment they were going to. As soon as I did this, one of the cops told me to put my hands behind my back. ‘For protection’ they said. One of them then put the handcuffs on me. I nodded to my friend and he drove off since it was clear that I wasn’t getting a beer any time soon.

I gave them my version of events and was told to get into the police car. I asked why they were taking me in and they said, that Washington State law says that they have to arrest someone if they’re responding to a domestic. Technically this is true, but in practice I know that it’s not. I know this both from being on ride-alongs where we responded to a domestic and from two years of writing up police reports.

Once they shut me in the patrol car and put it into gear, it was pretty clear I was going to jail. I’d been in the back of a police car once before, but it was a different situation and I talked my way out of it. These guys, it was fairly clear, wanted to arrest me and so they did. And it was at that moment that I totally understood that whole, “Fuck the police.” thing. I got it. I was angry because they were arresting me just to arrest me.  I knew at this point there was nothing I could say that would get me out of the situation. However, I also knew that there wasn’t a lot I could say that would get me into more trouble than I was already in.

So I asked one of them how long they’d been a cop. He said, “Fourteen years.”

I said, “Fourteen years and you’re still a beat patrolman. How big of a fuck up do you have to be for that to happen?”

The conversation did not go well from there, but I think by the time we got to the jail they were just as pissed at me as I was at them, which was essentially the point. At the jail I was treated very well, but that might have had something to do with knowing half the people that worked there from my recent employment in records.

Three days and a couple thousand dollars to a lawyer later and all the charges were dropped. The whole thing was taken off my record. And things had returned to how they were. Except for the fact that I was still angry. I found in the days following my arrest that I would instinctively flip off any cop I saw.  I lost touch with the handful of cop friends I had. It wasn’t until weeks later that I realized what was happening. It wasn’t until I really looked at the situation that I realized I was blaming all cops for my one bad encounter with two cops. It was amazing to me given all of the positive police experiences I had, that this one event could color my viewpoint so completely.

It wasn’t an immediate thing, but I got over it. And it wasn’t until years later when I was talking with a coworker that I realized something else. He was going off at length about how the cops in his neighborhood when he was growing up would pick up a black teenager for simply walking down the street. And that it was because of that, that he hated cops.

I said, “So because of isolated incidents with a handful of individual cops, you’ve decided you hate all cops, correct?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said and I didn’t really realize it until I said it, “Aren’t you using the same basic logic that your average racist person uses; using a few events with individuals to justify your hatred for a whole group?”

The truth is that prejudice is the same regardless of who or what it’s against. It’s easier to get past once you really think about it. Just because some people are assholes doesn’t mean their people are assholes.

So I don’t flip off cops anymore. Of course if I see those two cops again, I’ve got a middle finger for both of them.

-Jack Cameron