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Should Police be Allowed to Use Torture?

[This story refers to the March 17th, 2011 action at the Bible Way Apostolic Church–CW]

Let’s be clear. Police often have to use force, and the law authorizes them to do so. However, it is unacceptable to use force when not necessary and greater force than necessary.

Part of my right hand is numb today, and I cannot fully extend my left arm. This is the result of police techniques that use pain. I was arrested along with Pastor Sidney Keys, and three others of his family and congregation as we nonviolently tried to prevent foreclosure of the Bibleway Apostolic Church in Richmond, which had unsuccessfully tried to renegotiate a predatory mortgage.

I am 65 years old, a practitioner of nonviolence, and have not struck anyone in self-defense since I was a teenager. The Contra Costa Sheriff’s deputies used pain to try to make me walk. I refused to do that, but I was harming no one. Nevertheless, the officers insisted upon lifting me by my handcuffed arms while holding me upside down, thereby causing great pain to my shoulders and handcuffed wrists (See Contra Costa Times photo). Later, after placing me in a vehicle, they left the window open to use cold as coercion.

Police apparently believe that they are permitted to do that, and when it fails to achieve the intended result, they continue and possibly increase the torture to obtain compliance. The UN Convention on Torture defines it as “…any act by which severe pain or suffering…is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him…information or a confession, … or intimidating or coercing him…”

This is how the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department used torture in my case: to intimidate and coerce me into providing information and to assist in my own arrest. They could have simply carried me in a humane manner to wherever they had in mind, and they could have respected my right to remain silent. However, they refused to do so.

According to them, I could have ended the pain and suffering at any time by assisting the officers in my arrest procedure. Unfortunately, that is also part of the definition of torture, i.e. to apply pain and suffering until the victim provides what the torturer wants. They are also very good at their job. The twisting of limbs and application of cold temperature leaves no marks.

This is a sad commentary on our police culture and our society. Instead of a compassionate, professional force for good and reconciliation, risking their lives for the rest of us, we have a gang of hardened enforcers demanding unquestioning obedience through the threat and application of pain and arms. We deserve better from some of our highest paid public servants.

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