But stories are just a part of a person’s life. Each of us have a story. A snippet of our life that we hold onto and pass along. Many stories are cute and endearing, and then there are those at the other end of the spectrum.
These stories are of fear and pain.
These are stories of abuse by police.
These stories are becoming more frequent. Entire website networks have sprung up to alert readers and web searches of the abuse caused by police officers.
Photographing the crimes by police, although protected by Supreme Courts in many states, still results in harassment by law enforcement. When the general public states their concern about surveillance cameras all over their town, the police may respond with “If you’re not doing anything wrong, what’s wrong with being recorded”. The hypocrisy sits in their mouths like venom when they are recorded abusing a pedestrian or a driver because, “They gave me attitude”.
It has been a long held tradition – from the time of Hammurabi of the Sumerians – the duty of the strong is to protect the weak.
“…that the strong may not oppress the weak, that justice may be dealt the orphan and the widow.” – source
As Rev. Clifford Stevens puts it:
“Wherever constitutional law has emerged, it was in the form of laws to protect weak and helpless members of society from those who would use their power, privilege or position to oppress and exploit. Law itself can be described as protection for the weak and helpless, since the strong and prosperous have their own means of protection.
Law enforcement is for professionals. You must be trained and licensed, and later swear an an oath protecting the Constitution. It involves long hours in the worst kind of weather. Behaving like a spoiled child because someone called you a name is not professional. And yet so many bad cops are allowed to get away with literal murder.
Why? What makes a person who swore an oath, to protect the general public, to taser unarmed women. Or beat senseless with night sticks?
To answer that question we need to go back to 1971, to Stanford University for the Stanford Prison Experiment. The experiment was conducted at Stanford University from August 14 to August 20 of 1971 by a team of researchers led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo, and was funded by the US Office of Naval Research as an investigation into the causes of conflict between military guards and prisoners.
In the experiment, the guards and prisoners were chosen by a coin toss. And then began a two week experiment that was doomed even before it started and ended six days later. As the head researcher, Philip Zombardo stated:
Guard aggression … was emitted simply as a ‘natural’ consequence of being in the uniform of a ‘guard’ and asserting the power inherent in that role.
Furthermore, because the Guards could not help themselves, they could not be blamed for their actions.
Stop reading now if you are troubled by senseless violence. The following are excerpts of the Experiment:
The guards were given no specific training on how to be guards. Instead they were free, within limits, to do whatever they thought was necessary to maintain law and order in the prison and to command the respect of the prisoners. The guards made up their own set of rules, which they then carried into effect under the supervision of Warden David Jaffe, an undergraduate from Stanford University. They were warned, however, of the potential seriousness of their mission and of the possible dangers in the situation they were about to enter, as, of course, are real guards who voluntarily take such a dangerous job.
As with real prisoners, our prisoners expected some harassment, to have their privacy and some of their other civil rights violated while they were in prison, and to get a minimally adequate diet — all part of their informed consent agreement when they volunteered.
This is what one of our guards looked like. All guards were dressed in identical uniforms of khaki, and they carried a whistle around their neck and a billy club borrowed from the police. Guards also wore special sun-glasses, an idea I borrowed from the movie “Cool Hand Luke.” Mirror sunglasses prevented anyone from seeing their eyes or reading their emotions, and thus helped to further promote their anonymity. We were, of course, studying not only the prisoners but also the guards, who found themselves in a new power-laden role.
Push-ups were a common form of physical punishment imposed by the guards to punish infractions of the rules or displays of improper attitudes toward the guards or institution. When we saw the guards demand push-ups from the prisoners, we initially thought this was an inappropriate kind of punishment for a prison — a rather juvenile and minimal form of punishment. However, we later learned that push-ups were often used as a form of punishment in Nazi concentration camps, as can be seen in this drawing by a former concentration camp inmate, Alfred Kantor. It’s noteworthy that one of our guards also stepped on the prisoners’ backs while they did push-ups, or made other prisoners sit or step on the backs of fellow prisoners doing their push-ups.
Every aspect of the prisoners’ behavior fell under the total and arbitrary control of the guards. Even going to the toilet became a privilege which a guard could grant or deny at his whim. Indeed, after the nightly 10:00 P.M. lights out “lock-up,” prisoners were often forced to urinate or defecate in a bucket that was left in their cell. On occasion the guards would not allow prisoners to empty these buckets, and soon the prison began to smell of urine and feces — further adding to the degrading quality of the environment.
Types of Guards
There were three types of guards. First, there were tough but fair guards who followed prison rules. Second, there were “good guys” who did little favors for the prisoners and never punished them. And finally, about a third of the guards were hostile, arbitrary, and inventive in their forms of prisoner humiliation. These guards appeared to thoroughly enjoy the power they wielded, yet none of our preliminary personality tests were able to predict this behavior. The only link between personality and prison behavior was a finding that prisoners with a high degree of authoritarianism endured our authoritarian prison environment longer than did other prisoners.
Prisoners’ Coping Styles
Prisoners coped with their feelings of frustration and powerlessness in a variety of ways. At first, some prisoners rebelled or fought with the guards. Four prisoners reacted by breaking down emotionally as a way to escape the situation. One prisoner developed a psychosomatic rash over his entire body when he learned that his parole request had been turned down. Others tried to cope by being good prisoners, doing everything the guards wanted them to do. One of them was even nicknamed “Sarge,” because he was so military-like in executing all commands.
By the end of the study, the prisoners were disintegrated, both as a group and as individuals. There was no longer any group unity; just a bunch of isolated individuals hanging on, much like prisoners of war or hospitalized mental patients. The guards had won total control of the prison, and they commanded the blind obedience of each prisoner.
An End to the Experiment
At this point it became clear that we had to end the study. We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation — a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically. Even the “good” guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress. Indeed, it should be noted that no guard ever came late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work.
I ended the study prematurely for two reasons. First, we had learned through videotapes that the guards were escalating their abuse of prisoners in the middle of the night when they thought no researchers were watching and the experiment was “off.” Their boredom had driven them to ever more pornographic and degrading abuse of the prisoners.
Second, Christina Maslach, a recent Stanford Ph.D. brought in to conduct interviews with the guards and prisoners, strongly objected when she saw our prisoners being marched on a toilet run, bags over their heads, legs chained together, hands on each other’s shoulders. Filled with outrage, she said, “It’s terrible what you are doing to these boys!” Out of 50 or more outsiders who had seen our prison, she was the only one who ever questioned its morality. Once she countered the power of the situation, however, it became clear that the study should be ended.
And so, after only six days, our planned two-week prison simulation was called off.
In 2002, the British Broadcasting Corporation conducted their own nine-day experiment. Again, using volunteers, the results were the same.
However, one aspect that was considered was that of tyrannical rule by the guards. In the conclusion of the study, the researchers state:
Our study suggests that this happens when groups fail. When people cannot realize their own values and beliefs, they are more like to accept alternatives – however drastic – that provide the prospect of success. In particular, when their group is failing, they are more likely to embrace a strong figure who promises to make things work for them. It is this combination of failure and promise which made our participants become more authoritarian. In history too, these are conditions that have precipitated tyranny.