Doug: "What does the U.S. criminalize that other countries don't?"
Wojtek: "Everyday life conduct of the working class, for the most part. Recreational drug use, public drinking, sex for pay, jaywalking, street vending, violations of bureaucratic regulations."
Not to mention that in New York City simply reporting an accident can be an offense punishable by partial blinding. From today's NY Times:
A Senseless Assault
By Bob Herbert
John Padilla was crossing Sheffield Avenue at the corner of Liberty Avenue in the East New York section of Brooklyn when he saw the car approaching. Its headlights were off and it was traveling fast, he said.
This was late on the night of Oct. 7, 1994. Mr. Padilla crossed the street safely but within seconds the car with its headlights off crashed into another car at the intersection.
Mr. Padilla, 28 at the time, ran back into the street to see if he could help. It turned out that the car with no headlights was an unmarked police vehicle carrying three officers. Mr. Padilla, an immigrant from Honduras, recalled that no one was seriously injured but within minutes several other police cars and an ambulance arrived at the scene. Mr. Padilla still thought he could be of help.
He spotted a police officer with a notebook and went up to him.
I interviewed Mr. Padilla on Tuesday in the lower Manhattan offices of his attorneys, Marvin Salenger and Robert Sack. He remembered telling the officer with the notebook: "Would you like to hear what I saw? I could tell you what happened because I saw what happened."
The officer with the notebook ignored him. But another officer walked up and said, according to Mr. Padilla, "Shut the [expletive] up and take a hike."
Mr. Padilla naïvely tried to explain that he wasn't a crank, that he had information he thought the police should have. He said the second officer told him if he didn't take a hike he'd be arrested. So, as even the police acknowledge, Mr. Padilla turned around to leave. For some reason, the second officer, later identified as John Coughlin, grabbed Mr. Padilla from behind, flipped him and slammed him face first to the pavement.
Then several cops jumped him. Mr. Padilla said he was hit in the back of the head with a heavy object and his face was pounded into the ground. "I couldn't see how many cops there were," he said. "But I could see so many feet surrounding me and kicking me. It was horrible. I felt like I was going to be killed. I was totally scared. I was shaking."
Mr. Padilla was taken to the 75th Precinct stationhouse where he was given a summons for disorderly conduct. The specific charge was making unreasonable noise. To Mr. Coughlin it was not a big deal. He would later describe his encounter with Mr. Padilla as a "minor incident."
But when Mr. Padilla left the stationhouse he was a mess. His face was swollen and he was bleeding from his forehead, his chin, his hands and his knees. He went home and on Monday morning he went to work as usual. But instead of gradually feeling better, he felt worse. He suffered excruciating headaches. And within a few days he began to lose the sight of his right eye. The optic nerve, which transmits visual impulses from the eye to the brain, had been damaged in the beating inflicted by the cops.
Mr. Padilla is now legally and permanently blind in that eye. "All he can see are shadows," said Mr. Salenger.
Mr. Salenger and Mr. Sack filed a lawsuit on Mr. Padilla's behalf, charging that he had been falsely arrested and that the police had used excessive force. The case recently came to trial. At one point Mr. Coughlin, now a sergeant, was asked to demonstrate for the jurors how he flipped Mr. Padilla. He seemed happy to do so. He stepped behind an attorney who volunteered for the demonstration, grabbed him, flipped him and slammed him to the floor. There was a collective gasp in the courtroom. Jurors later commented on the grin of apparent satisfaction that Sergeant Coughlin displayed after the demonstration. Sergeant Coughlin assured the lawyer that he had taken it easy on him.
There were at least 10 cops on the scene when Mr. Padilla was arrested. But Mr. Coughlin testified that he could not recall the name of even one officer who witnessed the arrest.
The jurors did not find the attack on Mr. Padilla to be funny or trivial. Last week they returned an $8.2 million verdict against the city and the Police Department.
Mr. Padilla is a hard-working body and fender repairman who is married and has two young children. "He is just a terrific guy," said Mr. Salenger. "All he wanted to do was help."
Said Mr. Sack: "The police, by violating their oath, violated the rights of an innocent man, causing him to suffer a devastating injury."
[end of article]