Living in Ann Arbor, rallies and protests aren’t anything new to me. But a few weeks ago I became curious when I ran across my friends’ photos of a rally at Purchase College, located about a half hour north of Manhattan. Earlier that week, Purchase held its annual spring festival “Culture Shock,” featuring an evening concert performed by the fairly well-known ska band, Streetlight Manifesto. As with many other ska concerts, a mosh pit quickly formed and just as quickly grew out of control. The show even had to be stopped a few times to ask the audience to move back from the stage — and from the cops that guarded it as well.

Naturally, one student was pushed too hard out of the mosh pit and into one of the cops. The student, Hart Seely, fell backward, and his hand hit the policeman’s hat. When other students asked what had happened to Seely after the show, the police responded that he had been removed from the scene for hitting a policeman.

Any sensible person would realize that this collision was accidental. And maybe so did the cop. But something got under his skin, because he didn’t react as any sensible person would. When Seely asked why he had been taken from the scene, the cop responded with “You know what you did” — a generic one-liner straight out of a Bruce Willis movie, rather than a precise description of formal charges. It wasn’t until 11 a.m. the next day after a night spent in transport between three law-enforcement facilities that the police informed Seely of the charges being filed against him.

At this point, it could only be assumed that he was being held for assaulting a police officer. What else could he be charged with? But by the next morning, attempting to steal an officer’s firearm was added to the assault charge.

Since his release from jail, Seely’s life is in shambles — and he hasn’t even stood trial yet. At a hearing by Purchase College, he was suspended from the school, banned from the residence area, and isn’t even allowed in his room. He’s been allowed to finish classes this semester, but his return to the college after that is up in the air. It’s as if he’s already been found guilty before his trial has even started. How could he have imagined on the night of the concert that by the next morning he would be a criminal for falling into a cop? Now he’s worrying about his ability to finish his education and escape the situation without a conviction for the ridiculous charges.

Hart’s story isn’t the first one of a cop taking advantage of a citizen. From the 1991 police beatings of Rodney King to Seely’s mistreatment in April 2009, policemen breaking the laws they’re supposed to uphold is nothing new. But the practice of cops ignoring citizen’s rights should be the exception, not the rule. It’s as though the police have forgotten they’re supposed to keep people safe, not cause more trouble. How can we ever trust the police when they continue to take advantage of harmless citizens?

There has to be a check on the police. Dirty cops seem to be everywhere, and it’s difficult to tell the good from the bad. Our legal system frequently doesn’t help the situation, either, as a cop’s word carries more weight in court than that of a normal citizen. A cop usually has to get caught in the act to be charged with a crime — and that’s easier said than done. In the end, there’s no one to police the police, and as we continue to see abuse of their authority, a way to check cops seems all the more essential.

It’s sad that those assigned to “protect and serve” aren’t held to the same — if not better — standards of the law than the rest of society. The police should be held accountable, so that everyone still trusts the force as they ought to. If cops were held accountable, Hart wouldn’t be headed to criminal trial. His future has been put in jeopardy by a cop abusing the system — a cop seemingly disinterested in protecting the masses. If those meant to protect consistently fail at their job, how safe can we feel?

Ed McPhee can be reached at emcphee@umich.edu.

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