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Playing Cops and T-Shirts

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The Denver Police Department is facing several lawsuits over confrontations with protesters at the Democratic National Convention. The officers had conducted mass arrests and detentions of 154 individuals before and during the convention. One cop, for example, was videotaped pushing a woman to the ground with his baton as he yelled, "Back up, bitch!" The police are being charged with systematically condoning violence against antiwar demonstrators.

Now, a commemorative T-shirt created and distributed by their union, the Denver Police Protective Association, could be offered as evidence of the cops' state of mind. The T-shirt features a menacing depiction of a gigantic, nightstick-wielding cop with a malevolent grin, towering over Denver's downtown skyline and boasting, "We Get Up Early, to BEAT the Crowds," along with the slogan, "2008 DNC." The cop's hat has the image of number 68 inside a circle with a slash going through it, an obvious reference to Re-create 68, a protest group which staged several demonstrations.

Shirt producer Nick Rogers said that each of the 1,400 Denver officers was given a free T-shirt, and that they're being sold for $10. He said that the police union predicts sales of about 2,000 shirts. Rogers stated that he hadn't received any complaints about the shirt. But Glenn Spagnuolo, co-founder of Re-create 68, did in fact complain that "The members of Denver's police union clearly have no respect for the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution."

Re-create 68 has demanded an investigation by officials, including the mayor and the safety manager. Spagnuolo says that "The people of Denver were assured by the city that it would respect First Amendment rights during the convention, and that the police officers were being trained to do so. The actions of police during the convention, which involved numerous violations of people's right to freedom of speech and assembly, put the lie to those promises. And now this appalling, tasteless T-shirt shows why."

The Denver Police Department Operations Manual includes a Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, which begins, "As a Law Enforcement Officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind, to safeguard lives and property, to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty equality and justice."

Aside from the sexist wording in that opening credo, the T-shirt makes a mockery of the mission statement. Spagnuolo insists that members of his group saw those shirts before the convention, and that they reflect the brutality exhibited by Denver police officers during the convention. "We feel like police should not be celebrating violating people's rights," he says. "These shirts set the tone for the beating that our members took."

Martin Vigil, president of the Denver Police Protective Association, insists that "Nothing really happened. It wasn't the event that the anti-government groups anticipated, and the T-shirts are a satirical comment on that, given to officers after the event as a 'thank you' for a perfect convention." The police group contends, "Those activists just don't get the joke."

"Count us among those who don't find it very funny," stated a Denver Post editorial. "The T-shirt was supposedly a joke. 'We get up early to beat the crowds.' Get it? 'Beat' the crowds. The shirt undermines the efforts the Denver Police Department has made to boost its credibility in the community....Denver police leadership has been working hard in recent years to improve both its use-of-force practices and its image within the community after several controversial shootings."

In any case, there's a certain meta-irony about the name Re-create 68. Not only did the crossed-out 68 on the hat of the cop on the T-shirt refer to Re-create 68, but also Re-create 68 itself was a reference to the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago where protesters were severely beaten by police.

Moreover, at the 1996 Democratic convention in Chicago, there were T-shirts with the logo of the Chicago Police Department and the legend, "Democratic National Convenion Chicago--1996--We Kicked Your Father's Ass in 1968--Wait 'Til You See What We Do to You!"

That's the trouble with a police state. The cops think it's a good thing.
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Originally published on the Arthur blog at Yahoo.com