Essay:The policeman and the wine glass

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The policeman and the wine glass

By Bernie Najarian

A hot summer evening in my teenaged years. I’m on the main street of my home town, standing out in the open air, cooling down. The only air conditioning in town is in the supermarket, and it’s blocks away. Other patrons of the Family Restaurant spill out onto the sidewalk. A well dressed woman brings her glass of white wine out with her. She talks to her friends; they form a knot in front of the restaurant.

Two uniformed police officers come down the sidewalk on a routine patrol. They show no sign of noticing the restaurant customers. Suddenly, one officer spikes his arm out and neatly flicks the woman’s wine glass out of her hand. It flies several feet away and smashes on the sidewalk. The officer keeps walking by, doesn’t stop to look. The woman is astonished, looking around with her mouth open, but she says nothing. No one says anything. The police walk on as if nothing had happened. After all, she’d been breaking the law. Liquor outside the permitted area. The police reaction wasn’t perfectly legal, but who was going to complain?

I think the person most impacted by this incident was me. It wasn’t just that I realized that police could step outside the law. I’d seen police brutality on the news. When I saw police violence with my own eyes, though, I was struck by the idea that in all police work, there are two contradictory goals involved. One is to uphold the law – that’s the theoretical, book-learnin’ reality of their situation. The other is to maintain control of a concept of public order. That’s the spontaneous, real-world bit – the part that demands some improvising. It may seem very practical, even necessary, when you’re working the streets – but it sometimes gets police officers into trouble.

Ever since a videotape showing the beating of Los Angeles construction worker Rodney King sparked deadly riots in 1993, after the officers involved were all acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon, police have had increasing difficulty maintaining order and deference by pushing across the legal line. Security cameras and cellphones are everywhere, and they can’t all be seized. YouTube contains hundreds of examples of police misbehavior. In almost all cases, the officers involved have been embarrassed by those visual records, and in some cases, they’ve been dismissed or jailed. Nonetheless, in police work, the temptation to use a little extra force to maintain order must be intense. The book of rules is fusty and full of potential loopholes, and criminals may live on the edge and laugh at the law. Personal policing convenience, as well as duty to the public, may seem at times to call for some application of freelance force.

These days, on the other hand, there is a concerted effort among police officers not to be thugs. They get college degrees. Many read policing journals that are academic in tone. This increasing sophistication, however, has a potential drawback for the public. It offers up some strong-arm opportunities that can’t be captured on YouTube. One of those came up in 2011 when some people who were obviously sexually interested in boys appeared to be pushing the legal envelope with an online company called Azov Films. The company sold videos and photographs – completely non-sexual in terms of content – featuring boys from 8 to 16 doing sports and recreation activities in the buff. Legal naturism, the website called the material. And indeed, the site had been raided by local authorities in Toronto, Canada – its home base – in 2005, and had been found to be legally in the clear. So there it was, brazenly selling naked boys to erotically interested parties and processing credit card numbers. Like the woman with the wine glass, it was enjoying itself a little too freely.

The name Azov Films will be familiar to many readers, but for those who don’t know the story, the company suddenly disappeared in May, 2011. Then, mostly between Sept. 2012 and Sept., 2013, hundreds of its customers were arrested, one by one, mostly in Canada, the U.S., Australia, Norway and Spain. The police operation involved was labeled Project Spade. How could this happen when ‘legal naturism,’ which had passed a raid and also been given the green light by lawyers, was the only product sold? It was simple – the police, in collaboration with prosecutors, used their sophistication to move the boundaries of the law in their respective nations. In Canada, where the Criminal Code allowed a judge to decide purely subjectively if nudist photography of children had a ‘sexual purpose’ that would make it criminal, they pitched the idea that this purpose was operating in the case of Azov Films. That was not unreasonable, and it was reinforced by the knowledge that Markus Roth, a Romania-based producer of a proportion of Azov’s wares, had been convicted in the past for a sex offense involving an underage boy in his native Germany. In the U.S., the law was much more on Azov’s side – several court cases had strongly protected ‘nudity only’ photographic content involving children, and successful prosecution for child pornography required demonstrating that there was ‘lascivious’ content.

Complaints had been coming in about Azov to websites where citizens are asked to report child pornography. Police in the US were not about to let Azov smirk at them behind the skirts of the law. The outraged citizens didn’t care about the ‘nudity only’ defence. So the police unit involved, the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), did a little freelance improvisation on behalf of social order. They simply reclassified the normal actions seen in sports as ‘lascivious.’ Whenever a boy playing a game happened to face the camera frontally, the affidavit said he was ‘displaying the genitals.’ If, in sporting, he bent over, the charges said he was ‘exposing the anus.’ The anus itself was never seen, as was clear from reading affidavits, but the phrasing alone was enough to make any bending seem like a sex act. So 76 Americans who had used their credit cards to buy legal naturism, safely circumscribed by the law, suddenly found the police tearing their homes apart, and the press tearing their reputations to shreds. And none of it, on YouTube, would have looked any different from a normal child pornography bust.

The hapless men, many of them professionals in late middle age who had never broken a significant law, would have been far safer to proxy onto the Dark Web and download hardcore child porn. For their adherence to legality, they received the beating of their lives – sitting in prison, professionally ruined, with their deviant sexualities exposed to all by the local press. They experienced the full force of ‘state-rape,’ as Kristofor Xavier has so poignantly called it – sexual mortification through violent exposure by the state. And the violation of their legal compliance was completely invisible to the press. Indeed, by publicizing the minority of cases where arrestees were found to possess conventional child pornography or to have committed contact or photographic offenses with children they knew, USPIS made sure that all the arrestees appeared to be perverted rogues who were justly being removed from their communities.

To cap off their venture into white-collar Rodney King policing, USPIS did something nearly unimaginable. As I, along with collaborators, have detailed with information that is easily independently verified in mainstream newpaper and Justice Department sources, USPIS claimed that 330 children were rescued from sexual exploitation by the American arm of Project Spade – but they appear to have completely fabricated at least 200 of those children. Also, most of the remaining 130 ‘rescued’ children were never sexually contacted or otherwise made aware of being subjects of sexual interest. Instead, they were videotaped in full or partial nudity, without their knowledge, by one of two arrestees who had a penchant for hidden cameras. These two, one in Ohio and one in Georgia, were school employees who each made secret recordings of numerous students in school showers or in the washroom. The videos were not distributed, and the current or former children would never have known anything had happened, if not for the arrests. Ironically, their ‘rescue’ consisted of learning from police that they’d unknowingly been filmed – any psychological distress that ensued can surely be chalked up to police intervention. The number of children found in contact sexual situations that were ongoing on at the time of the arrests was no greater than six. The making up of hundreds of nonexistent victims greatly aided USPIS in portraying all their Project Spade arrestees as dangerous men. It was a lie, but it worked in terms of ninja policing, and none of the dirty work involved could be exposed on a video screen.