There’s A Police Problem In America, But Now It’s A Problem On Both Sides
What would happen if, while you were doing your job, you had people surrounding you, yelling at you things like “you are doing your job all wrong” and “you’re terrible at your job” and “slap your Mom in the mouth for having you”?
We can agree this would not be an ideal working condition. That said, maybe you are bad at your job. Maybe you’re doing your job wrong. But still — not a great way for the news to be conveyed to you.
Medium published a video and written account this week of several police officers restraining a homeless Black man with a prosthetic leg in San Francisco. The author, Chaédria LaBouvier, is also the person who took the video, and provides narration of the incident.
There is no question that LaBouvier is a biased narrator — that she comes from a certain perspective on the matter (she writes that she was on her way to Medium HQ to discuss a project “mainly focused around police brutality”). And I also believe there is no question that, as a general statement, two factors exist in America — police disproportionately target African Americans and minority communities, and there is a militarization of the police that has led to excessive force in some cases. Two examples of the collision of those two factors: the Eric Garner case, and although Darren Wilson was cleared of wrongdoing in the Ferguson case, the other findings in the Ferguson DOJ report show areas that clearly need vast improvement.
Let’s also put something else on the table. The vast majority of Black people in America are not criminals and are not committing a crime. Likewise, the vast majority of police officers are not using excessive force or targeting Black people. That doesn’t excuse the police officers who are bad, but is simply stating a fact.
But right now the temperature has been turned up so high surrounding these types of incidents that every time something pops on the radar, both sides dig in their heels and objectivity and nuance leave the arena.
The report by LaBouvier is compelling but incomplete, and in some cases simply inaccurate. Let’s take another look at the scene.
The video picks up after the suspect is already on the ground — we don’t see what precipitated it. While the article notes LaBouvier had 30 minutes of footage, the video only shows 11. However it’s clear in the video that the other footage must be after what we see on video, since, at the 10-minute mark LaBouvier can be heard saying that she’s been filming for 10 minutes.
Also, let’s be clear that, although the headline states there were “14 officers” involved in taking down the man, there actually were four who took him down to the ground, and then later more officers arrived to do a form of crowd control.
At :39 in the video, it’s obvious the man is overpowered and on the ground, while the officers remain holding his leg and upper body. But it’s also obvious that the man is resisting arrest — he starts kicking one of the officers even while on the ground.
More officers start arriving, and the diverse group of police officers (white, Black, Asian, etc) are greeted with at least six different cell phones recording the incident, not counting the video we were watching.
At 1:41, LaBouvier says “ya’ll are absolute pigs” to the officers, a pejorative for police officer. At 2:00, someone in the crowd yells “Next time you guys see your Moms, slap that bitch in the fucking mouth for having ya’ll.” LaBouvier can be heard laughing at this.
At 2:43, another person says, “I’m still waiting for my fried rice, motherfucker. I’m just saying. You were talking hella shit to me on 48th, you and your white captain.” At 3:33, a different person says “This is fucking enslavement.” At 3:37, LaBouvier says “You are doing your job all wrong.”
At 4:52, the officer tells LaBouvier, “You’re more than welcome to film, but you need to back up a little.” This seems like a reasonable request, but LaBouvier reacts strongly. “I’m making you uncomfortable!” she says. “You need to film that so you can take that back to the police on proper policing. This is not it, I hope you take that to your boss to show them proper policing, because this is not it…People know that ya’ll are terrible at your job.”
At 7:10, the suspect says, “When I say no, this is what you do to me?” which seems to imply he resisted arrested before the video started. At 8:01, a man in the crowd says, “OG. Just relax, man, stop trying to move, just relax.” Again, seems reasonable, but LaBouvier didn’t like that: “That’s not the issue. The issue is excessive force.”
“But all he has to do is relax,” counters the man in the crowd. “This isn’t anything he’s done, this is poor policing and excessive force. This is white supremacy in action,” LaBouvier says.
After telling the officers that the suspect’s pants are down for most of the video, at 9:51 an officer pulls his pants up. This seems like a positive development — the police actually listening to someone in the crowd to respect the suspect. But it is greeted with LaBouvier saying, “You wonder why people don’t trust you and why people don’t like you.”
Now Gawker is joining the fray, with a completely disingenuous take on the incident. “It Took 14 Cops to Take Down a One-Legged Man For the Crime of Carrying Crutches” says the headline, which contains several pieces of incorrect information.
We have a problem, and now the current inflamed situation is so intense, each publicized incident only pours more fuel on the fire, from both sides.
Recently in Alabama, a police officer was pistol-whipped unconscious with his own weapon, and says he resisted taking action because he didn’t want to become part of the headlines. While he was unconscious, people tweeted pictures and offensive comments about “nap time,” celebrating the violence aimed at police.
Violence does not help violence. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Nothing will be solved by both sides on these matters refusing to give an inch.
I don’t know what it’s like the be a black person in America — and I never will. I can only try to understand. (I have an African American Studies degree, but that knowledge of literature and history only further proves to me I have no way of truly relating to the plight and struggles that have existed, and in many cases still exist.) But there has to be a better way — a way to limit the violence of police, the targeting of black communities, while also not turning every incident into a media firestorm.
I don’t have the answers to stop this cycle — Garner and Bland and Gray. But this can’t be the way to do it.
Because what’s the endgame? It should be better policing that involves a better relationship with the community. Everyone needs to agree that the answer is police protecting the non-criminals from the criminals, of all races. That doesn’t get solved by painting with the broadest brush possible by making the police the enemy.
And it doesn’t get solved with the sort of Negativity Sifting we see with some activists, like LaBouvier.
One person responded on Twitter to LaBouvier while praising her Medium article that, “This is why when I saw that cop pull over in front of that homeless man in my hood I got so scared for him.”
LaBouvier thought this person may have witnessed the incident she filmed, but no, the user responded, “She just gave him food. But my mother and I were concerned at first.”
No, the police officer just stopped to feed the homeless. Obviously those kinds of stories don’t get the headlines, but they also shouldn’t be ignored within the larger narrative.
Let’s find ways to work together to make things better, not continue to divide.