Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Quickies: The Truth, But Not The Whole Truth

     FBI Director James Comey gives us a slice of truth:

     In two speeches, the FBI boss said he believes crime is rising in much of the nation in part because growing criticism of cops has emboldened criminals and caused law enforcement to retreat. He said cops complain their every move is often captured on cellphone videos by hostile crowds, and so have backed off from making arrests.

     “I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year,” Comey said at the University of Chicago Law School.

     And indeed, that wind is amplified by selective use of videos such as the following:

     ...which show what looks like police brutality by removing the context. But context matters; in the above case, it’s critical:

  • The student, a black girl in a majority black classroom, openly used her cell phone during class.
  • The teacher demanded that the student cease, as it was disrupting the class.
  • The student defied her teacher, who by law is forbidden to touch the student.
  • The administration called in the police.
  • The cop demanded that the student relinquish the cell phone.
  • The student defied the cop.

     Given the legal environment and the lack of options at the school’s disposal, what would you have done? Quoth David French:

     After watching and re-watching the incident, I keep coming to the same conclusion: This is what happens when a person resists a lawful order from a police officer to move (UPDATE: CNN is now reporting that a third video shows the student hitting the officer in the face when he initially put his hands on her). Unless the school is willing to have one student commandeer the classroom indefinitely, the officer has few options beyond physical force — and the use of physical force is rarely pretty to see. In this instance, the use of force was decisive, brief, and did not physically harm the student.

     While I hardly claim to have grown up (or live) on the wrong side of the tracks, I’ve seen multiple police interventions in my 46 years on this planet — including in my own high school in the 1980s — and I’ve never seen the police be gentle when a person resists arrest. The use of physical force is never elegant, it’s always potentially dangerous, and it’s always easy to critique from a distance. Lawlessness typically leaves a police officer with options that simply don’t look good on camera.

     Nevertheless, there is a problem with police militarization and the swelling of the us-against-them attitude among the police, as we have seen in other incidents. The situation is neither all one way nor all the other. Men of good will attentive to the evidence must remain mindful that cases that run in one direction don’t automatically preclude cases that run in the other.


syd B. said...

All i know is that if we could backdate Youtube technology by several decades and that was me in that video, I'd be getting a taste of my father's belt the minute I walked in the door and the next day I'd be taking the cop an apology bag of my mother's freshly baked scones. And I'm pretty certain my Dad would shoot Rev. Sharpton before he took step on on the front path.

Russell said...

Body cams on all police. For their protection, and ours.