Rising reports of police abuse should worry us all

Officer Eric Casebolt. (Youtube.com / Brandon Brooks)

McKinney, Texas, officer Eric Casebolt. (Youtube.com / Brandon Brooks)

Another week, another confrontation between a white police officer and an unarmed black citizen.

Thankfully, the latest incident in McKinney, Texas — in which the officer slammed a black teenager to the ground for no apparent reason, and then pointed his handgun at two young men who rushed to her side — did not lead to another death. But it has renewed a chorus heard from Ferguson to Baltimore about law enforcement’s mistreatment of African-Americans.

If you are naturally skeptical of race-based explanations for these situations, let me invite your sympathy for the victims on entirely different grounds: the abuse of power by those who amount to armed versions of what Cicero called “a holder of little authority in which he delights.”

Such petty tyrants do not by any means represent all or even most agents of our government. But they are common enough for most of us to be familiar with the type. Consider the offenses which sparked some of these incidents:

In McKinney, it was a disturbance at a private swimming pool that appeared to have ended by the time police arrived.

The recent riots in Baltimore broke out to protest the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. How did Gray end up in police custody? He “fled unprovoked upon noticing police presence,” so the police chased him. Only afterward did they discover he was carrying a knife.

Eric Garner, who died last year after an officer’s chokehold on Staten Island, N.Y., was initially confronted because police suspected him of selling untaxed cigarettes. As far as I can tell, their accusation, which Garner denied repeatedly, has not been substantiated.

John Geer, according to the Washington Post earlier this year, “committed no known crime” and “had been speaking calmly with the officers for almost three-quarters of an hour when the lethal shot was fired” outside his home in Fairfax County, Va., where police responded to a domestic dispute in August 2013.

Among these examples, only Geer was white. Obviously, that doesn’t make his life any more or less valuable, or his case any more or less tragic, than the others. But because race tends to be so polarizing, and so politicized, perhaps the example of Geer (and others) can broaden support for the idea that something has to change in the way police and citizens interact.

There’s no doubt cops face dangerous situations day in and day out. They deserve our respect, and even the benefit of the doubt when they make snap decisions with their lives on the line. But that respect shouldn’t blind us to the very poor decisions some of them make with their lives very much not at risk — decisions that call into question whether some officers reciprocate that respect toward citizens.

Nor should it excuse other, less visible abuses of power such as civil asset forfeiture, in which police can seize the private property of people suspected of wrongdoing without ever charging them with a crime.

Ubiquitous technology allows us to see more of these incidents than ever before. Anyone who cares about civil liberties or government overreach should be alarmed at how much there is to see.

Reader Comments 0

39 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

So, for the past couple of years, these teens have been fed non-stop politically correct bull***t about "Hands Up Dont Shoot", "Black Lives Matter", and how certain thugs that were beating a man into the concrete could be Obama's son.  The so called "news media" including the AJC, has run picture after picture showing blacks in the face of white police officers and the blacks were screaming obscenities at the officers.  We have also seen black flash mobs robbing, looting, and assaulting people without repercussion.


The little beauty queen in a bikini thought she could scream and curse at a police officer and disobey his lawful, direct order to disperse.  She was in the process of getting arrested when at least two other black males rushed the officer.


Newsflash:  You holler, scream, and yell obscenities at a police officer, you're probably going to jail.  You resist arrest, you're probably going to get manhandled.  You rush at a police officer while he is trying to make an arrest, you're probably going to be looking at the business end of a gun.


That said, I do think a more senior officer should have stepped in and provided more of a unified presence, especially when the officer was trying to make an arrest in a  crowd of people.

lvg
lvg

So nobody is going to explain how a White DeKalb officer shoots and kills a nude Black Veteran who is unarmed and nobody is concerned if there is no prosecution. I guess running in the nude is a felony.in Georgia.

Starik
Starik

@lvg My question is: why is a single policeman trying to handle an abviously mentally ill person alone?  Where's the partner? Where's the backup?

MHSmith
MHSmith

@lvg


The GBI is still investigating, we'll see what they have in the way of explaining how this happened. Though, I'm more concerned at this point about preventing another incident of this nature from occurring, even should the GBI eventually determine it was a "justifiable homicide", someone died here, a life was lost which we can't bring back.  Hopefully, what we can do, "peacefully", is to put more pressure on society in a push for better options than simply having to shake our heads and settling for "justified homicides" when we know mentally ill people need help, not in a mortgage with a tag on their toe - "justifiable homicide". 


This man was a veteran, we know the VA has seriously dropped the ball in treating the mentally ill and the country as a whole hasn't faired much better. 


Face it folks, having a stressed out cop serve as a last minute psychiatrist usually doesn't end very well.          

Juanx
Juanx

Kyle...Thanks for a most objective article on the McKinney debacle. When I moved to New York City the motto for describing NY City Police it was, "New York City's Finest". This was very accurate. Patrolling Police knew residents by name and greeted them as warmly. Then there was a declared war on drugs and a new police culture sprung up. Policing has not, I believe,  recovered sufficiently from tactics used to quell that war, ergo the abuses we are seeing today. This is where I believe training is needed to recognize that we are no longer at war on the street level and change must be. A 95 pound, bikini clad teenager should never be manhandled by a 200 pound policeman for any reason. I remain optimistic that change will be forth coming and all of America's police can one day be called, "America's Finest Police".   

Pat
Pat

Kyle, have you ever been assaulted by a policeman? Yeah, that's what I thought. Neither have I.  Even though we've never spoken about it, there's a young African-American male working in the office next to mine, whom I would bet has never been as well.  Hmmm.  Wonder if there's a reason here?

Pat
Pat

@Kyle_Wingfield @Pat  The point is, we three try not to break the law or at least not oppose the law if we have been thought to have broken it. I thought that the point was rather obvious. I would never, ever say that there isn't room for improvement in the law enforcement community but how many of these news worthy items would never happen if, in most cases, people did as they're told.  I don't recall, one time, ever, that after stealing from a convenience store and abusing the clerk, that I walk down the middle of the street ignoring the instructions of a law enforcement officer.  Just sayin'.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Pat "I don't recall, one time, ever, that after stealing from a convenience store and abusing the clerk, that I walk down the middle of the street ignoring the instructions of a law enforcement officer.  Just sayin'."

While I did refer to Ferguson as part of the chorus, I would not put Michael Brown in the same category as the others.

MHSmith
MHSmith

If there was only one abuse case to see, it would be too much: As it was once said, "injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere."  


All the drama in the news media, opinion columns and street protests in the world will not do any good unless the focus is put on coming together and coming up with solutions to end the cause of our worries. You know it easy to do news clips on this abuse write an Op Eds' once or twice a month about it but until our cops and our communities communicate and resolve the fears, angers and disregard for the value of a human life there is little encouragement for our future. 


So I hope all the good commentary and street protests will spill over into filling up high school gymnasiums, town halls  and municipal auditoriums to hold civil public meetings to take right first steps in bring these erogenous episodes to an end America.  

Brosephus
Brosephus

Gotta run, Kyle.  But I have to tip my hat to you for this one.  You've gone far and beyond anything I've seen from any source on the Right to actually discuss this in a non-loaded type of way.

I can't really find anything to argue with you about, and I enjoyed our back and forth earlier.

Grass_Hopper
Grass_Hopper

The cop definitely over-reacted.


Everyone knows that teens of all stripes are sweet and innocent and would never cause the police any trouble at all. Not a one of them.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Wena Mow Masipa How I started to disapprove this comment on grounds of irrelevancy, but I thought it would be better for people to see how ridiculously far some partisan Democrats will go to "Blame Bush!" for anything and everything.

lvg
lvg

So a white conservative reporter for the AJC is concerned about rising perceptions o f police violence.and  he knows how racially loaded this topic is. However  he does not mention the coviction of three police officers in Atlanta  a few years ago   for illegally breaking in and killing a 90 year old grandmother on a false warrant after she shot first. And he carefully  disregards current egregious cases of Black folks killed by local police contrary to the law on deadly force in Georgia. 


How much protests by Black activists will get a local newspaper  to investigate those cases or does the Kathryn Johnson case stand for the proposition that police violence cases in Georgia are being properly handled and rarely happen here and there is no need for protests?

Might be helpful if someone from the AJC were doing some real reporting on that.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@lvg I say save the police the trouble of responding to crime alerts, just shoot anyone you don't know who walks through the front door much the way it's done in Southwest Atlanta, that way the police don't get any blame and they can investigate rather than chase.

lvg
lvg

@Infraredguy @lvg You mean like its done in Gwinnett where the ole boy shot and killed a Mexican college student for turning around in his driveway. That cost the ole boy $500.00. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Nor should it excuse other, less visible abuses of power such as civil asset forfeiture, in which police can seize the private property of people suspected of wrongdoing without ever charging them with a crime.


Bravo Kyle, if the Georgia legislature wanted to do something beneficial with their time, they would follow the lead of New Mexico or AZ, which recently outlawed this practice.  Of course there was stiff opposition from the court house crowd and the police precincts, but this practice is routinely abused. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

What jumped out at me in the recent pool party fracas was "Napoleonic complex".  People put down stereo types but they exist for a reason.  Notice the officers that were there that remained calm and focused and the little guy who just lost it.  Bottom line, police have a very difficult job and with the adrenaline running and the fight or flight impulse strong they can often make mistakes.  They are just like everyone else, they have limits to their control, and some have less impulse control.  Anyone selected for this position should have a thorough background investigation by skilled background investigators, not just someone checking off boxes.  They should also be subject to some psychological prescreening. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RafeHollister I didn't pay attention to their respective heights, but it's striking how differently all the other officers in the videos acted.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Cops these days are frightened and jumpy due to the unknown weapons on the street,  which leads to shooting unarmed folks who just wanted fisticuffs in some cases.  Seems like an unfair fight, but it is the way of the times.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

 Ubiquitous technology allows us to see more of these incidents than ever before. Anyone who cares about civil liberties or government overreach should be alarmed at how much there is to see.


Excellent point. I don't believe these abuses are happening more often today. The reality is everyone in this country is walking around with a video camera in their pocket.


Sad thing is I don't think we have hit bottom yet. Its gonna get worse before it gets better. 



LogicalDude
LogicalDude

" abuses of power such as civil asset forfeiture, in which police can seize the private property of people suspected of wrongdoing without ever charging them with a crime."


Thanks for mentioning this one Kyle, along with the real physical abuse of powers by police. 

It's certainly not all police who physically abuse and/or kill people, it's quite a minority. A minority that should be excused immediately from the police force when any abuse occurs. 


The civil asset forfeiture however has been widespread and there are even special programs that teach police how to do this.  This is a direct abuse of power that takes more visibility to show how bad police abuse citizens by taking their money or goods. 

coj
coj

What is overlooked in many incidences of police misconduct is the culpability of the people who called 911 and reported inaccurate and lying accusations that cause the police to rush to judgement. But the sad fact is that it doesn't take much for cops, both white and of color, to resort to violent police tactics when blacks are involved.


The pool party had a fight between a couple of white women and the black teenager who was hosting a party for her friends. They assaulted the teenager then left the pool and called 911 and reported a fight among uninvited black teenagers. The white women lied. 


The Walmart shooting of a black man by police had a white male caller who said a black male was waving a gun around the store and pointing it at people. Police showed up and in just a few seconds shot and killed him. There is video that clearly showed the white caller lied.


Even when the 911 caller got it right with Tamir Rice and told the 911 operator that the gun might be a toy and the person was a boy, the police dispatcher didn't relay that bit of info to the officers who killed the boy.


Where is the justice? Where is the culpability for false reporting? Where is even the acknowledgement that the deaths of these black citizens need not have happened if not for the inherent racism in our society? Or are Americans that stupid?

Caius
Caius

Good column, do not disagree with any of it.

One thing appears to stand out, police action not matching the penalty for the alleged crime.  A guy selling untaxed cigarettes will not get the death penalty in court.  A person will not be sentenced to death for running from the police. Is running from the police a crime?



lvg
lvg

Kyle must not be reading the AJC. There are several disturbing local cases of police abuse and police klillings with no justifiable  cause.. The most alrming  is the totally nude and obviously disturbed Black veteran who was shot and killed in DeKalb. Still waiting for a rational explanation on that one. 

Not mentioned is gray line in the law about officer's right to use deadly force on anyone disobeying a direct order and fleeing. Supreme Court ruled the fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure applies in a civil liability case and that Tennessee law was unconstitutional  What is the law in Georgia????How has it been applied? Wouldn't a good reporter tell us that?

Brosephus
Brosephus

Something tells me that you're going to be among the minority in your conservative circles with this opinion.  The typical knee jerk conservative reaction has been to side with the police and victim shame the person.  Nobody wants to look beneath the surface to see whether or not a problem exists.  The narrative must continue that the cops are the good guys and the people are being treated as they deserve to be treated.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say that you have to obey the police and do what they ask.  Those same people giving that advice can't answer why Levar Edward Jones was shot for following the directions of a South Carolina State Trooper.  Why has the City of Baltimore paid out more than $5 million in settlements since 2011 for police brutality since

RexHavoc
RexHavoc

@Brosephus Lack of education in the communities with the highest crime rate is the underlying core issue.  When a city like Baltimore (which is NOT unique) has a 40% HS dropout rate, which results in a 40% unemployment rate, which results in those dropouts turning to crime and subsequently being much more likely to interact with the police, then the solution should be obvious.

It isn't.

No one has discussed the issues of the failures of the education system in educating young black males and how that directly impacts crime rates (rates 6 times higher in Armed Robbery and Murder than ANY other racial demographic).  We just choose to blame it on the justice system.


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Brosephus I think part of the problem is the way (some of) these cases have been cast and politicized -- as well as the violent reactions to them, which reduce sympathy toward them among people predisposed to side with law enforcement. That's one reason I wanted to write this column and re-cast the problem in a less political light. 

Brosephus
Brosephus

@Kyle_Wingfield 

I can understand that.  I also know that, before social media fanned the flames, many of these cases went unheard in the media.  I don't agree with how they've become publicized, but I am glad that the media is beginning to notice these cases.

What we still don't hear is the things going on in rural America away from the urban centers.  There are bad officers and good officers everywhere.  Some people truly do not deserve to wear the uniform.  It's not political either, and thank you for trying to steer it away from politics.

As for the violent reactions, if you look at almost every race riot since the 1960s, each riot was sparked by an incident involving police and someone in the community.  I understand and know the need for proactive policing.  However, you can't beat someone into a corner and not expect them to lash out at some point and time.  People will only take so much, even conservatives.  Look at how they lashed out in 2010.  Different technique, but the same basic premise.

Brosephus
Brosephus

@RexHavoc 

So, Pookie not being educated is the reason why the police beat on unarmed Tyrone.

Ok, thanks for that simplistic explanation.  Now, explain why the cops don't beat the crap out of the uneducated White meth heads who are also engaging in criminal acts?  Why aren't the cops beating the crap out of the heroin dealers and users in Cobb County?

You spout rhetoric so easily, yet you fail to even try to seek the underlying issues of the violence itself.  Follow Kyle's lead and think.  It won't hurt you to think outside the conservative norms.

lvg
lvg

@Kyle_Wingfield @Brosephus How about if you examine the Georgia law on police use of deadly force and see if it is being properly appied?

""" Sheriffs and peace officers who are appointed or employed may use deadly force to apprehend a suspected felon only when the officer reasonably believes that the suspect possesses a deadly weapon or any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury; when the officer reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of physical violence to the officer or others; or when there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm."" OCGA 17-14-20

How does a nude unarmed Black male give a Georgia police officer the right to use deadly force if no crime was committed or threat to use violence?

Should there be more political protests of that killing if the news media glosses over the story? How has it been handled by prosecutors?

Brosephus
Brosephus

@Kyle_Wingfield 

What does the education of people not committing a crime have to do with a) in your scenario?  I can understand interactions with uneducated criminals, and I know about the potential for increases in crime with lower educational levels.

To blame this on the victim's education level is a simplistic answer to an overwhelmingly complex issue in my view.  I'm college educated, and I've been pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black).  Thank goodness that I've never been arrested for anything, but I keep that possibility in the back of my mind each time I come across police officers.  That's even though I carry a badge and gun myself.

The education issue may be a small part, but I don't think it relates as you do.  Less educated people make less money.  Less money means less access to good legal representation.  That lack of adequate legal representation is why bad officers can get away with beating the crap out of people.  There are poor Whites getting beaten by officers, but as long as the media frames it in racial terms, the knee jerk reaction is going to be dismissive about the whole issue because the victims are likely "thugs" or criminals that deserved it.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Brosephus I read the comment in question to be more about why there is so much police presence in the neighborhoods where many of these incidents have happened (not McKinney), which contributes to the distrust between officers and citizens in those areas, which contributes to these occurrences. That's all.

And, as should be clear, I was trying to take the issue out of racial terms precisely because of the knee-jerk reaction you describe. The problem is more complicated than that, and the prevalence of crime in some areas and subsequently high level of police presence in those areas is a part of it. Not all of it, not most of it, but a part of it.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Brosephus I think you can recognize both a) police in some cases have been out of line in their actions, and b) poorly educated people are more likely to commit crimes and have interactions with police, leading to more cases of a).

Complex problems have complex causes and require complex solutions. There's no doubt in my mind failures of the education system contribute to this problem. Immediately shooting down such suggestions and insulting another person are another reason this issue has gotten so politicized. Don't make it worse.

Brosephus
Brosephus

@Kyle_Wingfield 

Okay, I can see reading the comment like that.  That would beg the question then, why?  Why are there more police in these neighborhoods than others?  Are there not White kids in suburbia dying of heroin overdoses?  Are we not seeing crimes happening in upscale neighborhoods.

In my view, it comes down to economics.  It's not about race or education as much as it is about economics.  Buckhead and West Cobb can use their wallets to curb enthusiastic enforcement of laws in their areas.  They can also use the power of the wallet to increase specific kinds of enforcement, such as the incident in McKinney.
With the financial crimes going on, why doesn't New York institute a stop-and-frisk type policy for bankers in Lower Manhattan?  We both know they wouldn't do such a thing because of the threat of adequate legal representation taking them to the legal woodshed for abridging the rights of the citizens.  The poor people don't have the ability to pose a threat.  That's why you see instances like Ferguson and such.

I made a comment a while back on a different blog about the lack of the "Tyranny fighters" going to Ferguson to fight government tyranny.  I was attacked and accused of hating the Right for that, but I was serious.  There have been all kinds of rallies, from Tea Party to Cliven Bundy, about fighting government tyranny.  However, if you read the DoJ report on the Ferguson court system, the people up there are caught up in a RICO type trap between the municipalities.  I have yet to hear anyone on the right, or the left, post such an argument.