[I started to comment on this over at Simple Justice, but there’s so much going on here that I decided to do my own post. As usual these days, it’s a bit late.]
I may be a libertarian, but I’m not a cop hater. Sometimes, however, cops make it very hard not to hate them. Go read Scott Greenfield’s story about a cop who hit a surrendering suspect and put him in a coma. Here’s a bit of a description from the source article at the Seattle Times:
Seattle lawyer Sim Osborn, who has been retained by Christopher Harris’ family, said both deputies wore black uniforms and yelled to Harris from a half-block away in a darkened alley. He said one witness reported the two deputies didn’t identify themselves as law-enforcement officers until after Harris began running down the alley sometime after 1 a.m. Sunday. Osborn said Harris stopped running a few blocks away, apparently after realizing the two men chasing him were deputies.
“He was blindsided,” Osborn said of Harris. “It was not a tackle but an absolute, bone-crushing hit.” Harris’ head struck a concrete wall. Since then, he’s been in a coma and on life support at Harborview Medical Center.
There’s video of the hit too, but what apparaently sets Scott off is the comments over at OfficerOne.com. Here’s an example he quotes:
Great job Deputy! That suspect FLED on foot and turned toward you. What were his intentions when he turned, fight, weapon, surrender? We may never know but you did right and will be vindicated!
Yes, exactly, what were his intentions? I can just imagine the officer’s debriefing:
I was chasing after him, yelling “Stop! Police!” And then the crazy bastard stopped! Who knows why he did that? Naturally, I had to take him out!
That reminds me of a case a few years ago where a police officer pulled a car over, walked up to the driver’s window and asked him for his license. Then the cop shot the driver. His reason? The driver suddenly reached for something.
I’m no expert, but this seems to be a common pattern with police violence against innocent people: The cops form the incorrect opinion that someone is a bad guy—either through mistaken identity or misfiring intuition—and then fit all subsequent behavior into that pattern. Even when the suspect does something innocent and cooperative, the cops fit it into their bad-guy model of the situation and interpret it as strange and alarming behavior.
(The Amadou Diallo incident developed in this manner. Diallo was just standing on his own front stoop, but police thought he was a bad guy who was up to something. When they eased their car closer, he didn’t slip away like most street people would, which really freaked them out. Then, when they got out of their cars, he tried to re-enter his building, which freaked out the cops even more, until one of them opened fire.)
There are other observations we can make from this incident. For one thing, the whole account starts with a lie. It’s a lie that’s enshrined in the law. It’s a lie so common that nobody even realizes it’s a lie anymore, not even the lawyer for the victim’s family:
Seattle lawyer Sim Osborn, who has been retained by Christopher Harris’ family, said…one witness reported the two deputies didn’t identify themselves as law-enforcement officers until after Harris began running down the alley sometime after 1 a.m. Sunday…
Other witnesses thought the deputies yelled “police” immediately.
Here’s the lie: Yelling “Police!” is not identifying yourself as a police officer. Yelling “Police!” is claiming to be a police officer. It’s something anyone can do, including strangers who want to stop you from running so they can rob you.
Pretending that only real cops are capable of yelling “Police!” is some kind of shared delusion. When a drug raid goes bad, one of the key questions is always whether or not the cops announced before entering, as if—just before the shattering windows and splintering doors—hearing someone yell “Police!” is all it takes to make the occupants feel calm and reassured that all is well.
This incident took place in the street, but I think the same principle applies: When strangers make threatening moves toward you, it’s kind of hard to be reassured by what they’re saying at the time. Cops know this, because this is exactly how plainclothes and off-duty cops get shot by other cops.
A few other notes:
- The method the cop used to subdue this guy—running straight into him with arms extended—is that a technique he learned at the academy? Does it have a name? Does it appear in any of the training manuals?
- When asked to justify a decision, cops often say it was based on their experience and training. This cop chased and jumped the wrong guy, and the takedown was totally unnecessary. Does that mean that the next time this officer is on the witness stand testifying that he knew something based on his “experience and training,” the defense lawyer can bring up this incident as an example of how his experience and training have steered him wrong before?
- The calousness of some of the commenters is disturbing. There is nothing in the video or the news story indicating that the victim had it coming.
- Was this another case of the old police street-justice rule that if they have to chase you, they’ll beat you?
The short-term thinking by some of the commenters is depressing. To me, it looks like the officer committed a violent crime against the guy he hit. But maybe there’s some excuse for what he did. Maybe, given what he knew at the time, this seemed like the right thing to do. A lot of commenters focus on that.
But just because the officer survived the encounter and won’t be convicted of a felony doesn’t mean it was good policework. That would be setting the bar far too low. An innocent person was gravely injured. The actual offender probably got away. The lawsuit will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Seattle police look like a bunch of thugs.
And for what it’s worth, I still think the cop was trying to deliver some street justice…just maybe not that much.