The video’s made the rounds, and become a national news story. I watch so many videos like this one, though, that I was actually surprised it became a big story. It’s hardly the most egregious police brutality video of the year – at least, you know, the people getting hit are actually resisting arrest in this one. But obviously, the hook here is that she was being arrested for jaywalking, which white people know isn’t a crime, and because the police officer punched a teenage girl in the face, which is against most standards of decency, even when a police officer does it.
But what really got to me was this statement from the Seattle Police Department’s deputy chief, Nick Metz: “Even if you think that contact from a police officer is unlawful, it is your responsibility to cooperate with it,” says Metz. “In the event that you do receive contact from an officer that you think is unlawful, there are mechanisms instated which you can go through.”
He’s right, of course – don’t refuse to cooperate with a police order. But the “mechanisms instated which you can through” in the event that you’ve been treated wrongly by a police officer – well, let’s just say that it’d be nice to have more faith in them.
Would you want to file a complaint? Check out this expose from a Florida television station about the exact difficulty in doing so.
(Money quote: “Do you have a complaint form that I can fill out?” [shaking head] “It might not be a legitimate complaint.”)
Taking the issue up through the chain of command can be, um, intimidating, to say the least. And while I’m sure that SPD is a fine organization who would never engage in the sort of conduct that the police in several South Florida cities did when pressed for the means to file a formal complaint, it’s hard to blame the young ladies in question for assuming that their customer service experience might not be Starbucks-level.
Would you trust that your fellow citizens are going to trust your word over a police officer’s, and take it to the court of public opinion?
Well, you might, but it is probably not going to work out all that well for you. Americans give a whole lot of leeway to police to conduct their business however they best see fit, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a distinguished law professor or the President of the United States – in the end, rather than see justice be done, you’re probably going to have to apologize to the cop over a beer for doubting his judgment.
Would you assume that the courts will rule impartially if you decide to sue, and pursue your means of redress in the legal system?
Doing that is your right as an American, of course, but yesterday the Ohio Supreme Court determined that police officers are so infallible that they can determine the exact speed (“within three or four miles an hour”) of a speeding car just by looking at it go past. So you could be forgiven if you assumed that they might take the cop’s side over yours.
All of which is to say: Where, exactly, is that mechanism instated you can go through when you’re being treated unfairly?
Now, trying to run away isn’t the answer – the police officer is big and has weapons, and he can call on his friends for help quite easily, while all of your supporters will, at best, be trying to videotape you getting punched. Nonetheless, it would be nice to see the SPD spokespeople acknowledge that their channels for redress haven’t exactly seemed open to most Americans.