Two recent videos of the Seattle cops subduing suspects provide the perfect contrast between unreasonable and reasonable force. In the latest one involving two teenage women, the cop deserves to be defended.
But before getting into the latest stir, let’s take a look at a video from a few months ago that shows an officer kicking a suspect who was already on the ground in handcuffs. He hurls a racial epithet confirming his ill intent.
Clearly in this case there was not reason to engage in this type of violence. The suspect, even if he was mouthing off, no longer posed a threat to the officer or his service weapon.
The more recent video, however, wherein a white cop punches a 17 year-old African American girl in the face, is an example of an officer using only the minimal force necessary to subdue a suspect.
So many of you are probably asking whether I have lost my marbles. After all, this blog is no great friend to law enforcement. The truth is that in the spirit of fairness, the cop in this video actually deserves praise for his handling of the matter.
From the very outset you can see and hear that the woman he is ticketing is using abusive language and threatening gestures that would justify arrest. Then in the midst of the lawful arrest of the woman in black, the other woman comes and initiates hostile physical contact with the officer.
So at this point in the video there are two hostile women who are physically challenging the officer while hurling angry abusive language. The officer reacts to the aggression of the second woman by punching her in the face with his fist. He did not use a baton, he did not draw his weapon, and he did not continue punching her after the first blow. This is an example of using the minimal force necessary to subdue a suspect. Anything less would have only emboldened the suspect who had already shown a willingness to fight.
Once the intervening suspect (who continues to resist) is subdued, the officer turns back to the woman in black. He does not punch, kick or abuse her in any way. He is simply trying to place the handcuffs on her. I can see at least five possible charges she could be facing at this point: disorderly conduct, assault, assault and battery on a police officer, disobeying a lawful police command and resisting arrest.
At a certain point the officer pins her against the driver seat door and we see the common sense good judgment that we desire and expect from police officers: He eases his grip and repeatedly pleads with her to stop resisting. A hostile crowd is converging, which is only raising the threat to his safety. Yet amidst this, rather than drawing his pistol, baton, or pepper spray, he actually starts pleading with the suspect to lower tensions. (She continues flailing her arms.)
I am all for civil liberties, tough restraints on use of force by police, and the rule of law covering everyone, including law enforcement. In this blog I have repeatedly complained about the courts showing way too much deference to police officers in their street-stop investigations. But these two women from the outset are clearly the aggressors. After initiating the situation by jaywalking, THEY are the ones who try to solve the problem through the assertion of physical dominance. THEY are the ones who demonstrate that they prefer solving problems through violence rather than the courts.
Even if the women were correct in a belief that the officer was making a false arrest, they had no right to get physical with him. They should have recognized that there were plenty of witnesses, and taken their complaints to court.
The person behind the camera keeps saying “Are you serious? Are you serious?” in response to the punch in the face. Obviously police work is deadly serious. The punch was a very reasonable reaction to a two-on-one physical threat. At every turn the officer had to consider the possibility that someone in the hostile crowd would attempt to take his pistol. So yes, Mr. Cameraman, the officer is serious–just as society expects him to be. Also serious are the are the criminal charges that both these women should face. Any lawyer who takes an honest look at the video should say the same.