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Officer punches girl; Internet approves.

On June 14, a bystander shot this video of a Seattle police officer punching a 17-year-old girl in the face during an altercation with her 19-year-old cousin.

My pal David Forbes tweeted this bit of news to me this afternoon, and I’ve been trying to wrap my head around both the video and the responses to the video ever since. The response is overwhelmingly in support of the officer. Here are a few choice snippets:

  • I know that this seems like a big deal over jaywalking. But think of the area in which this occurred. Lots of gang activity. By the police asserting their presence even for seemingly trivial things like jaywalking, it lets the gangs know they are being watched.As for the punch…she deserved it and I have no sympathy for her whatsoever. Show some respect for authority and you might get some back.
  • looked like she assaulted the officer… pretty obvious to me.HOWEVER, this is now going to be a BLACK and white issue, as always. AND she will get an attorney and the City of Seattle will settle out of court and Obama will fly out to have a chat with the police officer and the girl and make everything nice.Pretty darned pathetic that this is newsworthy.
  • So how long before the NAACP and Al Sharpton are called and this is turned into a race issue? Those girls got what they deserved – what nerve!
  • Jaywalking = Illegal period..weather we think its stupid or not its the law..and the officer would have probably said something like hey ya know use the crosswalk its for your safety but you can clearly see that these girls exploded and i’m sorry but with all the cop violence this state and especially our region has seen she’s lucky he didn’t shoot her for attacking him..which is clearly what both of the girls were doing is attacking an officer of the Law..They absolutely brought this on themselves and the officer should be commended for handling himself so well he didn’t keep hitting her he hit her once to stun her and then cuffed her and her stupid friend..I hope both of these girls get what they deserve and thats to be found guilty of asaulting a police officer..

Basically these points can be boiled down to:

  1. The girl was asking for it when she started shoving the officer.
  2. The girl is lucky she isn’t dead.
  3. The fact that this girl even considered interfering is a sign that Western civilization is going to Hell in a handbasket.
  4. The black community of Seattle will inevitably turn this incident into a “race thing.”

Despite having lived in Canada for four years, I still vote in King County. As a Permanent Resident of Canada, I remain technically disenfranchised until I achieve citizenship. This means that I relish my ability to vote anywhere I can, so I send in my absentee ballots even though I know they won’t be opened unless it’s to break a tie. So news like this still influences me as a voter.

I don’t agree with the girl’s decision to interfere in the way she did. She went about it in the wrong way. But after what happened to Peter, and after the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy by American border guards and the shooting death of a San Francisco man at the hands of a police officer, it’s hard to imagine not interfering. The use of force by police officers is the exception rather than the rule, but the brain pattern matches during moments of perceived loss of control, and that means that making logical decisions (such as refusing to interfere) is difficult — even for adult brains. If you’ve heard stories of police brutality (and who hasn’t?) and you see your cousin and a police officer shoving each other, your first instinct might be to do anything you can to stop it.

Perhaps this explains the officer’s behaviour, too. While the vast majority of viewers apparently saw a girl getting what she deserved, I saw an officer of the law take his time to wind up a punch, deliver it, and then continue pursuing his assailant. I made sure to watch the video three times, twice with the sound turned off, so that I could get a better understanding of the order and speed of events. The officer made a very violent decision very quickly, presumably based on years of experience — pattern-matching. But he acted in a matter of seconds. Peter was convicted for not acting, for not moving in about the same amount of time. Why is one split-second decision an act of justice, and a few paralyzed seconds of indecision a felony?

Leaving those questions aside for a moment, I’m troubled by the way my fellow Seattleites and netizens at large automatically assume that this incident will be “made into” a “race thing.” Like it or not, events unfold in a racial context. Our whole lives are one big “race thing.” If you think that the colour of your skin has no impact on the way your life is lived, well, perhaps you should visit a proctologist and get that head up your ass checked out.

The people who commented that race is a manufactured issue are the same ones who claimed that the officer was surrounded by “a hostile crowd.” I saw no hostile crowd. I saw one officer getting taunted by a growing crowd of people asking him questions and filming him, but not touching him or throwing anything at him. Stand-up comics get worse treatment than that every night of the week, but somehow they manage to avoid punching people. (I’d suggest we hire comedians to police our streets, but Alan Moore has already speculated on this possibility.) Maybe by “hostile,” those viewers really mean “black.” Implicit in their criticism of the girl’s behaviour is her daring to challenge the authority of a police officer — she got uppity, and then she got punched, and now they’re cheering.

Just so we’re clear: it’s wrong to shove a police officer, but not because he or she is a police officer. It’s wrong because shoving is wrong in general. (You may remember this from kindergarten.) Granted, resisting arrest and assaulting an officer are criminal charges with their own unique weight and consequences. I’ve never understood why, though. The job that the police officer does is no more important to preserving the integrity of society than, say, a teacher’s — they just meet lawbreakers at different points in the lawbreaker’s life. It’s more dangerous, yes, and the people on the force deserve more recognition, both financially and culturally, than they receive. But hitting a cop is no better or worse than hitting someone else. It’s always the wrong choice. And the choice is always there. It was there for the officer, too. They were both wrong.

I write these words as someone who loves violent movies and who writes a lot of violence, but who also got kicked between the legs as an adolescent for no particular reason, who’s witnessed a group beatdown, who’s been detained by customs agents and rent-a-cops. I’ve had plenty of good interactions with uniformed officers in America, Canada, and Japan. Although I doubt I can ever understand just how difficult their job is, it’s plain to me that the power that comes with the office attracts both heroes and villains alike, and that the general public rejoices in living vicariously through the badge.

To whom I say: you should really read more Alan Moore.

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  1. C7

     /  June 17, 2010

    Hey Maddy, thanks for posting. This isn’t a direct response to what you wrote, but I thought I’d toss it up.

    First of all:
    http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=9A.36.031

    3d Degree Assault also encompasses shoving nurses, school bus mechanics, and fire fighters among others.

    It seems to me many people are understanding this incident in terms of who “deserved” what, but I don’t think deserve has anything to do with it. Few people “deserve” to be punched in the face. Full stop. But frankly how can we possibly craft a rule that would both prevent this from happening and allow cops to meaningfully do their jobs? Would we feel safe in cities where police could only meet shoving with shoving? Swords with swords? Al Sharpton just got on TV and indicated that there’s some intermediate level of force between shoving and punching that this cop was supposed to use under the circumstances, and while his heart is probably in the right place, the guy has no clue what he’s talking about. As much as I hate cops (and believe me, I’m not a fan) I think this one’s use of force was very much appropriate under the circumstances. Not to be confused with, “she deserved to be punched.”

    • I had no idea about the 3rd degree assault charge covering so many different professions. Is that common among all the states?

      I’m not sure how we would craft the ideal rule. I’m only halfway through my policy innovation course, so perhaps by August I’ll have a better idea. But what gets me is that the officer continued pursuing the assailant after he had already punched her. He took three strides or more to do it, and actually lost his grip and focus on the person he was trying to arrest. That rather defeats the purpose of the arrest, and he wouldn’t have had such a hard time cuffing the 19-year-old if he hadn’t pushed her aside after punching her cousin.

  2. “In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.”
    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/06/will-we-allow-recording-police.html

    Filming the Police
    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/06/filming_the_pol.html

    “In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.”

  3. The police officer seems to have been overwhelmed with the whole situation. I don’t think an amateur could really judge why he punched her. My gut feeling is that it might be his temperament, that he’s kind of a thug. But given the situation, all those people standing there, in such an area. Given that he was alone. Well, I don’t know. Here in Germany police always has to be in pairs.

    He seems to be really badly trained too judged by how long it took him to handcuff that girl. Also any of them could have seized his gun at any moment. He wasn’t in control of the situation at all. I just don’t get it. Dilettantish…

  4. C7

     /  June 17, 2010

    Can’t say for certain it’s common among all the states. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were states/provinces where assaulting a cop is a separate crime unto itself. I think the idea, at least in WA, is that there are certain classes of people who make the system work and we really don’t want you to mess with em. E.g. you mess with the guy driving the bus, worse things might happen than if you mess with a passenger. But I’m fully with you that shoving is “wrong” regardless of the “shovee.” Shoving an ordinary person is still assault, but without injury or a weapon or something, it’d probably be 4th degree, which is a misdemeanor.

    What REALLY gets me about this whole incident, and I’m honestly in disbelief about how this happened, is the local news reported past crimes these girls were CHARGED with (not even convicted!). One of them was a juvenile. No way they’re going to get a fair trial now cause half the juror pool has already made up its mind. Now that’s what I call prejudice.

  5. For the record, hand cuffing a woman is very hard for a man; one wrong move and he gets charged for sexual harassment.

    • Technically, a man could can charge another man with sexual harassment, too. And if an officer gets handsy with a suspect, then it’s wrong no matter who it happens to.

  6. Brendan

     /  June 28, 2010

    Vicious moron. If that had happened in the neighborhood I grew up in, said officer would have had a very troubling problem with his mobility, breathing capabilities. But then, of course, that would have just been ‘those people’ reacting disproportionately, right?

  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

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