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:
- The girl was asking for it when she started shoving the officer.
- The girl is lucky she isn’t dead.
- The fact that this girl even considered interfering is a sign that Western civilization is going to Hell in a handbasket.
- 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.