Here are four reports that made their way through my news feed last night. They feature a black man tased for sitting, another for hands in pockets, another for not walking (and he died), and a beating for having his hands in the air. To all the people who said Michael Brown should have just gotten out of the street - there is no safety.
These stories illustrate the way racism enables and is enabled by what I call (in a piece for Al Jazeera) - the cult of compliance. The cult provides an intersectional lens in which race and class dominate the middle, with disability not far behind. When these categories overlap in a single individual, trouble beckons.
Incident 1: Sitting while black in a public space.
The African-American man was sitting outside a store, waiting for his kids to get out of school. The store clerk got nervous - a black man sitting! For ten minutes! - so he called the police. When the police arrived, they demanded his ID. He didn't comply:
The man in the video tells the officer he was sitting in front of the store for 10 minutes as he waited for his kids to get out of school, and that the area is public and he had a right to sit there.
“The problem was —” the female officer begins.
“The problem is I’m black,” the man fires back. “It really is, because I’m not sitting there with a group of people. I’m sitting there by myself. By myself, not causing a problem.”
Eventually a second male officer approaches the man in the video and attempts to restrain him.
“I’ve got to go get my kids,” the man tells the second officer, pulling his arm away. “Please don’t touch me.”
“You’re going to go to jail then,” the second officer says.
“I’m not doing anything wrong,” the man replies.
At this point, both officers grab the man.
“Come on brother,” the man says, “This is assault.”
“I’m not your brother,” the second officer replies. “Put your hands behind your back otherwise it’s going to get ugly.”
Eventually the officers start to cuff the man and he drops his cellphone and the video goes black.
“I haven’t done anything wrong!” we hear the man yell. “Can somebody help me? That’s my kids, right there! My kids are right there!”
“Put your hands behind your back!” the male officer screams.
Then they tased him.
Incident 2: Hands in pockets while black and autistic
This was from three years ago, but I just heard about the story yesterday when a judge dismissed a lawsuit, calling all this justified.
A boy was in his yard when the cops pulled up.
According to Yearby, her son was standing in front of their apartment on Southampton Road minding his own business when two officers on patrol approached him and questioned him. The officers later said they thought he looked suspicious.
"I ran outside and the police pushed me back and I asked him, 'what was going on?' and [the officer] was like 'I asked your son to take his hands out of his pockets,'" recalled Vicky Yearby.
Yearby said she and a neighbor told the officers her son was mentally disabled but they ignored them and continued to yell at Isaac Yearby and frighten him.
Video captured from the Taser camera shows Yearby removed his hands from his pockets then flailed his arms. Seconds later the Taser fired and he fell to the ground. The lawsuit claimed the fall caused Isaac Yearby to suffer seizures which continued periodically.
And of course, there's no accountability.
College Park Police Chief Ron Fears declined an interview but city spokesman Gerald Walker issued a statement which reads, "The City of College Park's Police Department respects the rights of all citizens and visitors, and pledges to maintain a safe community."
It goes on, "[t]he situation in 2011 with Mr. Yearby was unfortunate; however, Judge Marvin Shoob's summary exonerated our officers and their actions. The College Park Police Department continues to protect and serve, and hopes for the best for everyone involved in this case."
This is not what protecting and serving looks like.
Incident 3 (from Digby and Rawstory): Not Walking While Black
There was a foot chase and the man, an African American named Gregory Towns, was exhausted, but caught. He wouldn't walk, so they started tasing him, driving him with electric shocks as if he were an animal. He died. Follow the links for the whole story. Here's the piece I want to emphasize:
But Police Benevolent Association lawyers representing Weems continued to insist that the officer’s actions did not cause Towns to die.
Attorney Dale Preiser issued a statement saying that the “use of drive stun to gain compliance is permitted under federal and Georgia law
Read that again. Under federal and Georgia law, it's fine to use a taser to "gain compliance."
Incident 4 - Not Resisting While Black
Stop Trying to Take My Gun!" The cop shouted this as he was attacking a black man with his hands up.
Cameras have lately been touted as a major solution to police brutality. And they are definitely a HUGE help. What's interesting to me, and upsetting, is the way that police are beginning to game their speech so that they'll have an excuse for the camera.
As we've seen in the Michael Brown case, "he was reaching for my gun" is the excuse that police use when they shoot someone unarmed. Here's a case where the video catches the whole thing.
All the criminal charges against Marcus Jeter have been dismissed, and two Bloomfield police officers have been indicted for falsifying reports, and one of them, for assault.
A third pleaded guilty early on to tampering. It's all thanks to those dashcam tapes. It's the video that prosecutors say they never saw when the pursued criminal charges against 30 year-old Marcus Jeter . In the video, his hands were in the air. He was charged with eluding police, resisting arrest and assault. One officer in the video can be seen throwing repeated punches.
His hands are in the air, because he's a black man, and he knows that if he looks threatening, he can be shot with impunity.
The video, starting around 2:30, is terrible. Listen to the cop screaming, "Stop Resisting! Stop Resisting! Why are you trying to touch my fucking gun! Get off my gun!"
They are faking resistance for the camera.
Good news: The cops have been charged. There may be justice in this case.
Bad news: How many other people have gone to jail while the cops screamed, "Stop resisting!" to an unarmed man with his hands up? They are learning to play for their cameras.
Here's one final link. This is a white man in Florida. His son, who is autistic, was pulled over and the father drove to help, but the cops didn't want his help. This is their command training - a civilian interfering is a threat to their command presence, so they don't allow it. The man calmly asserts his rights, he tells the officers that the boy is autistic. If you watch the video, you can see them look at the camera being held by the son, move to block a little. They grab him, throw him to the ground, tase him, and shout, "GET ON THE GROUND! STOP RESISTING." That, they hope, will provide them with the excuse they need.
Of course they charged him with resisting arrest.
The Cult of Compliance provides our intersectional lens. We know these cases are wrong. We know about them because of video, because of disability, because of luck. Most of the victims are people of color. Most of the victims never get any publicity.
Here's one vital lesson for white folks like me. When Michael Brown was killed, a lot of white people, mostly but not exclusively conservatives, said, "He should have just complied when the police told him to get out of the road." Maybe. Maybe it would have saved him. But as we can see here, there is no correct behavior that will protect a black man from police brutality. All behaviors - standing, sitting, walking, not walking, showing your hands, hands in your pockets - are suspect.
UPDATE: Thank you all so much for the recs and especially the thoughtful engagement in the comments. I write about these issues on my Facebook page and blog every week, but only repost some to DailyKOS. I'd love to see you around more often. Thanks.
UPDATE 2: Charges have been dropped against the St. Paul man. But only because he had a video and then it made news. I am always thinking about the stories that don't make the news.
UPDATE 3: More on the Chris Lollie story from the City Pages in the TC.
I am a freelance columnist, blogger, long-time member of this site, and history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess? This is a modified version of today's post.
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