Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies, and they routinely hurt people who are not posing any serious threat to anyone, in order to make sure that they
stay in control of the situation. They have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women possibly guilty of a minor traffic violation, or students who may have been guilty of using the computer lab without proper papers–while they are already lying helpless on the ground. They are willing to pepper spray lawyers for asking inconvenient questions and to beat up 15 year old girls for daring to give them lip over whether to clean up spilled cake. They routinely use intimidation, threats, and violence whenever they get tired enough of being talked back to and if their bellowed orders are no longer sufficient to end an argument–even without any plausible reason whatsoever for fearing any physical threat to themselves or others. When they are caught in the act police administrators will wring their hands, make up some lies to try to excuse the assault, promise an investigation, find that Official Procedures were followed, and then do nothing at all; meanwhile a chorus of sado-fascists can be counted on to cheer the pigs and smear the victim in print media, talk shows, and the Internet. Both administrators and freelance sycophants freely employ the most tortured sorts of
necessity excuses, in what seems to be a deliberate effort to obliterate any notion of restraints on the use of force in securing police objectives.
In Fort Pierce, Florida, a white male cop named Dan Gilroy recently stopped a 15 year old black girl named Shelwanda Riley, and then placed her under arrest, for walking outside at 1:50 in the morning. (City ordinances forbid anyone under 18 from being on city streets without an adult minder between 11:00pm and 6:00am.) Here is the police video of Gilroy twisting her arm, telling her that he is going to hurt her to make her comply, wrenching her arm behind her back, punching her in the face, and then pepper-spraying her right after that, just for good measure.
Note that after he shoved her into the car, this grown man later proceeded to charge the 15 year old girl that he forced down, beat up, and pepper-sprayed, with felony battery. The Authorities at the police department are Investigating, but Gilroy is still on active duty, and the local police chief, Sean Baldwin, says that
Initial review of the incident concluded that the police officer acted legally and within bounds.
For the time being, I want to set aside the obvious, stupid tyranny of the law that Dan Gilroy was so diligently trying to enforce. City governments have no business at all keeping tabs on where or when teenagers happen to be out, and cops have no business enforcing laws that city governments have no business making. But even if they did, this kind of thuggery from the police would still be inexcusable.
The sado-fascist police enablers will, no doubt, mutter something about The Law and about keeping public order. They will no doubt point out the fact that the girl was
resisting arrest by not submitting to the cop’s bellowed orders to let him handcuff her. They will no doubt point out the fact that, after he told her he was going to hurt her and then wrenched her arm behind her back, she bit at his wrist. They will no doubt claim that a grown man punching a 15-year-old girl in the face and then pepper-spraying her after he had punched her, in spite of the fact that she had done nothing else at that point to indicate that she posed any further threat, was necessary for the officer to successfully complete the arrest. But suppose that this were all true. Then so what?
Even supposing that this cop had any kind of business arresting Shelwanda Riley, so what if he could not complete the arrest without doing these things? So what if he would otherwise have had to stand around waiting until she was willing to submit to arrest, or if he would otherwise have had to give up and let her get away when it became clear that beating her up was the only way to get her cuffed, or if he would have had to let go and back off in order to avoid getting hit by her or bit by her or whatever the hell it is he was so worked up about? So what if she even–perish the thought!–happened to get away from him?
Even if you have a right to do something, that does not mean that you have the right to do it by any means necessary; sometimes there’s no way that you can get it done without using a levels of force that are disproportionate to the case, and in that case you simply have to give up on it; even if you were in the right, using force beyond what’s proportional to the situation turns you into a criminal and turns your enforcement into nothing more than an assault. If the cops cruising around our city streets think that the violence Dan Gilroy used here is worthwhile and
within bounds of the proportional use of force — beating up teenaged girls and hurting them with pepper-spray just to make sure they don’t get away with the dreadful crime of wandering around outside too late at night, then that may tell you all that you need to know about the institutional culture of policing in America today.