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Law and Orders #8: Memphis cop Bridges McRae “exceeds expectations” by punching Duanna Johnson repeatedly in the face with handcuffs over his knuckles for failing to stand up on command in the booking area at 201 Poplar

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 15 years ago, in 2008, on the World Wide Web.

(Via Thus Spoke Belinsky 2008-06-20.)

Trigger warning. The following videos of local news stories include graphic footage of extreme physical violence by a male police officer against a woman in his custody.

Cops are here to protect us by arresting a black trans woman on charges of possibly being willing to engage in consensual sex acts that violated nobody’s rights, then throwing her in a booking area as a lead-up to locking her in a cage, then using transphobic and homophobic slurs when ordering her to get up in order to be fingerprinted for having allegedly committed this non-crime, and then, should she refuse to get up in response to that kind of language, and instead go on sitting in her chair, threatening nobody, cops are here to protect the hell of of her by getting up in her face, wrapping a pair of handcuffs around their knuckles and bashing her head in with them over and over again, while sheriff’s deputies stand around and do nothing, and while a fellow cop runs up to hold her down in her chair — stopping eventually to pepper spray her, handcuff her behind her back, and then leave her lying helpless on the floor.

Please note that, according to Memphis Police Officer Bridges McRae, refusing to immediately follow a police officer’s bellowed command over a minor matter of paperwork is a crime which can rightfully be punished by a vicious gang beat-down. And according to the rest of the Gangsters in Blue on the scene, it’s a situation which calls for standing aside, or actively rushing to the aid of, their gang brother — and to hell with the suspect woman being assaulted.

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) — Video obtained by Action News 5 shows a Memphis police officer beating a suspect at 201 Poplar in an apparent case of police brutality.

The video, recorded February 12th, shows Duanna Johnson in the booking area at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center after an arrest for prostitution. The tape clearly shows a Memphis police officer walk over to Johnson — a transsexual — and hit her in the face several times.

Actually he was trying to get me to come over to where he was, and I responded by telling him that wasn’t my name — that my mother didn’t name me a faggot or a he-she, so he got upset and approached me. And that’s when it started, Johnson said.

Johnson said the officer was attempting to call her over to be fingerprinted. She said she chose not respond to the derogatory name the officer called her.

He said, I’m telling you, I’m giving you one more chance to get up. So I’m looking at him, and he started putting his gloves on, and seen him take out a pair of handcuffs, Johnson said.

The officer hit Johnson several times with the handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles. In the video, you can see the flash of the metal. The tape shows another officer holding Johnson’s shoulders as she tries to protect herself.

After taking several blows, Johnson stands up and swings back.

I was afraid. I had had enough. Like I said, I thought the other officers that were witnessing this would at least try to stop him, Johnson said. I mean, he hit me so hard. Like the third time he hit me, it split my skull and I had blood coming out. So I jumped up, Johnson said.

But then she sat back down, and the officer her in the face again. Then he maced her. On the tape, other people in the room are seen turning away and fanning their hands because of the smell.

. . . On the tape, Duanna is eventually handcuffed and left on the floor. A nurse comes in, and goes directly to the officer.

I couldn’t breathe, and they just made me lay there, Johnson said. Nobody checked to see if I was okay. My eyes were burning. My skin was burning. I was scared to death. Even the nurse came in and she just ignored me, and I begged her to help me.

— WMC-TV (2008-06-18): Video shows police beating at 201 Poplar

Officer Bridges McRae, Gangster in Blue

James Swain, Gangster in Blue

After this brutal gang assault committed in full view of a security camera and several witnesses, McRae had the audacity to file a charge of assault against Duanna Johnson. And then to file an internal affairs complaint against the detective in the booking area for standing by and doing nothing, instead of joining in on the beating.

This happened back on February 12th. At the time that it happened, the D.A. dropped all charges against Johnson. The rookie cop who held Johnson back in her chair during the beating, James Swain, lost his job. On the other hand, Bridges McRae, the thug who was actually bashing the poor woman’s head in, was given a paid vacation from street duty (at a $49,000 / year salary) for four months, pending an administrative disciplinary hearing, which he repeatedly delayed using sick leave and other excuses, after which he finally lost his own job. Neither of these brutal and dangerous thugs has yet faced any criminal charges for this videotaped assault.

Meanwhile, the Fraternal Order of Pigs has provided McRae with a lawyer, who is helping him appeal the decision to fire him from the police force. The lawyer wants you to realize that the mere evidence of your senses is no reason not to give a violent cop the benefit of the doubt:

McRae is the officer seen in the video repeatedly hitting Duanna Johnson in the booking area at 201 Poplar. McRea had arrested her for prostitution, but the charges were later dropped.

In the video, you can see McRae hitting Johnson with what appears to be handcuffs. Memphis Police Association attorney Ted Hansom, representing McRea, said Thursday that handcuffs were not used as a weapon by the officer.

Once it starts, the handcuffs were out to handcuff that person, Hansom said. You don’t have time to say let me put these down and then we will resume this.

Hansom said the video shows a different story when it is slowed down. . . . Hansom said the video is not the whole story, and it will be his job to explain it all.

. . . The video shows McRae hitting Johnson in the face. She was also pepper sprayed. But it also shows Johnson hitting McRae at least once.

Hansom points out that there is no audio on the video so you do not know what is being said.

He also said McRae had reason to believe the 6 Feet 5 inch Johnson was a threat. Hansom said he has studied the video.

I saw some actions on the complaining party. So if they are coupled with statements or prior conduct or dealing with this person and knowing the size of that person might put you in apprehension of what’s going to happen, Hansom said.

— WMC-TV (2008-06-19): McRae’s attorney says video is not the whole story

Along the way this class act demonstrates his sensitive awareness of issues surrounding police brutality in some communities:

The way he is being depicted with just this video tape. It doesn’t tell the story. It’s the Rodney King approach [sic!]. Lets look at a few minutes of video and make our decisions. It’s not that simple, Hansom said.

— WMC-TV (2008-06-19): McRae’s attorney says video is not the whole story

And informs us that merely refusing to refuse an order to stand up, while you are in a secure area, is apparently enough to count as a threat to the safety of a heavily armed cop surrounded by other cops:

Hansom said the video shows a different story when it is slowed down. He said it is clear Duanna Johnson could easily have been considered a threat, because she was in a secure area and was refusing orders from Bridges.

— WMC-TV (2008-06-19): McRae’s attorney says video is not the whole story

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, which runs in the jail in which McRae beat the hell out of Duanna Johnson, is mainly concerned to deny any responsibility (because their flunkies stood by and did nothing but watch in the course of this brutal beating), and to launch a criminal investigation into who finally made this tape, which should have been public knowledge four months ago, available to the newsmedia.

I know, I know. In any big police department there are A Few More Bad Apples, and every now and again there is just going to be Yet Another Isolated Incident. Sometimes life is like that. Terrible things like this just happen. Sometimes there are no red flags, no real warning signs.

McRae was fired after an administrative hearing for beating a transgendered woman he arrested Feb. 12 for prostitution. The video, which didn’t record sound, showed the officer repeatedly hitting Duanna Johnson in the intake area of the Shelby County Jail at 201 Poplar. Johnson said McRae made derogatory remarks. McRae is shown hitting Johnson and then using pepper spray.

McRae’s personnel file showed only three reprimands for minor offenses during his nearly four years on the force. His latest evaluation said he exceeds expectations.

— Memphis Commercial Appeal (2008-06-27): Officer fired over beating had accusers

Here are some of the ways he exceeded expectations.

Who would have ever thought that Bridges McRae might do something like this to a black trans woman in prostitution?

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting tidbit about Memphis police department procedure:

Police Director Larry Godwin said if an officer receives multiple complaints, the department may move the officer to another precinct to see if the complaints continue.

— Memphis Commercial Appeal (2008-06-27): Officer fired over beating had accusers

When Catholic bishops engage in this kind of practice with priests accused of child sexual assault, it’s called a conspiracy and a massive cover-up. When the boss cops do it, it is treated as if it were a perfectly mundane bit of bureaucratic detail, as just so much business as usual.

The comments on the local Memphis newspaper stories are actually more encouraging to me than I expected them to be. I’m heartened to see as many people as I do with the empathy and the courage necessary to speak out about this kind of outrage in public, and to call out the Mephis Police Department as an institution. But there is also the usual sado-fascist howling that you would expect, and the usual efforts to use absolutely any prejudice available against the victim of violence in order to smear her, ridicule her, and exonerate the cops for absolutely anything they might do to her. If you needed any more convincing on this point, take this as evidence that, even if it is on tape, even if it is in a public place in front of a crowd of witnesses, if you fall under one or more demographically suspect categories, there is absolutely nothing a cop could do to you that would be so low, so vile, so obviously over-the-top, or so brutal that cop couldn’t still count on hordes of Law-‘n’-Order creeps to befoul every public forum with victim-smearing and fabricated excuses on his behalf. He can fully expect that no matter what he might do, in full view of other police officers and a camera, still other officers will either stand by and do nothing, or come running to his aid, and that unless the tape reaches the media, he will almost certainly never face any personal consequences whatsoever for doing it. If he had walked up and shot her in the face I wouldn’t expect anything more to happen to him than what has happened to him so far. The Gangsters in Blue get each other’s backs, and it’s likely that nothing would ever have happened to him at all, beyond yet another unfounded complaint being recorded in his closed IA file, except for the fact that somebody bravely defied the law to get this tape out to the newsmedia.

The truth is, when every fucking week brings another story of a Few More Bad Apples causing Yet Another Isolated Incident, and the police themselves almost invariably doing everything in its power to ignore, cover up, excuse, or minimize the violence, even in defiance of the evidence of the senses and no matter how obviously harmless or helpless the victim may be, it beggars belief to keep on claiming that there is no systemic problem here, that cops ought to be given every benefit of the doubt, or blanket condemnations of policing in major American cities are somehow a sign of hastiness or unfair prejudice against good cops. The plain fact is that what we have here is one of two things: either a professionalized system of violent control which tacitly permits and encourages cops to exercise this kind of rampant, repeated, intense, and unrepentant abuse against powerless people–or else a system which has clearly demonstrated that it can do nothing effectual to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.

See also:

21 replies to Law and Orders #8: Memphis cop Bridges McRae “exceeds expectations” by punching Duanna Johnson repeatedly in the face with handcuffs over his knuckles for failing to stand up on command in the booking area at 201 Poplar Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Belinsky

    Good job uncovering the rest of the story. It’s pretty sickening. This reminds me of something I uncovered on facebook, from an American cop to an Irish one:

    “So my Serbian partner (go figure) and I were out walking around the bar district the other day and this dude came rolling out of a bar onto the street right in front of me. I conned him into giving me his ID, then he decided it would be a good idea to jump at me. He got his ass kicked. He was a little fat dude and looked like a turtle on the ground, waving his little arms and legs around. It was hilarious.

    I was bragging to some drunk Irishmen the other day that I had a buddy in the National Police over there. You guys have quite a reputation over there. More power too you. They were really interested in the fact that we carry M-16s in our cars… Is your unit armed?”

  2. Natasha

    Thank you! Charles. As someone who is a friend of transgendered and sex worker individuals, this story really jumped out at me.

  3. Mike Gogulski

    Watching this video when it first came online, and reading the stories around it made me so sick I just had to look away. Thanks for digging deeper, sir.

  4. Discussed at www.nostate.com

    A story I couldn’t even blog about | nostate.com:

    […] Geek Charles Johnson opens up with both barrels on the institution of State policing, and rightly […]

  5. LadyVetinari

    I agree, this is quite sickening. Especially the rush to apologetics by defenders of “good cops”–sure, there are good cops, but so what?

    If you needed any more convincing on this point, take this as evidence that, even if it is on tape, even if it is in a public place in front of a crowd of witnesses, if you fall under one or more demographically suspect categories, there is absolutely nothing a cop could do to you that would be so low, so vile, so obviously over-the-top, or so brutal that cop couldn’t still count on hordes of Law-!!!@@e2;20ac;2dc;n’-Order creeps to befoul every public forum with victim-smearing and fabricated excuses on his behalf.

    I think this section says it all.

  6. Bob Kaercher

    BTW, is the Nazi skinhead look all the rage with the Memphis police these days? It’s really quite appropos.

    Sort of reminds me of Chicago’s new police chief, Jody Weis, recently stating on the local public radio station here that he thinks it would be great to have Chicago police dressed entirely in black because he thinks it would make everyone else good and scared of them.

    Sieg heil!

  7. Rad Geek


    In all seriousness, I suspect that part of the reason for the skinhead look is that the police are currently getting stuffed to the gills with recently discharged grunts from the Army and Marines. (The militarization of policing isn’t just a phenomenon of tactics and equipment; it’s also happening just at the level of personnel.) Of course I have no idea whether McRae or Swain is ex-military, but in any case the general tendency affects style and fashions for the department as a whole. (If anything, that’s worse; nowadays many skinheads are dangerous, militantly racist creeps, but not all skinheads are boneheads, and a lot of those who aren’t tend to be radical anti-racists and anarchists. The military doesn’t have so much the advantage of the latter.)

    Do you have a link available about the comments on uniforms by Weis? I ask because the cops in Springfield, Massachusetts are doing exactly the same thing as we speak. I wonder whether this is coincidence (as part of an overall trend towards paramilitary policing), or whether there’s some particular vector through which the idea is spreading.

  8. Bob Kaercher

    I tried Googling around for a link to Jody Weis’ comments when I had a little down time this afternoon, but couldn’t find one. I’ll have more time to search around later tonight.

  9. Anon73

    Well I guess at least it’s great they’re being more honest about fascism in the 21st century. When do you suppose they’ll bring back the roman salute and jack-boots?

  10. LadyVetinari

    Yeah, I bet the skinhead look is because they want to look like tough military guys.

  11. queerunity

    this woman was treated miserably, i hope justice is served http://www.queersunited.blogspot.com

  12. Renee

    I also posted about what happened to Duanna Johnson. One of things that bothers me about this is the silence of the so-called black leadership on the issue of police violence. They trip over themselves to defend the Rodney Kings but when it comes to women like Duanna there is a resounding silence. It as if somehow Duanna Trans identity eliminates her as a black woman. This is shameful. Once cannot advocate for the end of oppression without embracing those that are the most marginalized…Where is the good Rev Jackson and Sharpton, oh I forgot busy planning to cut someones balls of and the other is probably sitting for another ridiculous perm.

  13. Black Bloke

    “Do you have a link available about the comments >on uniforms by Weis?”

    “I tried Googling around for a link to Jody Weis’ >comments when I had a little down time this >afternoon, but couldn’t find one.”


    *CHICAGO (WLS) — Chicago’s top brass has announced new strategies to fight violent crime in the city this summer.

    It follows a recent series of deadly shootings, most targeting the city’s young people.

    The department’s new initiative was outlined Tuesday by Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis.

    The new effort comes as police officers are under fire for using deadly force.

    More officers on the street, a more forceful presence and more intelligence sharing – that’s the three-pronged approach meant to keep a lid on summer violence in the city.

    People have called police to report hearing shots fired this month 4,455 times.

    “Our job is to go in and suppress violent crime, and gang activity and hopefully bring down the number of shootings and homicides in a highly visible and compact area,” said Sgt. Bill Schield, CPD Targeted Response Unit.

    Schield and his Targeted Response Unit will hopscotch the city this summer. Their team attacks neighborhoods with a spike in gun and gang crime.

    “The thing that makes us successful is, we are allowed latitude to use every single law on the books,” said Schield.

    The team uses anything from a curfew violation to an outstanding warrant to take career criminals and known gang members off the street. The theory being: With fewer trouble makers, there will be fewer crimes.

    “If we know where the problem is and we know who the problem is, we need to be out in front of it,” said Weis.

    Weis also plans to flood neighborhoods this summer with an extra 70 to 80 officers who normally work desk jobs at headquarters. Cops on bikes will work every neighborhood in the city.

    The police helicopter will look for curfew violators and drug dealing in city parks and along the lakefront. Plus, more officers will be in military-style clothing.

    The superintendent is also delivering the warning that police officers may be forced to shoot anyone who points a gun in their direction.

    “My first priority is no innocent people are killed, and my second priority is no police officers are hilled. And thirdly, we hope offenders won’t be injured, but sometimes they take actions that we have to respond to,” said Weis.

    “For people who are good people, law-abiding citizens, you have nothing to fear from guys in black uniforms. We’re there for your protection,” said Schield.

    You can expect this pumped up police presence on the streets for the next ten weeks. The murder rate in Chicago has been on the decline for several years now. Police certainly don’t want to lose any of the ground they’ve gained.*

  14. Black Bloke

    Hmm… that tagging didn’t go as well as I’d planned. Does regular HTML tag work? I don’t remember.

· August 2008 ·

  1. Bob Kaercher

    This may be way late in coming, but thanks for the link, BB.

  2. Black Bloke

    No problem Bob ;-)

· October 2008 ·

· November 2008 ·

— 2012 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People's Daily 2012-12-17 – December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers:

    […] status in the system of patriarchal sex-class, makes absolutely any kind of sexual predation or physical torture a cop’s prerogative and nothing better than what the victim deserves. Or, lest we forget, a […]

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