But in real life, many police officers exhibit that they do not have the judgement to carry an loaded weapon in public. Now don't get me wrong. This is not a cop-bashing post. But it is a post to question where we draw the line. What should be done when an officer exhibits behavior that indicates he or she does not have the necessary judgement to wear a badge?
Incidents of excessive force occur everyday in the United States. And every once in a while, those incidents are captured on film for the world to see and judge. Just such a thing happened on June 21, the day now known as "Go Skateboarding Day." This day was created by skateboard advocates, and has been formally instituted by the U.S. Congress.
But in Hot Springs, Arkansas the day didn't go so well. A group of skaters was stopped by a local police officer, who put one of the young men to the ground and held him there by his throat. This image was captured on one of the skaters' cell phones, and two other kids quickly turned on their video cameras.
For those who haven't noticed, the video camera has been a ubiquitous tool in a skater's life since the devices were first available on the shelves of electronics stores. It's always good to have a record of yourself pulling an insane trick that you might not ever again duplicate, film your friends eating pavement as they try to outdo you, and maybe, just maybe, you might eventually get noticed and sponsored.
In this case, the students filmed a disgusting case of a local cop using bizarrely excessive force on this group of kids. The point of contention here seems to be that the officer was trying to stop, or even cite, the kids for skateboarding in a place that wasn't zoned for it. But it ended with police officer Joey Williams grabbing no fewer than three kids by their necks, some of them as young as 13.
The kids' videos were, of course, immediately posted to YouTube. It's not the Rodney King beating by any stretch, but take a look and judge for yourself if this should fall into either category of "excessive force" or "police brutality."
The first thing that struck me is the sheer size difference between this cop and the kids. The second, and the thing that has everyone up at arms, is his putting a 13-year old girl in a headlock, particularly when she looks like she weighs about 80 pounds. Officer Joey Williams has to be at least three times her weight.
AP articles say that the choke hold on the girl actually lifted her feet off the ground. That's obviously some really good police work in action. I also noticed that when Officer Joey Williams had the two kids in a headlock, there was another police officer standing next to him, who obviously didn't feel that the situation warranted his stepping in, as he stands to the side, looking like he doesn't want any part of this.
With nearly a million page views as of this writing, the YouTube video is getting a lot of air time. On the noticed and sponsored
blog, participants had some insightful comments from citizens across the United States and abroad. Some of my favorites:
"...you do blame the cop, for a wildly disproportionate response to the situation. He probably walked by three dozen violations of nitpicky city ordinances before he decided choking a 13-year-old was a good idea."
"So cops are allowed to choke minors who violate a city ordinance? No one in the video was "resisting arrest" -- that little girl surely wasn't. Just because someone may be violating a fucking ordinance doesn't give cops the right to rought them up. Also, isn't violation of a city ordinance usually punishable by fine, not arrest?"
"And nothing in the video indicates that the girl was under arrest when she decided to run....So he put a teenage girl in a headlock without cause.... I think that's over the line."
"I love the "resisting arrest" line thrown in there. As Americans is it not our right and duty to resist unlawful arrest?"
In response to the widespread attention that the video has gotten Mayor Mike Bush told the Associated Press that "Unfortunately, the video shows it pretty good....Bush called Williams "one of 100 best and finest we've got" in the city's police department."
Here's the only really funny part of this story, and one I haven't seen noted anywhere else. Consider Mayor Bush's statement, then read this statement taken verbatim from the Hot Springs website:
"The 99-officer Police Department provides basic police services in addition to various other special community programs such as Drug Awareness, Neighborhood Watch, Personal Safety, Housewatch, and Home/Business Security Analysis."
On the same website, there is a special section called the Mayor's Youth Council. Not surprisingly, no results were found for the search of "police choking."
Officer Joey Williams has been placed on administrative leave (which, if you ask me, is a euphemism for paid vacation) while higher powers investigate the incident. But what more can be said after watching the video? Why should this officer continue to have power, authority, and lethal weapons on the streets of America?
If the way this officer handled the situation is ultimately deemed appropriate, does that give me the right to make a citizen's arrest when someone mouths off? Because by Officer Jackboot McOverreact's standards, this would be disturbing the peace. Can I then throw that individual in a headlock, or push him to the ground and hold him by his neck in the name of persuing said citizen's arrest?
Of course, I'm a "civilian," which is police-speak for "the law applies to you and not me." I thought it would be interesting to see what other officers were saying about this incident, and when I came across some of their comments, my stomach turned.
It's unfortunate that these comments will likely reinforce many people's views that police are corrupt, uneducated, and abuse their powers ad infinitum. These comments are not meant to reflect the feelings or opinions of all police officers on the topic. But out of the hundreds of statements I read, I found exactly two officer comments that were flatly critical of Joey Williams:
"azcop2...Leaving a handcuffed suspect behind while you chase another one? Trying to take TWO kids into custody simultaneously (and looking like a fool in the process? Forget the punks, this cop is in serious need of officer safety re-trainig AND temper control."
"emore66...I dont know...Officer looked foolish...I think you have to pick your battles kids riding skateboards on sidewalk not sure it is worth it...I guess what town you work for dictates..."
Other officers did not give their whole-hearted support for Joey Williams, but their dissent fell largely into the "procedural" category:
"JP1...Even after watching a video that the kids "edited", my comment is that they deserved everything they got. Had this happened with one of my officers when I was Chief, I'd of had some serious talks with parents. (However, I would not have left a handcuffed kid on the sidewalk while I chased off another one. We would have found out who he was and got him later.)"
"lupd...looks like the punks needed more than what they got...that said there were some tactical errors on the officers part, but nothing that would be considered police brutality."
"cpd6a2...completely baited! Piece of crap kids need a major spanking. It was nothing but a big joke for them. Officer never should have left a handcuffed kid on the ground by himself to chase after another. Get help and then deal with the rest."
"DetSgt31...Write the kids' tickets for skateboarding, pull the parents in for raising such brats. The problem lies with the parents also, hold them directly responsible. Maybe a trip to the woodshed for Mom and Dad will get them thinking."
"orchevycop...Wow, skateboarding must be an arrestable offense there. Officer might be in the right, but he need some more training in verbal encounters."
Unfortunately, the vast majority of police officer comments read more like these. In considering the tone and intent of these comments, I think that cities and counties across the nation should begin to seriously consider regular and repeated psychological profiles of their officers.
I don't mean that in a humorous tone whatsoever. The reality is that if cops are thinking this way about their jobs and their concepts of what falls into that category is so incredibly broad-based and out of line, we really need some monitoring in place before we send these people out into the streets to utilize their so-called judgement, while heavily armed, in split-second scenarios.
Again, you may judge for yourself. (A sidenote: between the Mayor of Hot Springs and these officer comments, my overriding sense at this point is that it's a story fraught with poor grammar.)
"cross_rifles: Got to do what ya got to do!"
"OHDEP76...All they had to do was comply in an orderly manner and the situation would never have escalated. The officers may have been on the aggressive side, but within reasonable force for sure."
"88pdx...One easy word to learn: COMPLY!"
"pcpc601...hey turd, ya know what failure to comply is?!? if ya didn't, now you do..."
By far the worst comments, in my opinion, are the ones that advocate "ass kickings" to compensate for what they perceive as poor parenting:
"jcarnes718...I didn't see anything wrong on the Officers part. These teenagers think they can do whatever they want to whom ever. I think an ass whipping needs to be handed down to these punks."
"Bears:...When the parent fails the Police step in to do what is needed."
"Bodie: Nothin' Wrong Here...Nothing wrong here that I see. Kids gotta grow up and take an ass kickin' sometime if parents ain't doin' it it's up to the police. It's the parents tax dollars at work."
I have to say that I find these statements to be chilling. It's easy to chalk this kind of bravado up to officer banter, but the real concern is that these people really think that their job is not to protect and serve; not to keep the peace; not to enforce laws; they're saying that it is their job to kick someone's ass to catalyze certain behaviors.
In watching this video, it seems that Officer Joey Williams falls into this category. This outrageous abuse of power didn't stem from enforcing laws or getting dangerous thugs off the street. It was driven purely from Joey Williams' own ego. He didn't like that the kids questioned his authority and he was going to show them that he was da man.
Because this out of control police officer has not been fired, or heaven forbid, at least suspended without pay, the City of Hot Springs, Arkansas hereby wins the Jackass of the Week Award.