The video spread like wildfire throughout the blawgosphere because it was appalling. It was horrible on its surface, and horrible in its reflection of what it showed about Lt. Jonathan Josey, the officer who punched the woman, as well as the general attitude of Philadelphia police officers toward this act of needless violence. As Radley Balko opined,
I’ll just make the obvious point others have already made: Even assuming the woman had been the one who threw water/silly string on the cop, the reaction should at least get him fired. And probably prosecuted. That it doesn’t appear to have been her makes it worse, but is kinda’ beside the point.
Is it an obvious point? To me, sure. To you, probably. To police officers who see it? Therein lies the problem. At Police One, a website for police officers, the video garnered a lot of comments. To the police commenters, the video is similarly obvious, but not the same obvious as appears to others
There are two more pages of similar comments, all similarly obvious.
It’s all obvious. Just obviously opposite in our respective reactions and expectations of propriety. While the punch thrown by Lt. Josey (and bear in mind he’s a supervisor, meaning that this is an individual charged with keeping the troops in line) is bad enough, the reaction by the other officers present and the reaction by the cops who commented on the video gives rise to a far larger, systemic problem.
We aren’t seeing the same thing. We may see the same image, the same video, but we don’t see the same thing at al.
What these comments make painfully clear is that non-cops can’t begin to make a dent in the perspective of a police officer. Whether you chalk it up to rationalization, denial or the First Rule of Policing, one thing is obvious: they fully, absolutely, totally believe in their right to harm a citizen at any provocation.
I pondered on twitter yesterday, after reading the Police One comments, what our buddies at LEAP, Law Enforcement for Prohibition, had to say about it. There was no response. I still ponder the question. While we may share a concern over the drug war, what about punching a woman in the face? Do they see what we see or what their brethren see. Will they criticize the conduct or back up Lt. Josey?
Maybe LEAP’s executive director, Neill Franklin, will have something to say about it today. This isn’t exactly a new issue between us, as the question of whether their dedication to the cause is a facile one-trick pony, or they are willing to stand up against their own when the issue shift from drug policy to police abuse. This would be an opportune moment to find out.
The point is that non-cops can get angry over what is, to us, obvious, but police not only don’t give a damn, but think we’re all blithering idiots for what we see. We don’t get it. We’re the enemy. The answer is simple: if you don’t want a cop to beat you, don’t do anything to piss off a cop. Easy, right?
And we can continue to rant about the wrongfulness of this conduct, but to no avail. Are we alone in the wilderness, without a police officer who sees what we see, who believes that you don’t get to punch people at will? It’s unclear whether one cop speaking out against this conduct will change anything, but it is quite clear that no cop has come forward to say this is wrong.
One cop is a start. A hundred is a movement. Anyone? Or are we so far apart in our understanding of how police should behave that none of us can see the same thing here?
Update: According to twits from the Philly Inquirer, the District Attorneys has announced that he will not prosecute the woman who was sucker punched, and Lt. Josey will be terminated. Not prosecuted, but terminated. No word on the other cops who watched, but let’s not get greedy.