The advent of pervasive citizen video has been a boon in putting the lie to police claims that their conduct was always justified when a complaint of excessive force is made. After all, it’s the word of a decorated police officer against the word of a criminal, and the target of police force is, by definition, a criminal or they wouldn’t have deserved to be the target of force.
Now, they have to work harder and stifle chuckles to pull off their claim of justification in the face of video showing what happened. But, for those who have found these videos illuminating as to law enforcement misconduct and lies (which would exclude most judges), there is one thing to bear in mind. As much as the proof is now indisputable that police sometimes engage in abuse and needlessly excessive force, it doesn’t mean that the victim of their force is pure as the driven snow.
What the videos can show is that there is a pointless mix of entitlement, antagonism and just plain dumb behavior by people involved in police interactions. And before anyone informs that people have a right to behave poorly, and that behaving poorly is never an excuse for police to use excessive force, you are absolutely right. In a theoretical vacuum. And police should, without question, exercise sufficient self-control and restrain their violence so as not to harm. We are in complete agreement.
But the point remains that an encounter can wind up with a video on Youtube of police using excessive force, a lot of time wasted in court, plenty of huffing and puffing without any worthwhile outcome. The cops may be wrong, completely, totally wrong, in how they react, but if people didn’t behave like jerks in the first place, there wouldn’t have been a reaction.
Example 1: Arizona State University assistant professor Ersula Ore:
Ore, refusing to show her ID, responds to Officer Stewart Ferrin, says “do you have to speak to me in such a disrespectful manner?” Disrespectful is relative. Should he have asked for her permission first?
Example 2: Simi Valley police officer Corey Baker arrives at the scene of a trivial touching of one car to another (which fails to achieve the high rank of fender bender), to be met by Jeff Knapp, one of the people involved, videotaping the occurrence.
Baker asks Knapp to put down the camera, which he refuses, asserting his right to video. Baker acknowledges his right, but in reaction refuses to talk to Knapp. Again, Baker’s reaction is wrong, and his refusal to speak to Knapp and take his statement is dereliction of duty. But, as Jonathan Turley says:
This is the type of poor behavior that could undermine the recently recognized right of citizens to videotape. This video could be used to show that videotaping presents an impediment to police trying to do their job because Knapp did not have the simply decency to lower the camera.
I believe Baker was wrong, but I also believe that Knapp and other needs to use these rights in a civil and mature way.
I fail to see that Knapp’s videotaping interfered with Baker’s performance of his duty in any way other than annoying Baker. Nor is it relevant that Baker’s overtime payments are more than his salary, which may be fascinating but is wholly unrelated to what happened here.
There are some bad cops out there, engaging in horrible violence, abuse and misconduct, and the value of video in showing what happened can’t be understated. But that doesn’t absolve people from behaving like entitled brats, adamantly refusing to demonstrate any discretion in their interactions with police.
It may be that the Ore and Knapp decided that they wanted the confrontation with police to serve as an opportunity to assert their right to the fullest possible extent, challenge the police to react poorly and use it as an example. If so, then they partially achieved the goal, showing in each instance that the police officer could have shown greater restraint and performed his duty in a more sensitive manner.
But they still come off poorly. There will be some, perhaps many, who will view these videos through the prism of their bias and see nothing wrong with their behavior. If the goal was to get the choir to sing “hallelujah,” that’s fine. But if it’s about persuading others, not predisposed to being sensitive, if not antagonistic to police, they have instead fed into the mindset that the people who cry abuse, refusal to respect rights and, in the case of Ore where the ASU Ethnic Studies Network is questioning whether she was the victim of racial profiling, are a bunch of entitled malcontents and flaming nutjobs.
If you want to spend a night in the can as a martyr, be a jerk. If not, don’t needlessly antagonize cops who did nothing inappropriate until after you behaved like a jerk. It’s not effective, persuasive, or smart. And if you want to put on a show, then do a much better job of it.