But For Video: The Ordinariness of Force

Christopher Lollie was like most of us.  A father who arrived a bit early to gather his kids from school, the New Horizon Academy, so he had ten minutes to kill.  A weird phrase, time to kill.  So he sat down in the skyway in St. Paul, Minnesota.  That’s what good guys do.

Someone apparently didn’t care for his looks.  According to Conor Friedersdorf, Lollie had dreads, and the skin to go with them, so the police were called because there was a guy sitting there, black and all, and who knows what terrible things that can mean.  And the police came.

He was polite. He was helpful within the scope of an ordinary guy who couldn’t imagine what he could have done, aside from existing, to warrant being the target of police attention.  He was quite right to question the demand for identification, even though some will complain that all he had to do was comply.

It’s not entirely clear that compliance would have made things better, given that Lollie was there to fetch his children, and it’s hard for a father to be at the schoolhouse door when he’s cuffed or in lockup. It’s unlikely that his giving his name would have changed where he was heading that day.

The incident, resulting in Lollie’s tasing at the hand of the cop who had no time to waste on Lollie with the niceties good guys reasonably expect, happened last January.  The video showing why the charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstruction of the legal process were dropped wasn’t revealed for six months because the cops didn’t give him back his phone. They’re busy, you know, and it takes a lot longer to return property than it does to seize it.

But Chris Lollie, a father whose only interest is picking up his children, with ten minutes to kill, didn’t anticipate that this was sufficient reason to sufficiently irk the cops that he would end up tased and arrested.  He was just sitting there, a place with a chair, no reason to think it was such a big deal, a horrible crime, that even a guy with dreads wasn’t allowed to sit.  He was just waiting for his children to get out of school, as good fathers do so that they can be there for their children.

It didn’t escalate because Chris Lollie did something unusual to aggravate the situation.  It changed because the male cop, whose name is conveniently unknown, decided that at that very moment in the history of the world, he was going to make this guy’s life very unhappy, without any concern whatsoever for the consequences.

“I’ve got to go get my kids,” the man tells the second officer, pulling his arm away. “Please don’t touch me.”

“You’re going to go to jail then,” the second officer says.

“I’m not doing anything wrong,” the man replies.

At this point, both officers grab the man.

“Come on brother,” the man says, “This is assault.”

“I’m not your brother,” the second officer replies. “Put your hands behind your back otherwise it’s going to get ugly.”

And that’s where it all fell into the rabbit hole.  Mind you, nobody other than Lollie seems to consider that there are children involved, who will be left waiting for a father who was so diligent that he arrived ten minutes early.  Yet, when the school lets out, the children will be standing there, wondering why their father isn’t there to meet them.  They will be frightened. No one else knows that Lollie won’t be there for his kids. The children will stand there until someone, hopefully, notices that they are alone.

One might suspect that after this video revealed that the male, unnamed officer, decided he couldn’t be bothered treating Chris Lollie like a human being, some effort would be put into coming up with a half-decent excuse.  Instead,

St. Paul police Chief Tom Smith says officers became violent with Lollie because they “believed he might either run or fight with them.”

That’s just insulting. He couldn’t even be bothered to make up a story, like Lollie looked like a bank robber?  Could Smith really be so monumentally tone-deaf as to realize that his cops “believed” is not a reason to tase and arrest a guy doing nothing special, waiting for his kids to get out of school, behaving like an ordinary guy?

Most people look to find a reason, a justification, in a person’s behavior to excuse the police their excesses, their very bad attitude that their shield allows them to create a situation and then act upon it, to the pain and detriment of the bad guy.  After all, even if the cop’s conduct was excessive, the force questionable, the bad guy deserved it. The bad guy did something, anything, to warrant it.

This is what lets us sleep at night, knowing that there are police out there with guns protecting us from the bad guys.  Christopher Lollie was no bad guy.  He was good father, doing nothing to warrant the involvement of a cop, unless they were handing out good father awards that day.  And yet, there he was, tased and arrested for being so, well, ordinary.

Did I mention he had dreads?  If you don’t, there is a pretty good chance you would have no reason to fear sitting while black in a skyway waiting for school to let out.

On the other hand, given Chief Smith’s head-down stink that cops really have to be able to inflict pointless pain on people who have done nothing because their commands must be obeyed no matter what, suggests that even without dreads, if you had the misfortune of being ordinary and attracting a St. Paul cop’s attention nonetheless, you too would have had children left waiting for their father that day.  Just for being ordinary.


7 thoughts on “But For Video: The Ordinariness of Force

  1. RKTlaw

    The title “the ordinariness of force” sums it up perfectly. I try to tell people how often things like this happen, and they simply refuse to believe. Of course, whenever the topic comes up, one is forced to utter the standard disclaimer “I know a lot of wonderful cops”. But I know very few who will not default to force at a very short moment’s notice.

    1. SHG Post author

      We all know a lot of wonderful cops, but as criminal defense lawyers learn, that’s got nothing to do with it. People get the impression from the news that it’s always outrageous conduct involved in controversial excessive force claims. This allows them to imagine that nothing they ever do could give rise to a problem.

      But far more often, interactions are like this one, pathetically ordinary, where they never make the headlines and no one ever gives any thought to how a normal day for an ordinary turns into a bizarre nightmare. I wonder if people could accept it if they internalized this reality?

      Oh. And before any day-tripping commenter raises it, Ordinary Injustice by Amy Bach. Yes, we already know. Move along.

  2. Cristian

    I’ve seen a number of bad-cop videos, but the “ordinariness” of this one, more than any other, troubled me deeply.

    1. SHG Post author

      Me too. This was just a guy trying to get his kids and have a normal, ordinary day. That’s what struck me the most.

  3. Nigel Declan

    Had a meaningful effort been made to justify the act, it would at least demonstrate a base recognition that there was something requiring justification. This response reflects the fact that the police don’t even appreciate what was wrong about their actions.

  4. David Woycechowsky

    This is pretty much what I the tableau that sprang into my head the day the Hiibel decision came down, except, in my vision, the black male had shorter hair and lived further south. Sometimes the future is a hard thing into which to see.

  5. Pingback: Stopped, Harassed And Arrested For Being Black | That Mr. G Guy's Blog

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