That the Daily Kos’ Laura Clawson couldn’t help but lay it on as thick as possible, just in case its slightly progressive readership was too high to realize the brutally obvious, doesn’t change the fact that it happened, and was caught on body cam.
Kelsey Pierce was riding her bike to work. Someone called the cops complaining that a woman on a bike wearing a black shirt was looking at driveways. Could she be casing houses for a burglary? It’s possible. That Oklahoma City police officer James Herlihy had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to inquire, based upon the call, doesn’t appear to be in dispute. Nor, whether you like it or not, was he wrong to demand identification or to run a warrant check.
But after being handed ID (at 1:15), Herlihy then cuffed her and put her in the cruiser. Pierce complained of her treatment, there being no basis for her seizure.
The video then shows Herilhy taking a quick look in her knapsack, which is a search. There being no basis to believe she possessed a weapon, and Pierce already being in cuffs and custody, this was just a run-of-the-mill constitutional violation. Of course, it’s not the sort of violation anyone would think twice about since it produced no results. It’s no less unconstitutional to conduct a warrantless and baseless search that ends in nothing than one that disclosed drugs or a weapon, but there is no remedy short of a §1983 suit, and that’s not going to happen because there are no damages.
Finally, Herlihy responds to Pierce’s challenge for her baseless seizure with the machete claim (see video at 3:54):
Pierce: I was obviously willing to cooperate. You startled the shit out of me.
Herlihy: Well, obviously you weren’t. That’s why you’re in handcuffs in the back seat of the car, cause you’re throwing stuff at me, handed me the ID card like you wanted to use it as a weapon and throw it at me.
Had this gone to court, and the allegation been proffered that Pierce attempted to attack the officer with her ID, it might have raised an eyebrow but would have been accepted as true for at least the moment. Furtive gesture? Fighting stance? Ninja ID throwing weapons?
In short order, Herlihy received the “all clear” and cut Pierce loose. As interactions go, this was fairly pedestrian in the sense that no one was beaten or falsely arrested. As Clawson pounds into the dirt, just in case anyone missed it in her lede:
For her part, Pierce recognizes that the treatment she received—though unconscionable—is all too common for people of color:
Pierce told us Friday that she has a new appreciation for the kind of fear that black people feel when they are stopped for seemingly small infractions and treated like criminals.
She was aware of the disproportionate stops police have made Oklahoma City’s past, but this event seemed to make it all more real for her.
“This is minute in comparison,” said Pierce. “But, feeling that way every day when you are walking out the door would be enough to make me stay home for the rest of my life.”
As she says, minute in comparison—for Pierce, this was an unexpected, shocking event rather than a fact of daily life.
But thankfully, Clawson didn’t completely ignore the fact that Herlihy’s view of Pierce’s machete-like conduct was nuts.
Those are some fragile damn police officers Oklahoma City has “serving with pride” (as the side of Herlihy’s patrol vehicle reads) if a woman handing over an ID seems like a threatening weapon. Herlihy included that lie in his police report, as well, despite the fact that he was wearing a body camera that proved he was lying and that he searched Pierce’s belongings without asking or receiving permission. And Herlihy was making a safe bet—after Pierce complained, the police department announced that the investigation would happen at the division level rather than going to internal affairs.
The stop, search, seizure and lie are remarkably banal, and since it failed to produce an arrest or injury worthy of suit, it’s the sort of occurrence that flies well below the radar. And yes, Clawson’s point that this might well have ended very differently had Pierce been a black guy rather than a white woman is true, and that such mundane seizures are routine for minorities, and almost a certainty should they be stopped in a white neighborhood.
And sometimes, it’s the mundane police interactions caught on video that inform the unaware of just how ordinary it can be.