It’s been a while since my “but for video” series graced this screen. It’s all been seen. It’s all been heard. The point has been made, that the conduct complained of forever before video became ubiquitous, the conduct cops and prosecutors argued was impossible and made no sense, the conduct that judges dismissed under the mantra, “why would they do such a thing?” happens.
Judges asked “why,” the question that only the person(s) doing it could answer, but that it happened was never in doubt. We just couldn’t prove it. They just didn’t buy it. And so it happened, again and again. For the pedants who will respond, “but it doesn’t always happen,” of course not. And that’s not what anyone is saying. But it does happen.
So why bring back “but for video”? Because this one strikes home. Unlike most, there is no horrifying death, no terrible beating. In terms of consequences, it’s particularly banal, and that’s very much the point. Video has been around for a while now, and the days of denying cops abusing their authority while maintaining the capacity to deny it happened, to weasel out of the allegations against them by rhetoric rather than reality, are long past. And yet, it still happens.
They know there’s video. They know there’s a possibility their actions could end up on the screen, going viral, and they don’t care. It’s not one, even if one cop seems to be the prime mover and others take their attitudinal cue from the worst of the group. Any cop on the scene could talk down the angriest, the guy who appears to be a millimeter away from disaster, but they don’t. Maybe they acquiesce. Maybe they’re all in. Rarely, although it does occasionally happen, does the cooler head prevail.
This time it didn’t.
The backdrop is undisputed by the Phoenix police department. A four-year-old child took a doll from a Dollar Store. While technically shoplifting, kids don’t shoplift. They don’t know better. Parents should stop them, but sometimes parents don’t see. It happens, and it usually reflects nothing more than a mistake. If the store employee or camera spies the sticky-fingered child, a word to a parent is the first line of attack.
Usually, mom or dad will apologize and offer to pay, or return, the pilfered toy and have a calm talk with their child about keeping her hands to herself. Lesson learned. Of course, it would be fair to counter that an employee confronting the parent could lead to unanticipated consequences, as learned at Gibson’s Bakery in Oberlin, Ohio.
Stealing is not acceptable. Not even for a dollar. And if the old norm of pointing out the problem to a parent doesn’t resolve the problem, putting aside the question of whether that’s a tenable reaction given the racial dynamics of the moment, calling the cops may be the only alternative.
Some will suggest store owners should eat the loss. After all, it’s just a dollar. But that dollar is how Dollar Stores survive. They are allowed to want their dollar. They are allowed to expect to do business without having to silently allow goods to walk out the door unpaid, even when it’s just a child making a child’s mistake. Police are an awful option, but there is no other option.
Then this. Note, there is no suggestion there was anything on the 911 call to suggest it was anything other than shoplifting. No claim of armed bandits. No claim of child-snatching. No allegation that would strike fear in the hearts of police, even if outlandishly false. Just a 4-year-old child who plucked a doll and walked out. And the cops were called.
The force. The language. The demands, and conflicting demands, backed up by threats of death. All of this with the realization that they may well be caught on video, and yet without the slightest concern that their actions would be subject to review.
There have been many points made about this, reflecting the many different ways the actions of the police can be viewed. A few, naturally, were defensive, raising specters of possible reasons why this otherwise outrageous conduct might be understandable, excusable. What if the cops were told they were taking down armed and violent assailants? Except there is nothing to suggest that possibility, either before or after this video went viral.
There were also the expected reactions, many assuming this reflected all cops, proving their hatred of police as violent thugs. But the most common reaction was that this proved the racism of the system, that had this been a white family, the police would never have been so violent, used such foul language, threatened death or been so cavalier about demanding a mother throw her infant to the ground so she could raise her hands as the cops demanded.
Whether the video proves anything beyond what it shows is always subject to debate. But what it does prove is that the same police officers who appear at the prosecutor’s office, stand in court, act differently on the street. Not all the time. Not every cop. Not even the same cop under different circumstances, although the shallow belief that a scared cop is any less frightened by a bullet from a white perp than a black one fails to grasp that this isn’t a black person problem, but a cop problem.
The point is this happens. If you wonder why people, in the ordinary course of interactions with police harbor fears, resistance, anger and hatred, it’s because some cops behave this way toward people.
There are tens of thousands of interactions between police and non-cops, whether black, white or green, every day. The vast majority result in no death, no harm, no viral video. Yet, what happened here should never happen, the many interactions where everyone goes home for dinner does not undo the harm reflected here.
The impetus for the “but for video” series was to overcome the denial that interactions of this sort happened at all, as they were easily denied when there was no proof it happened and it defied the reasoning embraced by prosecutors and judges about these swell, brave, noble police officers. But now we know better. This happens, even when the cops know they could be caught on video. Video has made it impossible to deny it happens, and yet it hasn’t changed the fact that it happens because, as this video shows, it still happens.