In the scheme of stories about cops and a black guy, they’re often muddled by some conflicting facts, or at least colorable allegations, that blunt the fact that the primary cause of the cops’ conduct was the guy’s skin color. After all, if there’s any detail to latch onto that allows people to excuse what followed, some will. Sure, it works the other way as well, but that’s a point for another day.
No, black guys aren’t allowed to use race to excuse criminal conduct, which is what makes what happened to Eastern Illinois University’s Jaylan Butler significant.
Jaylan Butler and his teammates from the Eastern Illinois University swim team were at the end of a long day. After competing in a conference championship swim meet in South Dakota, they spent the bulk of Feb. 24, 2019, traveling back to Charleston, Ill., in a rented coach with their school logo plastered on the sides.
A college swim team in a bus returning to school. Nothing to see here.
Butler, wearing his EIU team jacket, was heading back onto the bus when his coach suggested he take a selfie in front of Illinois’ “BUCKLE UP, IT’S THE LAW” sign. The team had been taking pictures throughout the trip and posting them to social media to update parents and others on their location.
Not sure why this makes for a good selfie, or even what this has to do with anything, but it’s part of the story and no reason to keep it secret. Then it happened.
“As I took the picture, there was a line of police officers … they came to a screeching stop in front of me,” Butler said. “At that moment, I only knew a couple things to do that my dad always told me.”
Two officers had Jaylan on the ground — his face pressed into the snow and an officer’s knee pressed into his back. One cop was pointing a shotgun, Butler and Slingerland said, and another had a gun pointed at the 19-year-old’s head.
“He said, ‘If you move, I’ll blow your (expletive) head off,'” Butler said.
There are plenty more details of Butler’s treatment by the cops, none of them good. Read them if you prefer volume but you get the idea. After the cops figured out that Butler, the one black kid in his EIU jacket on a bus fulled with white kids in their EIU jackets, a coach and the bus driver told the cops that whoever they thought they were taking down, this wasn’t him. After realizing they had nothing, they were still going to arrest Butler for resisting arrest by his fully cooperating. Then, they let him go. He returned to the bus, to the comfort and discomfort of his team, his friends.
This is as far as most people would need to go to reach that moment of outrage about what happened to Jaylan Butler. Whether the takeaway would be that “all cops are racist, “these cops are racist,” or “law enforcement has a fundamental racism problem,” it’s clear that what happened to Butler was racist. But that wouldn’t make this story unique, as it’s repeated with pathetic regularity and, at least this time, they didn’t beat or kill Jaylan Butler for being black in their crosshairs.
The reason for their interest in Butler likely will be made known in U.S. District Court in Rock Island, where the ACLU out of Chicago has filed a lawsuit against the six officers, including two who are named as John Does. The suit alleges Butler was the victim of unlawful search and seizure, false arrest, excessive detention, excessive force, failure of bystander officers to intervene in unconstitutional conduct, and assault.
“Will be made known”? Almost every story of this nature comes with some excuse, some explanation no matter how strained or incredible. He “looked like a bank robber” sort of thing. But not this one.
Asked what the officers were looking for that night, Villarreal said, “They were called in to assist on a Henry County incident.”
Henry County Sheriff Kerry Loncka looked up records from Feb. 24 and said no reports were filed by Henry County deputies. Call logs gave hints about what police may have been after.
At 7:02 p.m., Loncka said, Illinois State Police asked for Henry County’s assistance in pursuing a man in a vehicle who shot at a truck on Interstate 80 in Annawan.
The records he found showed the suspect vehicle went into Rock Island County and wrecked. He doesn’t know where, he said, because he has no record of what happened after the vehicle left Henry County.
So nope, that couldn’t be it. Anything else?
Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos said he knew little about the incident but said he was not, as the officers who arrested Butler are said to have claimed, responding to an active-shooter event that night.
Asked to look at the county records to determine what police were responding to on the night of Feb. 24, Bustos replied, “Looks like the closest we can find was a call of a 10-year-old child in Port Byron possibly waving a gun around down by the railroad tracks.
“It was a toy gun. Deputy did follow up with parent.”
Nope, that doesn’t work either. Of course, Sheriff Bustos could have inquired of his deputy why he put a gun to Jaylan Butler’s head as it was forced to the ground, in the snow, with the requisite knee in his back. One might even surmise he did ask, but if so, he wasn’t telling. He wasn’t even willing to make something up to create the pretense that there was some far-fetched excuse for what his deputy did to Butler on that cold, snowy night as a bus of EIU swimmers stopped in his jurisdiction.
No matter how you twist this, when the deputy put the one black guy on the ground and uttered the words taught in every police academy everywhere, “If you move, I’ll blow your fucking (expletive added) head off,” there was no excuse, rational or not, credible or not, offered. They couldn’t even be bothered to make up a lie. Maybe, in response to Butler’s suit, they’ll get another chance to come up with something to at least pretend it wasn’t pure, unadulterated racism.