Force, Cops and Women.

So, I hate police brutality as much as the next person, but over at TAPPED today I tried to lay out the scenarios in which cops can use force. The fact is they can. If someone resists arrest or become physically violent, officers can use force to get them under control and make the arrest. There are gradations in which some levels of force are inappropriate. You can’t, for example, use a gun on someone who’s just refusing to be handcuffed by pushing the officer’s arms away. But officers can punch people, even in the face. And women are held to the same standard.

We’ve decided, as a society, that officers are authorized to use force to keep the peace. We’ve also decided that they can issue tickets for jaywalking, and then if that situation is escalated for some reason then they can arrest the jaywalker. Arrests are violent things. Women sometimes get arrested. We can’t put them in a cocoon. Police departments are usually pretty bad about responding to allegations that they acted inappropriately, but they sometimes have a point in that many people don’t understand what an arrest really looks like. Many more don’t understand the procedural rules that dictate when and on whom police can use force.

While I’m careful to acknowledge that I don’t know what happened to lead up to the video I link to, the woman who pushed the cop was definitely taking it to the next level in that video. Police brutality is a real and horrible thing, but going around and pushing cops is still a felony offense. Moreoever, officers are allowed to use force. So the video isn’t really the best case to make against them doing so.

I’m posting this here because I’m curious as to what your thoughts are. I haven’t gotten a lot of responses at TAPPED, except for one woman who said officers don’t respond well to nonviolent situations. Sorry, but this situation was violent.

  • . . . but going around and pushing cops is still a felony offense.

    That’s the long pole in the tent IMHO, if this woman hadn’t pushed the cop she probably wouldn’t have gotten punched in the face. I don’t understand the outrage surrounding this video that shows someone inserting themselves into an arrest situation and then getting physical with a cop. What was the cop supposed to do; back off and say, “Oh so sorry, I won’t be arresting anyone now”?

  • KesSH

    Look hitting a woman like that is never right…we know that because Chirs Brown is living in hell right now for his ignorance. BUT the girl was wrong…you never put your hands on a man AND you NEVER put your hands on a police officer. WTH was she thinking? Do I think she deserved to get knocked in the face like that? NO! The cop maybe could have reached for mace or pepper spray. BUT you never put your hands on anyone or you will reap what you sow.

  • Tonda

    I’ve reviewed this video several times and I can’t justify the actions of the women involved and I feel the office was justified. The officer struggled with the 1st young lady for a minute and seemed to be trying his best not to get rough with her. But then the 17 year old comes in, pulls his arm off of her friend, pushes him and took the stance like she’s ready to fight.

    What did she think was gonna happen? She’s not dealing with some “dude” in the streets, this is a cop…with a gun. It’s unfortunate that it happened but I think he was doing his job. I wish the first girl would have cooperated after her friend got hit but even she continued to make a scene smh.

    • That’s my thing with this too. He is really persistent but calm before the push. He actually was avoiding using force when he probably technically could have been slightly more forceful before.

  • Monique

    The girl was undoubtedly doing way too much. And sure, the police could justifiably use an appropriate amount of force to quell the situation and make the arrest. But punching a 17 year old girl in the face just seems a bit beyond the pale. Was there just no better way to subdue the girl? Just because the officer technically *could* have punched the girl, doesn’t mean he should have. It just seems like he could have handled that better. For me, the officer came off looking off weak and ineffective because he had to resort to punching a girl — who he arrested for jaywalking. I’m just sayin, it looked bad.

    • Yeah, in my TAPPED post I get into this a bit, but I’m not sure that expecting officers to calmly debate the subtle levels of force that are appropriate is realistic in some instances. Like, pulling out his gun would have been definitely too much. But punching someone who just pushed you is a different level. They’re trained to get the situation under control quickly.

  • R.A.B.

    “Nobody was injured during the incident”

  • R.A.B.

    i love how everyone felt that they could simultaneously accuse the cop of being excessive and make fun of him for getting beat up for that entire video by the girl

  • Val

    A bigger question is; would he have punched a 17 or 19 year-old White woman in the face in that situation? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have. And that’s really the point, to me.

    • quadmoniker

      FWIW, I used to work at an agency that investigates misconduct and when white women push cops like that, they’re punched in the face too. The bigger issue is how likely it is that a cop would be having an interaction like this with a white person in the first place, and the answer is they probably wouldn’t be because the cop probably wouldn’t stop them in the first place.

      • Val

        Well then it’s amazing that all of those times, according to you, that cops are punching White women in the face that there is never any video.

        • Most cop punches aren’t on video at all.

          • Val

            Maybe so but there sure are a lot of Black women on tape being neaten by police of late.

            • Yeah, there is a lot of police misconduct on tape lately regardless. Which I’m kind of regarding as a good thing, because at least some things are incontrovertible now. This video is different, but there have been tons of videos with verifiable, horrific misconduct. Like the Oscar Grant video. So now, even people who may never had had an interaction with police know what happens.

  • Frizankle

    This issue is getting way too blown up. As far as I can tell, this police office was within his rights to punch this girl in the face. Like many people point out, there aren’t different rules for women then there are for men in these kinds of situations, and I don’t think there should be. You don’t physically intervene with a police officer trying to arrest someone. If you do, you should expect something physical back. Now, just because he had the right to punch could he have stepped back, pulled a baton and hit her in the leg, or maybe pulled mace or a stun-gun? Maybe. But given the situation I think all options, including the punch, are valid. He was being incredibly patient with the first girl, and really, that could have been his problem. He shouldn’t have hit, but as soon as she started twisting and resisting arrest he probably should have taken control and taken her down to the ground and cuffed her with a little more force. He might have let this situation get out of control by not slamming that first girl sooner.

    All that to say, the punch didn’t look great, but I think it was legit. And playing this up as racism and/or police brutality only hurts us all when something like that really does happen. Acting like this was wrong will make so many people doubt future claims of police brutality when they are actually real.

  • The day after I saw that video, I sat through my bar preparation lecture on criminal procedure. It was a welcome refresher as I prepare for the bar but it also stuck because I could apply the black-letter law concepts to the Seattle incident.
    What quadmoniker says is totes on point. Police have DISCRETION to arrest for ANY offense, even those that don’t carry jail time. This is across the board in every state. So to people out on the interwebz who say she was just jaywalking, well that’s could possibly be an arrestable offense. How about we not do things that could allow officers to exercise their discretion in ways we’re not totally prepared for?
    There’s also a part in the tape where, right before she’s put in the car and after she’s finally subdued a bit, the girl screams that the officer didn’t read her her rights. This goes to the point that Americans don’t know what real arrest looks like because at that point the officer had no obligation to read her her rights.

    I don’t know, I wanted to be enraged over the situation but I can’t be. I’ve been trained to see both sides and argue them if need be. Still, I have my own personal, visceral reactions to injustice no matter what and this situation just didn’t invoke that OMG response in me. *shrug*

    • quadmoniker

      Yeah, that’s true about the reading of the rights. I used to work for an agency that investigated misconduct and I got this “complaint” a lot. People have no idea.

  • ComeOnNow

    Totally fair use of force. This should be a non-story.

    Lets just hope we don’t get all the usual opportunists coming out of the woodwork and hoping on news channels to get their 15 minutes of fame. We need to save real outrage for real offenses. This wasn’t one of them.

  • ComeOnNow

    Have people also seen that the first woman getting arrested had a history of fighting with police?

  • ComeOnNow

    Where is GD at on this issue? He always errs on the side of the oppressed (which is a good thing IMHO), so if he comes out and says these women were wrong and this police officer did a reasonable (albeit not ideal) thing, case closed for me.

    GD – where you at? Enough with the running, get back to dropping knowledge 😉

  • PTCruiser

    I’ve looked at the video three times. The young sister who was initially being arrested should have realized that all she needed to do was provide the cop with any appropriate information he needed to issue her a citation and then sign the citation and walk away. She could argue her case before a judge or traffic commissioner. You don’t argue your case with a cop on the street and expect any justice. Her friend was way out of line and she is extremely lucky that the worse she received was getting clipped in the jaw.

    I have had the police stop me throughout my life for the offenses of being black while walking or black while driving. I don’t argue with them and I remain civil, although I do not ever address them as “sir” or act in a servile manner. My position is that I can always take my case before a judge if I’m issued a citation that I don’t believe is warranted. Bottom line is that those young sisters need a dose of mother-wit.

  • Frizankle

    BTW people, another factoid. The police were asked to be at this location to deal with students jaywalking when classes got out of the neighborhood HS. So he was there for that purpose – to give tickets out to people jaywalking, in the interest of preventing someone from getting hit by a car.

    • Val

      Well they didn’t get hit by a car.

  • flasher702

    Hey, this one happened right in my own backyard. Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to agrees with you: not sure what happened before the video started rolling so we’re not sure if there was any prejudice leading up to the event but it doesn’t look like excessive force was used in the video. Race, gender, and wrongful arrest are kind of irrelevant: if you resist arrest and shove a cop around getting popped in the face is one of the better things that could happen to you. If there was something inappropriate about the officer’s behavior you have to take it to court at a later date.

    @Frizankle IMHO all of the alternatives you listed are potentially MORE harmful than what the cop did. Not so long ago Seattle police killed a guy with a stun gun. Just the stun gun. He was sitting in his car seat and refused to get out, got tasered 3 times, now he’s dead. Culturally we have issues with punching people in the face, for obvious reasons, but the fact of the matter is that a jab to the face does little damage and we shouldn’t let the erroneous idea that the other things you listed are inherently more acceptable or safer cloud our judgment about what level of force is actually being used and if it was appropriate.

    It was really weird to see the way the officer was surrounded by black people several of whom were jeering at him. Makes me think that the reason this is being overblown has less to do with what actually happened and more to do with intercultural issues brought on by the severe racial segregation in Seattle (it wasn’t even illegal until 1977 and the locals refuse to admit that it’s even happening in their dreamy, liberal, post norther Californian utopia).

    • quadmoniker

      Agreed on the other things being worse. I’d take a punch in the face over pepper spray any day.

    • April

      It was really weird to see the way the officer was surrounded by black people several of whom were jeering at him. Makes me think that the reason this is being overblown has less to do with what actually happened and more to do with intercultural issues brought on by the severe racial segregation in Seattle (it wasn’t even illegal until 1977 and the locals refuse to admit that it’s even happening in their dreamy, liberal, post norther Californian utopia).

      Ding ding ding! I think we have a winner!

      Judging from the video alone, it seems like the officer had no choice but to use some kind of force, and that punch was probably the most expedient thing to do. I also agree that mace or Tasering might have been a worse decision.

    • quadmoniker

      Why point out that the people surrounding him were black?

  • Sorry I think he did what he needed to do to stop the situation. If she and her friend weren’t acting up it would have never happened.

    Peace, Love and Chocolate

  • Kavita

    I have to disagree. In the abstract, yes, police are authorized to use force when someone is resisting arrest, and in some situations, it may be appropriate for them to do so. But he was trying to arrest a teenage girl for JAYWALKING. That, right there, is a problem. I can’t blame the girl for getting hot, although obviously someone should have taught her to never, never, ever, get physical with a cop. At that point, all hope for a peaceful, sane resolution is gone. But to me, the real issue is not whether the cop was within his rights to use force, or what level of force was appropriate. We all know cops get away with far worse brutality as a matter of course. For me, the real issue is the hyper-criminalization of everything in our society, especially when it comes to black youth. Why should arrest even be under consideration for an offense like jaywalking?!

    • quadmoniker

      Yeah, I agree that it’s stupid to arrest people for jaywalking, but if you read more about the case it turns out that they had been deployed there because a lot of kids were jaywalking after school. As a driver, I can say that that freaks me out, because I’d be terrified I’d hit a kid someday. As far as the arrest goes, we don’t know what happened. If he asks her for her ID and she refuses to give it, then he has to arrest her.

      Also, that’s how the incident started but not how it ended up. He didn’t punch the girl he was trying to arrest for jaywalking who, as you say, I can’t blame for getting mad. He punched her friend who had nothing to do with it and came in and shoved him.

      • shani-o

        Yeah, and as Kia points out, as stupid as it sounds, there’s really no such thing as an un-arrestable offense.

  • Kavita

    It is stupid that there is no such thing as an non-arrestable offense. That’s my point. Incarceration should not be the go-to response for every minor infraction. Latoya’s piece at Racialicious gives a great analysis of the situation, which to me is a lot deeper that if the cop was technically within his legal rights to punch a teenage girl in the face.

    So, the cops are there to protect the kids from getting hit by a car, and instead, one of the kids ends up getting hit in the face by the cop. There is a lot wrong in this situation, and I for one can’t put it all on the kids.

  • Also, I just wanted to be clear: I’m not happy that cops punch people. It’s just that this isn’t as clear a case as many I think want it to be.

  • ComeOnNow

    I can understand why a lot of people, particularly people of color, are distrustful of the police. They have reason to be – there is a long history of racist transgressions by the police against communities of color.

    But, that doesn’t given anyone the right to resist arrest or to try to physically prevent an arrest. Come on now, that is just so far outside the bounds of what is reasonable behavior.

    I don’t think this issue is deeper than whether this cop was technically in the right to punch the girl in the face. We all know there are reasons to question authority, yet most of us are taught that when a cop tells you something, you do it. If you start fighting back, they are going to escalate it, and it is not going to end in your favor.

    I don’t think police should be in the habit of punching people – but responding to force with force – that sounds like what they should be trained to do. It is fine if we want to have a discussion of what else he could have done – but I don’t think it is reasonable to suggest that it should be anything else than use force on the second woman.

  • Darth Paul

    “What if it was a white woman?” is a superfluous question. You may as well as “What if it was a black (female) cop?”

    But for those who’ve never seen COPS, I highly recommend you do just to see how often white women DO get sprayed, punch, and tazed. In fact, a 70+ old white lady was tazed in Texas about 6mos back, and she didn’t even touch the officer.

  • Legally, the officer was within his rights, that makes sense.

    But my mouth still open in disappointment when I saw the officer’s response.

    I think about police officer, regardless of the size, the uniform/shield makes me think about them being in a superior position – stronger, etc. So I always think about them having to hold themselves back in order not to hurt the people whom they hold power over (civilians).

    Throwing a punch, seems like something your peer would do. Its kind of intimate and aggressive. Its also an action meant to get involved in a fight, if that makes sense, not subdue someone. It seems tacky and denigrating (to the police officer and the girl) when a police officer does it.

  • i’m kinda late in joining the conversation, but i just want to agree with the original post. i wrote on this video a few days ago, detailing how i think the women are playing on gender biases as well as racism. they are aware that being physical with a cop will lead to violence because they’re black, but not end in death because they are women. their behavior is very problematic to me.

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