UnArmed Americans Are Being Shot for Holding a Cell Phone – Excessive Force?
UnArmed Americans Are Being Shot for Holding a Cell Phone – Excessive Force? by John W Whtehead – Rutherford
“Policing is broken… It has evolved as a paramilitary, bureaucratic, organizational arrangement that distances police officers from the communities they’ve been sworn to protect and serve… [W]hen we have shooting after shooting after shooting that most people would define as at least questionable, it’s time to look, not just at a few bad apples, but the barrel. And I’m convinced that it is the barrel that is rotted.”—Norm Stamper, former Police Chief of the City of Seattle.2
Stephon Clark, an unarmed twenty-two-year-old African-American, was shot and killed on March 18, 2018, by Sacramento police who had earlier received reports that someone was breaking car windows and hiding in a backyard. Two officers saw Clark in a neighbor’s backyard and chased him into his grandmother’s backyard. After ordering him to raise his hands, not even a second elapsed before the police opened fire on Clark, purportedly believing he had a gun.3 But Clark did not have a gun. He had an iPhone in his hand, and the police shot at him twenty times.
This incident has sparked nationwide outrage because of the extreme and excessive response of police to the report. A police helicopter was sent for a routine report of vandalism, the police did not give Clark a chance to put his hands up, and then after shooting Clark, they delayed in calling for medical assistance. But police actions after the shooting are perhaps the most disturbing part of the story. About seven minutes after the shooting, the officers muted their body cameras and animatedly talked amongst themselves,4 creating suspicion of a coverup.
The investigation into this incident is ongoing, but the evidence suggests an egregious use of excessive force by police. How can a cellphone be mistaken for a gun? And even if it were a gun, police gave Clark no real chance to put his hands up and demonstrate he was not a threat.
Unfortunately, the violence that Clark experienced at the hands of police officers was not an isolated incident. Almost daily there are new reports of inexplicable acts of brutality committed by law enforcement officers:
- Frank Baker, a middle-aged African-American, returned from work on June 24, 2016, and parked his car in a lot near his Minneapolis apartment. As he spoke on his cellphone, Baker was approached by a police officer investigating an anonymous and uncorroborated tip about persons with weapons in the area. The officer ordered Baker out of his car, and Baker complied with his arms raised. Despite Baker’s compliance and lack of any aggression, the officer unleashed a trained police dog which attacked Baker’s right leg and dragged him along the ground. The officer continued to urge on the dog’s attack while another officer who joined the scene began kicking Baker in the ribs. Baker suffered numerous wounds and tissue loss to his leg along with fractures to his ribs that required hospitalization for over two weeks. Subsequently, he was found to be completely innocent and unarmed at the time of the brutal attack.5
- A Utah nurse who was protecting the constitutional rights of an unconscious patient by refusing to comply with a police officer’s order to draw blood from the patient was grabbed violently by the officer, dragged outside the hospital, and handcuffed. As the nurse told the officer, she was only doing what she was supposed to do, but was attacked by the police officer because she stood up to his illegal demand;6
- A distraught teenager who had just witnessed her mentally ill father gunned down by police and was kneeling next to him crying was handcuffed by a police officer who then threw her over his shoulder. The officer then “carried her into the backyard, hung her roughly over the back gate and then threw her onto her feet. [She] was then put in the back of a police car in handcuffs”;7
- Nandi Cain, Jr., was thrown to the ground, choked and punched over a dozen times by a police officer after the officer stopped Cain for jaywalking. Cain made no aggressive moves toward the officer and had even removed his jacket to show the officer he had no weapon.8
Events like these involving police using excessive force, meaning a force that is objectively unreasonable and unnecessary,9 are becoming disturbingly commonplace as police adopt more confrontational, aggressive, and violent tactics in dealing with those whom they are supposed to “protect and serve.” A recent study found that in the year 2012 alone, persons visited hospital emergency rooms almost 140,000 times as a result of encounters with police, including over 55,000 fatal and nonfatal injuries.10 In the one-year period beginning June 2015, there was an average of 136 arrest-related deaths each month.11