July 14, 2000
The violent, videotaped arrest of a suspect by Philadelphia police has sparked several investigations. Margaret Warner leads a discussion about the use of force by police.
WARNER: The videotape was broadcast over and over again. Aerial news footage
taken Wednesday of Philadelphia police officers kicking and beating a
black car-jacking suspect as he lay on the ground. The confrontation had
begun 20 minutes earlier, when police spotted the suspect, 30-year-old
Thomas Jones, driving the stolen car. Jones crashed the car and fled on
foot, with several officer pursuing him. Police caught up with him, and
in the melee that followed, both Jones and an officer were shot, and another
officer bitten. Jones then commandeered a police cruiser and led two dozen
officers on a chase. When police caught up with Jones, a local news helicopter
was hovering overhead. A slow-motion analysis of the videotape of his
capture, as reported today by the Philadelphia Inquirer, showed
that 10 different officers, both white and black, inflicted 59 blows on
Jones over the space of 28 seconds.
But witnesses disagree on several detail, for example, on whether Jones was armed.
WITNESS: This man did not have no gun.
NEWS REPORTER: You didn't see a gun in his hands?
WITNESS: No, no
NEWS REPORTER: Did you see a gun in his belt?
NEWS REPORTER: He had no gun as far as you can see?
JOHN TIMONEY, Phila. Police Commissioner: We have two very good civilian witnesses who say he had a gun, and we have the officer's testimony. Could the witnesses be wrong? Could the officer? Anything is possible. We have got to wait until we do all the interviews.
|Mayor delays judgment|
|MARGARET WARNER: Philadelphia Mayor John Street said that
while the video is disturbing, he's not ready to indict the police.
MAYOR JOHN STREET: We will not condone improper behavior by the police, but we cannot conduct a police witch hunt by jumping to conclusions in the absence of all the facts.
MARGARET WARNER: The videotaped confrontation recalled the 1991 beating of another black man, Rodney King, by Los Angeles police officers. But Philadelphia's police commissioner says the comparison isn't fair.
JOHN TIMONEY: I would completely disagree with you that this is Rodney King. Rodney King was a guy who was in a suppliant position, not resisting, getting whaled away with police officers with billy clubs. There are no Billy clubs here. He is resisting, he bites an officer's thumb, another officer gets injured, he is clearly resisting. There were two police vehicles chases involved, including a police cruiser. That in no way would justify unnecessary force, but we won't know that until we interview those officers.
MARGARET WARNER: The head of the Philadelphia NAACP today fiercely disputed the police contention that the beating might have been justified, and said his organization will provide lawyers to help Jones bring a civil lawsuit against the city.
JERRY MONDESIRE: I don't believe he was resisting arrest to the point where he needed to be pummeled and kicked by 15 to 20 officers. I don't believe you can resist arrest unless you're Superman if you've got four bullets in you. The race aspect of this is minimalized, but actually it's a case of excessive police abuse. Is there a racial dimension to this? I know there is, Robin. You and I have been here a long time and we have never seen a white suspect treated in such a way, never.
MARGARET WARNER: In Washington, the Justice Department has launched its own investigation into whether Jones's civil rights were violated. The incident -- and the unwelcome publicity -- come just as Philadelphia prepares to host thousands of politicians and press for the Republican convention later this month.
|Did police go over the line?|
WARNER: And for more on this incident, and what it says about police and
the use of force, we turn to Jill Nelson, journalism professor at the
City College of New York, and editor of a recent book of essays entitled
Police Brutality: An Anthology; Lorie Fridell, research director
of the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank for big-city police
chiefs; and Lawrence Sherman, professor of human relations and government
at the University of Pennsylvania. He began his career investigating police
misconduct for the New York City Police Department in the 1970s, and now
serves as an advisor on crime- related issues for Philadelphia Police
Commissioner John Timoney. Welcome all. Jill Nelson, does this look like
police brutality or at least excessive force to you?
JILL NELSON: Absolutely, there is no question. When we see police officers surrounding a suspect, who is on the ground, beating, hitting, jostling for position so that they can get their licks in, there is no other way to interpret it.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it, Lori Fridell?
LORIE FRIDELL: Well, I will quote Commissioner Timoney, who says "it doesn't look good, but it needs to be investigated." I would be reticent to jump to conclusions before the investigation took place.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, Larry Sherman, the The New York Times editorialized on this today and they, while they also said there will be investigations, they came to this conclusion. They said the tape showed a mob attack rather than an orderly arrest. Do you agree with that?
LAWRENCE SHERMAN: There wasn't a whole lot of order here. And I think the question that a jury is ultimately going to have to deal with is whether the way it came down, went over the line and what force was necessary to get this guy into custody. That's what was at issue in the Ventura County trial in Rodney King, and the facts are very different. But a lot of people were stunned that a jury could have thought Rodney King was justified. I think that when it comes to a judgment as to what is proper by 12 citizens, we're really in a hard position to predict what they're going to say.
|What is behind police brutality?|
|MARGARET WARNER: Well, Jill Nelson, you did edit this anthology
on police brutality, excessive use of force, the whole issue. Since you
believe it was excessive, what drives this kind of reaction? We've been
talking in this country for decades now about excessive use of police
force. What happens in a situation like this?
JILL NELSON: First of all I think it's important to understand that this is a systemic problem, it's a problem that has been present since the advent of police forces in the end of the 19th century. I think that often race drives it; I think challenge to authority drives it. I think the stress of being a police officer drives it. But I think that whatever drives it, it's unacceptable for those who are hired to protect and serve and pay with all of our tax dollars to behave in this way. To those to whom Glocks are given, much is expected, and this type of behavior is absolutely unacceptable.
MARGARET WARNER: Weigh in on this, Lori Fridell, in terms of what drives this.
LORIE FRIDELL: Well, I think one of the things that Ms. Nelson pointed out that is very important is the stress associated with these situations. Police more than any other profession are dealing with emotions in their job that none of the rest of us have to deal with. And I'm not sure we're doing a great job in terms of training and the like in helping officers to recognize these emotional situations and be prepared for them. I think we could do a better job.
MARGARET WARNER: Help us understand what's the emotion of a situation such as we just saw, without passing judgment on whether they were right or wrong?
LORI FRIDELL: Okay. Without passing judgment, I would say the predominant ones are fear and anger. If, in fact, in a situation, again not passing judgment on this one, they understood a fellow officer had been shot, and you can imagine the situation like that, where anger is aroused, in a situation where shots have been fired, fear. A police pursuit always engenders a lot of adrenaline. So, those would be the predominant emotions.
MARGARET WARNER: And you think many officers are really not equipped to cope with these.
LORIE FRIDELL: I think the profession is not doing a good job of preparing them for those emotions.
JILL NELSON: Let me say this, that if you have a problem with managing anger to that extent, you shouldn't be a police officer. It's absolutely inappropriate to have people who are sworn to protect and serve, who are paid to do so and who are armed, who can't control anger, who go off and participate in what looked to me like a mob beat-down of a suspect.
MARGARET WARNER: Larry Sherman, your view on what drives this kind of a thing.
LAWRENCE SHERMAN: Well, I think that we start with 15 million arrests a year, and we look at thankfully how rare this is. It's a lot more common than we knew before we had cameras. And with Orwell's 1984 having the government watch the people with cameras, now we have the people watching the government with cameras, I think it is a very good thing, and I think that the police will respond to the likelihood of being videotaped and that that could, in fact, help to reduce what has been a long-term trend the last 30 years of' declining rate of police brutality. This does happen in this kind of extreme circumstance and it happens too often, but it is happening less and I think with more cameras and more accountability, it is going to continue to happen less.
MARGARET WARNER: But I'm still interested in your view on why it happened. I mean the fact that we've been talking about this for a long time. Is it anger that gets out of control? Is it a challenge to authority as somebody mentioned, the The New York Times mentioned that - sort of the cops wanting to settle scores if they have been defied. Is it race? What is it?
LAWRENCE SHERMAN: There is a dynamic, especially among males who are involved in violence since the world began, of who is in charge, who is going to win a contest of authority, and that's inherent in police work. When Scotland Yard was created in 1830, the police commissioners immediately had to send out an order saying just because somebody is rude to you doesn't mean have you the authority to beat them up. And, of course, shooting a police officer, biting a police officer, those are pretty extreme forms of challenge to authority. We're aware of that. Police are trained to control their emotions. That training doesn't always work. And extreme situations, I can't think of many cases in which somebody steals a police car, for example, bring out extreme emotional temptations or pressures towards stepping over the line. But I think that if we characterize all of police work in terms of these extreme situations, then we risk throwing out the baby with the bath water, and in fact Americans do trust the police even more than the Supreme Court. Maybe that's why we have, justifiably, so much concern when we see things like this that we do everything possible to make sure that this doesn't happen again, even though we know it probably will. We just hope it will happen less often than it has been happening.
|Did race play a part?|
|MARGARET WARNER: Jill Nelson, expand a little on something
you raised originally or...earlier - that you thought race was a factor
here, because as we saw on that tape, you had both black officers and
white officers in this case kicking this man.
JILL NELSON: I find the whole controversy about whether race was a factor odd. I think there is no evidence that police officers who are of color don't engage at times in police brutality. So I think the blue trumps race and it very often trumps gender as well. I think that race is a factor in terms of the ways that I think black men have been by this culture demonized as super predators, who possess super human skills. I think the whole notion of this man who had been shot five times being a threat to these ten officers was absurd. And I think that race plays into it in that way and this demonization has been going on since slavery.
MARGARET WARNER: You're saying even black officers may unconsciously buy into this in a situation like this.
JILL NELSON: Oh, absolutely. I think we have to understand when you're a police officer, you have to depend on your partners and your colleagues for back up. And I think that that supersedes other concerns very often -- sometimes for good, but in cases like this, for ill. May I also say I think the taping of this is important, but I think that there are many incidents that go on every day in this nation that no one knows about, that are not taped. I talk to so many people, particularly young people of color, who are harassed, hassled, pushed around by the police regularly who never report it. Their take on it is as long as I got home and I'm okay, I got over. That's extremely disturbing.
LAWRENCE SHERMAN: I couldn't agree more. I think what we need to think about as a policy is setting up the kind of situation the "Today" Show used in 1989 in which police don't know that the person they're stopping is an undercover police officer. And when they pushed this officer through a plate glass window who happened to be black, and it was a white officer doing it, this was broadcast on national television. If this was a policy of quality control to test police procedures in every police department in the country, I don't think you would have anywhere near the rate of excessive use of force in just the routine kind of pushing and shoving even, the things that really annoy people. The research shows that if people feel while they're being arrested that they're being treated politely, they're less likely to break the law again in the future. So there's lots of good reasons to treat the citizens as if they're law abiders even though they have broken the law one time and they're going to be arrested. We have just got to find lots of ways to treat people getting arrested as if they're customers and citizens, which indeed they are.
MARGARET WARNER: Lori Fridell, what do you think of that idea, essentially having the police watched in some way much more than they are now, or feeling that they're being watched, whether it's through sting operations essentially as Larry Sherman is suggesting, or greater use of cameras?
MARGARET WARNER: Do you have evidence that it has had an impact? You heard Jill Nelson say she thinks a lot of incidents are not reported. How do we know if it is having an impact?
LORIE FRIDELL: Well, that's very hard, because it's very to measure in a research context -- police misconduct. Observations mean you're watching them and they are acting in a different way. You can't survey them and the public doesn't always know what is, for instance, excessive force and so forth. So, no, I cannot say there is documented evidence of this but we did see simultaneous trends, which is at least indicative.
MARGARET WARNER: Jill Nelson, do you have evidence there has been no improvement or do you agree with Lori Fridell, that it is really awfully hard for anyone to know?
LORIE FRIDELL: I think it's difficult to know. But anecdotally from the work of the 12 essayists in my anthology, I think it is a very serious problem. I think young people in particular feel disenfranchised, preyed upon and presumed guilty. And I think that's a dangerous situation to be in.
MARGARET WARNER: So you would agree then with Larry Sherman that part of it is how -- a great deal of it maybe -- is how the suspect has been treated by police that affects the behavior of the suspect?
JILL NELSON: I think that has something to do with it. I think also we have generation, several generations of young people of color in particular, and many, many African American and other men of color, Latino men, Asian men who feel like they are always suspects. It doesn't even have to get to the point of an arrest or stop. It's the way that the police respond to you as you walk on the street, as you stand on the street corner, talking to friends, talking on your cell phone, as you drive along in your car. We see this in terms of the evidence that's coming out every day about racial profiling. You are in fact by many police officers, presumed guilty.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Larry Sherman, do you have any evidence one way or another of whether all of this getting better -- I mean given all the attention that's being placed on it?
LAWRENCE SHERMAN: Well, I think our best indicator is the sharp reductions in the number of people, especially black people getting killed by the police, which isn't counted perfectly, but to the extent that it is counted, it's way down. For example, in 1970-71, the New York City police were killing about 70 or 80 people a year. And by the year before the Diallo case, they were down into the teens. The year after Diallo, I think it was around ten or 11. Those people's lives that are not being lost by excessive police shooting may be the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger picture of police use of force, sometimes justified, sometimes not, but I think that the whole anecdotal sense I have from riding in police cars for almost 30 years is that force is not routine.
This was Frank Rizzo's police department. This is a man who led that department by saying there is more law at the end of a nightstick than there is in a library full of Supreme Court decisions. And now you've got John Timoney. I think if you take the broader view - 20, 30 years -- that there is no question the Philadelphia Police Department is by far less violent, less abusive to black people, they didn't even have a significant proportion of black cops when I came into police work. And that's a major change. So now we see this issue is not about race but it's about brutality. And I think all of that is progress. But it's still not dealing with some of the basic issues, such as why this repeat offender is going through the revolving door of the criminal justice system. Nobody is helping him get jobs to get reintegrated in society and to stop being an offender.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Larry Sherman. Thank you, Lorie Fridell and Jill Nelson. Thank you all very much. We have to leave it there.