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Police use of force not always black and white

In recent days, two incidents have added to national concern about excessive police force against minorities. Police shot and killed a hispanic man in Washington state, and in Alabama, an Indian man was partially paralyzed after an officer knocked him down. Judy Woodruff talks to Suman Raghunathan of South Asian Americans Leading Together and David Klinger of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The issue of how police use force is again making headlines, this time outside the lens of black and white. The Hispanic and Indian-American communities are in the spotlight after separate encounters with police left one man dead and another partially paralyzed.

  • A warning:

    This report contains graphic images.

    The two confrontations making headlines happened in opposite corners of the country, Alabama and Washington State, first, Pasco, Washington, early last week. This cell phone video captured 35-year-old Antonio Zambrano-Montes seeming to throw something at police and then run away, before turning around with open arms. That’s when three officers shot and killed him.

    The police involved say the man was throwing rocks. The community in the majority Hispanic town quickly reacted with protests and a call for a federal investigation. The officers involved are on paid leave. In a news conference yesterday, local police said they want their officers to defuse community tension.

  • SGT. KEN LATTIN, Kennewick Police Department:

    And regardless of what anybody might say to you, do the right thing and now, more than ever, show everybody who we are, and that we are — we can be fair, we can be just.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    From the Pacific Northwest to the Southeastern U.S. and Madison, Alabama, on February 6. Police car video shows officers confronting 57-year-old Sureshbhai Patel. A neighbor had called 911 concerned about a — quote — “skinny black man” walking down the street.

    Patel is from India, visiting his son and grandchild and doesn’t speak English. Officers ask him not to move.  Video from a second police car shows a slight movement and then one officer forcefully knocks him to the ground. That action injured Patel’s spine, leaving him partially paralyzed and in the hospital. The family is suing the police department.

    The officer, Eric Parker, was arrested for assault and the police chief has recommended he be fired. The incident gained international attention, with the government of India expressing sharp concern. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley personally reached out to the Indian Consulate, writing — quote — “I deeply regret the unfortunate use of excessive force by the Madison Police Department. Please accept our sincere apology.”

    Joining me now to talk about the issues raised here are Suman Raghunathan. She’s executive director of SAALT, or South Asian Americans Leading Together. And David Klinger, he’s a former police officer and professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri, Saint Louis.

    We welcome you both to the program.

    Mr. Raghunathan, let me start with you. What is it about the incident in Alabama that has you and others in the Indian-American community concerned?

  • SUMAN RAGHUNATHAN, South Asian Americans Leading Together:

    Well, Judy, again, thank you for so much for the opportunity to join you tonight to discuss this important and troubling incident.

    I think we can all agree that what happened to Mr. Sureshbhai Patel at the hands of law enforcement officers, who are indeed tasked with keeping us all safe, should never have happened. Part of what we have seen in the South Asian community nationwide has been an outpouring of concern for Mr. Patel, as well as his family, in the wake of an incident with the Madison Police Department two weeks ago today that has left Mr. Patel partially paralyzed and facing a long recovery.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let me just stop you there. Is it your concern that his ethnicity, the color of his skin was a factor here?

  • SUMAN RAGHUNATHAN:

    Absolutely.

    I think it’s very clear, based on the reports of the 911 caller who — quote, unquote — reported a “skinny black guy” in the neighborhood who was reportedly acting suspiciously, set up a troubling set of dynamics that played into the Madison Police Department’s conduct when dealing with a limited-English-proficient grandfather who very clearly was not able to communicate with the law enforcement officers who were interacting with him.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, let me pick — let me just pick up on that because I want to show both of you a short clip.

  • SUMAN RAGHUNATHAN:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    This is a little bit more of a video, a different clip of video on what exactly happened there in Alabama.

    David Klinger, I’m going to come to you next, but let’s watch.

  • DAVID KLINGER, University of Missouri-Saint Louis:

    Sure.

  • MAN:

    Do not jerk away from me again. If you do, I’m going to put you on this ground. Do not jerk away from me one more time. Do you understand? Do you understand what I’m saying to you? Do not jerk away from me again. Wait a second.

  • MAN:

    Relax. Relax. Stop.

  • MAN:

    I don’t know.

  • MAN:

    He don’t speak a lick of English.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    David Klinger, clearly, this is a — this video is from a distance, but you can hear some of the conversation.

    What’s your assessment of how the police were dealing with Mr. Patel?

  • DAVID KLINGER:

    The end point, in terms of the takedown, leaves me scratching my head.

    I don’t understand what was going on and why the officer felt the need to take him to the ground. But if we back up a little bit, my understanding is that a 911 call comes in dispatched, a suspicious looking person. A police officer under those circumstances has lawful warrant to go ahead and stop an individual that is in the area that meets the general description and then talk to the individual.

    And an important issue, however, is officers do not have lawful warrant to do a pat-down search unless they have an articulable reason why they believe the individual might be carrying some type of dangerous weapon. And that calls out of a 1964 case, Terry vs. Ohio.

    And so I’m curious why was the pat-down was done. And then the other thing is, obviously, at least from the officer’s perception, Mr. — the gentleman was attempting to pull away a little bit, but if you look at the video, he’s not aggressively pulling away. He’s not trying to break away and run and there’s two officers there.

    So, I just don’t understand why it is that if the lead officer, the one who took him to the ground, felt they needed to get better control over him in order to conduct this pat-down, he just didn’t do one of a myriad of things that he could have done other than taking him to the ground.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    David Klinger, staying with you just quickly, is there a protocol for police officers when they’re dealing with somebody who doesn’t speak English?

  • DAVID KLINGER:

    Yes.

    And part of the problem is that we don’t know what the communication barrier is. It takes a little while for a police officer to figure out this individual doesn’t speak English, does he have a speech impediment, does he have a hearing problem, whatever the case might be, but officers should be trained that when you’re dealing with someone and you are having trouble communicating with them, that you have got to figure out some other way to reach out to them, other than verbally, to explain what it is that you wanted.

    And something as simple in that situation where, instead of repeatedly telling him don’t pull away, just grab him more firmly, so he gets the message.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Ms. Raghunathan, how frequently do you in the Indian-American community see incidents like this, and is there an effort under way to work with law enforcement about how to address it?

  • SUMAN RAGHUNATHAN:

    Absolutely.

    I think we see the incident that occurred in Madison echo of what happened to not only many Indian-Americans, but also many individuals of color across the country. One in 10 Madison residents speak a language other than English at home.

    And so that points to us to not only the need to reform police practices to better and effectively interact with limited-English-proficient and immigrant residents. But, at the same time, we continue to make sure that we are engaging in efforts to reform the ways that law enforcement interacts with individuals.

    We see echoes here, though certainly not on the same scale, of course, of many of the incidents that we have seen in Ferguson, as well as in Staten Island with respect to both racial profiling, as well as police brutality.

    We know that there’s an ongoing investigation on the part of the Department of Justice into Madison police practices. We will see what that looks like, but what we do know is that we need lasting change to reform police practices that ban racial profiling and move us toward community safety.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, let me turn to David Klinger.

    Given this incident in Alabama and given the incident in Washington State, where it’s less clear about exactly what the circumstances were — there’s still a dispute — what kind of work is going on right now, would you say, in the law enforcement community to make sure that these kinds of incidents don’t happen where an individual is not armed and doesn’t pose a threat?

  • DAVID KLINGER:

    I think the most important thing is that officers need to be reminded that their office is one of the great deal of responsibility when it comes to using force and to remind officers that there are all sorts of things they can do besides using force to take care of whatever it is that they are confronted with.

    And, in this situation, I personally don’t see anything that’s racial about it. I see a situation where a police officer did something that makes no sense to me. There may be some logical explanation, but I think it’s a situation where an officer simply overreacted to an individual who was doing something that the officer perceived as resistant.

    It could have been an old white guy. Could have been an old Mexican guy. Could have been an old black guy. Could have been old anything. And I think when we run to race, as opposed to talking about simple mistakes that police officers sometimes make, we overlook the opportunity to remind officers, go back to your training. You don’t always need to get physical.

    There’s other things that we can do to talk to people and to manage space, so on and so forth. We don’t always have to run to race, because we’re going to miss some very important things.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, it’s a very, very big subject. And I know we’re going to be coming back to it.

    Suman Raghunathan, we thank you.

    And, David Klinger, we thank you.

  • DAVID KLINGER:

    Thank you for having me.

  • SUMAN RAGHUNATHAN:

    Thank you, Judy.

     

     

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