As humans, one of our most-repeated mistakes is to personalize every unfairness we experience. This tendency limits our effectiveness at fighting injustice. We eliminate potential allies.
Last week, a Seattle television station aired footage of a Seattle police officer verbally and physically assaulting an innocent, flat-on-his-stomach robbery suspect.
Shandy Cobane, a 15-year decorated veteran and member of his Police Department’s gang unit, stomped a young Hispanic man in the face and hands shortly after warning him: "I'm going to beat the (expletive) Mexican piss out of you, homey. You feel me?"
Seconds later, a female cop walked over and stomped the Hispanic man in the back of the legs. The Hispanic man didn't do anything to provoke either officer. Shortly after the two officers kicked the suspect, they realized the man was innocent and helped him to his feet. The man's face was cut and he had trouble standing.
The incident occurred in mid-April. The TV station aired the video shot by an amateur photographer in early May. The Seattle police department took action against the two officers the day the news station showed the tape.
As far as we know, the Seattle police department has taken no action against the three or four other cops in the video who had no response to Cobane's attack. Had Cobane's policing "technique" been unusual, at least one of the officers should've demonstrated some discomfort.
Having been the victim of unfair and unprovoked police harassment in Charlotte, N.C., in the early 1990s, I personalized my encounter and saw it as part of a larger narrative about police abusing African-Americans. Maturity and life experience have given me a broader perspective.
In March, another cameraman captured footage of police dressed in full riot gear giving a white University of Maryland student the full Rodney King treatment. John McKenna, the victim, was in the streets, like several hundred Maryland students, celebrating a Terrapins' basketball victory over Duke. McKenna unknowingly pranced toward cops on horseback, stopped and then proceeded to slowly back away when he recognized the police. Within seconds, police swarmed him and beat him with batons, leaving him unconscious in the street.
Not realizing the scene had been taped, the police filed a report claiming that McKenna swung at officers and their horses and that McKenna’s many injuries were from the hooves of kicking horses. The videotape refutes the police version of events.
McKenna is suing, and the FBI has launched a full investigation.
In my lifetime, I've had one bad encounter with the police, the aforementioned episode in Charlotte. Despite the lack of violence, it was scary, humiliating, dehumanizing and unforgettable. There are few things worse than being on the side of the road surrounded by screaming and threatening cops who are accusing you of a crime you did not commit.
I have a great deal of respect for police officers and the difficulty of their jobs. I have close, lifelong friends who work in law enforcement. Their goal is to go home unharmed and uninjured. Most of the time, the police handle stressful situations properly.
But the nature of police officers' jobs pretty much dictates that they make mistakes. It's easy to see how they could develop the belief that holding on to cynical biases and stereotypes could save their lives. It's easy to see why the police would adhere to a blue wall of no-snitch silence.
Cops don't think we can handle their truth. I get it. They've personalized their experiences, too. They're just like us. Nobody knows their troubles.
I do. That's why last week I wrote that we need to come up with a better solution to our illegal immigration problem than placing more of a burden on local police officers. "Reasonable suspicion" is the slippery slope that creates Rodney King, John McKenna and the unnamed Hispanic man Shandy Cobane kicked and cussed.