In some ways this act of casual police brutality is different from the killing of George Floyd. Floyd was tortured for nine minutes; this incident is over in a flash. And Floyd died of his injuries, of course. The 75-year-old man seen here cracking his head on the pavement was alive at last check, although hospitalized in serious condition.
But in other ways the incidents are similar. In both cases it’s not just the brutality that shocks, it’s the indifference of the surrounding officers to it. That’s what critics mean when they say that the culture of American policing writ large is rotten with aggression. The cliche that the worst misconduct is committed by “only a few bad apples” may be true, but there are a lot of apples on view in the footage below willing to stand around as an elderly man bleeds out in front of them. Just like the three cops in Minneapolis who stood around while Floyd begged for air.
Note in the second clip that it’s uniformed National Guardsmen who finally come to the aid of the man, not the cops. Relatedly, I’ve seen several people on social media argue in the past few days that Trump invoking the Insurrection Act might not be a bad thing after all because American soldiers would probably treat fellow citizens with more care than the local police department does. You’re probably safer being confronted by troops who are armed to the teeth and trained to kill than by the local constabulary.
— WBFO (@WBFO) June 5, 2020
Current situation in #Buffalo as police work to enforce the 8 p.m. curfew in Niagara Square. Caution: there is some vulgar language in the video. Tune to @SPECNewsBuffalo for the latest. Video Courtesy: Photojournalist Anthony Nelson pic.twitter.com/nP4AXgQGeR
— Katie Gibas (@KatieGibasTV) June 5, 2020
There’s another thing this incident has in common with Floyd’s death. In both cases the police department lied to try to cover up what happened. In Floyd’s case, Minneapolis PD initially insisted that he was resisting arrest. Surveillance footage eventually disproved that. In this case, Buffalo PD initially claimed that the old man had “tripped”:
— Jeff Russo (@JeffRussoWKBW) June 5, 2020
Then the video hit social media. Within hours, the mayor of Buffalo announced that two officers were suspended. The dozens who neglected to render aid are presumably A-OK.
— Byron W. Brown (@MayorByronBrown) June 5, 2020
Defense lawyer Greg Doucette has spent the past week on Twitter posting clips and links of police across various cities using violence against protesters, sometimes in a petty way, sometimes less so. He’s now over 300 posts. Here’s one from Wednesday:
Different angle on 1️⃣1️⃣1️⃣ out of Indianapolis
From this view you can see the cop grope the woman he’s restraining, that’s why she breaks away
Then of course a half dozen cops beat her for not wanting to be groped
— T. Greg Doucette (@greg_doucette) June 4, 2020
This one, not from Doucette’s thread, was floating around yesterday:
— ABC7 Eyewitness News (@ABC7) June 4, 2020
Here’s one in which something like five cops pile on to put the cuffs on a dangerous lady bicyclist:
— David Leavitt (@David_Leavitt) June 5, 2020
And this one may look familiar. It’s from the Park Police’s advance on protesters in Lafayette Park on Monday, before Trump’s church photo op. The Australian government is demanding to know why a camera crew from its country was injured. Park Police suggested in a statement that perhaps the crew had “fallen” in the melee. Nope:
— Gizmodo (@Gizmodo) June 2, 2020
They also claimed previously that they made their move on protesters not because Trump and Bill Barr wanted the park cleared so that they could stroll across to St. John’s but because the protesters had turned violent, tossing water bottles at them. Radley Balko has searched in vain for any evidence of that, video or otherwise. Is there any reason to believe the demonstrators, rather than the cops, were the aggressors?
The takeaway last night on political Twitter from the clip of Buffalo PD assaulting the old man, as well as other clips floating around, was universal. If this is how cops behave when they have every reason to believe they’re being filmed, how do they behave when they aren’t? Is there a shadow of a doubt that, absent the video, the assault on the old man would have remained a case of him “tripping,” or that Floyd’s death would have been attributed to a stroke or whatever amid the stress of being arrested? “This is what they do to old white guys when they’re on camera, the nation is angry and the eyes of the world are on them,” complained Ed Krayewski. “Imagine what they do in the community when no one’s watching, no one gives a sh*t and they’ve convinced themselves danger is everywhere.”
Update: This is almost entirely true:
1. Police decided to violently quell protests to loudly proclaim they won’t change.
2. The strategy backfired because we now have 100’s of videos of cops using excessive force. Ppl who didn’t think police brutality was an issue last week now believe police reform to be essential.
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) June 5, 2020
Point two is dead on. But I don’t know if there’s a sort of deliberate strategy to their behavior, as Nanjiani suggests in point one. I think this is just police culture. If they’re being sent out to confront protesters, they’re going to confront protesters.