What happens when a police officer kicks a gang member

As is almost always the case in such incidents, the outcome for the players involved will be determined as much by politics as it is by the application of the law and police procedures. Distasteful as it may be, one must evaluate the racial calculus before attempting to predict what might come to pass. Richard Rodriguez is Latino, as is the officer who kicked him, so there won’t be any opportunity for breathless news reports about oppressed minorities being beaten down by racist white cops. Also, Mr. Rodriguez, freshly released from prison, and who sports the name of his street gang in tattoos on his upper lip and neck, is unlikely to arouse much sympathy, either in the public or in members of any jury that might come to hear evidence in this case.

And there is the fact that the story seems to have lost its “legs.” The video has already disappeared from television news programs, and the outrage that often follows such televised arrests has failed to materialize. Recall that the video of Rodney King’s 1991 arrest was played endlessly, leading to an expectation in the public that the officers accused of beating him would be convicted. When they weren’t, Los Angeles erupted into rioting that left 53 people dead and large swaths of the city in ashes…

But as any cop can tell you, adrenalin is powerful stuff. My guess is that the officer in question, after a long and very stressful pursuit, ran into that yard not knowing that the suspect had given up, instead fully expecting a violent confrontation with him. When he turned the corner and saw the suspect lying on the grass, he was in effect like a bullet that had already been fired. He failed in that moment to re-program himself for the nonviolent conclusion that was unexpectedly but appropriately called for. In so failing, he endangered himself and his fellow officers by risking an altercation that might have resulted in a shooting, and he made them all look bad in the process.