Videotape never tells the whole story
An unedited videotape may never lie, but it is also always partially blind, often totally deaf, and usually too late to the dance
The use-of-force video from inside the U Me Drink club at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino in Detroit is a good launching point for a discussion about what’s happening to police officers nationwide. As anyone watches an incident play out on nearly every use-of-force video, the viewer is invited — even dared — to draw a conclusion after seeing a snippet of an incident taped from an obscure angle in limited lighting. Conclusions drawn are often jaundiced because videos of a police officer using justified force are often listed on YouTube as “Police Brutality.”
Go ahead, Google it. You will find 19,900 videos on YouTube alone.
You may even be among those 19,900 videos.
The Casino Incident
It appears that suspect has been a problem for a while, because his actions had already warranted a significant response from security and the police department. The officer also most probably based his decisions on all the actions and statements not seen on the tape as well as body language. After the officer speaks to the suspect, he begins to leave.
Suddenly the suspect stops and turns, indicating non-compliance.
The officer finds himself within intimate distance with the suspect, caused by the suspect’s sudden stop. It is difficult for the officer to step back because of the approaching security. Here, once again, the viewer sees a moment one dimensionally.
The suspect throws one arm up in the air in what would appear to be a pre-attack gesture. What the viewer — whether trained or untrained — is not privy to is what was being said by the suspect. The suspect brings the other hand up and the officer reacts by punching the suspect twice, knocking him unconscious.
The officer immediately moves in to handcuff, which strongly tends to indicate the punches were defensive. The suspect regains consciousness before the handcuffs are applied and begins once again to resist and the officer punches the suspect twice in the side, while another officer pulls the suspect’s legs out (nicely done!), which appears to end the resistance.
Handcuffs are then applied.
Videos: Blind and Deaf
Too often the grainy image captures the punches of the officer, but do not pick up the suspect’s grinding teeth, muscle tension, twitching cheek, or the verbalized promise to do the officer harm. The video does not capture the spittle that may have been launched into the face of the officer as the suspect shouts expletives, threats, or promises that can’t be heard.
Caution to Chiefs and Sheriffs
Do not fall prey to the, “I would not have done it that way,” syndrome. There is no black and white on the street. There are many shades of correct.
Often, a citizen starts taping after something happens, which means most of what happened that is important to the officer involved already took place before the citizen started taping.
Beware of the edited version. Due to “time constraints” the media will edit most tapes appearing on the news. It is not uncommon for them to edit out the suspect’s action and use the officer’s reaction for the Ten o’Clock News. Once again, get the whole story before you pass judgment on the actions of any officer.
Caution to Officers Involved
Videotape of incidents rarely — if ever — capture the complete picture. More often than not, they are just a piece of the puzzle. If you are looking at a video, remember that it is a “witness” who is often partially blind, deaf, or showed up late for the call.
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