April 17, 2011

Don't ride a bike in NYC; don't speak out loud within earshot of a police officer; pretty much, whatever it is, just don't

Found here.

UPDATE: Here's Radley Balko's post on this.

I've been asking myself why I have such a strong reaction to this video and story, when, compared to so many other cases of police abuse of authority, it's relatively tame. I mean, they didn't shoot him, or beat him to death, or break into the wrong house and set his daughter on fire, etc. They didn't even execute anybody's pets. Though there's no excuse for what happened to this guy, things could certainly have gone a whole lot worse for him.

What I came up with was this: it's the fact that the "perp" here is so jovial and good-natured, his teasing of the cyclist so gentle, and the entire scene, up until the moment when the police shatter it, so pleasant and, really, neighborly. He seems like good guy. He isn't hurting anyone. He's just making people laugh. People shouting in the street aren't always that nice, and truly hostile ones can be scary and threatening. But this isn't the case here. The whole thing seems just kind of: nice. Along with the good-humored comments by the guys on the balcony about various neighborhood characters, it made me think (up to the point where the whole thing went wrong), wow, I kind of wish my neighborhood was that friendly.

But then, here comes trouble, i.e., the officer who first confronts this jocular menace to society. To me this cop looks like the classic bully, the kind of guy who would steal your lunch money back in school, or would hassle your girlfriend on the street, or, at a bar, would keep asking you what you're looking at, trying to start a fight. Suddenly, it's not nice anymore, and it is crystal clear precisely who is responsible for 100% of the sudden decline in the quality of life on that street, on that day.

I know the smart thing to do, when you see police out and about, is to give them a wide berth, try to avoid any sort of eye contact and hope they don't notice you. (Kind of like what you do with any kind of thug.) This guy should have done that, no question. But I don't want the guy who says "better put your training wheels on" to the guy on the bike to have to cower in the shadows out of fear that an officer might take it into his head to target him for some routine, even if relatively non-life threatening, human rights abuse. He shouldn't have to.

None of us should have to. While the main victim is the unfortunate jokester, we're all victims, because knowing that things like this happen, and that those who did it will almost certainly face no consequences and will continue to do it, makes us feel less comfortable, less safe, less free just standing out on the street in our own neighborhoods. Street crime is sometimes referred to as "street terrorism" because it degrades the quality of life by making ordinary innocent people feel threatened and unsafe and afraid to leave the house. This, in its way, is street terrorism, too.

Like I said, there are way worse things that get done in the name of the law, but still, this is really quite bad when you think about it.

Posted by Dr. Frank at April 17, 2011 06:35 PM | TrackBack

Looks like the police need some policing, checks and balancing, and some more reliable accountability to the public, wouldn't you agree?

Posted by: Babez at April 17, 2011 09:59 PM
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