On Wednesday, Milwaukee police released body-cam footage from a January arrest of Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown over a parking violation in a Walgreens parking lot.
Brown, who appeared calm throughout the footage, found himself surrounded by at least five police officers who converged on him and dragged him to the pavement (around the 8:00 mark of the above video) after ordering him to take his hands out of his pocket. He was then hit with a Taser.
The video drew almost universal condemnation. Milwaukee police chief Alfonso Morales apologized for officers who “acted inappropriately” in a statement he read at a news conference. Mayor Tom Barrett said he was “offended” by what he saw and pledged to work toward better police-community relations.
“I am very sorry the Milwaukee police treated him in the fashion he was treated,” Barrett said.
The Bucks stood firmly by Brown, condemning the “abuse and intimidation that Sterling experienced at the hands of Milwaukee Police” that “was shameful and inexcusable.”
This was a no-brainer. What the police did was bad and wrong. It should have been universally shouted down. And it almost was.
Then the Milwaukee Police Association stepped in, issuing the following statement decrying the “sensational” nature of the Brown incident.
Use of Force will never look pretty, but it is – unfortunately, a necessary component of policing. The cause or need for force is always dictated by the subject confronting the police officer. …
Inevitably every Use of Force will be scrutinized and often opinion gets in the way of fact. Unfortunately, society and local leaders only take issue when the situation is sensational, or the individual is of prominence. Our officers are routinely injured during Use of Force applications; rarely is there an outcry of support from civic leadership.
Nowhere in the above statement is there any responsibility pointed toward the officers who used excessive force over a parking violation.
Rather than accept any fault for actions of the police officers, the police union chose to stand behind the thin blue line and spread the blame on others. Rather than look for ways make progress on the plague of incidents involving police officers and black Americans, the MPA chose to protect its own.
Of course, it’s a police union’s job to stand behind its officers no matter what. That doesn’t make it the right thing to do. And in this instance, it’s certainly not.
After deflecting blame from the offending police officers, the statement finds its scapegoat, the city of Milwaukee.
City leadership and the former chief [who never supported proper staffing] truly need to self-examine. Our force is so drastically understaffed that negative outcomes are inevitable!
Force is minimized significantly when situations are properly addressed immediately. However, because officers are frequently mandated to work alone they are at greater risk to be compelled to use higher levels of force. The city may be complicit in the death of subjects, or in the greater use of force in many situations that have occurred. This is due primarily, or solely, because a one-officer squad responded; and/or ill-equipped officers responded.
So the reason that at least five police vehicles and at least as many police officers were on the scene to handle a parking violation for a black citizen was because of understaffing. Got it, MPA. That makes total sense.
The only point in the MPA’s response that comes close to addressing the real problem here is the note about “ill-equipped” officers.
The police who handled the Brown arrest – an arrest that led to zero charges being filed – definitely fall under the blanket of “ill-equipped.”
The Milwaukee police department – like every other police department in the United States – is surely full of honorable, talented, hard-working and ethical officers doing good work for their community. And if the police truly need more support from the city, then that’s absolutely something that should be addressed.
But none of that excuses what happened on Jan. 26 in that Milwaukee Walgreens parking lot or in the countless other documented and undocumented incidents of police brutality across the U.S.
Until police unions can look to their own to find solutions when problems arise, it seems unlikely that true progress will be made.
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