Policing and special needs

If you’re the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, this is the kind of story that sends chills down your spine:

The video from former Statesville Police Officer Michael Fattaleh’s body camera shows him rushing across a classroom toward two women who are sitting with a small boy.

“OK, I’ve got him. He’s mine now,” Fattaleh says. He takes the 7-year-old, autistic child from the women, handcuffs the boy’s arms behind his back and presses him to the floor.

According to the video of the Sept. 11, 2018, incident, the student remains in that position for the next 38 minutes. Sometimes he sits quietly. Other times he sobs in apparent pain or pleads for Fattaleh to let him go.

“I’ve got all day, dude,” the officer says early in the encounter. “… If you are not acquainted with the juvenile justice system, you will be shortly.”

The boy’s crime? According to a new lawsuit filed by the child’s mother, identified as A.G., Fattaleh says he saw the special needs student spitting in a “quiet room” at the Pressly Alternative School in Statesville.

[…]

According to Charlotte attorney Alex Heroy, who is representing the boy’s mother, Fattaleh inappropriately injected himself into a situation without being summoned by the boy’s teachers, then used physical force that caused the child at times to scream out in pain.

“It’s one of the worst videos I’ve ever seen,” Heroy told the Observer on Friday.

“A school resource officer at a school for special needs students handcuffs and pins a 7-year-old boy to the ground for almost 40 minutes? There is never a need for that, particularly since there was never a threat of harm to anyone. The reported act was that the child spit on the floor. That should never justify this kind of a response to a kid, to a child.”

The mother’s lawsuit against Fattaleh, the city of Statesville and the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education was filed Friday in federal court in Charlotte.

Most of the acrimonious debate about American policing has centred around race, but as the Washington Post points out, many controversial cases have involved people with mental health issues:

With much of the country debating when and where police should be called on to help, the harrowing incident in North Carolina casts a light on two scenarios that some advocates argue should fall outside the roles of law enforcement: an urgent mental health crisis — and one taking place inside a school classroom.

Yet, as cash-strapped city budgets and safety concerns have pushed more officers into these sensitive situations, there have been no shortage of eerily similar incidents in the two years since Fattaleh resigned. Earlier this year, a 41-year-old Black man in Rochester, N.Y., was hooded and pinned during an incident that officers characterized as a mental breakdown. Like the boy in Statesville, Daniel Prude — who died a week later — had reportedly been spitting before the officers intervened.

In Vance County, N.C., a school resource officer was fired last December after he repeatedly slammed an 11-year-old to the floor of a middle school hallway. And last month, a 13-year-old with autism was shot and wounded by police in Salt Lake City after he made threats involving a weapon, officers said.

Does this mean police should not be involved in such cases at all? I’m not sure I’d go that far – sadly, sometimes people experiencing mental health crises really do pose a danger to society and to the professionals dealing with them, and force is absolutely necessary. Like most issues, it is far more complicated than either “abolish/defund the police” or “back the blue” advocates would have to you believe.

There’s no argument that people with special needs are being poorly served by the status quo, however. And Americans can bring about change by taking out their cameras and filming whenever they see a situation like this. And voting.

Missing the point on purpose

More evidence, as if any were needed, that Donald Trump has given up trying to expand his appeal and has gone all-in on white grievance politics:

Here’s the thing: for once he’s not completely wrong. In the United States, on average, more officer-involved shootings take the lives of white people than African-Americans.

But there are also far more white Americans than black Americans, and the raw numbers show that more white lives than black lives are taken by police, African-Americans disproportionately bear the brunt of the problem. And that’s why people are protesting.

Trump either knows this and doesn’t care, or he legitimately doesn’t understand the math. I leave it to you to decide which would be more depressing.

In the meantime, an infuriating case from Alabama illustrates, once again, that police shootings are not the only problem:

The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association on Monday released a statement critical of the decision by an Alabama court to imprison an Arizona man for five years after his probation for a 2016 marijuana arrest was revoked in April.

Sean Worsley was an Iraq War vet who legally uses marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder, and for back and shoulder pain stemming from being wounded in an IED attack in Iraq.

He and his wife were arrested in Gordo, in Pickens County, in August 2016 after a police officer found the marijuana while questioning the Worsleys about the volume of their music when they stopped to get gas.

That Worsley had a valid medical cannabis card in Arizona — one of 33 states where that is legal — was no defense for the authorities in Pickens County. Worsley missed a court date in Pickens County after the VA rejected his application for a substance abuse program, so Pickens County issued a fugitive arrest warrant.

When Arizona arrested Worsley for letting his medical cannabis card expire, he was extradited back to Alabama. He is currently detained in Pickens County awaiting a spot to become available in an Alabama Department of Corrections facility.

Worsley could spend the next 60 months as a guest of Alabama taxpayers.

Police shootings and tactics get most of the attention, but ending drug prohibition is probably the best thing American lawmakers could do to show that Black Lives – and, indeed, “All Lives” – matter.

The Chairman of Alabama’s Senate Judiciary Committee (who, to his credit, appears to be a criminal justice reformer) has spoken out against the prosecution, and Worsley’s family has started a GoFundMe campaign to appeal the decision. Everyone with a “support the troops” bumper sticker or T-shirt should donate.

Why #abolishthepolice doesn’t actually mean abolishing the police

The slogans “abolish the police” and “defund the police” are a common sight at demonstrations against police brutality and racism. Jacob Frey, the earnestly liberal mayor of Minneapolis, was mau-maued out of a protest when he wouldn’t commit to police abolition. Even in Truro, Nova Scotia, this past weekend’s march had people carrying a large “abolish the police” banner at the front.

Are people actually proposing to get rid of police altogether, or reduce police departments’ budgets to zero? Law professor Christy E. Lopez says no – at least not any time soon:

To fix policing, we must first recognize how much we have come to over-rely on law enforcement. We turn to the police in situations where years of experience and common sense tell us that their involvement is unnecessary, and can make things worse. We ask police to take accident reports, respond to people who have overdosed and arrest, rather than cite, people who might have intentionally or not passed a counterfeit $20 bill. We call police to roust homeless people from corners and doorsteps, resolve verbal squabbles between family members and strangers alike, and arrest children for behavior that once would have been handled as a school disciplinary issue.

Police themselves often complain about having to “do too much,” including handling social problems for which they are ill-equipped. Some have been vocal about the need to decriminalize social problems and take police out of the equation. It is clear that we must reimagine the role they play in public safety.

Defunding and abolition probably mean something different from what you are thinking. For most proponents, “defunding the police” does not mean zeroing out budgets for public safety, and police abolition does not mean that police will disappear overnight — or perhaps ever. Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need. It means investing more in mental-health care and housing, and expanding the use of community mediation and violence interruption programs.

The word “abolition” is used explicitly to highlight the comparison with slavery, according to Lopez:

Police abolition means reducing, with the vision of eventually eliminating, our reliance on policing to secure our public safety. It means recognizing that criminalizing addiction and poverty, making 10 million arrests per year and mass incarceration have not provided the public safety we want and never will. The “abolition” language is important because it reminds us that policing has been the primary vehicle for using violence to perpetuate the unjustified white control over the bodies and lives of black people that has been with us since slavery. That aspect of policing must be literally abolished.

I’ve seen many of my Facebook friends (and even some of my Facebook enemies) freaking out about the Minneapolis City Council’s proposal to disband the troubled Minneapolis police department. In practice, I suspect this is not about recreating The Purge, but about dismantling the current department and rebuilding a new one in its place, a plan undertaken with some notable success in Camden, New Jersey.

Honestly, I think many of these suggested reforms are long overdue, and agree that American and Canadian cities are using police to perform functions they really weren’t designed for.

I just wish they’d use another hashtag. As Matt Lewis points out in his latest email newsletter, it doesn’t make any sense to choose a slogan that specifically makes it look like you’re promoting an unpopular fringe idea, especially when that’s not even your actual goal.

What took them so long?

Former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has a good piece in National Review explaining why charging Officer Chauvin with Third Degree Murder and not a more serious charge was the right move – and why officials’ delay in arresting him was inexcusable:

Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman announced that Chauvin is being charged with third-degree murder — sometimes called “depraved heart” or “depraved indifference” homicide. Under Minnesota law, third-degree murder occurs when a person, without intent to effect the death of a person, nevertheless causes death by an act that is “eminently dangerous to others” and “evince[es] a depraved mind, without regard for human life.”

The penalty is imprisonment for up to 25 years.

This is probably the appropriate charge. It is always dicey to make assessments when we do not know what evidence investigators have, but second-degree murder, which provides for up to 40 years’ imprisonment, must have been considered. That is a “crime of passion” type of homicide — not premeditated, but nonetheless intentional, out of an intense emotional impulse. From what we know of the incident, this appears more elongated and depraved than instantaneous and impulsive. Obviously, I am assuming first-degree murder and its potential life sentence were not on the table because there is no apparent proof of premeditation. (Minnesota does not have capital punishment.)

We don’t have “third degree murder” in Canada. It strikes me as most similar to our offence of “criminal negligence causing death,” which involves “wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.”

To be sure, police necessarily get a measure of consideration that the rest of us do not. When police get involved in an altercation, it is presumptively because they are doing their duty to keep the peace, not because they are causing the confrontation. Police use force under the color of law, so, other things being equal, a police use of force enjoys a presumption of legitimacy that a similar use of force by you or me would not.

All that said, it is well known that police may not use excessive force. It is obvious, and was in real time, that Chauvin’s use of force on Floyd was excessive. And this was not a situation in which, after excessive force, everyone dusted off and went on their way. Mr. Floyd died.

Investigators did not need to be sure that they could make a third-degree murder charge stick to know that some kind of prosecutable homicide happened in the killing of George Floyd. This was not a fleeting incident, or a situation in which Floyd was resisting — he was pleading for his life. At the very least, this was a negligent homicide; more likely, it was something worse. Obviously, it was a crime. When a violent crime has clearly happened, the person who committed it should be placed under arrest, immediately.

I doubt it will be fatal to the case, but the prosecution is going to take some hits over the delay. Chauvin’s lawyers will contend that he was not arrested because investigators recognized that there was insufficient evidence; they will add that he was only charged because Minneapolis was burning and the mob had to be satisfied. I do not believe that claim will overcome the evidence of guilt. But the claim would not be available if Chauvin had been arrested promptly, as he should have been.

Floyd’s family is demanding that Chauvin be charged with first degree murder, for which premeditation and intent to kill must be proven. Another controversial and heavily scrutinized murder case – not involving police, but fraught with racial tensions – suggests that would be a very bad idea.

Public outrage about this case is understandable – read this piece by basketball icon and social activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to see why African-Americans in particular have had it – but it would be cruelly ironic the outrage forces prosecutors into mistakes and Chauvin is acquitted as a result.

And who would bet against that in this misbegotten year?

Where were the cameras?

Like I said the other day: Canadians shouldn’t get too smug and self-righteous about police brutality in the United States, because it is very much a problem here. Maybe not to the same degree, but definitely a problem.

And now we have this controversy brewing in Toronto:

Questions are swirling about exactly what happened to a woman who apparently fell to her death from an apartment balcony in Toronto’s High Park neighbourhood on Wednesday.

What began as a 911 call for help for Regis Korchinski-Paquet ended in her death, her family told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.

[…]

The family’s news conference comes after video of Korchinski-Paquet’s mother and cousin emerged on social media alleging police pushed her from the balcony. 

“The police killed my daughter,” Korchinski-Beals said in one video. 

Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, said in a news release Wednesday night that while officers were inside the apartment unit, they “observed a woman on the balcony.”

“A short time later, the woman fell from the balcony to the ground below. She was pronounced dead at the scene.”

In a second release Thursday, the SIU said it is “aware of allegations made by certain family members of the deceased” and is looking to speak with anyone with information. An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

[…]

…Toronto’s police chief is urging any witnesses to contact the SIU.

“We know this incident has caused a great deal of concern, and our thoughts are with the family and the community,” Saunders said in a statement. “Let me be very clear that we want the facts as much as anyone.”

Saunders said the force is co-operating with the SIU but is not “legally permitted to discuss the incident at this time.”

At a news conference Thursday, he suggested no body cameras were in use at the time, saying, “This might be a textbook case in which body cameras should be provided.” [emphasis added]

This case is more ambiguous than what happened in Minneapolis precisely because there’s no video. And the question is, why not? Aside from undercover operations where officers’ identities could be revealed, why aren’t they always wearing them?

Body cameras would document police misconduct, and that’s precisely why officers should want to wear them. It’s like Mike Pence’s rule about not being alone with women to whom he isn’t married, so he’s not accused of anything improper.

We’ve entrusted police officers with power and authority unavailable to civilians. It would be nice if we could trust them with it, no questions asked – and it is very heartening to see several officers from the US and Canada speaking out on social media – but for our own safety we need video footage. And so do they, for their own safety and for the sake of their reputation.