Last year conservative talk show hosts claimed that Missouri teen Michael
Brown was killed because his street ways finally caught up to him when
he was shot in self-defense by a conscientious police officer. Former
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said that the violence between Brown and the
officer, "could have avoided that if Brown behaved like something
other than a thug." Others said that Brown caused his death by participation
in a robbery then going after the officer's gun. Even worse, some
media outlets paraded photographs of Brown that purported to depict him
as a menacing person. The logic seemed to be that if black youth want
to avoid police violence they simply need to avoid "thuggish" behavior.
Meanwhile the word "thug" has become a code word for people that
are acceptable victims of police aggression. During the Trayvon Martin
controversy, defenders of the shooter, George Zimmerman, labeled Martin
a “dangerous thug” for committing ordinary teenage behavior,
like cursing or smoking marijuana. Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove call President
Barak Obama a "political thug." Sports writers called the Seattle
Seahawks Richard Sherman a "thug" even though he graduated from
Stanford with a 3.3 G.P.A., prompting Sherman to say the word “thug”
has become an “accepted way of calling somebody the N-word.”
Now a new police beating invites legal observers to reevaluate what factors
are consistent with police violence. On St. Patrick's Day State Alcoholic
Beverage Control ("ABC") agents approached a third-year UVA
student as he was near the entrance of a bar. The ABC Police grabbed the
student and threw him to the ground causing a gaping laceration to this forehead.
The difficult questions arise when the unavoidable realities of the story
are examined. First, the UVA student is black and the ABC officers are
white. Cell phone video shows no rational reason for the intensity of
the ABC agents reaction. Virginia ABC agents are sworn police officers
vested with statewide authority to arrest for violations of any crime.
However, in the majority of situations, these agents simply make peaceful
arrests for alcohol related infractions. The overwhelming number of ABC
agent interactions with the public are college aged kids accused of underage
possession of alcohol. These are non-violent police citizen encounters
that do not require use of force. (In 2013, a white UVA student sued the
state of Virginia after she was wrongfully arrested in a botched alcohol
sting operation. Seven ABC officers approached her but she was not assaulted.)
The voices that supported police brutality of the so called "thugs"
Martin and Brown have been conspicuously silent. Others have asked to
wait for all the evidence to be revealed. It is prudent to view all information
before forming a conclusion but is this "wait for evidence"
going to be a witch hunt where people dig around until they find an old
picture of the UVA student that depicts him misbehaving. That information
should not make people more comfortable with his assault. In this UVA
situation the student is a member of the university's Honor Council
and doesn't fit any intelligent definition of a "thug."
He looks speaks and acts like a young man that
parent would be proud to call son.
Legal analysts are indisputably aware that police aggression statistically
affects blacks more than whites. The public has been told that this occurs
because police patrol "urban" areas more populated by black
citizens. The UVA assault reveals the falsehoods in this position. Here
officers with limited authority and in no danger still felt it appropriate
to assault a black citizen near a college campus. It is time for
to recognize that race plays a part in some police assaults. Code words
like "thug" have no role in an intelligent debate in this issue.