One of the most troubling things that happens in the police-violence debate is just how often the truth gets lost. I consider myself a civil-libertarian when it comes to such matters, and I find few things more infuriating than when police try to bury bad behavior under the rug. Just the same, the rush to judgement from many in the community against the police takes away from those officers who try to do a good job, and it hurts moral in a job that already doesn't pay well enough for the risks.
A recent fight at an Eagle Stop convenience store on North Providence Road in Columbia brings up several things that need to be said when it comes to having honest conversations about police violence. One of the most important things we see from this incident is why it's important to not always rush to judgement when it comes to accusations of police abuse. Another is that police officers need to embrace the use of body cams rather than fight them. Finally, as well-meaning as the Columbia Police Department may be in releasing additional footage in this incident, their comments show why we shouldn't allow the police to police themselves.
What a Difference An Angle Makes
In the aftermath of the Eagle Stop fight, it didn't take long for cell-phone video to make its way into the hands of local television station ABC 17. Watching that video, it appears that a Columbia police officer shoved a woman for no good reason. If this was the only thing that was released, we might be asking quite a few questions of the officer that shoved her. However, you'll see below it a second video released by the Columbia Police Department that tells an entirely different story.
The first video, showing what appears to be an unnecessary shove, is below.
In the second video below, released by the Columbia Police Department and taken from body cam footage from one of the officers present, we see that the woman who was shoved may have been trying to protect a possible suspect, and wasn't moving away from him when commanded by officers. According to the Columbia Police Department, the man in the red shirt, that she appears to be protecting, had just fired a gun at another individual.
Police Body Cams Protect Good Cops And Weed Out The Bad Ones
Since the Ferguson riots in 2014, many communities have pushed for their officers to wear body cams, and many police officers and police unions have fought it. They worry that some things might be taken out of context, and on that argument, maybe they have a point.
However, there is only one reason why we have a better understanding of this incident from what the cell-phone footage showed, and that's because we have body cam footage. Cops who do their job properly shouldn't fear body cams. Cops who don't should.
In fact, as far as body cam footage in Columbia is concerned, they seem to have helped police more than they hurt them.
Melissa Click may have wanted you to believe that the police were the ones out of line when she confronted them that fateful day at the Mizzou homecoming parade, but the body cam footage told a different story.
When University of Missouri Police Officer Zachary Chinea and Columbia Police Department Detective Timothy Giger fatally shot a suspect in the Hitt Street parking garage, it was Chinea's body cam footage that helped show unquestionably that officers would have feared for their life and had only seconds to react after the suspect pulled a weapon on them.
In fact, the only time I can think of that police footage really caused a headache for the Columbia Police Department was when it's SWAT team conducted a drug raid, terrorized a family, found an insignificant amount of marijuana and paraphernalia and shot the man's dogs. You know what? Maybe they shouldn't have done that.
Did I say that was the only one I could think of? Google's search algorithms reminded me of another.
The Police Shouldn't Police Themselves
The Columbia Police Department's shooting of a man's dogs in a drug raid that resulted in taking next-to-nothing off of the streets is a good example of how the police don't always operate in a way that the public would expect of them. That's why we need oversight of our police departments.
I was glad to see the Columbia Police Department release body cam footage of the Eagle Stop incident and provide more clarity into what happened. However, in releasing the footage, it was the comments from the police department itself that showed why the police aren't in an objective position to provide that oversight.
In releasing the body cam footage, the Columbia Police Department said that all uses of force will be reviewed by the chain of command, and that any complaints will be investigated by the Internal Affairs Unit. Then, they went on to defend the incident.
"The body worn camera footage begins just after Spencer Ervin (seen in the red shirt) fired a gun at another person. Officers quickly move to apprehend Ervin who dropped the gun and was standing behind the woman you see being shoved in the cell phone video. Officers give directives to the woman to move out of the way. The woman appears to be preventing officers from taking Ervin into custody. Ervin appears to ignore officers’ commands to see his hands. Officers direct Ervin to get down on the ground which he complies with. The woman continues to ignore officers’ commands and is subsequently pushed out of the way so officers’ could take Ervin into custody. Ultimately, the woman was obstructing officers from taking Ervin, who had just fired a gun at another person, into custody. Further, the body worn camera footage shows subjects continuing to approach officers after Ervin is detained. Officers are observed establishing a perimeter around Ervin and the evidence. Officers gave lawful directives to the subjects to disperse. When the subjects refused to do so, officers deployed OC spray."
Investigation? Why would one even be necessary? It appears from the Columbia Police Department's own words that the whole incident has already been figured out. They say the woman was preventing officers from taking a suspect into custody. They say she ignored officers' commands. They say she was obstructing. They point out that the suspect had just fired a gun at another person. A legal opinion has been rendered by whoever wrote the release that orders to disperse were, in fact, lawful.
What could the police department possibly investigate about itself that it hasn't already figured out?
To be clear, I don't disagree with anything that was written, but the point is that you can see, even in this incident, how the police department has framed the narrative completely in their favor. That's why they mentioned the gun twice in the same paragraph.
"The body worn camera footage begins just after Spencer Ervin (seen in the red shirt) fired a gun at another person..."
"Ultimately, the woman was obstructing officers from taking Ervin, who had just fired a gun at another person, into custody..."
Again, not that they're wrong, it's just that it isn't objective. It's human nature to defend your organization and the people that you work with. If I worked for the Columbia Police Department and wanted to defend my friends, I might have written the same thing.
That frame of mind, however, isn't the proper frame of mind necessary for proper oversight. That's why independent review of police conduct is vital in today's society.
Every Incident Is Different
One final thing worth mentioning is that as we continue to debate police abuse in our country, we need to constantly keep an open mind and realize that every incident is different. The circumstances that are unique to this story are just as unique in every story that makes the headlines, no matter how much the media wants to give them the same general narrative.
As cell-phone video continues to be more easily distributed, and as police body cam usage continues to grow, public instances such as these will become more common, not less so. As they do, the police owe us transparency and every effort possible to change bad behavior, and the public owes them an open mind as they try to do so.
I'm a politically independent CoMo blogger and podcaster who is often wrong but insists on writing about politics anyway. If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll follow me on Facebook at the link below. (If it doesn't display, follow me here).