A new controversy is brewing in Seattle where police are again defending the use of force. At the center of both, in addition to the debate over when force is justified, is the role of video — which puts an action out there for all to see and interpret through their own particular prism.
The latest is an incident in which a policeman stopping someone on a jaywalking violation had problems with someone pulled over and when another woman came up to him he began tangling with her and punched her in the face. Here is one version of the video that’s being picked up and embedded from You Tube by TV news organizations, and newspaper websites such as the New York Daily News:
The Daily News account (link above) details what led up to this portion of video and has the police investigators’ evolving perspective on what went on — which was basically is that it was provoked although there was concern over some of the officer’s tactics.
In the latest AP story, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild defends the officer noting that he was struggling with a suspect when a crowd formed and that he had been pushed by the young woman whom he pushed.
The problems here for Seattle’s police (no matter what emerges in the police’s investigations findings) are twofold.
One is that there have already been two major controversies in Seattle involving police and videos recently. One is over another incident involving police and a video — specifically a video that showed a 15-year-old African American girl being roughed up in a cell in November by a policeman who later pleaded not guilty to fourth-degree assault in March. The other, which broke last month, involved an April incident when a video showed a Seattle Police officer kicking a Latino man and vowing to beat “the Mexican piss” out of him. Both sparked lots of news stories online and You Tube videos.
Meanwhile, the latest in this case is that the Seattle Police now seem to be inching away from the initial suggestion put out in news reports that the force was justified:
Confronted by another incident caught on videotape, Seattle police have ordered a sweeping review into a jaywalking stop in which an officer punched a 17-year-old girl in the face after she shoved him.
Interim Police Chief John Diaz ordered the review of the department’s training procedures after a videotape of the incident was repeatedly broadcast on Seattle television stations and media websites.
On the video, Officer Ian P. Walsh is seen punching the girl in the face after she tries to intervene in the arrest of a 19-year-old friend near Franklin High School on Monday afternoon. Police arrested the girl, Angel L. Rosenthal, and her friend, Marilyn Ellen Levias, both of whom have criminal records.
The department’s response to the incident in Rainier Valley came as Mayor Mike McGinn is nearing a decision on a new permanent chief: either Diaz or East Palo Alto, Calif., Police Chief Ron Davis.
It also comes as the department is conducting a criminal investigation into the actions of two other officers who were caught on videotape April 17 kicking a prone Latino man, with one using ethnically inflammatory language.
Acting Deputy Chief Nick Metz, speaking at a hastily called news conference Tuesday morning, expressed concerns about Walsh’s conduct, saying the department was “withholding judgment” pending a separate internal investigation into the officer’s action by the department’s civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability.
His comments represented a stark reversal of the department’s preliminary statement Monday night, when a spokesman said Walsh had acted appropriately.
As we’ve increasingly seen in the political world, it’s now a reality that if there is a cellphone, videos capturing bad behavior or language will be out there for all to see — online within minutes, viewed by potentially millions and in many cases viewed unedited so viewers can make up their own minds on what they see.
For differing reasons people will see it differently. In the case of the Seattle police, the cumulative imagery of three controversies involving force will not help its image or attitudes towards it in parts of the city.
The other problem is the issue of how a video that at first glance seems clear in its meaning can actually seem clear in its meaning in two or three ways, depending on who is viewing it and what beliefs, perceptions, experiences and preferences or biases they bring to the table before they view it. This is being seen now in political videos that become controversial and in other videos. Perhaps the most famous instance is the 1991 Rodney King case.
(In the case of this video, if there are comments left by readers in District TMV we’re sure we’ll see examples of varying perceptions as well..)