Law & the Courts

Officer Beaten by a Convicted Felon Hesitated for Fear of Being Called Racist: Welcome to Post-Ferguson Policing

Police and protesters face off in Ferguson, August 10, 2015. (Scott Olson/Getty)

A police officer in Birmingham, Ala., was beaten unconscious by a suspect during a traffic stop last week because the officer did not want to be pilloried in the media as a racist for using force against a black man.

Last Friday, a Birmingham plainclothes detective pulled over a car being driven erratically. The officer, who has chosen to remain anonymous to protect his family, told the driver to stay in the car while he called for backup. Instead, according to CNN, the driver got out and became belligerent, angrily and repeatedly asking why he’d been stopped. The driver, a 34-year-old convicted felon, allegedly grabbed the detective’s gun and pistol-whipped him with it until the detective lost consciousness. The felon, Janard Cunningham, reportedly fled the scene but was later apprehended. His record includes convictions for robbery and assault, among other crimes, and an attempted-murder charge, according to ABC 3340 and WVTM 13.

Several witnesses to the beating posted photos of the bloodied, inert, and prostrate detective on social media, accompanied by celebratory gloating similar to the social-media triumphalism after two New York City police officers were assassinated last December. A typical post read: “Pistol whipped his ass to sleep,” under the hashtag #FckDaPolice.

The detective, who is still in the hospital recovering from injuries to his head and neck, now reveals that he hesitated to use force against Cunningham because of the post-Ferguson war on cops. “A lot of officers are being too cautious because of what’s going on in the media,” the officer told CNN. “I hesitated because I didn’t want to be in the media like I am right now.”

Heath Boackle, a sergeant with the Birmingham Police Department, seconds this assessment. Cops are “walking on eggshells because of how they’re scrutinized in the media,” Boackle said last week.

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This reluctance to act is affecting police departments across the country, as virtually every tool in an officer’s tool chest — from traffic stops to public-order maintenance — is villified as racist. In Baltimore, following anti-cop riots and the indictment of six officers for the death of drug dealer Freddie Gray, arrests dropped 60 percent in May compared with arrests the previous year. In New York City, criminal summonses, a powerful gauge of proactive enforcement, were down 24 percent through July, compared with the same period the previous year; total arrests were down 16.5 percent. Arrests in Los Angeles are down 8 percent city-wide, and even further in some of the highest-crime areas. In the LAPD’s Central Division, home to the chaotic, squalid Skid Row, arrests are down 13 percent, while violent crime is up 57 percent. Some top brass are trying to counter what I and others have dubbed the “Ferguson effect.” “We ask our officers to stay engaged,” says LAPD assistant chief Michel Moore. Unfortunately, when officers do stay engaged, they often confront hostile, unruly crowds and resistance from suspects.

There are signs that law and order, and the moral support for such order, are slowly breaking down.

If the Black Lives Matter movement were correct that law enforcement is a scourge on the black community, this unraveling of proactive policing should be an enormous benefit to black well-being. Instead, the country is seeing the biggest violent-crime spike in 20 years, and the primary victims are, as usual, blacks. In 35 big U.S. cities, homicides are up 19 percent this year on average, according to a survey done by the Major City Chiefs Association. Milwaukee has seen a 118 percent rise in homicides; Minneapolis and St Louis, close to 50 percent; and Baltimore, 60 percent. In Dallas, homicides are up 39 percent; in Houston, 36 percent through mid-July. In Chicago, homicides were up 21 percent as of August 2; in New York, 10 percent. Sixty-two percent of surveyed cities reported increases in non-fatal shootings as well. In Cincinnati, shootings have reached a ten-year-high. As of August 8, the number of shooting victims in Los Angeles was up by 25 percent; violent crime in L.A. has risen by 20 percent. The overwhelming majority of shooting and homicide victims have been black, as are their assailants. It turns out that when the police back off, it is residents of poor inner-city neighborhoods who pay, too often with their lives.

But the police pay, too. The mainstream media quickly buried the vicious but non-fatal shooting attack on St. Louis–area officers during the renewed anarchy in Ferguson last week at the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. The murder of Memphis police officer Sean Bolton during a traffic stop on August 2 garnered hardly more attention. But such incidents will probably multiply as the media continue to amplify the activists’ poisonous slander against the nation’s police forces.

#related#There are signs that law and order, and the moral support for such order, are slowly breaking down. Few leaders have the courage to speak honestly about the rising violence; even some police chiefs have caved to the false conceit that the police are racially abusing their power.  

In Cincinnati, a mini-riot broke out when police arrived at the scene of a drive-by shooting on July 30. The drive-by’s victims included a four-year-old girl, who was shot in the head. According to an eyewitness, bystanders shouted profanities at the cops, who had started arresting people on outstanding warrants to prevent a retaliatory shooting. The press was assiduously silent about the anti-police chaos. Arrests in other cities, from Baltimore to Los Angeles, can be equally fraught. The four-year-old Cincinnati victim was the second child seriously wounded that month in the city. On July 5, another drive-by left a six-year-old girl paralyzed and partially blind.

The New York Times recently did a hit job on a police use-of-force expert, William Lewinski, who has the temerity to testify at trials that officers have only a split second to decide whether to use force when confronting a possibly lethal threat. Lewinski’s conclusions, according to the Times and some psychologists, lack an adequate scientific basis. If more officers adopt the wait-and-see-policy of the Birmingham officer, Lewinski and his detractors may have a lot more evidence to argue over.

— Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of Are Cops Racist?



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