Readers share their experiences with cops who went too far. (Though, as detailed in this report from ABC News, “There’s no concrete definition of excessive force.”) To join the series, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re a police officer who can help provide context for similar situations, please email as well. Likewise if you were saved by a cop from bodily harm; we’d like to post those stories.
I’m a Canadian police officer, on a patrol and tac team (riot control and high-risk warrant service, etc.) I won’t get into a Big Thing about the issue because I’m tired, and angry, and we are on standby because of the situation in Nice, France.
I just want to say to the people who have written in about their horrible experiences with cops, on behalf of those of us who try to actually help people while conducting ourselves with decency and kindness, I am sorry for what you have experienced. I promise you there are more of us who are good—who would not and could not treat you that way—than there are bad ones. If I didn’t believe that myself, and could support that with logic and facts, I wouldn’t be a cop any more.
Please, please don’t lose faith in us. We are, truly, on your side.
In response to our callout for stories from readers who have been saved from bodily harm by a police officer, a reader in L.A. writes:
I’ve never been saved from bodily harm, but I have been both a victim of and witness to a violent crime that resulted in me having quite a bit of interaction with the police. When I was 16, a girl I was seeing at the time was raped by her mother’s boyfriend.
I’ll never forget it. I don’t want to get too involved with the details, but I was basically the last one to see her before the attack. This resulted in many interviews with detectives and the DA. I never testified, since I was underage and had been drinking, so I wasn’t considered a good witness.
The guy accepted a plea bargain and went to jail for 20 years. The cops really hated this guy and it was very obvious from all of our interactions that they were going to throw him in prison no matter what. There were times I felt they were coaching me to say certain things. The rapist had been bragging earlier in the night about how tough he was and how he was connected with certain gangs. The cops promised to protect me if I had testified but, as I mentioned, it never came to that and I’m not sure how they would have anyways. I still remember meeting the plain clothes officers at a 7/11 by my school. They didn’t want to embarrass me by picking me up in a squad car in front of my classmates.
I haven’t talked about this in years. It drags up a lot of emotions thinking about it. The victim is now married with kids, and we were Facebook friends back when I still used it. I still feel so awful that I wasn’t able to do something to help her. In terms of the cops, they were very helpful, but it was a violent sexual assault on a teenager; there wasn’t a lot of grey area there.
In terms of being a victim, I’ve mentioned it here before: I was jumped late at night by a group of gangbangers. They beat me up pretty good but I was more or less ok. The cops didn’t prevent it, but they responded pretty quickly. One of the younger officers was especially helpful and rode in the ambulance with me so I wouldn’t have to go to the hospital by myself. He seemed to genuinely care if I was ok.
The older, more jaded cops didn’t really seem to care one way or the other. I don’t think there was much of an investigation either because I got a total of one call from a detective who said he was assigned to my case. He asked some questions and I never heard from him again. Oh well, I’m sure there were more important cases for them to focus on.
I live in a city that grabbed international headlines for police brutality a couple years ago. Several years prior to the outrage, a former friend/roommate of mine had just gone through the police academy and was going through the on-the-job training. One evening, he came home and wanted to brag about his day.
He and his training officer received a call about a domestic issue. They arrived at a house where they found a woman and a boy (about 5 years old) who both showed signs of being beaten. The woman's boyfriend clearly looked like the person who had caused the harm. They handcuffed the man to take him into custody.
Instead of taking him to the police station, they decided to “teach him a lesson.” They repeatedly slammed the suspect’s head onto the trunk of there police car when searching his pockets in order to “show him how it feels,” and they told him to “pick on someone his own size.” They would trip him on the sidewalk to make him land on the concrete while his arms were handcuffed behind his back.
They decided that it was their role as police officers to carry out vigilante justice. And the training officer clearly thought this was a proper procedure to display to his trainee.
A few months later, a lawsuit was raised by the suspect for police brutality against these two officers. My former friend neglected to brag to me about the outcome, although he felt completely justified in his actions. At risk was the suspect being released without charges because of the police behavior. I never heard about the outcome.
As a parent, I can understand the hatred felt towards an abusive adult and the desire for vigilante justice. A police officer, however, must be held accountable to a higher standard. At the very least, these two officers abused a suspect and compromised the case against him. At worst, they set him free to abuse again.
It is essential to an orderly society that government be the sole legitimate employer of force (except in cases of self-defense). The job of policing—protecting society by minimizing crime—is so very challenging not because it is excessively dangerous but because law enforcement officers need to be selfless in the performance of their duties.
However, as much as we would like them to always be empathetic, calm, and compassionate, we cannot expect them to be superhuman, immune to insult and ignoring threats to their selves. Finding the right balance, incident by incident, is challenging and taxing and fatiguing, and to some debilitating, especially at times like these.
There is an inherent conflict between police protecting themselves against every threat and overreacting to innocent actions that are perceived as threats. Overreaction out of fear is human. Personnel selection and effective training in proper policing techniques—both defense and de-escalation—will minimize the problem but it will not go away. The danger for minorities is that implicit bias in fearful police too often results in the instinctive and tragic use of deadly force.
Having police from the community—those with knowledge of and empathy for those that they police—is helpful in accurately assessing threat level and minimizing overreaction. The community also has an essential role in promoting comity and minimizing danger. Individually we must support police by being friendly and respectful, at the very least civil, in our encounters and interactions.
Likewise with our interactions between protesters and counter-protesters. If you think this scene in Dallas last week is too hokey, you don’t have a heart:
The crowds [that set fire to buildings, shattered bus shelters, and threw rocks at police in Milwaukee last night] were reacting to the death of a man [Sylville Smith] Saturday afternoon, who was fatally shot by police after fleeing a traffic stop. Police said the man was armed, but the details of the incident are not yet clear. The police have not identified the race of the man or the officer who shot him.
A reader, Tim, contends that last night’s violence was partly due to nationwide activism:
As bad as the police sometimes are, the citizens in some of these neighborhoods are infinitely more ignorant (though thankfully not empowered to commit state-sanctioned violence). It’s too simple to blame BLM for this, but I think it’s fair to say that they’ve contributed. Because BLM seeks a broad base of political support among African Americans rather than an intellectual discourse, its leaders have failed to draw any distinction between justified and unjustified violence by police. Combined with uncritical coverage by most media outlets, this has helped to spread and reinforce the idea that any shooting of a black person (and only a black person) by police is itself a moral crime. Therefore, you get hundreds or thousands of people rioting in the streets before any relevant facts are known.
The man who was shot and killed by a Milwaukee police officer on Saturday … is seen on body camera footage with a loaded gun in his hand, officials said at a Sunday news conference. Sylville K. Smith, 23, was identified Sunday as the subject of a Saturday afternoon traffic stop that turned deadly when Smith allegedly ran from officers and then turned toward one with a gun in his hand. Both Smith and the unidentified officer who shot him are black, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said.
Flynn can be seen in this video (flagged today by another reader, Tom) that was recorded in 2014 following a public hearing held in response to the fatal shooting of Dontre Hamilton:
If you can’t play the video, below is the transcript of Flynn’s reply to a reporter who asked him, “What’s your response to some of the people who thought you were being disrespectful by being on your phone and not being attentive [during the public hearing]”:
Well, I was on my phone. And, yes, that’s true. I was following developments of the five-year-old little girl sitting on her Dad’s lap who just got shot in the head by a drive-by shooting. If some of the people here gave a good goddamn about the victimization of people in this community by crime, I’d take some of their invective more seriously.
The greatest racial disparity in the city of Milwaukee is getting shot and killed. Hello. Eighty percent of my homicide victims every year are African-American. Eighty percent of our aggravated assault victims are African-American. Eighty percent of our shooting victims who survive their shooting are African-American.
Now they know all about the last three people who have been killed by the Milwaukee Police Department over the course of the last several years. There’s not one of them who can name one of the last three homicide victims we’ve had in this city.
Now there’s room for everybody to participate in fixing this police department and I’m not pretending we’re without sin. But this community’s at risk all right. And it’s not because men and women in blue risk their lives protecting it. It’s at risk because we have large numbers of high-capacity, quality firearms in the hands of remorseless criminals who don’t care who they shoot.
Now, I’m leaving here to go to that scene, and I take it personally, okay? We’re going there and there’s a bunch of cops up there processing the scene of a dead kid. And they’re the ones who are going to be out there patrolling and stopping suspects and they have guns under the front seat. They’re the ones who are going to risk their lives to clean this thing up. Alright?
We’re responsible for the things we get wrong and we take action. We’ve arrested cops, we’ve fired cops, and so on. But, the fact is, that the people out here, some of them, who had the most to say, are absolutely MIA when it comes to the true threats facing this community. And it gets a little tiresome, when you start getting yelled at for reading the updates of the kid who get shot… yeah, you take it personal. Okay, now, no offense, I’m going up there now.
For more perspective on Milwaukee’s crime rate, this local news report was published on Saturday morning—hours before the fatal shooting of Sylville Smith:
Five men are dead after a series of overnight shootings in Milwaukee. “We had a horrible night last night,” Mayor Tom Barrett said Saturday afternoon.The shooting’s stretched from 6 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday, a 9-hour span that saw 9 shootings, including the 5 deaths. The victims range in age from 21 to 36.
According to police, the first shooting happened around 6 p.m. on Sherman Blvd. That’s when a 33-year-old man was shot while driving near Sherman Park. “The police were right there,” said Barrett. “They were in Sherman Park, they could hear the gunshots.” [...] According to police, there have now been 81 homicides in Milwaukee this year. At this point last year, there were 94.
Meanwhile, more readers are debating who is to blame for the violence in the streets of Milwaukee last night. The first reader above, Tim, responds to another reader who claimed that President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder are responsible for tense race relations involving police. Here’s Tim:
I don’t see how this is remotely Obama’s doing. On race, he’s been a nuanced voice—smarter and more constructive than those on either extreme of the spectrum. (I do think BLM and completely uncritical media coverage of it have been a factor, though.) I don't recall hearing inflammatory or dishonest statements from either Obama nor Holder regarding race. If Holder’s DOJ wanted to inflame racial division with dishonesty, they certainly had their chance with the Michael Brown shooting, and instead they exonerated Darren Wilson without equivocation. It’s not Obama or Holder who pushed the “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative; it’s dishonest eyewitnesses like Michael Brown's “friend” and activists who’d rather have a martyr than the truth.
Another reader, Harvey, points a finger at another public official:
The Sheriff of Milwaukee County [David Clarke] spoke at the Republican National Convention. You know, the one where they promised to Make America Safe Again. Heckuva job, Clarkie!
Another reader retorts, “Police of the city of Milwaukee (who were those involved in this) and Sheriff of Milwaukee County are different political entities and different, though overlapping, geographical entities!” As this Politico profile of Clarke notes, “As sheriff, he has ultimate authority for law enforcement in the county, but in reality, his jurisdiction is limited—the freeways, the courts, the airport and the jail.” For his part this weekend, Clarke requested the mobilization of the National Guard.
Clarke, an African American law-enforcement leader who favors cowboy hats and often appears atop a horse, fights crime in Milwaukee, the U.S. city that has been called “the worst place” for African Americans to live. He has become a fixture of conservative media. Glenn Beck presents the sheriff’s podcast on his multimedia juggernaut, The Blaze, and he is a frequent guest on Fox News. Clarke is also popular on Twitter, where he recently tweeted to his 127,000 followers that the young activists of the Black Lives Matter movement—he calls it “Black Lies Matter”—will eventually “join forces with ISIS.” He made sure to note, “You heard it first here.”
Back to some saner rhetoric, this next reader apportions blame to Republicans in Wisconsin:
It has to be understood that the state’s turn from good government haven to right-wing playground is rooted in the dynamics of having 6% of the population being black and most of it in Milwaukee. The systematic segregation that has damaged all other Rust Belt cities was magnified in Milwaukee because blacks with of their low numbers were unable to gain any political power. Thus a backlash developed in the ‘80s and ‘90s, which saw radicals gain a following and a vicious cycle of reaction developed and the entire political structure became devoted fear of blacks and Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee metro area is the only Rust Belt one that has not benefited from the manufacturing rebound centered around the booming auto industry and other segments of the medium to heavy manufacturing that was so prevalent there. The state essentially discouraged the tax incentive and promotion of industrial development model because whites did not want to work with or even see blacks. They didn’t want any factories that employed blacks. The growth of Wisconsin has lagged behind every other Midwest state.
Which, like these riots, have been a boon to the GOP, because it reinforces the vicious cycle of social disfunction in the Milwaukee area that causes only more rightest reaction, and so on and so on and so on. The Walkers and Ryans and the GOP there didn’t aim for this outcome, but they just as well should have because it does and it will continue to benefit them politically as the vicious cycles swills ever downward.
The absolute craziest thing about the Milwaukee riots is that the cop did exactly what he was supposed to do in order to protect the community. The community responded to a civil servant risking his life to protect them by burning shops and attacking people.
This wasn’t police abuse. It was a police officer protecting a neighborhood from a violent felon with a stolen gun. Five men were murdered the night before in Milwaukee, and four more were shot; that didn’t even draw protests, much less rioting. The one example of socially legitimate violence, on the other hand, saw destruction of property and attempted murder break out within hours.
Another reader replies, “It’s not about this latest shooting; it’s about everything that’s happened prior to it. I honestly can’t make it any more succinct than that.”
A reader flags an unsettling story out of Arizona:
Here’s a link to a WaPo article on an insane traffic stop that ended with an officer screaming that he would murder an innocent father and pointing a gun at a 7-year-old girl. The worst part was that the supervisor of this officer confirmed the account was true and said it was acceptable behavior. I thought it might make an interesting story, or at least a note for your series.
I hadn’t been speeding, so I wondered if perhaps the car had a broken taillight or something. I rolled down my window and waited.
Suddenly, the officer rapped on the rear passenger side window with his pistol. My daughter, who was sitting inches from the barrel of his gun, jumped with fear as the officer yelled at me to roll down the front passenger window, his service weapon pointed directly at me.
I knew something was terribly awry and I tried to remain calm, keeping my hands visible as I slowly fumbled for the window controls in an unfamiliar car. My daughter rolled down her window and I explained that we were in a rental car, that we had no weapons, and I was having trouble figuring out how to roll down the front passenger window from my driver’s side door.
The officer didn’t listen, and kept yelling louder and more insistently, ordering me to comply with his request as he leered at me down the barrel of his pistol. My daughter panicked and tried to get out of her booster seat to reach forward to roll down the front window, and the officer screamed her at her not to move as he pointed his pistol at her.
A commenter on Facebook tries to see it from the perspective of the cop, who believed the car was stolen based on a database and who might have assumed the child was being kidnapped. Unfortunately there is no dashcam footage. Here is part of the police department’s defense, per the Post piece:
The Arizona Department of Public Safety confirmed that the traffic stop took place but disputed the tone and some of the details in Walton’s Facebook post, calling it “inflammatory” and “irresponsible.” The department is standing by the trooper’s actions, including his threat to shoot Walton during the traffic stop, said Capt. Damon Cecil of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
“We sympathize with them; I don’t think there’s any law enforcement official who would not be just as angry, just as fearful and terrorized if [they were in a similar situation and] officers had guns pointed out,” Cecil told The Washington Post. “It’s a scary situation. But in light of that, this is a positive story. … This case is a prime example of how things should be done.” […] Cecil confirmed that Villegas [the cop] pointed a gun at the 7-year-old, but did so unintentionally, and that he threatened to shoot Walton because he “perceived a threat.”
In the end, “an investigation ultimately found the rental car company had not replaced the license plates when the front plate was reported stolen, which is why it had been flagged in the system.”
Are you a cop who has experience with situations like this one? Is it justified and/or part of standard operating procedure to draw your weapon purely based on the belief that a car is stolen? We’d really like to post your perspective: email@example.com.
Caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism, a parent tries to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s schools.
To be a parent is to be compromised.You pledge allegiance to justice for all, you swear that private attachments can rhyme with the public good, but when the choice comes down to your child or an abstraction—even the well-being of children you don’t know—you’ll betray your principles to the fierce unfairness of love. Then life takes revenge on the conceit that your child’s fate lies in your hands at all. The organized pathologies of adults, including yours—sometimes known as politics—find a way to infect the world of children. Only they can save themselves.
Our son underwent his first school interview soon after turning 2. He’d been using words for about a year. An admissions officer at a private school with brand-new, beautifully and sustainably constructed art and dance studios gave him a piece of paper and crayons. While she questioned my wife and me about our work, our son drew a yellow circle over a green squiggle.
Accepting the reality about the president’s disordered personality is important—even essential.
During the 2016 campaign, I received a phone call from an influential political journalist and author, who was soliciting my thoughts on Donald Trump. Trump’s rise in the Republican Party was still something of a shock, and he wanted to know the things I felt he should keep in mind as he went about the task of covering Trump.
At the top of my list: Talk to psychologists and psychiatrists about the state of Trump’s mental health, since I considered that to be the most important thing when it came to understanding him. It was Trump’s Rosetta stone.
I wasn’t shy about making the same case publicly. During a July 14, 2016, appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, for example, I responded to a pro-Trump caller who was upset that I opposed Trump despite my having been a Republican for my entire adult life and having served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the George W. Bush White House.
In the past year, I’ve been on a mission to pester as many people in my life as possible. The first victim was my editor, whom I abruptly asked one morning to stop messaging me about story ideas on our office’s chat platform, Slack. Instead, I said, let’s talk the ideas out over the phone. I soon did the same thing to a friend who’d texted to discuss a job offer he’d just received. A few weeks later, when another friend texted me for New York City apartment-hunting tips, I asked her my new favorite question in return: Do you want to give me a call?
The phone call has lost its primacy in American communication. By 2014, texting had become more common for Americans under 50. The popularity of text-based communication tools such as WhatsApp and Instagram direct messaging has exploded since. People currently in their 20s and 30s, in particular, have developed a reputation for being allergic to phone calls. The phone call, like chain restaurants and golf, is among the cultural institutions that Millennials might murder.
The U.S. is in the top tier of house sizes internationally—and it’s not just because of McMansions.
America is a place defined by bigness. It is infamous, both within its borders and abroad, for the size of its cars, its portions, its defense budget—and its houses.
Rightly so: U.S. houses are among the biggest—if not the biggest—in the world. According to the real-estate firms Zillow and Redfin, the median size of an American single-family home is in the neighborhood of 1,600 or 1,650 square feet. About five years ago, Sonia A. Hirt, a professor of landscape architecture and planning at the University of Georgia, was working on a book about land-use patterns in the U.S., and when she tracked down the average size of dwellings for about two dozen countries, the U.S. came out on top. Her comparisons were rough because she’d cobbled together her data from various sources, but she found that American living spaces had a good 600 to 800 square feet on most of the competition.
Protests there have demonstrated the enduring appeal of American values and power. But can Washington live up to that promise?
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement, the David to China’s Goliath, is calling out to the land of the free for help—and help may be on the way. The question is whether it will be substantial enough and fast enough, and have the support of the president of the United States.
For months now, a small but zealous contingent of American flag-waving protesters has been a fixture of the huge demonstrations in Hong Kong, including today, when dozens of people again carried the U.S. flag during a rally held in defiance of a police ban. As the struggle to resist China’s tightening grip on the semiautonomous region has intensified, protesters have appealed to the United States in larger numbers and with greater urgency. Last weekend, tens of thousands of protesters marched near the U.S. consulate in the territory, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and carrying signs that urged President Donald Trump to “liberate Hong Kong.” Perhaps more realistically, they also issued a practical plea: for Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would grant the United States further means to defend the territory’s freedoms and autonomy.
President Trump’s threats of retaliation for strikes on Saudi oil facilities seem premature.
President Donald Trump says the United States is “locked and loaded” to retaliate against whoever struck Saudi Arabia’s oil refineries on Saturday. But before American forces rain “fire and fury” on Iran, some urgent questions must be answered.
Are we quite sure that Iran is the culprit?
Iranian culpability certainly seems the most plausible explanation for the refinery attack. But given the utter untrustworthiness of both the Trump presidency and Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi government, it seems wise to demand certainty, not plausibility. How confident are U.S. analysts that the attack was ordered from Tehran, rather than by an Iranian proxy acting for its own motives?
When I decided to attend Yale five years ago, people held me up as an example of a black student who “beat the odds.” I wish they were more curious about why my brother wound up in prison instead.
The day after my 18th birthday, I boarded a plane and left Oakland for Los Angeles, where I was to announce on national TV which university I planned to attend in the fall. It was April 22, 2014. The 45-minute flight was quick, and before I knew it, I was in the green room. Everybody was so kind; the atmosphere was cheerful. I waited backstage for my introduction.
“Despite living in the inner city, our next guest has made his own path to success, earning a 5.0 GPA and scoring a 2100 on his SATs. He has been accepted into many Ivy League schools and proves that, with hard work and support from family, anything is possible. From Oakland, California, please welcome 18-year-old Tunde Ahmad,” Ellen DeGeneres proclaimed.
What does it say about American politics that the Colorado senator hasn’t managed to stand out in the presidential race?
Michael Bennet walked into a classroom at the Jesse Taylor Early Education Center on the north side of Des Moines carrying a box of school supplies. It was the first day of school. Around a table sat 10 Iowans—nine women and one man—teachers, school administrators, education experts. Bennet set the box down and took a chair. Jacketless and tieless, medium height, medium build, slight hunch, blue shirt coming untucked, pale-brown shoes, red-brown hair conventionally combed and parted, low-wattage smile flickering across thin lips: He might have been the preschool director, except she was a woman named Celeste Kelling sitting to his right. Even the position of school superintendent—which Bennet once held in Denver—would have needed a little more flash. When he introduced himself as a senator from Colorado who was running for president, it sounded like a half-apologetic and slightly improbable aside. He wanted to get to his real business, which was listening to these people.
Being upwardly mobile can come at a cost to people’s relationships with the family, friends, and community they grew up with.
Jennifer Morton was born in Lima, Peru, raised in a household that she considers “somewhere between working class and middle class,” and—thanks in part to the generosity of some extended-family members—went to a premier private school. Her education there catapulted her to Princeton, where she became the first person in her family to get a bachelor’s degree. She’s now a professor herself, teaching philosophy at the City College of New York.
There is a special place in the American imagination for stories like Morton’s, in which gumption is rewarded and opportunity is capitalized on. But Morton considers the standard, vaunted narrative of ascending America’s class ladder to be “fundamentally dishonest,” as she explains in her new book, Moving Up Without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility.
Ivanka was always Trump’s favorite. But Don Jr. is emerging as his natural successor.
The empire begins with a brothel. It stands, sturdy and square, at the heart of a gold-rush boomtown in northwest British Columbia, a monument to careful branding. The windows of the Arctic Restaurant have no signs offering access to prostitutes—even in a lawless Yukon outpost in 1899, decorum rules out such truth in advertising—but Friedrich Trump knows his clientele.
Curtained-off “private boxes” line the wall opposite the bar, inside of which are beds, and women, and scales to weigh gold powder, the preferred method of payment for services rendered. Word of the restaurant’s off-menu accommodations spreads fast. “Respectable women” are advised by The Yukon Sun to avoid the place, as they are “liable to hear that which would be repugnant to their feelings.”