Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Stories of Excessive Force
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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 hello@theatlantic.com. 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.

Show 12 Newer Notes

Pulling Shotguns on Unarmed Teenagers

A reader writes:

I live in the small town of Carrboro, NC, not exactly a high crime area—which may explain the following situation in a messed up way:

When my brother was in high school, he watched a friend’s house while he and his parents were out of town. He was going to hang out with a few friends but needed to check on the animals, so he just had his friends meet him at the house. It was about 3-4 teenage boys, in the middle of the day, not really trying to hide the fact that they were going into the house.

I guess a neighbor called the police because she thought something looked suspicious. A few minutes later my dad was alerted to a whole lot of police cars down the block at the house my brother was watching. He went down there to find my brother and his friends sprawled out on the ground face down with shotguns pointed at their heads.

My brother probably shouldn’t have invited his friends over, but shotguns pointed at their heads seemed to be a bit of overkill. He is not exactly a confrontational person and all his friends complied with every order issued by the officers. Thankfully they were released once my dad got there and explained that my brother was supposed to be watching the house.

This was in a suburban neighborhood, in the middle of the day. It must have been a slow day for the police (again, this is not really a high crime area.) One officer could have easily drove by and assessed the situation before calling for backup. A whole squad of heavily armed police hardly seems necessary for a possible breaking & entering.

I wonder if it would have gone very differently were my brother and his friends not white.

If you’re not white and have a police encounter to share, please send us a note. Update from another reader, Richard Cranfill, who provides some local context for the story above:

Having also grown up in the sleepy little town of Carrboro, NC, I once witnessed an amazing drug bust that epitomized the entire city.

In response to Adrienne’s piece on the number of Americans killed by police every year, a reader recalls a WTF moment with overanxious cops:

Police officers have an outsized imagining of their own risk. I can remember one time I got pulled over on my scooter (for not wearing eye protection). I told the cops I thought I had some sunglasses in my backpack and reached to get them out and they both went for their sidearms.

In the United States, taxi drivers, trash collectors, farmers, steel workers, and pilots all have more dangerous jobs than police, but we expect them to act responsibly and would never tolerate them killing citizens in the name of “protecting themselves” in their line of work. Maybe it’s time we start confronting the fact that police officers aren’t action stars confronting violent criminals on a daily basis, but simply public servants carrying out their jobs.

Has a cop ever pulled a gun on you, or at least reached for it? If you’d like to recount the experience, please send us a note. Update from another reader, Susan, who responds to the one above:

There are those who are definitely in law enforcement for that type of legalized killing (being an “action star”), but the vast majority of police officers are not on a power trip and really are a member of the community. You should request a ride-along one day, if possible, but in a city, not some small town. It will be eye-opening to see all of the risks they are allegedly imagining.

One other thing: We can blame government partially for all of this “us v. them” mentality. The obsession with stats and “reducing” crime year over year is mostly a function of politics.

Another reader:

Putting the racial element aside for a moment, the thing that strikes me about virtually all of the videos we’ve seen in the past couple years is the extent to which police are typically escalating rather than attempting to de-escalate the potential for violence in any given situation.