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 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.
Approximately half of the luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold.
In Manhattan, the homeless shelters are full, and the luxury skyscrapers are vacant.
Such is the tale of two cities within America’s largest metro. Even as 80,000 people sleep in New York City’s shelters or on its streets, Manhattan residents have watched skinny condominium skyscrapers rise across the island. These colossal stalagmites initially transformed not only the city’s skyline but also the real-estate market for new homes. From 2011 to 2019, the average price of a newly listed condo in New York soared from $1.15 million to $3.77 million.
But the bust is upon us. Today, nearly half of the Manhattan luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold, according to The New York Times.
A class developed in Duluth, Minnesota, has heavily influenced how domestic abusers are rehabilitated across the U.S. But critics question whether it works.
The photograph above shows Andrew Lisdahl and his fiancée, Theresa, at their home, along with Andrew's daughter with his ex-wife (left) and one of Theresa's daughters (right).
Andrew Lisdahl was mad. His wife, Gretchen, had smoked a cigarette, a habit he detested. They fought, and Gretchen spent the night at a friend’s house. The next day, Andrew drank a bottle of tequila and hitched a ride to the stained-glass studio where Gretchen, an artist, gave lessons. When Andrew found her, he grabbed her left hand and tried to remove her wedding ring, but Gretchen fought him off. As Andrew stumbled away, he took Gretchen’s car keys and phone.
After work, Gretchen’s father drove her back home to retrieve her things. Inside, Andrew had been passed out on the couch, but he woke up and yelled at Gretchen, “Get the fuck out!” When she didn’t, he grabbed her by the hair, dragged her into the living room, threw her on the carpet, kicked her in the chest, and pinned her to the ground. As Gretchen’s father approached the house, Andrew let her go and she was able to escape.
Policing correct female behavior keeps all women in their place.
Are you Team Kate or Team Meghan? If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to pick a side—and you don’t think there should be “sides” at all. Yet ever since Meghan Markle married Prince Harry, parts of the media have pitted the former actor against her sister-in-law.
Where Kate Middleton was once depicted as a dull social climber, she is now presented as the epitome of female virtue: a respectable, silent, discreet, and selfless mother. Meghan must therefore be her opposite—a political, manipulative, “woke” careerist.
Essentially, the two duchesses have been assigned to opposite sides of the culture war. All kinds of seemingly unrelated items have become symbols of one side or the other—quinoa, avocados, the English flag, attitudes toward the death penalty—and now Kate and Meghan have been conscripted too.
His sometimes-goofy bid has been a surprise success. But can he make voters take the idea of Commander in Chief Yang seriously?
BURLINGTON, Iowa—Not long ago, Andrew Yang would have considered his presidential campaign a success just for having injected a discussion of job automation into the race. He was a novelty candidate, a single-issue candidate, known as much for joking around on the debate stage and for viral videos (like the one that shows him squirting whipped cream into the mouths of two kneeling volunteers) as for his signature policy position, the “freedom dividend,” a universal basic income of $1,000 a month.
But now that Yang has outlasted a number of more conventional and better-known rivals—and achieved surprisingly robust poll numbers and fundraising totals—his campaign has started to dream about what could happen if their candidate could transcend his novelty status. So when Yang’s top staff gathered at the end of December, his campaign chief, Nick Ryan, made clear that the strategy for the final weeks before voting starts would be to “present our guy as President Yang, Commander in Chief Yang.” How do you do that when Yang is the $1,000-a-month guy—not the bilateral-summit guy or the Situation Room guy? He’s the candidate who loves to crowd-surf, whose fans meme him into Obi-Wan Kenobi robes (“He is our only hope”), who wears his thick blue-and-red campaign scarf everywhere he goes. Can he convince voters he’s commander-in-chief material while continuing to indulge in the oddball routine to which he ascribes much of his success so far?
Successful marriages are defined not by improvement, but by avoiding decline.
There’s an elegant symmetry to traditional wedding vows: for better or for worse. But love is not symmetrical, and most of us don’t realize how lopsided it can be. The worse matters far more than the better in marriage or any other relationship. That’s how the brain works.
Our thoughts and feelings are skewed by what researchers call the negativity effect, which is our tendency to respond more strongly to negative events and emotions than to positive ones. When we hear a mix of compliments and criticism, we obsess over the criticism instead of enjoying the praise. This imbalance, also known as the negativity bias, evolved in the brain because it kept our ancestors alert to deadly threats, but too often it warps our perspective and behavior. A slight conflict can have ruinous consequences when the power of bad overwhelms your judgment, provoking you to actions that further alienate your partner. You’d fare better by using your rational brain to override your irrational impulses, but to do that you need first to understand just how powerful bad can be.
The new film starring Robert Downey Jr. as a doctor who talks to animals is transfixing at times, if only because it’s such a disaster.
Hollywood makes bad movies all the time. Sometimes they’re highly enjoyable pieces of schlock that divert your attention for 90 minutes before vanishing from memory. Sometimes they’re unwatchable slogs, similarly not worth remembering. Then there are the debacles of the release calendar: genuine catastrophes such as Dolittle, the likes of which are rarer than a talking dragonfly. The newest adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s whimsical 1920s stories about a doctor who can commune with animals stars Robert Downey Jr. and a boatload of CGI critters, and clearly no expense has been spared in bringing it to the big screen. But that doesn’t keep it from being one of the worst cinematic fiascos I’ve seen in years.
The president’s habit of shooting the messenger is going to prove costly.
The Trump administration has placed civil servants and nonpolitical government employees in a terrible position. Their job is to provide accurate, nonpartisan information and make decisions grounded in law; sometimes that involves providing testimony to Congress, which legally must be truthful. Yet if they tell the truth, President Donald Trump and his allies will publicly crucify them. Bureaucrats, of course, are not viewed by most people as terribly sympathetic victims, but if you shoot these messengers, you end up wounding citizens. Taxpayers send money to the government so it can develop accurate information, not partisan pabulum—but Trump is doing all he can to change that.
Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office, an independent watchdog within the federal government, released a decision on whether the Trump administration violated the law by freezing millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine. The GAO found that it wasn’t even a close call.
The author, who is an Academy Award voter, inadvertently captured why Hollywood’s biggest ceremony faces a diversity problem year after year.
It started, as it so often does, with a series of tweets from someone famous enough to need a social-media manager. Early Tuesday morning, the author Stephen King logged on to Twitter to share his thoughts about the fact that the Oscar nominees, announced the day before, included no female directors and a single actor of color. “As a writer, I am allowed to nominate in just 3 categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay. For me, the diversity issue—as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway—did not come up. That said,” King added, “I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”
The president, however inadvertently, may be reminding the world of the reality of international relations.
A year and a half into Donald Trump’s presidency, Henry Kissinger set out a theory. “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretences,” he told the Financial Times. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows this, or that he is considering any great alternative. It could just be an accident.”
A term has been coined to describe this notion: Ryan Evans of War on the Rocks calls them “Trumportunities.” It is the idea that, whether by accident or design, Trump creates chances to solve long-running international problems that a conventional leader would not. His bellicose isolationist agenda, for instance, might already be forcing Europe to confront its geopolitical weakness; China, its need for a lasting economic settlement with the U.S.; and countries throughout the Middle East, the limits of their power.