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 email@example.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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A conversation with the evangelical pastor and theologian
Shortly after I met my wife, Cindy, in 1989—she was living in New York City at the time, while I was living in Northern Virginia—she told me about a new church she was attending in Manhattan: Redeemer Presbyterian. The young minister, she told me, was “the best pastor in America.”
His name was Timothy J. Keller.
Since that time Keller, 69, has become one of the most consequential figures in American Christianity. When he founded Redeemer in the fall of 1989, fewer than 100 people attended; in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, Keller was preaching in multiple services in three different venues each Sunday to about 5,000 people—mostly young, single, professionally and ethnically diverse. He has written about two dozen books, several of them best sellers. And unlike that of many popular ministers, his reach extends farbeyond the Christian subculture.
Harry Reid may be the only person who can keep the Democrats from killing one another before selecting a nominee. But will he live long enough to do it?
LAS VEGAS—Swing past Caesars Palace; head up the Bellagio’s driveway, where its famous fountains are erupting to an auto-tuned Cher hit. Walk by the Dale Chihuly glass-flower ceiling above the check-in line, and the animatronic exhibit with the half-human, half-monkey figures. Head past the blackjack tables and the jangling slot machines and the chocolate fountain to the austere concrete corridors beyond them. There, getting wheeled around in a red metal-frame wheelchair is the 80-year-old man on whom the unity of the Democratic Party in 2020—if not the Democratic nomination—may hinge.
If he can stay alive that long.
Harry Reid, who retired in 2017 after representing Nevada for 30 years in the U.S. Senate—a dozen of them as chair of the Democratic caucus, eight of them as Senate majority leader—was supposed to be dead already; his pancreatic cancer was forecasted to prove fatal within weeks. But he’s still here, which is how I came to be talking with him, not long before Thanksgiving, in a conference room at the Bellagio, asking him why he remains the person to whom many of the Democratic presidential candidates come for advice and anointment.
It’s time to abandon the dogma that’s driven our foreign policy and led to so much disaster in the region.
President Donald Trump’s October decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria produced a rare moment of bipartisanship in foreign policy. With a shared sense of alarm, Republicans and Democrats alike accused Trump of betrayal.
Certainly, it was a betrayal of the Kurdish partners who bled for us in the fight against the Islamic State. It was also a betrayal of process—leaving our military leaders and diplomats struggling to keep up with tweets, our allies in the dark, our messaging all over the map, and chaos on the ground.
If all this episode engenders, however, is a bipartisan dip in the warm waters of self-righteous criticism, it will be a tragedy—or worse, a mistake. We have to come to grips with the deeper and more consequential betrayal of common sense—the notion that the only antidote to Trump’s fumbling attempts to disentangle the United States from the region is a retreat to the magical thinking that has animated so much of America’s moment in the Middle East since the end of the Cold War.
I served as a career diplomat throughout most of this era, sharing in our successes as well as our failures. Despite important achievements, we all too often misread regional currents and mismatched ends and means. In our episodic missionary zeal, especially after the terrible jolt to our system on 9/11, we tended to overreach militarily and underinvest diplomatically. We let our ambitions outstrip the practical possibilities of a region where perfect is rarely on the menu, and second- and third-order consequences are rarely uplifting. The temptations of magical thinking, the persistent tendency to assume too much about our influence and too little about the obstacles in our path and the agency of other actors, led to indiscipline and disappointments—steadily diminishing the appetite of most Americans for Middle East adventures.
That leaves American policy at a crossroads. Our moment as the singular dominant outside player in the Middle East has faded, but we still have a solid hand to play. The key to playing it well will be neither restoration of the inflated ambition and over-militarization of much of the post-9/11 period nor sweeping disengagement. Instead, we need a significant shift in the terms of our engagement in the region—lowering our expectations for transformation, ending our habit of indulging the worst instincts of our partners and engaging in cosmic confrontation with state adversaries, finding a more focused and sustainable approach to counterterrorism, and putting more emphasis on diplomacy backed up by military leverage, instead of the other way around.
For some kids, the weekly trash pickup is a must-see spectacle. Parents, children, waste-management professionals, and experts on childhood all offer theories as to why.
For Ryan Rucker, a dad in Vacaville, California, the weekly summons comes on Wednesday mornings, usually around seven. For Rosanne Sweeting on Grand Bahama island, in the Bahamas, it’s twice a week—Mondays and Thursdays, anytime from 6 to 8:30 a.m.—and for Whitney Schlander in Scottsdale, Arizona, it’s every Tuesday morning at half-past seven.
At these times, the quiet of the morning is broken by the beep beep beeping of an approaching garbage truck—and broken further when their kids start hollering, begging to be escorted outside to wave or just watch in awe as the truck collects and majestically hauls away the household trash. Rucker’s daughter Raegan, 3, takes her stuffed animals outside with her to watch the pickup. Cassidy Sweeting, 4, enlists her mom’s help to deliver granola bars and water bottles to the three trash collectors. Finn Schlander, 3, invited the neighborhood garbage-truck driver to his birthday party. (Ultimately, he was unable to attend, but the party had garbage-truck decorations nonetheless.)
The fancy bike brand tried to depict a wellness journey. It didn’t go as planned.
The internet has some feedback on Peloton’s holiday ad campaign. The fitness-tech company, famous for its $2,400, Wi-Fi-enabled stationary bikes that let riders stream spin classes, debuted a new television commercial in mid-November, but it didn’t become infamous until earlier this week, when Twitter got ahold of it.
In the ad, a young mom gains confidence in the year after her husband buys her a Peloton for Christmas—or, at least, that’s what the ad seems to be aiming for. The commercial documents the woman (who is also documenting herself, via her phone’s front-facing camera) while she gets up early day after day to exercise or jumps on the bike after work. At the end, she presents the video of her exercise journey to her husband. “A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me,” she tells him. “Thank you.”
MAGA nation should be outraged about President Trump’s personal attorney.
If the grassroots right wants to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., it can’t ignore the suspicious behavior of Rudy Giuliani. Here’s one red flag: Wealthy, powerful people tend to pay their lawyers top dollar. But as Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Giuliani works for free. In fact, an attorney representing Giuliani’s wife in divorce proceedings told the New York Post that he’s losing money. “Not only does he work for free, but all of his expenses every time he goes down to Washington, D.C., every time he travels for the president, it comes out of his own pocket,” the divorce attorney explained, “and he won’t say how much it’s costing him.”
Why has the former New York City mayor taken on a billionaire as a charity case? It’s not clear, and neither is the nature of the work he’s done relating to Ukraine, a subject of interest in the House impeachment inquiry. At times, Giuliani has described his Ukraine meddling as heroically public-spirited, declaring that “I’m not acting as a lawyer.” He once told a Fox News host, “I wasn’t operating on my own; I was operating at the request of the State Department.” Yet on a different occasion he said, “This isn’t foreign policy,” but help for “my client.”
It’s surprisingly common for men to start losing entire chromosomes from blood cells as they age.
In the 1960s, doctors counting the number of chromosomes in human white blood cells noticed a strange phenomenon. Frequently—and more frequently with age—the cells would be missing the Y chromosome. Over time, it became clear this came with consequences. Studies have linked loss of the Y chromosome in blood to cancer, heart disease, and other disorders.
Now a new study—the largest yet of this phenomenon—estimates that 20 percent of 205,011 men in a large genetic database called the UK Biobank have lost Y chromosomes from some detectable proportion of their blood. By age 70, 43.6 percent of men had the same issue. It’s unclear exactly why, but the authors think these losses might be the most glaring sign of something else going wrong inside the bodies of these men: They are allowing mutations of all kinds to accumulate, and these other mutations could be the underlying links to cancer and heart disease.
In its third season, the series is stuck in a relentlessly cheery mode that’s cloying to watch.
The great irony of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s television shows is that the dialogue gushes forth with the insistence of a burst hydrant, and yet the most beguiling moments are the ones in which no one speaks at all. Midway through the third season of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a man and a woman whose chemistry has smoldered almost since the show’s inception find themselves alone, in the early hours of the morning, at a hotel. They gaze at each other. They each glance meaningfully through the open door toward a bed. They say nothing. The energy is so heightened and so loaded with expectation that I couldn’t have stopped watching if the room around me had suddenly caught on fire.
The five hours or so that preceded it, though, had mostly the opposite effect, where any scenes without Rachel Brosnahan’s unsinkable comic Midge Maisel—and even a few with her—were either inert or insufferable. What used to feel like Sherman-Palladino trademarks now come across as tics: the barrage of inane chatter; the superficial stereotyping; the overreliance on spectacle without substance, like a dinner composed entirely of cake pops. More vexing than anything, though, is how defiantly The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel refuses to have stakes. Everything plays out in the same major key. Everything—lost children, homelessness, divorce, social injustice—is just a joke, bedazzled and glib and gorgeous. This is a series so vacantly uplifting, it’s managed to transfigure Lenny Bruce into Prince Charming.
Vladimir Putin has a fondness for the Soviet era. So do many Russians—but often not for the same reasons.
SOCHI, Russia—Gazing up at the bust of Joseph Stalin, the young boy listened silently as his mother squatted next to him, whispering the Soviet dictator’s story into his ear. The pair studied the black-colored sculpture, among many of Stalin in this city’s history museum (just one, apparently, is not enough). “He built this city,” the mother told the child, who stared admiringly at Stalin’s signature moustache. “He was like a czar.”
To some extent, that is true. Though Russian intellectuals and poets had long found refuge in this Black Sea port, it was Stalin who ordered its development, turning it into a resort city. His vision was to create a Soviet Riviera, replete with grand botanical gardens and enormous, well-equipped hotels.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Television in 2019 offered up sweet birthday babies and hot priests; exposed nuclear cores and examined injustices; giant octopuses and the king of edible leaves, His Majesty the Spinach. It was a year in which more than 500 original scripted series were estimated to air—a new record signaling a television landscape that’s more abundant but also more fragmented than ever.
With that in mind, this year’s “best of” list, like last year’s, tries to recognize shows that did specific things particularly well. Some were brand new; some have already been canceled. But most of them came into being because someone took a chance on an odd idea, a risky concept, or a distinctive voice. As the streaming wars heat up, none of these series feels like a safe bet, which is precisely what makes them so worthwhile to watch.