Yet another viral video showing police abuse of a black citizen is making the rounds this week. According to Chicago-born musician Christopher Lollie, police in St. Paul, Minn. stopped him in January for the crime of sitting in a public area while being black. When he refused to identify himself, as the police refused to explain what crime he was suspected of, the cops escalated the situation to the point of tasing and arresting him while he was waiting to pick up his kids, all of which Lollie caught on cellphone video. The cops confiscated his phone, but he got it back, and earlier this week, Lollie posted the video of the arrest on YouTube:
As is often the case, the video does not show the totality of the circumstances.
Yeah, I’ma stop you right there, because the video does show Mr. Lollie repeatedly asking what illegal act he is suspected of committing, so the before-and-after (and after-the-fact ass-covering) isn’t really all that relevant. Lollie says he was in a public area when the police were called, and if that wasn’t the case, the police could have, and probably would have, told him he was being stopped on suspicion of trespassing. They didn’t do that, so I believe Mr. Lollie, and either way, he’s right: they can’t detain him without telling him why.
People are rightly outraged by this video, but as always, there will be some who ask why everything has to be about race, and don’t cops throw their weight around with white people? The answer is yes, they do, but as is often the case, there are subtle differences in the ways cops deal with white people and black people in similar circumstances. For example, in 2012, Portland Police got a complaint of a man carrying a gun (which is legal in Maine), and when the man refuses to identify himself or cooperate in any fashion, the results are slightly different:
Now, I think open carry is idiocy, and this sort of thing is apparently a bit of a parlor game for open-carry activists in Maine, but the fact remains, the kid is absolutely right, the police had no right to harass him. The fact that he had a camera with him is probably what saved him from a pretextual, face-saving arrest, but Christopher Lollie had a camera, too, and that didn’t help him out at all.
In the wake of the recent epidemic of high-profile police-involved killings, police body-cams are being shopped as a way to mitigate police abuses, along with reviewing police militarization. One recently-touted study showed that one police force with body-cams saw an 88% reduction in excessive force complaints, and perhaps more importantly, a 60% reduction in use of force incidents. Both ideas, body cameras and sane police equipment and tactics, have significant merit, but the Lollie story is another reminder that even with or without tech toys, the roots of police abuse are much deeper. Despite that camera, the St. Paul Police didn’t hesitate to jack Christopher Lollie up, or to justify their actions using the ol’ “THE VIDEO DOESN’T SHOW EVERYTHING!” defense. People interested in true equality and justice should support efforts like body-cams and sentencing reforms, but also should never avert their eyes from the real causes of these disparities.