The recent rash of stories about excessive force by police, against black people, came to roost in Hammond, Indiana when a black man refused to get out of a car because he feared for his safety. As this amazing video shows, passenger Jamal Jones presented no threat to police when they smashed through the car window, pulled him out, and tased him. This is the full version of the video, which also features the driver, Lisa Mahone, calling the Hammond Police to explain the situation, as her two children look on from the back seat:
That video, shot by Mahone’s 14 year-old son, was published this week as part of a federal civil rights lawsuit. The stop occurred on September 24.
According to Mahone, she was on her way to visit her dying mother when she was pulled over for a seatbelt violation, and when cops asked her passenger, Jones, to show ID, he explained that he didn’t have it, but reached into a backpack to show them a ticket he’d recently gotten. That’s when the cops pulled their guns, Mahone called the police station, and her son started taping. The police account, at least the part that’s shown on the video, does not match the plainly obvious facts. For example, they say they smashed the window because Jones kept reaching “towards the rear seats of the vehicle,” but his hands are visible throughout the tape.
This story has all the features we’ve come to expect from a black person’s encounter with police. Bullshit traffic stop for seatbelt violation? Check. Furtive hand movements? Check. Cops drawing guns on children? Check. Cops tasing a black person for questioning their authoritah? Double-check. Frankly, it’s a damn miracle no one got shot.
The key difference here appears to be that, instead of being motivated by reflexive fear of a perceived threat, these cops appear to be reacting to Jones’ refusal to obey their illegal order. In Indiana, it is legal to pull someone over for failure to wear a seatbelt, but not to hassle the passengers:
Stopping, inspecting, or detaining vehicle; checkpoints
Sec. 3.1. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a vehicle may be stopped to determine compliance with this chapter. However, a vehicle, the contents of a vehicle, the driver of a vehicle, or a passenger in a vehicle may not be inspected, searched, or detained solely because of a violation of this chapter.
Unfortunately, what is legal in Indiana is racial profiling. A recent NAACP survey of state racial profiling laws (including prohibitions on profiling, bans on “pretextual” police stops, and data collection on stops, among others) shows that Indiana has none. The sort of data that Indiana doesn’t collect is what prompted a federal investigation in Ferguson.
This video is the culmination of the legitimate fears prompted by a string of terrifying incidents between police and black people, and it not only illustrates, once again, the need for body cameras, it also points up an urgent problem in post-Ferguson, post-Eric Garner, post-et-cetera America. If there’s no way for certain citizens to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and the cops always assume those citizens are the bad guys, the citizen will lose every time. We need federal laws laying out citizens’ rights and responsibilities during encounters with law enforcement, because the locals aren’t cutting it.