On police brutality and taking video of law enforcement interactions


A couple of days ago, I saw the following Facebook post from blogger Kristen Howerton:

“Just witnessed a black man getting arrested. The police were kind and respectful, and very careful as they put him into the car. But I filmed anyway. And will always film. I will hope for the best and assume, as these guys were, that officers will act with integrity. But until our country’s issues with unnecessary police violence against black men is a thing of the distant past, I will film. Any time I witness police interaction with black men or women I will film, and God forbid my boys ever have such an interaction I hope someone will film for them. And I will hope that, like today, it’s uneventful footage that never makes the news.”

Normally, I enjoy and agree with Kristen’s posts, but this one stopped me short. It bugged me.  I felt it was a form of vigilantism on her part.  Cops have a tough job. They need to be able to assess and reassess situations instantaneously in order to protect the public AND themselves.  And while I’m certain there are bad cops who like to make peoples lives miserable, I’d like to think that most law enforcement officers are good men and women who are doing the best they can.  Sometimes they are wrong, and tragically so, but Kristen’s post rankled me. 

I’ve been pulled over a few times—and on a couple of those occasions, I was not at fault and the officer “had the wrong guy.” Whether I deserved a speeding ticket or was simply mistaken for someone else, the last thing I wanted was someone pulling out a cell phone and taking a video. How embarrassing.  How voyeuristic! “Move along! Nothing to see here!” I’ve also walked past the police interacting with other people, and while I may have been curious (sometimes very much so) it always seemed safer and more appropriate for me and mine to move along and stay out of the way of the officers doing their job and allow the others

And then….

Alton Sterling was wrestled to the ground and shot by two white police officers. There is plenty of video footage– from two different witnesses, a police dash cam, and body cameras one each officer.  Defenders of the police say they were just doing their job, subduing an armed felon.  Defenders of Alton Sterling say he was a nice and respected man whose gun was NOT in his hands and should not have been killed.

M questions are these:

Why did the two officers shoot a man they had already physically subdued? Alton Sterling was first thrown up against a car, tazed, and then wrestled to the ground, with one of the officers straddling him and the other at his shoulder. Between the two officers, they each had one hand free to access their firearms.

Was Alton Sterling attempting to reach his gun? If so, he didn’t even draw it before being shot and killed, as the officers had to pull it out of his pocket after they shot him.

Apparently, Alton Sterling was a felon, in that, he had, some years previously been convicted of possession of a firearm and controlled substances and served some time in prison.  If felons aren’t allowed to carry guns, and Alton Sterling was a nice and respectable person, why was he carrying a gun?

Why did he feel the need to carry a gun if he legally wasn’t supposed to have one?

People are using the “well, he was a criminal who shouldn’t have had a gun in the first place” argument to justify the shooting, but did the officers know he was a felon before they shot and killed him? And let’s get rhetorical for a minute—does having committed crimes in the past (that you have already been punished for) justify being killed later, when you are not then breaking the law?

Why are white people so quick to defend the actions of the police and assume the black shooting victim was guilty?

Why are black people so quick to insist on complete innocence on the part of the shooting victim and assume the white  cops were just trigger-happy racists?


I follow several black bloggers and several white bloggers with black spouses or children, across the country, and they are all horrified and angry by the treatment black people receive at the hands of white cops.  I also follow several white bloggers who think black people just have their panties in a bunch and should shut up and “quit playing the race card” or “trying to polarize us instead of uniting us.” 

My question is—if black people are telling us they feeling vilified, threatened, and frightened by the institutions and people that are supposed to be protecting them as they protect other Americans, why are whites not listening?  If we truly believe #AllLivesMatter, why are we not paying close attention to the people who are expressing their fear and anger and doing our best to understand their perspective?  At some point, we need to set aside the right to be right and explore the possibility that we may not have the whole picture…that our own experience and knowledge still limit us from knowing how someone else experiences and feels. 


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