Where is the outrage?

January 12, 2009

So I was flying back from Chicago this past Wednesday and came across this story in USA Today about how 98% of emergency room doctors believe that their patients have been victims of police brutality which goes unreported. “How outrageous” I thought to myself. Most states require physicians to report suspected abuse of children, the elderly, and domestic violence, but not abuse by police officers. Why? I think I know the answer; because there is no outrage in this country when police officers engage in acts of brutality. The general public believes that our local police departments will protect us from violence, not inflict it upon us. Perhaps it is difficult for us to accept the idea that there are a fair amount of police officers who betray our trust. It happens all the time, and yet still there is no outrage, and in the absence of outrage we demand no greater accountability for police brutality.

Yesterday, I was driving home from work and heard this story on NPR about a shooting on New Year’s day in Oakland, California. There was scuffle, a 22 year old kid was handcuffed by the police, and then shot in the back by the officer. He’s dead of course, and too bad for the police that the whole thing was captured by cell phone videos. Sitting in my car, I could do nothing but shake my head in disbelief. So what happened next? Outrage, finally! NPR reports that:

Extra police were posted Thursday at Bay Area Rapid Transit stations after a group of angry demonstrators smashed storefronts late Wednesday, set fire to cars and clashed with officers equipped with riot gear and tear gas in downtown Oakland. More than 100 people were arrested and about 300 businesses were damaged.

Does it surprise you that this shooting led to outrage? I mean a police officer was caught on video executing a kid who was in handcuffs. This is murder, plain and simple. And this time, it caused outrage, and it shouldn’t surprise you that it was the young people who were outraged. It was teenagers and twenty-somethings who took to the streets to express their outrage over what has become so common in this country and what often goes unreported, just like the ER doctors are telling us. These acts of violence, both by the police and the protesters alike, should signal to our leaders and our legislators that it is well past time to address this issue with serious thought. How many video tapes of police brutality will it take to cause outrage beyond Oakland’s city limits?

As an attorney who handles police brutality and civil rights cases everyday, I can tell you that I am outraged every time I watch these videos, and I’ve watched a lot of them and handled a lot of these cases. Yet my outrage isn’t shared by others. I tell people how I have a new case with the police caught on video killing someone with their bare hands. There is hardly ever any outrage. People simply suspect that the police acted lawfully, they must have, right? We trust them. They wouldn’t betray us!

So again I ask you, how many more videos must we watch before we are outraged? Perhaps African Americans are the most common victims of police brutality and perhaps that is why there is no outrage outside the black community. What a disgrace. And again I’m outraged.