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Byron Williams

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Do We Have the Courage to Consider Alternate Vantage Points?

Posted: 06/27/10 03:16 PM ET

Imagine a serious accident in a major intersection that had four primary eyewitnesses. On one corner stands a police officer, on the other corner a doctor, another corner a lawyer, and on the other corner a minister.


While all four see the same accident, it's quite possible their versions of the story will differ because of their diverse perspectives.



Similar could be said about the recent incident where Seattle police officer Ian Walsh is caught on camera punching a 17-year-old girl in the face. Those who viewed the video footage saw the same event, but most likely from different street corners.



At first glance, a white police officer strikes an African-American girl. For a number of individuals: enough said.



There is a history of police brutality against people of color that make it difficult for many to the view this case as anything other than a continuation of a tragic legacy.



Moreover, this latest incident comes on the heels of another Seattle officer investigating a robbery who is caught on tape saying to a man who is lying face down, "I'm going to beat the f-ing Mexican piss out of you homey. You feel me?"

The accused was subsequently kicked and stomped, but later released at the scene because of mistaken identity.



Peeling back some of the emotion, the incident that culminated with Walsh striking a 17-year-old girl began when two young ladies were stopped for jaywalking.

In the criminal hierarchy the jaywalker is low on the list. Moreover, the crime that impacts urban areas in particular could lead one to understandably conclude law enforcement has higher priorities than rounding up jaywalkers.



However minor the infraction, this event began because a crime was committed. The escalation began when one of the perpetrators initially refused to cooperate. As Walsh proceeded to arrest her, the other girl attempted to stop the arrest striking him with an open hand.



The young lady in question was clearly interfering with a police officer. I don't know of any community where that behavior is acceptable.



In fact, those who focused most on Walsh striking the girl, must qualify their observations with, "Yes, what she did was wrong, but ..." lest they risk looking disingenuous.

The absurdity in this yarn is glaring; a jaywalking infraction becomes a taped event, shown globally, seemingly containing the inflammatory ingredients of race, gender, and police brutality.



The street corner on which we stand allows us to see the same event, but does not mean we see things with equal value. Some see the punch thrown by Walsh as the most important aspect. Others will see lawbreakers and interfering with a police officer with greater scrutiny.


The emphasis that we place on what we see becomes our truth that is impervious to other possible mitigating factors.



It is hard for me to comprehend the punch thrown by Walsh. But what's going through a person's mind, even a 17-year-old, when interfering with a police officer feels the like the most viable option available?



I don't know what it is like to be a police officer. I do know late last year Seattle officers experienced a two-day manhunt that ended in the death of Maurice Clemons who was suspected of killing four of their colleagues from nearby Lakewood.

What does that do to one's psyche?



The nearly three minutes of YouTube footage of Walsh striking the 17-year-old girl is not as clean as one would like to make it.



Siding with Walsh is to accept the force administered to a 17-year-old girl void of any appreciation of the historical tension that exists between law enforcement and people of color; in Seattle's case was crudely exemplified several weeks earlier.



But to view this strictly as a case of police brutality is to ignore that the law was broken and that those who broke the law escalated the situation.



Every incident because it is captured on camera does not resurrect memories of Rodney King. Nor are police officers immune from crossing ethical lines.



Where exactly is the line? Do we deceive ourselves by defining the line based on the street corner on which we stand?



Maybe understanding where ethical lines exist can only occur when we courageously take our perspective to a different street corner, looking at the same event from the contrarian viewpoint.

 

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