My column in Sunday’s Free Press was about the video tape released last week of a Inkster police beating a 57-year-old Detroit man nearly to death for absolutely no reason. The cops pulled Floyd Dent from his vehicle after pulling him over. They threw him to the ground, and began choking and beating him. My column was an attempt to put this beating, on the heels of many others like it that have recently come to light, into some sort of policy context. What are the things we need to be doing differently to prevent this kind incident?
But you know what my column was really about?
My fear, now, of the police.
I’m afraid, like so many African Americans, of the police in a way that I can’t remember being before. When I’m driving, if I see a marked police car behind me or just driving by, my heart races, my palms get sweaty. Each time, I’m thinking, “Could this be the beginning of something awful?”
And that’s crazy.
I’m not a criminal, I don’t have any warrants, and when I’ve been pulled over by the police in the past I’ve always been cooperative. But none of that appears to mean very much. Floyd Dent wasn’t a criminal, either. He didn’t have any warrants and when he was pulled over in Inkster he didn’t appear to pose a threat. Yes, he did open his car door – and that was probably a mistake. Maybe it startled the officer, who already had his gun drawn. Maybe it suggested some sort of aggression.
But even so, the reaction of the officers was really over the top. You yank the guy from the car and throw him to the ground, then put him in a choke hold and start wailing on his head? That’s not just outside the bounds of police procedure. It’s indecent violence – the kind of thing you expect from criminals, but not the police.
Yes, I’m afraid. I know—really, I know—it’s not all cops who are the problem. Most are very dedicated and good at their jobs, and they are there to protect people from harm. But there is a steady stream of videos and other high-profile incidents that suggests there’s a serious problem in the ranks of many, if not most, departments.
Floyd Dent could far too easily have been me – a guy not doing anything wrong, who winds up being beaten by police. Or someone I know. And I know I’m not alone in thinking that.
Dr. Carl Taylor, native-Detroiter and a respected sociologist at Michigan State University, joins “Detroit Today” to talk about the larger issues and how fear and distrust impacts our world.