Thursday, April 5, 2018

Fort Worth Cop Assaults Black Hospital Patient

Imagine that you have just spent two days in the hospital. Maybe you had surgery. Maybe you ate crappy hospital food. Maybe you're tired of the smell of disease and Lysol. Maybe you've had tubes, needles, monitors, and drugs inserted into intimate places. But you're better now. The hospital discharged you. You're waiting in the hospital lobby for your ride home. You're looking forward to sleeping in your own bed and enjoying home cooking. A hospital security guard approaches you. He asks you what you're doing. You look at him askance. Either he is really stupid or he thinks you are. You reply that you're waiting for your ride. But the security guard won't go away. He starts asking who your ride is, if they know where the hospital is, if you're in the right hospital, and other questions that show that he is suspicious of and hostile to your presence. 

Becoming apprehensive you call your relative and tell them to hurry up. You also tell the security guard that yes you and your ride know which hospital you're in so please leave you alone. Suddenly, a large police officer confronts you. He pushes you in the chest. He tells you to shut up and get off the phone. When you express amazement at his aggression and attitude, the police officer punches you in the face and places you in a chokehold. Other security guards and/or police officers join the assault. They also punch you while they are piled on top of you. The police officer arrests you for the crimes of trespassing and resisting arrest.

You are physically hurt, frightened, and humiliated. You could have been killed. If you are a Black man in Texas named Henry Newson, you don't have to imagine this. It's reality. Newson didn't have any patriarchal privilege to protect himself.

An indicted Fort Worth police officer punched a patient who had just been discharged from the hospital after the man called him "bro," according to videos of the incident obtained by NBC 5.  Officer Jon Romer has been charged with official oppression, making a false report to police and lying to a grand jury, after the November 2016 arrest of Henry Newson.

Several videos obtained by NBC 5 show security officers at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital tracking Newson with surveillance cameras. Newson, who was 20 at the time, had just spent two days in the hospital after being treated for a stomach ailment and was waiting in the lobby for his mother to pick him up.

A special prosecutor was appointed in January. Romer was indicted earlier this month for official oppression and lying to a grand jury. The department suspended him the same day. The perjury charge stems from a statement Romer made to the grand jury in which he alleged Newson was under arrest before the officer punched him.

Surveillance video footage contradicts Romer's statement and shows that Newson was already on the ground when he told him he was under arrest. Newson's attorney questioned why the police department took no action.

"The first time somebody ever saw that video, they should have put him on a desk, taken him off," Bobo said. "They should have terminated him, quite frankly. I mean, period." But Romer remained on the street until December, and the department didn't take his gun and badge until two weeks ago -- the day he was indicted

Now does this sort of thing only happen to black men? No. No it doesn't. Cops can be and often are abusive in their use of legal authority and physical power against all sorts of people. Remember the incident in Salt Lake City? But it does seem that black men are disproportionately under attack from police. These sorts of incidents are directly related to this country's history of slavery and Jim Crow. Because of the tradition of segregation, exclusion and strongly circumscribed limits on Black travel, income, and wealth, even today many white people feel perfectly entitled to question the presence of a Black person, especially a Black man, in public space..or rather what some consider white space. 

We see this in minor incidents where a white co-worker mistakes his Black co-worker for custodial staff, or a white flight attendant thinks that the Black person couldn't possibly be seated correctly in first class, or a well off white neighbor is flabbergasted and a little annoyed that the Black family across the street can afford to live in the neighborhood. Incidents like these may upset people and raise their blood pressure but usually no one is beaten or killed as a result. But when police feel that way, Black people can be assaulted or killed. And many police do feel that way. Just seeing a black man standing in a hotel lobby is apparently enough to make police and security guards suspicious and violent. The fact that this black man had the audacity to speak to them as a free citizen was just too much.
Over the years, Black people have tried protests, marches, tweets, begging, voting, better police training, community policing, boycotts, lawsuits, changes in the law, changes in police department leadership, changes in police department demographics, talk-ins, sit-ins, pray-ins, strongly worded editorials, blog posts, letters to the local newspaper, work stoppages, yada, yada, yada.

None of this has worked

And as a recent Supreme Court decision made clear, the courts couldn't care less about police misconduct. Overwhelmingly white juries, prosecutors, and judges have given a collective yawn and shrug to all of this. The only thing that hasn't been consistently tried is defensive violence or realistic threat of same. That's what Cliven Bundy did. And it worked. As much as I disagree with Cliven Bundy he showed that under certain circumstances, when faced with the certainty of being shot, police may decide that messing with someone might not be worth it. 

Frederick Douglas told us that "Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both." In the fifties, sixties and seventies, Black people discovered that an armed presence could sometimes make Klan members or police (then as now often a distinction without a difference) back off and become reasonable. The only way to stop a bully is to punch him in the mouth.

I don't have all the answers. There's a lot I don't know. But this kabuki dance of police misconduct against Black people followed by minor or no charges and/or acquittals needs to end. It can't go on.
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