Police Brutality in the US

Beryl Gorbman

Generally, I’ve been a police fan. I like having them around. But thanks to the Occupy movement and other incidents, my feelings about the Seattle Police have changed.

Today, Richard Pauli sent me this YouTube video of an officer in California needlessly pepper spraying a group of silent, inert demonstrators – and the video goes on to righteously ridicule the officer. Here is the link.


Since the US populace has been complacent since the early 70s, and there have been few public outcries about anything, I haven’t given much thought of the ability and proclivity of some officers to wantonly abuse power.  We (me included) have satisfied ourselves with writing piercingly clever editorials and letters, displaying our artful use of words on websites, and having intellectual discussions when social issues have raised our yuppie ire. Speaking for myself, a person who made noise and marched in the 60s, we have relaxed. Too much. Now, at last, a young, energetic mass of people have risen, as if from nowhere, furious with the outrageous status quo and not holding back their opinions, which have taken an active, visible form. Good for them and it’s about time.

The pepper spray video shows just how far behind the police are in dealing with spirited crowds. I imagine police training in recent decades has not included much emphasis on how to work with non-violent demonstrators. I hope that gets remedied very soon.

The mistreatment of the Occupy demonstrators all over the country has underlined a general  misuse of police power that should have shocked us (me) into action before this. In the last few years, in fact, Seattle Police have fatally shot so many civilians, that they are under federal investigation. The most apalling case was the fatal shooting of well-known Native American woodcarver John T. Williams, as he was walking downtown carving a piece of wood. Officer Ian Burke approached him from the rear, and from a distance of about twelve feet, shouted at Williams to drop the knife. Williams didn’t and Burke fired multiple shots, killing the elderly man.

John T. Williams (photos from Seattle Times)

The Seattle Times, 12/17/2010, reproduces the narrative from the Officer’s microphone/recorder.

Officer Birk: “Hey, Hey, Hey. Put the knife down, put the knife down, put the knife down.”

(Shots fired) Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.

Officer Birk radios in: “Unit 33. Shots fired Boren and Howell. Subject wouldn’t drop the knife.”

Dispatcher: “Shots fired. Boren and Howell….”

Further radio transmissions can then be heard.

Then, a faint woman’s voice can be heard saying, “He didn’t do anything.”

Officer Birk can be heard saying “Ma’am, he had a knife and he wouldn’t drop it.”

The radio dispatcher asks for a status report.

Officer Birk answers, “Under control. Subject is down.”

Dispatcher: “Copy. Subject is down.”

When other officers arrive, Birk can be heard saying:

“He had the knife open. I approached him. I asked him to drop it multiple times. He wouldn’t drop it and he turned towards me.”

Other officers can then be heard talking among as they deal with the scene.

Then, in response to an officer asking if he’s ok, Birk says:

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

The officer asks “he just had a knife?”

Birk: “Yeah, he had it out. He was carving it up, carving up that board, with it open. I approached him, and the tool (?), I instructed him to drop it multiple times. He wouldn’t do it.”

Other officer: “Good job.”

Birk: “Yeah.”

The knife appears to be only three inches long, and I believe the illegal length for an open knife blade in public is six inches.


Furthermore, John T. Williams was as deaf as a post and did not hear the officer calling him.

Last week, the SPD pepper sprayed an 84 year-old woman who had come downtown on an errand and decided to join the demonstrations. I can’t imagine that Dorly Rainie was enough of a threat to warrant this treatment.

Dorly Rainey (photo from Seattle Times)

By the way, one of Dorly’s two rescuers was an Army sergeant named Caleb, who I had featured in an article about Occupy Seattle recently.

Here is an excerpt from an article called America Has Become a Facist Police State by a writer named Carl Gibson on Reader Supported News.

In the early years of public school, or in public addresses by politicians, America is touted as the Land of the Free, or the Land of Opportunity, or the Greatest Country on Earth. We’re taught from near-infancy that this country was founded on the right to say what you want, whenever, wherever, to whomever. We’re told we have the freedom to assemble peacefully, to petition our leaders for a redress of grievances. We’re taught that if you’re apprehended by the law, you have the right to a fair trial and legal representation.

Yet, today we live in a country where government aids the corporate takeover of elections. Here, banks who fraudulently took Americans’ homes for profit can get bailed out by the taxpayers, and use the money to pay themselves 12-figure bonuses. This is a country where even US citizens can be detained without due processtortured, and even assassinated overseas.

Today, in the Land of the Free, nonviolent political protesters using their First Amendment rights to speak out against all of the above can be beatentasered, and maced by heavily-militarized police forces, using military-grade equipment, without any provocation.

Here is the link to the entire article.

I’ve tended to think that writing like Gibson’s is extreme and that if you behave well and put one foot in front of the other, the system will protect and help you. I’m afraid one thing I’ve learned from the Occupy movement is that I am wrong about this and I find it terrifying.

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
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6 Responses to Police Brutality in the US

  1. RPauli says:

    You are so correct, Beryl.

    We all suffer by a type of “normalcy bias” – were we think that everything is OK and we are very slow to change.

    We may be conscious of the problem, even see it clearly – but our though process delivers a biased conclusion and we are stuck without acting.

  2. mexicano says:

    So, you’re finally coming round to the idea that the ‘system’ (nice euphemism, btw) will not protect and help you … Welcome to my world at last! I now look forward to you making the connection that the police are nothing but the armed wing of the government – that, therefore, it is government that is the real threat, and that the bigger the government the greater that threat will be.

    That, BG, is why some of us argue for smaller, more restricted government (yes, the same people that you pillory in every other post). I’d like to think that we can now welcome you to our ranks – but we can’t, can we? You’ll still be out there arguing for big government as soon as the next opportunity arises, won’t you, BG?

    Cognitive dissonance – it’s alive and well in Gorbmanland!

  3. Grant says:

    We’ve had a rash of this lately. In the LA area, a bunch of cops killed an unarmed schizophrenic. His father was a retired cop and that guy made the fur fly until the cop who led the attack was indicted for murder.

    I’ve seen some bad ones, and probably more good ones, but the more I see, the more I think cops and criminals are basically the same kind of people…

  4. Octavia Wayne says:

    I would be interested to know the ages of each of the police officers that have used unnecessary force or have killed a civilian. I have a suspicion that they are probably all young gun ho men. They are participating in a legally operating government gang. They are trained shot to kill or be killed. First time they are faced with a fight or flight issue they kill, why because they are scared to death out there. I my self am not a fan of the police I don’t trust them, but when someone had me up against a wall with a knife at my throat I was sure glad to see a cop put his gun to the rapists head! The police react to crime by what government grants are paying the most right now. Its like this, recently I had my home broken into the police were called the suspect was arrested and proven to be the burgler. He spent five days in county jail, he has been released. Maricopa county has decided not to try him in court. Why you ask because they just got another five million dollar grant to arrest more prostitutes and the men that use their services. The policeman that came to my house is upset by the outcome he says this guy needs to be put away he is terrifying the small town that I live in by breaking into elderly ladies homes. So instead of using money to go after him the court takes the priority crimes the most dangerous villains to a minimum of six months in jail….Yes the in-call women who are not stopping traffic on the corner but are working out of their home or hotel not causing any trouble. Our laws are made by religious fanatics who are to old to have sex anymore or upset that they have to pay for it. We have no privacy anymore not even on our own land just ask the native Indians. Gaited communities are not to keep out the bad element its to keep you in so the government knows what your doing….

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