Walking while black

A new video shows Dr. Ersula Ore, a professor at Arizona State University, body slammed by a police officer after being stopped for jaywalking near campus. But it’s Ore who is facing charges for resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, and other crimes.

(Thanks, T!)

Full story here.

UPDATE: Last night, I went bed in the UK with one problematic comment on this post, which I had decided to ignore. This blog is and should be a space where we can take for granted the background into which this incident fits, which renders it clearly about race. People can go elsewhere to have lively debates on this topic. I had decided not to respond because I didn’t want to make this a topic of discussion, and not to delete because I– with some trepidation– decided that ignoring was a better policy. That was clearly a mistake. I have now deleted quite a lot of the comments, including those about our moderation policies, which are simply off-topic. Comments are now closed.

Here, however, is some legal commentary by Daniel Manne:

The officer in this instance initially stopped Professor Ore for crossing the street at a non-designated location. Arizona Revised Statutes, Chapter 28, § 793 states pedestrians are permitted to cross the street outside of designated crosswalks so long as they yield to vehicles. When there are adjacent intersections with crosswalks, however, pedestrians must use them. A person who does not use a crosswalk between adjacent intersections is potentially subject to a civil penalty, i.e.: they can be fined. If Professor Ore was crossing in violation of Chapter 28, § 793, i.e., between adjacent intersections, the officer was within his rights to detain her and demand ID. The reason why an officer may demand identification in this instance is so that he may make out a ticket. If Professor Ore was crossing the street in a manner that did not violate any civil statutes, the officer was within his rights to question her and request ID, but Professor Ore was under no obligation to provide it or to cooperate in any way. If Professor Ore tried or asked to leave, i.e., to exit the conversation, the officer should have informed her of her right to do so. If she was not permitted to exercise this right, this would constitute a seizing of her person which is illegal absent probable cause of a criminal act. No criminal act is even alleged to have taken place at this point.

Under Arizona’s SB1070, police officers are required to demand ID from people who they have reason to suspect of being in the country illegally. So far, neither the officer nor the police department has alleged that the officer had reasonable suspicion that Professor Ore was an undocumented alien. In point of fact, she is a United States citizen.

Police are permitted to use reasonable force to subdue suspects, but Professor Ore had not yet committed any crime and is not even accused of have done so. Often police will argue that the suspect was resisting arrest, allowing them to use force. But that argument cannot succeed here because the police had not and could not legally have arrested Professor Ore at this point in the incident. The police could also argue that the officer was defending himself, but this isn’t credible on its face. Professor Ore was verbally confrontational, but she took no aggressive action, did not threaten force, and did not make any movements that could reasonably have been misinterpreted as threatening.

The police officer in question nevertheless tackled Professor Ore, forcing her down to the ground. She reports that her dress flew up, exposing her body, and that the officer touched her exposed body. Professor Ore is charged with aggravated assault of a police officer for the actions she took after she was assaulted – namely, kicking him. In virtue of being tackled, this was a clear instance of self-defense. The actions of the police officer were unlawful, and thus Professor Ore was within her rights to use reasonable force to defend herself.

Legally speaking, this isn’t a tough case. In the US, police officers are given a tremendous amount of latitude in the use of force, based on the premises that their job is dangerous and that they need to be able to defend themselves without having to think through all of the legal details first. Here, though, the officer was not in danger and could not reasonably argue that his use of force was defensive. The charges against Professor Ore are legally without merit and the actions taken by the police officer constitute abuse of power and criminal assault.