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.

8 thoughts on “Walking while black

  1. As unfortunate as this situation is, the video makes it clear that she violated the law by not providing her identification when requested by the officer. The officer even told her about the ID law. Arizona and other states have ID laws that people should know about. Here is the wiki page on stop an identify laws. People should be aware of these if they are traveling or living in these areas.


    If, however, Professor Ore was protesting the ID law, then there are peaceful means of doing that, which don’t put her or the office in danger.

  2. Police in Arizona have no right to arrest someone just for refusing to show their ID. There as to be a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. That is something he left out.

    Is jaywalking “engaging in criminal activity”? Perhaps technically, but people do it all the time without getting arrested. That’s why some people think the problem is racial.

    We’ve had two defenses of the police. Please, we do not need any more.

  3. My grandfather and one of my cousins were police officers so I am not unsympathetic to defenders of police. It’s a hard scary job and all of us commenting here would be on the phone to them the minute anything really bad happened around us. What this video makes me think about is not whether cops are jerks but what kind of society we live in, where agents of the state can walk up at will and say “papers please”, that it is empirically clear they do so differentially on the basis of ethnic categories, and the consequences for refusal to immediately and humbly comply are incredibly severe. This woman is in serious legal trouble — she is facing a felony charge and if convicted which we know from precedent is possible she could be sentenced to years in prison. What the ever loving eff, however you feel about police.

  4. Anne, your interpretation of my comment as a “defense of the police” is uncharitable and simply wrong. I’m not defending the police. What I’m saying is that YES, Arizona can arrest your for failure to identify yourself. Yes, reasonable suspicion is required (breaking the law is reasonable suspicion from a technical, legal standpoint), but notice the U.S Supreme Court did not enumerate those suspicions (Terry v Ohio 1968). Further, SCOTUS also upheld the identification statute in the 2004 Hibel case. Here is a quick summary: “the name disclosure was considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, 542 U.S. 177 (2004), which held that the name disclosure did not violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. The Hiibel Court also held that, because Hiibel had no reasonable belief that his name would be used to incriminate him, the name disclosure did not violate the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination; however, the Court left open the possibility that Fifth Amendment right might apply in situations where there was a reasonable belief that giving a name could be incriminating.[2] The Court accepted the Nevada supreme court’s interpretation of the Nevada statute that a detained person could satisfy the Nevada law by simply stating his name. The Court did not rule on whether particular identification cards could be required, though it did mention one state’s law requiring “credible and reliable” identification had been struck down for vagueness.[3]. ” My broader point was that if I (or anyone else) finds a law objectionable, then there are peaceful ways to protest such a law–such as the go limp tactic that typically results in no bodily harm to the protester or the arresting officer. The law may *feel* wrong, but, as I’ve said, SCOTUS deems it constitutional. Lastly, I also think it’s juvenile to name call (trolls) people who simply comment on the available FACTS (as was done to the first commenter), as opposed to pontificating about the officer’s motivations.

    One last thing…people speed all the time without getting arrested–it doesn’t mean that if you ARE arrested for speeding that it’s about anything other than speeding. It could be racial, but it doesn’t necessarily follow.

    I’m also surprised, Anne, that you would take issue with technicalities and precision (see your “Perhaps, technically…” comment). Without technicalities and precision philosophy would just be navel gazing and lint collecting.

  5. I don’t know how many times I’ve jaywalked in my life. Thousands, I guess? Number of times I’ve ever been questioned about it by a police officer: zero. My apparent race: white.

    I’d be really curious for those defending this action how many times they’ve had a police officer speak to them about jaywalking, if the officer asked for ID, if they were treated politely or rudely, and what their apparent race is.

    There is nothing complicated here.

  6. The tape that they play in the video does not show a refusal to provide ID. One of her statements sounds like she is actually about to agree to provide it – something to the effect of I respect the law in response to his saying that the law requires it.

    There seem to be two relevant statutes – one requires you tell them your name – title 13-2412. And this seems to apply if you are lawfully detained in connection with a “crime”. Jaywalking is not a crime in most states, but a violation. The other – title 28-1595. seems possibly to apply, but is very hard to interpret. Most of it is about drivers but it also says:

    “C. A person other than the driver of a motor vehicle who fails or refuses to provide evidence of the person’s identity to a peace officer or a duly authorized agent of a traffic enforcement agency on request, when such officer or agent has reasonable cause to believe the person has committed a violation of this title, is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor.”

    But since I don’t know what the rest of title 28 covers I don’t know if it applies. Perhaps jaywalking would trigger that one, but again I don’t see a refusal to provide id, nor do I think she was given enough time to have failed to provide it rather than to have been restrained before having a chance to provide it.

    In many states resisting arrest requires some risk of injury due to the actions of the person charged, and not putting your hands behind you back does not count as resisting by that standard. A kick would violate the law, but I can’t tell from the video whether there was one.

    In any case the cops pretty clearly escalated the situation when they could have done otherwise.

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