…well, it’s hard to tell if there was anything significantly influential in the lead up to the officer’s decision to beat the man named Nandi Cain. Well, anything that influenced the decision other than Cain’s Blackness.
As always, there’s a narrative here. Cain crossed the street at a neighborhood, uncontrolled intersection. The cop wanted to bust him for jaywalking. Cain acted submissively while the cop acted aggressively. However, Cain did not obey the precise instructions given by the cop. He took off his coat though the cop had not asked him to do so, and he also backed up a few steps as the cop moved on him. This backing up happened at least twice, though during it Cain kept his hands in the air as instructed.
Cain was clearly nervous, but there is also evidence he was annoyed at the police officer’s attention and aggression. Without using the words “bully” or “bullying” Cain implied that a man acting like he wanted a fight – the way he perceived the cop to be acting – is actually being a coward if he arms himself up with armored vests, a gun, and other weapons. He said a real man looking to fight would just leave weapons and armor behind and fight.
The officer then took that opportunity to “fight”, although even in the midst of the beating Cain never counterattacked and did not even appear to be warding off blows.
These are among the facts of the case, and they are undisputed.
Of course after that point versions diverge. In the narrative the police have put forward the cop was in fear for his life because he thought Cain had challenged him to a fight rather than used the facts of the situation to describe him as a coward. Cain describes removing his jacket to show that he was unarmed, claiming he even narrated the purpose of removing his coat at the time and telling the officer something like, “See, I’m unarmed.” The cop maintains that removing one’s jacket is a gesture of intent to physically attack that made him further fear for his life. Also, Cain was verbally hostile later at the police station.
In the days before ubiquitous surveillance, the Black Cain would have been jailed for some significant time. The cops statements would have been taken as not merely more trustworthy, but trustworthy beyond any reasonable doubt. Some sort of conviction for Cain would have been inevitable.
However, this did happen in a world of ubiquitous surveillance. And the more we see, the less we trust the police. There are, of course, multiple videos. Some show the beating and it is horrible. But I want to focus on one aspect of this more than any other, because that aspect indicts the system and not merely the officer.
On Tuesday, April 11th Sacramento PD released a public statement about the incident. Read this excerpt from the very beginning of the release:
This press release is a summary of the facts known at this time. This incident is still being investigated and the preliminary information may change. Additional details will be released as they become available.
On Monday, April 10, 2017 at 5:07 p.m., a uniformed Sacramento Police officer attempted to stop a pedestrian who was observed crossing the street unlawfully near the intersection of Cypress Street and Grand Avenue in North Sacramento.
SacPD is asserting that while new information is still to come in, the details in the release are the true “facts known at this time”. Take a look at this video. Pay careful attention to the right of your screen (on the left is another pedestrian who is not relevant to this story but is more visible and might distract you). This is the view from inside the officer’s car, looking ahead to the next intersection. Cain is moving in the same direction as the officer’s car. Just after Cain begins to cross the intersection (by moving forward) a car zips through from right to left. The video:
While the officer who beat Cain is primarily interested in hyping the supposed threat Cain posed, SacPD has a different interest. Sac PD has institutional reputation and credibility to maintain. Yes, this officer beat someone unmercifully, but the job is difficult, Cain might kind of be a jerk, what with his verbal combativeness while injured and incarcerated, and who knows what level of fear the officer felt, amirite? Sac PD wants you to know that they are investigating the beating and that the officer is on leave (paid, of course) so that if their investigation eventually shows that the officer inflicting the beating was being a bad boy then Sac PD won’t have to apologize for letting him go play in the street some more after doing such a Bad Thing™.
But some things are vital that we not question. The cops have convinced us that beating citizens is sometimes okay, sometimes not, and that we can’t expect them to get it right every time. They have convinced us that even if now and again they go a little overboard on the beating-people-up thing, the force as a whole still has legitimacy. You can’t expect human beings to get every one of these decisions correct every time can you? Certainly not in real time when you have to make a split second decision about whether that jacket-less man standing motionless before you with hands in the air is
Black or not threatening an officer or not.
But here’s the thing. While some police departments have made peace with the idea that use of force can be questioned, they are desperate to make sure that no one questions the fundamental credibility of the force, of the law, of the necessity of police stops and other basic tools of law enforcement.
This is why you see – not in the moment, not in the midst of pressure to make a split second decision, and certainly not without reliable video evidence – the Sacramento PD baldly lying about another aspect of the officer’s stop of Cain.
a uniformed Sacramento Police officer attempted to stop a pedestrian who was observed crossing the street unlawfully (emphasis mine)
Sac PD is desperate to keep the attention on the use of force. Because they have already conceded that some use of force is bad, they have little to lose from an investigation of use of force. But any police department loses its entire (publicly avowed) purpose for existing if it becomes known that officers lie at the drop of a jacket, that officers investigate people for things that aren’t crimes, that officers ignore blatant violations of the law by some in order to harass others. Yet all of these things that must not be so are proven in this short video clip. They are proven so conclusively that Sac PD can’t even admit that there are questions, cannot allow the topic to come up in even the most oblique way.
[Cain] was observed crossing the street unlawfully
Except… he wasn’t. This isn’t Sac PD saying the officer believed Cain crossed the street unlawfully. The press release didn’t say it was giving the position or opinion of Sac PD. No, it said it was relating “facts known”. But if you watch the gif, Cain crosses from sidewalk to sidewalk, at the corner, in an uncontrolled intersection with no signs prohibiting crossing. Worse: that car that blew past Cain? In uncontrolled intersections of city streets (not freeways and not necessarily major highways, though it would be hard to find an “uncontrolled” intersection of a major highway) in Sacramento, in California, and in most locations where humans both walk and use cars, pedestrians have the right of way. The damage a car can do to a pedestrian far exceeds the damage a pedestrian can do to a care. And thus caution is due. And thus the law is written to quite clearly give the right of way to persons on foot. So not only is Cain, like any pedestrian, fully entitled to enter the intersection from the sidewalk and to cross one street at a time, corner-to-corner, but cars that approach an uncontrolled intersection are required to stop once a pedestrian enters an intersection or moves in such a way that clearly signals intent to enter the intersection.
Watch that gif one more time: Cain crosses legally; a car crosses illegally in front of him.
I’ll let Systemic Failure sum up:
So this incident is disturbing on multiple levels. The police did not protect a vulnerable road user from a dagerous driver. Instead, an officer goes after an innocent pedestrian who is rightly annoyed at getting stopped — and gets assaulted as a result. Then the police dept. puts out a ridiculous press release calling Cain a lawbreaker.
Some people will focus their anger on the violent officer – and anger is certainly due. But as upset as I am at this racist, violent, fascist cop, the even larger part of my anger is at the Sacramento PD who have clearly chosen to declare innocence guilt, all in the name of protecting their power.
It is my desperate hope that mainstream media in Sacramento will call out the Sac PD for lying and invite experts in to educate the public on why they might lie about this seemingly trivial aspect of a case, a lie told to begin a conversation, that involves such egregious behavior as viciously beating a compliant person already lying in the street.
And I think there’s hope the media will do just that. I think this hope is roughly equally as justified as the hope that Obi-Wan Kenobi will help break me out of detention level AA-23. But hey, it’s a hope.