Tonya Mosley: There is a saying that what we perceive, is what we believe. And one of the most polarizing topics – is our perception of police. So what happens when people of different backgrounds view the same video of a police interaction? Are our conclusions really that different?
I sat down with four people in Seattle, to find out. Former Pierce County criminal prosecutor and mother of two, Shari Leid; Jason Rantz, a California transplant and radio talk show host; Daudi Abe, a college instructor, author and father; and Brian Post, a retired Lynnwood police officer now working in private security. We watch three videos – two involving Seattle Police, one from Pasco.
In this dashcam video, a Seattle officer stops 70 year old William Wingate.
Seattle Police Dashcam Video: Can you put the club away?
Tonya Mosley: The officer claims the retired city bus driver, swung a golf club at her as she was driving by a block away.
Seattle Police Dashcam Video: Put it down please. What? What’s going on? Put it down please!
Tonya Mosley: Wingate does not put down his golf club. Instead he asks for the officer to call her supervisor.
Shari Leid: You know watching this, I have a pit in my stomach because there is this reaction that this man who is standing there on the corner who is obviously a senior citizen, he’s older, seems to me is being harassed by this officer.
Jason Rantz: For me I would say hey when an officer is yelling at you to do something, you should actually do it. Because even though he has what could potentially be a weapon even though I don’t think he’d use it that way, she’s got a much more deadly weapon.
Daudi Abe: The tone of voice, the distance, the seaming lack of willingness to kind of really engage with this gentleman, seemed to completely flavor the rest of the interaction.
Tonya Mosley: Wingate was arrested. Later Seattle police apologized for the incident and the charges against him were dropped.
Brian Post: I don’t know if I would have done it this way. In all honesty I don’t understand what was going through the officers mind when the decision to arrest was. I know he was failing to comply with her commands, I just don’t understand the reasoning behind the command because I didn’t see the swing.
Tonya Mosley: Next up – the 2012 case of Leo Etherly. In this dashcam video, police stop Etherly after they suspect he’s involved in a hit and run accident. The situation quickly escalates.
Seattle Police Dashcam:
Leo Etherly: “Don’t worry about my name, what’s yo name?”
Police: Put your hands behind your back.
Leo Etherly: Man don’t touch me. I don’t gotta put my hand behind my back. Aha”
Shari Leid: This one for me would be a harder call if the question were whether or not they used excessive force or not. They may have been reasonable. Even though I had a reaction when I saw him get punched.
Tonya Mosley: And why that instant reaction?
Shari Leid: When I saw that?
Shari Leid: I guess because there were three officers. I didn’t expect for them to hit him in the face. I was surprised when they were holding him down.
Jason Rantz: The suspect was clearly resisting, but not to the point that I think it justified a punch when you’ve got three officers there two of which are holding the guy down.
Daudi Abe: With three officers there it just strikes me that having to choke somebody and punch them when there is three on one may be a little over the top. Now perhaps a veteran officer will tell me that’s just you do to make sure officers are safe but when videos like this come up and are distributed for everyone to see it just reiterates feelings many black people have about interactions with police.
Brian Post: A takedown of a person is very, very quick and it’s looks very violent and people need to understand that you can’t send everyone to the police academy to be trained in what they’re looking for.
As a police officer I was accused of racially profiling dozens and dozens of times. I can say I never racially profiled. You pull people over who were doing something wrong, you had a reason and a probably cause to stop. Whether they are black or white should not be a factor notwithstanding. I’m not going to say that’s always the case, because in other parts of the country that is not the case.
Shari Leid: The fact that it is racially charged brings up all of these thoughts of whenever you’ve come into to contact with racial incidents and I think it brings up those issues in childhood whenever some has called you out for being different or made fun of you for a racially based reason.
Jason Rantz: I give officers the benefit of the doubt. I give them a little more leeway until there is evidence that shows them clearly in the wrong.
Tonya Mosley: Psychologists say these reactions are not surprising.
Life experiences are what shape how we view things. As head of the public safety committee, Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell, has watched almost all of the police dashcam videos brought into question.
Tonya Mosley: Talk about for you the importance of being able to sit down and see an incident through a dashcam video.
Bruce Harrell: Video evidence allows us to critique, it’s not a panacea, but it allows us to see with objective evidence, what actually occurs and only then can we get the accountability that we want.
Tonya Mosley: But even when an incident is caught on camera, it’s not always clear. Like in the case of Antionio Zambrando-Montes in Pasco, Washington. A 28 second cell phone video uploaded to Youtube shows police shooting and killing Zambrando-Montes in a crowded intersection. Authorities say they were responding to a call about him throwing rocks at cars in a grocery store parking lot. Police there say they tried unsuccessfully to tazer him.
Shari Leid: He’s running away, he turns; he’s facing them it appears, when the shots are fired. But he appears to have his hands up.
Daudi Abe: For me for me it’s just more of the same. And it strikes me that maybe people who sit on the opposite end of this philosophical spectrum who say if you’re uncooperative with police this type of thing could happen. But if you’re a paid civil servant you have a little bit more obligation to the public to not have shooting somebody as the default setting to deal with somebody you don’t know how to deal with.
Tonya Mosley: Some people will look at it and they see him holding something in his hand when he turns around. There are others who see this video and see a man attempting to hold his hands up.
Brian Post: He clearly from what I see had something clearly in his hands. It doesn’t surprise me that people don’t see that because you, meaning people who video this, see this through the lens of their own experience.