Officer Friendly — the iconic image of the neighborhood cop who smilingly greets residents as he protects them from ‘bad guys’ — now exists, for the large part, only in the American collective memory, having been replaced some fifteen years ago by an authoritarian, militarized soldier.
And though that collective memory is powerful enough many Americans remain beguiled of police — perhaps too uncomfortable to acknowledge Officer Friendly’s disquieting metamorphosis — a growing number of people realize that with the militarized transformation came the attitude and tactics to match.
Because of that discrepancy in perspective, a bitter disconnect took root between those who insist the authority in a badge means police literally do no wrong and advocates, activists, academics, and family and friends of law enforcement victims, who warn quite the contrary is true.
To bridge this gap for the benefit of both groups — and because policing in America has, in fact, sharply diverged from its ostensibly idyllic, if not utterly illusory, past — the following examples of innumerable others facilely illustrate why so many Americans are fed up with police, and why outrage could soon boil over.
While brutality and even lethal police violence often become the subject of acrimonious public debate — the ‘if the subject had just followed the law’ crowd versus the ‘whatever happened to due process’ segment — these examples obliterate entirely any gray areas. Literally.
1. At 5 am on February 27, 2013, Emma Hernandez and her daughter, Margie Carranza, narrowly escaped with their lives as a gang of thugs fired over 100 bullets into their vehicle without warning. As glass flew, cutting into Carranza, Hernandez instinctively used her body as a shield to protect her daughter from the unexpected hail of bullets — suffering two gunshot wounds to her back, one of which narrowly missed the woman’s spine, in the process.
When gunfire finally ceased, the shocked and traumatized women were ordered to exit their pickup truck by their would-be murderers — eight Los Angeles Police officers.
“Why did you shoot at us?” Hernandez demanded. Rather than offer an apology — or even render first aid — the officers who had just peppered the women’s vehicle and the Torrance neighborhood with 107 bullets refused any explanation and simply summoned paramedics.
Without provocation or even bothering with verifying the identities of the vehicle’s occupants, those LAPD officers inexplicably assumed the two Hispanic women, 71-year-old Hernandez and her daughter, were actually one 33-year-old African-American male — Christopher Dorner.
As was later revealed, these feckless cops had been tasked with security detail of nearby resident, LAPD Capt. Justin Eisenberg, a member of the Board of Rights which voted to terminate former Officer Dorner — the man embroiled in a battle with police after publishing his manifesto detailing corruption and scandal in the LAPD stretching back to the early 1990s.
But Dorner, a large black male, was known to drive a gray Nissan Titan — while the two Hispanic women drove a blue Toyota Tacoma to deliver the neighborhood’s newspapers.
In January this year, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office announced the eight officers’ attempted murderers would not be charged in the incident because fear of Dorner had stricken the entire LAPD with fear sufficient to render them incapable of being held responsible for their utter incompetency.
Hernandez and Carranza settled for $4.2 million and a new truck, but the maladroit officers who nearly took their lives escaped any accountability for the attempted murder.
2. A medical emergency outside Columbus, Ohio, nearly proved fatal, not for the woman, Andrea Ellis, whose arm was bleeding profusely after a cut from broken glass — but for her four-year-old daughter.
“She’s bleeding all over the place!” Ellis’ sister told a 911 dispatcher on June 19, 2015. “I need a paramedic!”
While on the phone, the sister noticed a police officer nearby, and called him over to help expedite paramedics to the scene.
Five-year veteran Officer Jonathan Thomas, identified later by the Columbus Dispatch, rushed over, but the situation took a terrifying turn when the family’s boxer-terrier mix, Patches, charged the cop. Thomas fired his gun at Patches — but hit Ellis’ four-year-old daughter, Ava, in the leg, shattering the bone, Inside Edition originally reported.
“She asked me several times, ‘Mommy, am I going to die?’” Andrea Ellis told Inside Edition.
Ellis’ neighbor next called 911 to report the compounding tragedy at the hands of the incompetent cop:
“My neighbor across the street had an officer at her door and she’s screaming that he shot a child.”
Worse still, as Ellis explained,
“Officer Thomas then told my sister to stop yelling at him and walked back to his vehicle … Officer Thomas never said sorry, never said it was an accident, never said that he called for help or was going to call for help, never asked if Ava was ok, and never asked if he could check on Ava. Officer Thomas went back to his vehicle and started to pull away.”
Ava, in the aftermath, had to endure a number of surgeries — but her scars undoubtedly won’t be limited to the physical. Indeed, had the bullet strayed slightly higher to the small child’s stomach, the wound could easily have proved fatal.
Columbus Police vowed to fully investigate the shooting, and though initially placed on paid administrative leave, it’s unclear whether or not the trigger-happy, reckless, and unconcerned Thomas ever faced further disciplinary action for recklessly shooting a four-year-old girl.
3. A 19-month-old baby boy suffered horrifying burns to his face and body, and had his chest blown open, during a dismally botched drug raid in Habersham County, Georgia, in 2013.
Heavily-armed, militarized officers from multiple agencies stormed a house at 3 am — inexplicably tossing a stun grenade into the playpen of the sleeping baby, which exploded on the pillow next to the child’s face — because an informant had purchased $50 worth of crystal meth from someone who once lived there.
Wanis Thonetheva, the nephew of the baby’s father and suspect targeted by these keystone cops, didn’t even reside at the home at the time of the amateurish raid — a glaring detail borne out by the fact no weapons or drugs were found in a search afterward. Baby Bou Bou, his siblings, mother Alecia Phonesavanh, and her husband, came to live in the home in Atlanta after their Wisconsin residence burned to the ground.
In shock over the inept raid at her sister-in-law’s home as the family slept together in one room, Alecia Phonesavanh said at the time,
“It’s my baby. He’s only a baby. He didn’t deserve any of this. [The stun grenade] landed in his playpen and exploded on his pillow right in his face.”
Baby Bou Bou, whose chest was blown apart, exposing ribs, and suffered critical burns to his face and body, had to be placed in a medically-induced coma to save his life.
Police claimed afterward SWAT performed a stake-out for days prior to the raid and had no way of knowing children were present in the home — but Phonesavanh said that should have been apparent, given toys in the yard and a minivan in the driveway that had a sign with a stick-figure family in its window.
Inexplicably, despite finding “the drug investigation that led to these events was hurried, sloppy, and unfortunately not in accordance with the best practices and procedures,” and that “zeal to hold them [drug dealers] accountable must not override cautious and patient judgment,” a 23-member grand jury acquitted the incompetent officers over the farcically mishandled raid.
Though the department and devout police worshipers defended the actions of the SWAT team, calling the family ‘drug dealers’ and far worse, it’s imperative to remember the family had nothing whatsoever to do with the actions of the suspect who didn’t even live at that address at the time. Worse, Sheriff Joey Terrell claimed Habersham County would cover the medical bills for the baby — though that proved to be a malicious lie.
In late March 2015, the family settled for $964,000 — barely sufficient to pay for the Baby Bou Bou’s medical expenses. As of June 2014, doctors were still unable to assess whether the child would have lasting brain damage resulting from the grenade exploding just inches from where he’d been sleeping. Phonesavanh’s other children, as she told Salon, have awoken from terrified nightmares — likely suffering post-traumatic stress from M-16-toting cops breaking down the door and blowing up their brother’s tiny body.
4. “There’s something wrong with Opie,” said Vickie Malone’s five-year-old son during his birthday party in Oklahoma — right after a Wynnewood police officer shot their beloved family dog.
After just having come inside for cake and ice cream, Malone explained, parents and kids heard a gunshot and rushed outside to witness — in horrified disbelief — an officer fire two additional rounds into Opie with his AR-15.
“[Opie] was over here kicking and gasping for air,” Malone recalled, reliving the incident.
In an attempt to serve a 10-year-old warrant on an individual who had not resided at the address in over a year, if ever, the officer came onto the property — claiming the dog had lunged at him through the fence as he approached. Chief Ken Moore said the officer claimed the vicious dog attacked him as the animal rounded the corner of the house, and the cop kicked the dog once and then had to shoot to fend it off.
But that story fell apart as video of the suffering family dog clearly shows the animal lying away from the house, next to — and inside — the fence. Moore justified the legality of the officer’s presence on the property by the warrant — but Malone says a warrant was never produced to prove that claim.
“He said he was checking to see if a guy named Shon McNeil and no one here has heard of him,” Malone told Fox 25. “I respect what the police do, but this was senseless, but he didn’t show any remorse and didn’t even act like he was sorry or anything.”
In a heartbreaking video interview with the five-year-old birthday boy, Eli told Fox 25 through tears how much he misses his best friend.
“I would have fun with him and when he runned [sic] around and we played tag,” the child lamented, as he showed reporters the wooden cross bearing Opie’s name the family crafted to mark the dog’s grave.
In the child’s grief, Eli said it hurts most that no one from the Wynnewood Police Department ever apologized for killing Opie.
5. An unarmed behavioral therapist attempting to counsel a man with autism who had a toy truck who ran away from a group home was shot in the leg by a North Miami cop in an incident that defies logic and reason in every conceivable way.
Therapist Charles Kinsey came to assist a distraught man, who had run from his group home residence carrying only a toy truck. But an unidentified caller phoned 911, claiming to have seen a suicidal man with a gun in the area — setting off a series of events laughably compounded afterward in fumbled explanations and hubris from North Miami Police.
Cellphone video first circulated online earlier this week, showing Kinsey prone on his back on the asphalt with his arms raised slightly and stretched above his head as he counseled the distressed patient with autism seated next to him. Officers nearby train their rifles at the pair, as Kinsey can be heard loudly and clearly telling them,
“All he has is a toy truck. A toy truck. I am a behavior therapist at a group home.”
Likely realizing the potential gravity of the situation, Kinsey further explains neither he nor the patient are armed — and begs officers not to shoot. But without warning, as Kinsey told WSVN, in a moment not captured in the footage, an officer fired three shots at the pair — one of the bullets hitting the therapist in the leg.
“Sir, why did you shoot me?” Kinsey told WSVN he asked the cops.
“I don’t know,” an officer, later revealed to be Jonathan Aledda, told him.
Instead of immediately attending the wounded therapist — whom police putatively sought to protect from the individual they feared would hurt him — the officers rushed Kinsey, rolled him onto his stomach, and placed him in cuffs as he bled. According to Kinsey it took at least 15 to 20 minutes for emergency services to arrive on scene after the shooting.
But rather than admitting the blatant mistake and taking responsibility for the inexplicable, wholly unjustified shooting, this week has seen a series of telling excuses from the North Miami PD.
Apparently, according to a union official, the officer intended to shoot the autistic patient — but missed and hit Kinsey, instead. How that stunning detail — considering neither was armed and the therapist explained why the two came to be sitting on the pavement for an impromptu counseling session — should alleviate controversy has yet to be explained by police.
By the department’s and union’s logic, either the public is to be satisfied with Aledda’s admitted lack of any reason for shooting Kinsey, or that Aledda — a SWAT officer with a rifle — accidentally shot the unarmed therapist with one of three bullets because he meant to shoot the also-unarmed autism-suffering patient holding a toy truck.
“The movement of the white individual looked like he was getting ready to discharge a firearm into Mr. Kinsey,” explained head of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, John Rivera, as WSVN reported earlier in the week.
But Kinsey’s attorney, Hilton Napoleon, expressed doubt a SWAT team member with four years’ experience could ‘accidentally’ shoot the ostensibly wrong individual from a distance of less than 50 yards — doubt made worse by officers’ moves to handcuff Kinsey after they shot him.
Aledda has now been placed on leave.
Police Commander Emile Hollant has been suspended without pay, North Miami City Manager Larry Spring Jr. said, due to “evidence of conflicting statements,” about which officials have refused to elaborate.
During a press conference on Friday, City Councilman Scott Galvin vowed for absolute transparency and a thorough investigation, and though it wasn’t entirely clear whether he spoke of Hollant, as the Washington Post noted, Galvin appeared to be talking about the commander when he said,
“By giving misinformation to this department, he not only jeopardized Mr. Kinsey’s life and the life of his client, but he jeopardized the life of every police officer who serves in this city.”
Galvin added, “We will not tolerate these types of behavior.”
Instead of scoffing at those who rightly decry violence by police — or worse, attacking activists, advocates, and journalists who detail the growing problem — badge-and-uniform worshipers and police apologists have an obligation to examine the epidemic with less biased eyes.
Incidents such as those in the aforementioned, incredibly incomprehensive list above, are unfortunately too innumerable to list. We have an epidemic of brutal policing fueled largely by the dual issues of militarization of policing and lack of accountability by officers too incompetent and too hostile to the public to appropriately hold a job in law enforcement.
Until we recognize these issues for what they are, the cycle of police violence and retaliation will continue to escalate.