Police in Philadelphia say they stopped 22-year-old Tyree Carroll because of a "narcotics violation"—his family claims he was stopped for biking the wrong way down a one-way street. Police say they found 5 grams of crack-cocaine on Carroll—if the drugs are actually his, biking the wrong way down a one-way street was particularly reckless. His arrest was a caught on video—by the end of the incident it had involved more than 20 officers and a good deal of apparent police brutality caught on tape.
At one point, one officer calls Carroll a "piece of shit". Later, another cop yells, "Here I come! You're getting the fucking Taser." Police say they are investigating the incident but that the officers involved filled out use of force reports that included "strikes" and "control holds." Police say Carroll tried to bite officers and drew first blood, and that the head injury for which he was taken to the hospital was self-inflicted while Carroll was in the police van. The police say their investigation so far shows no evidence or record of Taser use despite the one cop's statement.
You can watch the portion of the incident caught on video below:
A lawyer for Carroll's family said he was "confident" Philadelphia's police commissioner, Charles Ramsey, "takes these things seriously." Indeed, Ramsey has fired more than a hundred cops since 2008, over problems ranging from minor misconduct to major crimes.
But the commissioner, despite being the head of the police department, doesn't have the last word on employment. Fired cops can seek arbitration and eventually get their job back. That's what happened to a cop accused of sexual assault by three different women. Ramsey said he didn't want someone like that on the force and fired him—an arbitrator forced Ramsey to put the alleged sexual predator back in uniform and on the street.
The journalist who first posted the video online, Jasmyne Cannick, had a pretty simplistic explanation of the behavior for The Daily Beast: "Beating someone while you call them a piece of shit, there's no explanation for that, unless you want to admit you're a racist." None-white officers, of course, are accused of misconduct too, even, and especially, toward other non-whites. Last month in Philadelphia, a nasty encounter between a black man and his infant daughter and a black officer over alleged fare jumping made the local news because the cop shoving the man while the man was holding his baby and the incident was caught on video.
And, importantly, police officers can act with impunity not because their racism (or their race vs. the victim's race) grants them that privilege, but because powerful union contracts that make it difficult to discipline and fire cops do. Police contracts and public employment laws have created the conditions for a total lack of accountability.
While Philadelphia has more or less stopped enforcing laws against marijuana possession—even smoking in public yields just a $100 fine—the rest of the drug war rages on. And while drug war policies are certainly racist in their application, it's important to note that what drives the drug war in places like Northwest Philadelphia, or any other neighborhood where it's waged, are the residents of Northwest Philadelphia and their revealed political preferences. The city wages a drug war in the neighborhood because enough residents demand it that waging a drug war becomes good politics. Racism has little, if anything, to do with that dangerous, democratically-endorsed, perpetuation of an all too real drug war.