“Ready for the pop? … I think it was her shoulder. … I love this.”
The words of a gleeful Austin Hopp, a Loveland police officer, as he watched the body camera video of his appalling arrest of a 73-year-old woman should at long last get everybody’s attention.
White people can no longer look away.
The police brutality that has targeted and tormented the Black community in Colorado since forever is real. The thugs on the police forces across the state can’t hide behind excuses that they feared for their lives, that deadly violence was justified, that their victims exhibited “excited delirium,” that they had no other reasonable options.
Watch the video. As the prosecutor in the Derek Chauvin case said, “Believe your eyes.”
Hopp dislocated Karen Warner’s shoulder and broke her arm for the fun of it. She was confused. She suffers from dementia.
If she had been a young Black man like Elijah McClain, she’d likely be dead.
McClain, you’ll recall, was the 23-year-old musician walking home from a convenience store in Aurora on Aug. 24, 2019. He was attacked by the police, put in a carotid hold, injected with ketamine and delivered to the hospital in a coma for doing, well, nothing.
The cops said they’d received a call from someone who reported no crime, but said the man, who was wearing headphones and a ski mask and put his arms up when the motorist passed him, looked “sketchy.”
Six days later he was dead.
The officers involved in the killing were not charged with any crimes and were cleared of wrongdoing. Two of them remain on the job.
One of them, Officer Jason Rosenblatt, was fired later after he joked about a photo of fellow officers in front of a memorial to McClain, grinning and mocking his death.
Like Hopp, he thought the brutality was funny.
“Ha ha,” Rosenblatt texted to his pals when he saw the photo.
The stories don’t end there.
Larimer County District Attorney Gordon P. McLaughlin has called for an investigation of the Loveland police involved in the Warner arrest after seeing the videos. He has enlisted the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI to assist.
At the same time, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office is conducting a grand jury investigation into McClain’s death.
The investigation, as with all grand jury probes, is conducted in secret and no information is available on its progress or when it might be completed. But criminal charges still could be filed against the officers involved.
They are important steps in developing some level of accountability for the goons who too often find work on our police forces.
But as Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said upon the guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial, accountability is only the “first step toward justice.”
Comprehensive police reform is the second step.
In Colorado, we’re trying.
Colorado’s police accountability law, which was enacted last year in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, is considered a model for other states.
It includes rules governing police use of force, revokes certification for officers found to have used inappropriate force and eliminates qualified immunity for officers involved in wrongdoing while on duty.
Another law passed in 2019 punishes officers who lie during criminal investigations. Last year it resulted in six officers being decertified and banned from police work.
As Weiser said when he announced the action, there are “some officers that do not belong in this profession.”
The state is further trying to attract a higher caliber of professional to police work and is providing better training to keep officers from becoming hardened, inured to the pain they might inflict on individuals, communities and the criminal justice system.
Programs have been developed to provide scholarships for police academy training and bring training in de-escalation methods, ethical decision-making and crisis intervention strategies for cops already on the job.
The third step is the hardest part.
It requires us to acknowledge that police brutality against Black and brown Americans is nothing less than the 21st century equivalent of lynching. It is fundamentally racist, and it continues only because we explicitly allow it to continue.
We have the power to make it stop.
As the police body camera evidence and bystander videos reveal the true extent of the problem, it becomes undeniable. The cops can’t lie anymore and we can’t pretend it’s not happening.
It’s plain to see. We can’t look away.
If we do, they’ll just keep killing Black men, beating up old ladies and laughing at us.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.
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