Cops, cameras and chokeholds

A police officer in Little Rock, Arkansas is in hot water for using a ridiculous degree of force against teenagers over a very minor infraction — skateboarding in violation of a city ordinance — and then pulling out every overzealous cop’s favorite catch-all accusations, “resisting arrest” and “disorderly conduct,” to intimidate those who dared question his actions. None of which would be news, except that it was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube:

This is one thing that’s really great about “Web 2.0” and Glenn Reynolds’s “Army of Davids“: it gives average people much more of an ability to actually fight back against petty abuses of authority like this (and the UCLA tazer incident, among others). Police officers have an enormous amount of authority in the moment as they’re conducting an arrest, and necessarily so, but when they use that authority to intimidate innocent people (or people who are only guilty of something very minor), it’s a serious problem.

In this case, the Little Rock police officer — to his credit, and also probably everlasting regret — didn’t try to stop the cameras from rolling. But often times the police will do just that, and so when I ponder questions of police abuse of authority, I inevitably think about them in the context of cops demanding that I not take pictures, which has happened on several occasions. They have no right to do that, yet pointing that out and refusing to comply with their commands is likely to engender immediate hostility and possibly result in the same sort of b.s. accusations (interfering with police business, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, etc.) that got thrown around in this case. The end result is that officers can claim more authority than they actually have, and most people will go along with it. The prevalence of digital cameras, blogs, YouTube, etc. alters that balance, if only slightly, and that’s a good thing.

9 Responses to “Cops, cameras and chokeholds”

  1. marty west says:

    This is the 4th day in a row I have seen a different video with police abusing their power.

    Oink oink.

  2. Sean says:

    Man, I’m not even sure we should fine skateboarders. This is ridiculous.

  3. Angrier and Angrier says:

    Ever hear of a citation? What the fuck is wrong with this cop? He has no business wearing a badge.

  4. Lisa says:


    You mention that the cop didn’t try to stop the taping, but did he even know that he was being taped? Due to the fact that the video has such a fisheye look to it, I wonder if it wasn’t a small or hidden camera.

  5. dcl says:

    I will say that skateboards can cause significant damage to both public and private property when they are not being used as a tool for transportation. In which case it is reasonable to fine users for that activity under the general classification of vandalism. However, I tend to agree with Sean that ridding a skateboard down the street or sidewalk in an orderly manner consistent with a means of transportation should not be cause for arrest or citation. Similarly to how ridding a bicycle on the street in an orderly manner should not be cause for citation but certain ridding activities, eg stunt ridding, that cause damage to other people’s, or city, property again, should be cause for citation.

  6. pause to reflect says:

    Brendan, not to accuse you or any others in this incident of sensationalism, but there’s a whole lot between “witnesses…saw the officer, Joey Williams, stop the skateboarders on a downtown city sidewalk” and “Williams apparently choking one of the skateboarders after forcing him to the ground.” It’s pretty clear that, at least from the context of this video alone, that the use of force was excessive. But given that on the video, when the officer asked the second man to stop, and he turned and ran, it doesn’t really suggest that these hoodla were complying with city ordinances or meeting the officer’s initial demands, which may have been simple and pleasant, or which may have been demanding and aggressive. And we don’t have, at least from this video or story, the manner in which they were skateboarding, whether they were running into folks on the streets, etc. I’m not saying that the cop here was right; I am saying that in the “Web 2.0” culture we jump to conclusions based on a single snippet of the episode that makes its way to the Internet, rather than adjudicating the entire dispute with context.

  7. pause to reflect says:

    and as for the UCLA tazer incident, haven’t we criticized the cops at Virginia Tech for doing just the OPPOSITE, for UNDER-UTILIZING their power? Really, I’d like to know how some of these folks would react under similar circumstances. There’s misusing authority in the heat of the moment, and there’s abusing authority. Bloggers need to cool down before calling it the latter.

  8. Sean says:

    Pause, may I submit that a little girl on a skateboard does not require lethal force (in this case, a chokehold), whereas a gunman bent upon mass murder does. In case that didn’t become obvious in your reflections.

  9. pause to reflect says:

    Excellent job, Sean, of entirely missing the point. In case that didn’t become obvious in your reflections.