Last week, a video of an altercation between a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer and a citizen in McComb went viral. The short clip showed a patrolman, Hayden Falvey, tackling a cuffed Eugene Lewis into a ditch.
Falvey is white. Lewis is African American. The video quickly made its way to national media outlets, with suggestions of racially motivated police brutality and allusions to the tragic George Floyd incident.
As controversy surrounding the incident began to reach fever pitch, the Department of Public Safety released its own video.
This one, forty minutes long, showed how a routine traffic stop led patrolman Falvey to determine that Mr. Lewis was driving on a suspended license under the influence of marijuana. It showed how Falvey had placed Mr. Lewis under arrest and in his cruiser before Lewis’s brothers arrived and began screaming at Falvey. It showed how Lewis had simply gotten out of the cruiser as Falvey sought to calm the commotion with his brothers and how he refused to comply as the officer attempted to restore order.
Patrolman Falvey was outnumbered for a long time in an increasing tense situation with someone who essentially refused to be arrested. There was no evidence of racial motivation or that Mr. Lewis was in any health danger.
In view of the longer video, this story has largely slunk back onto the ‘nothing burger’ shelf, but it highlights a few things.
1. The men and women who put on badges face dangerous circumstances most of us cannot fully understand. This does not justify when officers abuse authority, but it does draw into focus the importance of good training and the need to ensure that our laws do not create unnecessary grounds for conflict between officers and citizens through over-criminalization.
2. In any story that seems sensational, there is almost always some context that makes it less so. We must fight the urge to jump to the conclusion that supports our natural bias. This means not assuming that every interaction officers have with people of color is rooted in racism. It also means not assuming that officers are
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