Last week, an ex-Philadelphia police officer, who was caught cold-cocking a woman in the face during the city’s Puerto Rican Day Parade last year was found not guilty of simple assault.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the courtroom, which was packed with fellow Philadelphia police officers, erupted into cheers when the judge read his verdict of not guilty in the assault case against ex-police Lt. Jonathan Josey, who had been seen striking Aida Guzman in a 36-second video, which was uploaded onto YouTube and went viral. Writes the Inquirer, while the judge in the case “remained troubled by Josey’s actions” he also noted the ex-officer’s testimony, which included Josey stating that he was, “trying to swipe a beer bottle from Guzman’s hand and accidentally hit her.”
As to the videotape itself, which in my opinion doesn’t really jive with Josey’s accidental-punch theory, the Inquirer reports that the judge in the case didn’t feel that the video was enough proof of intent to harm and said: “This is not a social media contest, this is not trial by video.”
Yeah, thank goodness this is not a social media contest because then we might have folks actually voting for guilt based upon what their two eyes saw in the actual video, as opposed to the magic beer bottle theory, invented by a police officer on trial for assault.
However, this is all kind of ironic when you think about how just last week, the nation was patting itself on the back over the sharp decline of incarceration rates for black Americans, particularly women, who have seen their rate of imprisonment fall from its high of six times the rate of white women to now just 2.8 percent. Likewise, the rates of imprisonment for whites and Hispanics have risen over the same decade. I guess that is considered progress, right? And perhaps now that more white people are starting to get locked up, we’ll finally start seeing some real reform in how our society carries out justice.
This is particularly true of women who find themselves the victims of police brutality, albeit less visible than their male counterparts. Like Tamika Williams, the 13-year old Akron, Ohio student, who had her arm broken by a school resource officer after she was detained for allegedly swearing and tearing papers off the school’s walls. Or the case of Linette Vazquez, who was violently slammed to the ground by police while handcuffed and sitting on a bench in a holding cell.
Sometimes the misconduct goes a lot further than abuse, such as the case of a male Sacramento patrol officer, who is currently on trial for allegedly raping and kidnapping six women, or the case of the Texas officer, who is currently awaiting charges of aggravated sexual assault for allegedly handcuffing an immigrant waitress and sexually assaulting her on the hood of his police cruiser. Sometimes these incidences of police brutality prove to be fatal, including the case of Alesia Thomas, a 35-year-old mother of two, who suffocated while in custody of the LAPD, or in the case of Rekia Boyd, who was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.
While there are no real hard numbers about the rate of reported incidences of police brutality among women, according to a report issued by feminist women of color group INCITE, women who are likely to be viewed as “masculine” —including African American, working-class and low-income women, who routinely are systematically devalued — “are consistently treated by police as potentially violent, predatory, or non-compliant regardless of their actual conduct or circumstances, no matter how old. young, disabled, small, or ill.” Because of this delineation, these women are more likely to be subjected to abusive language in interaction; have their handcuffs tightened excessively and treated with greater physical harshness by law enforcement officers than women, who are white and perceived to be of a higher class.
The INCITE report also cites two studies by the Sex Workers’ Project in New York City, which state that 30 percent of street-based sex workers and 14 percent of indoor sex workers interviewed reported violence by police officers. Moreover, the report says the following. “Reported incidents included officers physically grabbing and kicking prostitutes, as well as beating them; one incident of rape; one woman was stalked by a police officer; arid throwing food. Sexual harassment included fondling of body parts; giving women cigarettes in exchange for sex; and police offering not to arrest a prostitute in exchange for sexual services.”
In this country, the crimes against the poor by authority figures such as the police are often unnoticed or even punished. That is why it’s important we not see these incidences as solely a gender or even a racial issue, but rather an abuse of power issue, relegated by people of all colors (as seen in the Josey/Guzman case, which was a black cop striking a Latina woman) against people from the most vulnerable parts of our society.