Policing & ‘alternative facts’

Waseem Khan was in downtown Toronto with his wife on the last Tuesday morning in January, taking his daughter to daycare. He saw one in a group of police officers pull a man from the back seat of a cruiser, put him face down on the ground, and then kick the man in the head. Khan stopped after witnessing that, took out his phone, and began recording from about 20 feet away.

The video shows an officer stomping on the man’s legs, telling him to “stop resisting”, even though the man was motionless and may have been unconscious. Two officers approached Khan, telling him to stop recording, threatening to take his phone as evidence (which they cannot do), and suggesting the man under police control might spit at him and transmit AIDS (which is not true). Khan stopped recording shortly after, but filed a complaint, calling police behaviour ‘disgusting.’

The ‘Khan incident’ captured media attention for three days in the city, and came less than two weeks after a misconduct case against Toronto Police was resolved through mediation. This was in relation to another incident where police wrongfully tried to block a member of the public from taping an arrest. And, this on top of a guilty decision against a police officer last week by an arbitration board in a GTA community when a teenager was arrested and charged, held overnight, and her phone confiscated when she wouldn’t stop recording a police action.

The proliferation of mobile recording technology has been a boon to ‘reality’ entertainment everywhere, but it has even more so too often shown police activity our law enforcement agencies would prefer remain out of sight. It is not the technology that prompts the actions that are videotaped, but rather a technology that is readily at hand to record policing in the bad light that has too commonly been accepted as ‘standard operating practice.’ For example, accompanying punishing use of force unnecessarily by ordering a compliant victim to “stop resisting.”

An interesting police response has evolved from the hours of readily available videotape, some of it taken by police bodycams and cruiser cameras, as well as so much more from the public. That is the claim that film may not reliably show the whole story, that a camera angle may be biased, or that the before and after are relevant. The objectivity of film must be tempered by subjective assessment. In other words, alternative facts, which have become watchwords in the United States in 2017, must be part of the equation.

We have just one question. With alternative facts, under what circumstance is it okay for a police officer to kick a prone man in the head?

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