US police brutality: ‘Flashback to Baltimore 1960s’
In the US city of Cleveland, police pepper-sprayed visitors after the first national convention of the Movement for Black Lives. Activists had gathered over repeated cases of police brutality against Afro-Americans. Several people were detained, including a 14-year-old boy who was later released. The organization also draws the attention of anti-terror agencies, like the FBI. Documents released by the Department of Homeland Security show that it's been monitoring social media activities and collecting location data about events related to the Black Lives Movement.
RT: Police used pepper spray despite the crowd apparently not showing any sign of aggression. As a former police officer, how justified was that, do you think?
Michael Wood: I guess it may be possible to legally justify it somehow, but that is a big portion of the problem, not just in Cleveland, but all over the US. Much of what the police do that seems outrageously wrong is actually often legal. So we need to revisit what we want from our policing…We know the officer was the aggressor. We can see him instigating and antagonizing the crowd. He could have been the catalyst that turned the crowd violent. What other recourse would people have when they are being pepper-sprayed by standing there?
RT: Are you surprised that incidents like this are still occurring?
MW: It doesn’t seem to just be blacks anymore, it seems to be spreading, or at least it’s revealed to be happening to anyone that is helpless to resist. I generally thought that the brutality was much less now and the saturation of cameras was just bringing it to a light of day. But that pepper-spray video looks like the fire hoses of the 1960’s. And it looks like the Time Magazine cover from Baltimore that flashed back to the 1960’s with the uprising there. I don’t know why it is continuing. It seems like every bit of evidence will tell us it has to stop it. We just keep seeing it.
RT: It's been revealed the FBI was collecting information on the Black Lives Matter movement for months. What do you think that tells us about how that movement is seen by the authorities?
MW: I can’t say what it actually means, but it certainly means that they view them as at least a potential threat. And probably even more of a threat, because the Black Lives Movement is decentralized - it is a social movement, and we don’t have a leader.
RT: You once said that police officers are trained to have an 'us-and-them' mentality. Is this kind of that mentality manifesting itself? Is this inevitable if that’s the way the police officers are taught?
MW: I don’t want to give the statements, don’t let it come from me- judge for yourself: look at that video, watch the officer’s face. Does he look like he is reluctantly trying to pepper-spray a member of this community, or does he look like he is trying to pepper-spray someone that’s annoying him, or other, or even an animal?
RT: Why do these incidents occurring?
MW: I think it is clear to say that the law will get away with it. And we keep seeing time and time again that the officers get away with it no matter how morally wrong it seems that there is always a law, always some loophole, always some prosecutor not willing to go forward and do what we all clearly see as right. The politicians are going to have to step up and change this, or they are not going to be politicians in the next go around.
RT: How much of a blow is the latest incident in Cleveland to police-community relations?
MW: I don’t know if the relations in Cleveland can actually get worse. The people obviously don’t trust the police, they don’t trust the politicians. The politicians are doing absolutely nothing to… make any positive steps. It’s still like they are sitting with their fingers crossed or something.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.