On his Facebook page, Ryan McMaken links his article on the brutality Mr. Sureshbhai Patel, 57, received at the hands of Madison, Alabama police officer, Eric Parker. McMaken captures the absurdity of such violence by rewording the event to make it sounds like the opening line of a joke, “There’s an old Indian guy walking down the sidewalk.” That was Patel’s crime.
But who would think that walking on a sidewalk was a crime? The American Bubba, that’s who. Some worried Bubba called 911 because “. . . an old Indian guy [was] walking down the sidewalk.” Watch the video.
The exchange between the caller and the 911 dispatcher went like this:
911 Dispatcher: “Does he have a vehicle nearby, or is he just on foot?”
Caller: “He’s just on foot.”
The cops arrive and walk him down. They did not run him down or have to chase him; they merely walked him down. McMaken explains “A 57-year-old Indian man (Sureshbhai Patel) was walking down the sidewalk in his son’s neighborhood when the police pulled up, questioned him, and within 90 seconds, threw him to the ground and partially paralyzed him. The brutality was so obvious, that the police chief was forced to “recommend termination,” and the police officer has been arrested.”
So in our world of pre-crime, where the presumption of guilt has replaced the presumption of innocence, the most innocuous of activities–walking in one’s own neighborhood–has become a crime. In a world where welfare checks, tattoos, meth, Sunday football, Budweiser, and Cheetos reign supreme in middle-class suburbia, “. . . an old Indian guy walking down the sidewalk” becomes a pre-crime or at least worthy of suspicion. This is Phillip Dick’s The Minority Report. This is Ray Bradbury’s 1951 chilling short story, “The Pedestrian,” where Leonard Mead is stopped and arrested for taking an after-work evening stroll in his own neighborhood. A dystopian world knocking on your front door. I hope not. I hope this is not in anyone’s future. But something in Eric Parker’s worldview, one formed from the media or from his station chief, makes him act in accordance with a person not having any rights. And I wonder after the property owners of the city of Madison pay out to Mr. Sureshbhai Patel whatever millions in damages the courts will award him, will Mr. Eric Parker have a road-to-Damascus moment? I doubt it. Mr. Parker will after a paid leave return to work and enjoy the encouraging words and pats by fellow officers in an upbeat re-initiation to the force. The tribe will help him heal. As to Mr. Patel, his family will lose time from work, money from their savings, and time away from other responsibilities like their children to take care of their uncle and father.
Perhaps it is too easy to be critical about Parker’s decision and actions. Perhaps it is too easy to be critical about law enforcement officers. Perhaps it is. I take no pleasure in watching the disasters that will follow Parker and his family around. I am sure that he wanted to serve the public and an ideal, Plato’s great society. But do we back away from it in effort to portray the difficulties besetting both sides? Remember, all that Mr. Patel was doing was walking on a sidewalk. Remember that as you extend sympathies to Mr. Parker. I’d like to hear Parker’s justification for throwing an innocent man almost twice his age into the ground. Patel could not speak English well if at all; certainly not well enough to keep himself safe from law enforcement. Where did Parker get the permission to throw Patel into the ground? Was that part of his training in the academy? Did Parker get any instruction on how to conduct himself in the public’s eye? Law enforcement officers are trained to spot crime and criminals. I will admit that some are quite good at it. But in this role they are only amateur detectives with only a vague understanding of the law, the rights of the citizen or their rights as enforcers. Seems like basic precaution to don’t go overboard. Throwing a 57 year old Indian man into the ground means the officer didn’t use the most rudimentary precaution.
McMaken offers common sense solutions that involve the most basic decencies:
Now, if Bubba were any sort of man, and not a trembling overgrown child who calls the police to solve all his problems, he could have gone out into the yard and had a closer look at Patel or walked right up to him and asked him if he could help Patel find something. Bubba’s watching way too much television if he thinks he was likely to put himself at risk by approaching someone walking down a suburban sidewalk in broad daylight. Just making his presence known to others walking through the neighborhood would have made it clear that this is a neighborhood where people are at home and alert. That should be sufficient for any mentally well-balanced resident who doesn’t assume everyone is out to get him in the middle of Suburbia, USA.
Instead of this small but meaningful effort at communicating with your neighbor and spending a half hour getting to know him, “. . . an old Indian guy walking down the street” turns into a nightmare:
McMaken is right: “Naturally, much of the response to the incident has focused on the brutality of the police. This is good, as far as it goes, but there’s another player in this who should be condemned at least as much as the police: the person who called the police.”
When the background noise of one’s neighborhood is paranoia, a kind shared by police officers and its residents, then the fiction that breeds the paranoia is the witch’s brew for the most nightmarish of realities.