A Closer Look At Protocol: How Antiquated Policy Hinders Police Accountability

by Staff Writer Britni Sharde

Since March of 2020, from the murder of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, the social climate of nation produced protests against police brutality in every state. Rage and tears accompanied chants of “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” while strangers walked shoulder to shoulder surrounded by the terror of a global pandemic. On June 4, 2020, as two teenage Black boys walked down the 1300 block of North Osage Drive, two white police officers approached them for jaywalking. In the body cam footage of the encounter, police officers are seen approaching the youngest of the two teens by physically grabbing him and, ultimately, arresting him while handcuffing and releasing the other. According to Tulsa Police Department Chief Wendell Franklin, neither officer will be receiving disciplinary action due to the department’s policies. When community members inquired about the severity of the treatment of the two teenagers, police officials assured Tulsans that the officers were following protocol. The use of force was believed to be excessive and unnecessary by the public and by the Mayor himself. Although the protests we have seen nationally are often a result of unarmed individuals dying at the hands of police officers, the antiquated policies that allowed for these teenagers to be treated like criminals for jaywalking on a street without sidewalks is the reason why people are protesting. 

At the 0:23 second mark of the video of the encounter, both young men are seen walking on the left side of the street, where there are no sidewalks, while both officers get out of the squad car and begin walking behind them. At this point, there was no audible sound provided on the video until the 0:31 mark, where one of the officers is seen getting into the squad car to catch up to both young men while the other officer is seen walking ahead of him. The public has no insight into what was said by the officers upon their initial contact with the teens. At the 1:32 mark, the officer that was walking on foot is then seen running up behind the younger male, wearing a dark-colored hoodie, and asking the teen, ”What are you on?” According to TPD’s policies around juvenile arrest and detention (procedure 31-121B), “Tulsa officers are to use the least coercive [force] among reasonable alternatives that are consistent with state and federal law.” At 1:37, we hear the young man wearing the blue hoodie calmly say to the officers, “Let me go man. I ain’t got nothing on me.” The officer’s restraint of the teenager with the hoodie was not in line with the policy of how to handle a non-serious offense.

According to TPD’s policies and procedures handbook, officers are only able to “use force which is objectively reasonable” (procedure #31-101A under their Use of Force policy). In a 1989 United States Supreme Court case (Graham v. Connor), the courts defined “objectively reasonable” as an officer’s actions being reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him without regard to his underlying intent or motivation. In a post written on the TPD Facebook page, the officers were “members of the Tulsa Police Department Organized Gang Unit.” The post informed the public that this unit “relies on data-driven intelligence reports to guide their investigations and determine geographical areas of greatest need… utilizing consensual encounters as well as probable cause stops to contact citizens in the residential neighborhoods.” These encounters in residential neighborhoods are supposed to be “very brief but provide the officers a chance to build rapport and discuss the reason for the stop and why they are in the area.” However, The severity of the force used for the crime committed was seen by community members as harsh and excessive, especially considering the state of the nation. 

The young man who was grabbed by the officer from behind becomes visibly agitated at the 1:42 mark of the video. The officers involved in the incident later argued that the reason they grabbed him is because he was jaywalking. However, according to the TPD’s policy around juvenile arrest and detention (procedure 31-121B), jaywalking is considered a non-serious offense. According to this procedure, an alternative to how the young man was handled could have been to “release [him] without further enforcement action or a simple citation.” At the 2:17 mark, the other young man asked the officers about their handling of his cousin, who was at that point laying face down on the ground. He asked why they were putting handcuffs on him; one of the officers responded, “Because he was jaywalking. We just want to talk with him. He didn’t have to act a fool like that.” To forcibly grab someone for jaywalking is an infringement of the right to be approached in a respectable manner, especially for such a minor offense. 

Two minutes and thirty seconds into the video, the officer that initially grabbed the young man wearing the dark hoodie from behind, walks up to the young man who was still standing and, without asking, warning or probable cause, begins to search him. In TPD’s public policy manual, when it comes to personal searches, officers may conduct a preliminary search for weapons or frisk, which is to pass hands over their bodies in search of weapons or drugs, whenever circumstances warrant such a search (procedure # 31-107). The Supreme Court states that a frisk or search is lawful when there is reason to believe the suspect is armed, the search is limited to weapons or suspicious activity has been observed and the officer is able to fully document the particular activity and explain why it is suspicious. The minor stood calmly asking questions in an effort to seek answers as to why the officers were treating them in the manner that they were. At the three minute mark, after continued frustration and no answers as to why the officers were harassing them, the officer placed the eldest young man in handcuffs and directed him to have a seat on the ground. There is no policy that speaks to why this was necessary. 

One of the teenagers is seen lying on the ground at the 3:51 mark asking repeatedly, “What y’all following me for?” The officer standing next to him acknowledged that they were being followed because they were jaywalking: “You broke the law, that’s why.” The younger minor then asked, “Why you punch me?” It is unclear which officer responded by saying, “You just want to keep talking. You don’t want to listen.” At the 11:36 mark, the youngest says, “Y’all want to see us dead. No, I hate y’all.”Although this behavior may be seen as unacceptable, it must be mentioned that the officer did not do his due diligence in implementing de-escalation tactics with an obviously agitated teenage boy. In TPD’s policy manual, there are no policies or procedures concerning de-escalation, something that could have changed the outcome of the encounter. According to the Open Journal to Social Sciences article titled “Conflict De-Escalation: Workforce Training,” de-escalation tactics are used to “… to stabilize the situation and reduce the immediacy of the threat so that more time, options, and resources are available to resolve the situation. The goal of de-escalation is to gain the voluntary compliance of subjects, when feasible, and thereby reduce or eliminate the necessity to use physical force.”

Community members asked the police department about the altercation because they felt as though the officers incriminated the teen boys before engaging with them. Mayor GT Bynum stated in a Facebook post that he watched the video “as a parent rather than a mayor” and noted that “we as a city can do better.” TPD Chief Wendell Franklin advised community members that the use of force regarding the teens had gone through the proper chain of command. “The force utilized is within our policy,” he stated. The issue community members demand policy makers address, aside from the incident, is the obsolescent and even general disregard for the humanity that these policies tend to render. The idea of force being used within police policies is vague, unreasonable and antiquated, which can lead to biased policing. Biased policing can make it easy for police officers to possibly make rash, and at times, inaccurate decisions based on generalized observations while also making it difficult for them to be held accountable for those decisions. This leads to the perpetuation of mistrust between police officers and the communities they are sworn to protect.

Photo credit: Joseph Rushmore

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