Thomas Nestel, the Philadelphia Transit Authority police chief, is aghast over the refusal of bystanders to help a transit cop — Sam Wellington — being beaten up by one of their fellow citizens that he’d been trying to arrest. “I was horrified. I was frightened for my cops.”
Well, it’s hard not to sympathize with the guy. “I’ve tried everything — tasing, beating, tear-gassing — and people still don’t like me!”
Sarcasm aside, the reader comments under the article reporting the story give Chief Nestel even more room for dismay:
“These cops are thugs and they shouldn’t be surprised when the people aren’t on their side.”
“All I see in that video is gang on gang violence.”
Philly cops, going back at least to Frank Rizzo’s tenure as mayor, have been notorious for their brutality and corruption, even among big city cops. In the late 90s ten officers were caught planting evidence and shaking down drug dealers for payoffs. Of course they can’t rest on those laurels forever. Since then, thanks to the Drug War and ongoing militarization of police culture, other big city police forces around the U.S. have narrowed the corruption gap considerably.
At any rate, Nestel should probably just be glad his “officer down” didn’t get the same kind of “protection and service” his subordinates provide to the people of Philadelphia every day. If he had, six of the bystanders might have surrounded him, repeatedly kicked his ribs, head and groin, rained countless baton blows down on him with maximum force, sprayed pepper spray in his eyes at point blank range, and tased him a few dozen times — all while screaming “Stop resisting! Stop resisting!” as they slammed his face into the concrete. And shot his dog. And threatened to beat up anyone who recorded the incident.
If he survived all that — many don’t — the helpful bystanders might have wrenched his shoulders out of joint cuffing him, slammed his head into the car a few times in the process of putting him in it, and then thrown him unconscious in a holding cell without medical attention for twelve hours or so.
What if he didn’t survive it? Police frequently use the “Stop resisting!” gambit to disguise the fact that they’re brutalizing a person who’s not only no longer capable of resisting, but most likely incapable of any agency at all. Simply spasming involuntarily in agony, or reflexively curling into a fetal position and putting one’s arms around one’s head, is enough to qualify as “resistance” and justify the uniformed beasts in continuing to gleefully assault their victim. And then it turns out that the person who died “resisting arrest” had been having an epileptic seizure or was in a diabetic coma.
Either way, if inconvenient cell phone video footage led to the helpful bystanders being investigated for excessive force in “protecting and serving” the beleaguered officer, they would most likely be exonerated on grounds that they “followed all official procedures” and were “in fear for their lives.”
But if any of the bystanders discovered a nick or scratch on their knuckles, or had a couple of sprained toes after all that protecting and serving, you can be sure the downed officer would have been slapped with an assault and battery charge for every mussed hair on their heads. And if he had even a pen knife in his pocket — let alone a police-issue gun, baton, taser and pepper spray — you can add “assault with a deadly weapon” or “assault with intent to kill” to all those charges.
So maybe Chief Nestel should be grateful the public didn’t step in and provide the same kind of “protection and service” that cops give the public every single day.
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