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What’s Reasonable? March 25, 2007

Posted by Winter in race matters, violence.

Priyamvada Gopal has a really good article in the Guardian looking at the issue of race and the concept of “reasonable force” in relation to the recent footage of a Yorkshire Policeman beating a young black woman who was resisting arrest, while being backed up by 3 other officers and a Police dog. No one wants to talk about race in this case although, as Gopal observes, it’s difficult to imagine a petite middle-class white woman being beaten up like this.

Much to my frustration, I cannot get the UTube post to your blog thing to work, so I’ll have to give you the link if you want to watch the video here.

Sixteen years after an amateur video of a black man being beaten by cops in Los Angeles flickered across our television screens and triggered terrible riots, we recalled the images vividly as we saw CCTV footage last week of a slight black woman surrounded by four burly men and a police dog straining at its leash, being hammered into the ground by blow after blow.

This time the story – featured mainly in this newspaper and in a BBC Newsnight report – was studiously cold-shouldered by most of the mainstream media. Petty crime or terrorism, went the consensus, the police had to get on with the job. Only sensationalists would compare this beating to the infamous Rodney King episode or the 1997 California shooting of Tyisha Miller, a black woman sitting unconscious in her car. A swift burial of the story took place, although the incident itself has gone on to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for investigation.

We can agree that behind each image lies a unique story, and that Rodney King in 1991 and Toni Comer in 2006 should not be folded into the same narrative. We can acknowledge that police officers work in a dangerous job in difficult times and must be in a position to ensure their own safety and that of others. Not every picture of a white police officer forcefully apprehending a black suspect, even one as fragile as Comer, is an iconic image of racism. Indeed, Comer, who was 19 at the time of the incident last July, has herself steadfastly refused to play the so-called race card, and her complaint to the IPCC is of excessive force, not racism. She is not speaking as a “black woman”.

Still, it remains difficult to imagine a petite middle-class white woman being beaten like this, or that so shocking an image would be played down by the media. Iconic pictures of white women tend to tell stories of victimisation by vicious crime (Abigail Witchalls) or capture-and-rescue (the photogenic Jessica Lynch, not Shoshana Johnson, the black woman soldier also taken captive in Iraq). When the pictures from Abu Ghraib emerged, the shock of seeing a white woman engaged in torture was diffused by a spurious class logic that dismissed Lynndie England as “white trash”.

Ms Comer was drunk, disorderly and culpable of criminal damage. She was also committing that unpardonable female offence, “ball-busting”, as she resisted arrest. Perhaps a guy, whether rapist or policeman, has gotta do what a guy’s gotta do, including dragging this young woman to the police van with her trousers around her knees, while she, an epilepsy sufferer, flails and foams at the mouth. It is entirely possible, meanwhile, that PC Anthony Mulhall was, in fact, using “approved techniques” and “reasonable force”.

It’s important stuff. Read the rest: What’s horrific about the use of force is how it’s accepted as reasonable



1. Shannon Munford - March 26, 2007

I often wonder why as an owner of several anger management education center that I do not see more law enforcment personell enter my office. Anger Management classes are full of defendants who act out violently due to frustration, racial predjudice or pure callousness but I have yet to see one police man ordered to take my classes due to excessive use of force.

Shannon Munford M.A.-Anger Management Expert

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