Another incident of questionable police conduct caught on film, another after-the-fact apology and a promise to review policies that already should have been reviewed.
This time, it was in Aurora, Colo., where police stopped a vehicle and, with guns drawn, forced out the occupants. The driver was Brittney Gilliam, who was on a trip to a nail salon with her sister, nieces and daughters, ages 6 to 17. All of the vehicle’s occupants were Black.
The car she was driving was suspected stolen, but it was a mistake – the license plate matched a motorcycle that was stolen in another state.
But before they realized the mixup, Aurora police officers removed the group from the car and forced them to lay on the hot pavement on an August afternoon. Two of the children – ages 17 and 12 – were handcuffed. The girls were crying and distraught.
Meanwhile, as so often happens nowadays, a passerby took video of the incident. And also as so often happens nowadays, a police department is apologizing for overreaction in response to minorities.
The Aurora Police Department has a controversial history. Last year, officers there came under scrutiny after an incident involving Elijah McClain, 23, who died after police deployed a choke hold on him. Later, paramedics injected him with a powerful sedative.
In the wake of McClain’s death, the department brought in an interim chief, Vanessa Wilson. This week, she said officers followed protocol for investigating a suspected stolen vehicle. The procedure for a high-risk stop is to draw weapons and tell the occupants to exit the vehicle and lie on the ground.
However, Wilson said the Aurora officers misread the “human element.”
“They have to react to the human element to this,” she told CBS News. “The children were traumatized and crying for their mother. We should have stopped that call and done something differently.”
Wilson, who has been chief for seven months, has personally apologized to Gilliam, the driver. The city has offered to pay for therapy. Wilson has directed her staff to look at new training and procedures.
There were no choke holds and nobody’s life appeared to be in grave danger during this stop. Police were technically following protocol. But in the months after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, we’re surprised as we continue to see such overreaction by police.
And for anyone who may shrug and assume no harm was done to these young women and children in Colorado, we ask: Would you feel the same if it was you or your family?
Police work must be taxing, trying and stressful beyond anything civilians encounter, and it’s always important to acknowledge that during any debate about police response. Law enforcement officers never know what danger lurks, and we in Grand Forks have been sad witnesses to that. Meanwhile, the community should feel fortunate that the police controversies that plague other parts of the country do not exist in Greater Grand Forks. We have seen and reported on incidents here when local officers are interacting, conversing and genuinely showing that ever-important “human element.”
But the protocols, procedures, dangers and concerns of police work notwithstanding, it’s still surprising that some departments continue to lack basic compassion and common sense, even as national protests continue and as video cameras capture these baffling lapses for all to see.