Monday, March 07, 2016
No, No, No, No: Walking Down the Street Drinking Cappuccino While Black, And Then Taking Pictures While, Alas, Still Black
So yeah, this is still happening: On February 6, Charles "Chris" Harrell, a 29-year-old black man in Cincinnati, was walking down the the street carrying his morning coffee when bike cop Baron Osterman started following him. Because he is a black man in Cincinnati in the United States of America and he has been here before, Harrell began filming the scene with his cell phone, offering a cogent, bitter sort of Greek chorus as he went. “This is what we have to go through in Cincinnati,” he noted. "You can't be a black man and enjoy your morning, because the police are going to harass you."
Right on cue, Osterman confronts him. With no cars in sight, he says, "Sir, I saw you crossing at the light.” When Harrell argues on behalf of his constitutional rights, things quickly go downhill. Osterman slams him into a wall - knocking the phone to the ground, where it keeps filming - handcuffs, searches and arrests him on four charges: jaywalking, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice and possession of a small amount of pot; the classic New Jim Crow move of minor traffic stop followed by search entangles many people of color in the so-called criminal justice system.
When Harrell posted the video of his arrest on March 1 and it went viral, Cincinnati police, already facing decades-long charges of police abuse and racism, felt pressure to respond. Sgt. Daniel Hils of the city's Fraternal Order of Police watched the video and declared it was all good: Harrell crossed against the light and was "belligerent," Osterman smelled pot and "remained professional." His conclusion: "I did not witness any police misconduct." This result was remarkably similar to the time in 2003 when Osterman and five of his brothers in blue beat to death Nathaniel Jones, an unarmed black man. All six officers were returned to duty shortly after, and in a subsequent civil suit by Jones' family a court found Osterman "did not act objectively unreasonably."
Meanwhile, last week Harrell went to court for his jaywalking and other charges. While there, he took a photo of three officers standing in the courthouse hallway and posted it on Facebook with the inflammatory comment, "I'm in court." Because rules ban photos in courtrooms or other areas "to be determined in (sic) the sole discretion of the Court" and somebody sure has it in for Harrell, he was arrested again on Friday. He is being held without bail and is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to face all the earlier ludicrous charges along with the new one - indirect contempt of court. Given all the bullshit he's had to endure, God knows at this point he'd be justified in making it direct contempt, along with whatever righteous fury he still has the energy to summon.