A common misconception about the movement against systemic racism in policing is that the only thing being addressed is Black death. I think this is in part because white people have found their “what about Black-on-Black crime?” strawman to throw out there in response to our complaints about the extrajudicial executions of Black people, but police racism has always been much more than that. It’s also about racial profiling, harassment, a lack of regard for the respect and dignity of Black bodies, the fact that cops are generally more aggressive when dealing with Black suspects and, of course, a cop’s favorite go-to justification for stopping us in the first place: “You fit the description.”
On Friday, a federal court judge sentenced former St. Paul, Minn., police officer Brett Palkowitsch to six years in prison for violating the civil rights of 57-year-old Frank Amal Baker, The Washington Post reports.
On June 24, 2016, Palkowitsch and other police officers responded to a call about a large street fight taking place. 911 dispatchers described a man reportedly seen carrying a gun as an “unidentified Black male with dreadlocks and a white t-shirt.” The cops arrived at the scene and found no evidence that a large fight had taken place, but they did find themselves a “Black male with dreadlocks and a white t-shirt,” and, because it never occurred to them that locs represent a popular hairstyle among Black men and white t-shirts are worn by literally every-fucking-body, they decided to proceed as if they definitely had the right armed negro.
From the Post:
One of the officers told Baker to get out of the car, as the police dog barked loudly at him, according to a criminal complaint.
Seconds later, the officer released the dog, which knocked Baker to the ground and started mauling his leg. While Baker was on the ground screaming in pain, Palkowitsch kicked Baker in the torso continuously, breaking seven ribs and causing his lungs to collapse, according to a Department of Justice statement.
According to court records, Palkowitsch testified he “firmly believed” the person on the ground matching the description was in fact the person who was seen with a weapon and that he had “acted under the assumption” that the person being bitten by the dog had a weapon on him.
The police found no gun at the scene and no evidence that Baker, a 52-year-old grandfather who lived in the neighborhood, had been involved in any fight, the statement said.
So, before I continue, I suppose I need to ask the obvious question: Why TF is Palkowitsch the only one going to prison? I mean, obviously, he did the most damage and his ass absolutely needed to be thrown under the jail, but what of the officer who released the dog in the first place.
“When the officer said ‘get out of the car and put your hands up,’ I put my hands up,” Baker told MPR News of the incident in which he can be heard screaming in pain in police dashcam video. “I didn’t even have time to take two steps. He let the dog out. I’m looking like it’s in slow motion. No, you didn’t!”
The other officers at the scene were among those who testified against Palkowitsch when he was convicted in 2019, so maybe that has something to do with him being the only one held accountable.
According to MPR, Palkowitsch waived his right to appeal the verdict, but he could appeal the sentence since District Judge Wilhelmina Wright rejected a settlement agreement that would have set his sentence at four to five years.
During the sentencing hearing, Palkowitsch offered Baker a tearful apology saying, “I hope that today gives you a little bit of closure, but I know for the rest of your life it’s something you’re going to have to deal with,” the Post reports. “For the rest of my life, it’s something that I’m going to have to live with as well. But from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.”
Baker—who received a $2 million settlement from the city of St Paul behind the altercation—said that he forgave Palkowitsch long ago in order to move past it, but he said he doesn’t believe the apology was sincere.
“His family and friends, his mother, his wife, his kids, got to see that he has a dark side to him,” Baker said. “He made my life a living hell.”