By now if you haven't seen the video of the Seattle police officer cold-cocking a 17-year-old black girl, you might want to check your Internet connection. There were certainly enough cameras capturing every moment when police officer Ian P. Walsh attempted to arrest Marilyn Ellen Levias for jaywalking. Things went from the mundane to the absurd when Angel Rosenthal came to the aid of her friend and shoved Walsh. He responded with a punch that left Rosenthal staggered, the crowd that had gathered stunned (and happy for the mandatory YouTube moment) and all three of them in it neck-deep and rising.
This was more of a case of civilian stupidity than police brutality. What's she thinking the cop is going to do when she grabs his arm? Give her a high-five? The local NAACP wants the cop fired. The American Civil Liberties Union says the Seattle police have a bad habit of using excessive force. The police department promises an open investigation of the incident. The Seattle Times reveals Levias' and Rosenthal's prior criminal records.
As if it were rehearsed, the actors take their place on stage and recite their well-known lines. The only thing missing is the inevitable press conference starring a suddenly demure Rosenthal and Levias, dolled up for church on Easter Sunday, sitting mutely as their outraged attorney promises to sue the city for millions for his savagely beaten and terminally embarrassed clients. (But you know it's coming.)
Race is irrelevant to the crime committed. A jaywalker is a jaywalker is a jaywalker. The cop was working alone in a situation where he had bitten off a little more than he could chew. Who knew that what should have been a simple ticket would turn into a viral video to be seen over and over for the next few days?
Maybe the cop should have radioed for backup, but he didn't have the opportunity. Who would think you're going to need help collaring a jaywalker? It looks bad when the cop clocks the girl, but she escalated the event from supporting her friend verbally to actually putting her hands on him. That was when his training had to kick in because the situation was getting real. She's lucky he didn't use more force. Under similar circumstances, some cops might have shot first and explained later.
When the cops are in the wrong, give 'em hell. When the cops are in the right, give 'em a break. Other than letting the girls go, what else could the officer do? No, I take that back. There's plenty more he could have done, and if he had, we would be debating cops gunning down jaywalkers instead.
I'm not advocating beat-downs for folks who think the crosswalk is only a suggestion, but let's use a little common sense here. When your friend is being an idiot and talking smack to an annoyed police officer, why jump in to co-sign the stupidity? Especially when that so-called "friend" is acting like a fool and showing her butt in public. What anyone should do with a "friend" like that is let her take the ride downtown by her damn self. Then do her a favor by calling her parents to let them know they need to get some bail money together.
I have to give her some props. That was a pretty classic overhand right, and she took it like a champ. Didn't even knock her down, even though it looked like it hurt a lot.
Now before Al and Jesse and the other usual suspects parachute in to lead a one-day rally against police brutality then zoom off to their next photo-op, let's be clear here. Before anyone says, "He shouldn't have hit a woman," stop it. If this were one guy coming to the aid of another guy, nobody would be crying sexism. If equality means anything, it means when a woman gets stupid like this woman did, she can get her lights punched out just the same as any man.
Did the cop take things too far? Oh, yes indeed. But before dirtying up Walsh too much, save a mud pie or two for Rosenthal and Levias as well. Jaywalkers get hit for $56 bucks in Seattle. That's a lot cheaper than a trip to the dentist for new bridgework.
If the cop had shot her or her mouthy friend, you bet I'd be all over him like a bad rash. Shooting someone for jaywalking? Nobody's calling for that. But when you interfere with a police officer enforcing the law, you're asking for bad things to happen to you.
It's real easy to learn how not to get your ass kicked by the police. Chris Rock explained it years ago: "Obey the law, be polite, shut the bleep up, and maybe get a white friend."
The young ladies who are now enjoying the hospitality of the Seattle Police Department should have paid closer attention. Black people are intimately familiar with police brutality. But what about our own civilian stupidity?
Jeff Winbush is a freelance writer and former editor of The Columbus Post in Ohio.