The Right to Resist -- and the Duty to InterposeBy William Norman Grigg
“Get on the floor! Get on the floor!” ordered the assailant, dragging the college-age victim into a campus building and shoving him to the ground in front of an astonished student. As the vessel of his wrath curled up in a fetal position, the bully continued his harangue.
“Do you want me to hurt you again? Do you want me to sock you in the mouth? Where’s my paper? Huh? Where’s my paper?”
Unsatisfied with the answers he received, the bully reached down and shoved the prone target, then threw a lazy punch that failed to connect. After a few seconds, the victim managed to scramble away, and the assailant – whose rage suddenly and inexplicably evaporated – took a seat next to the befuddled witness.
“Sir – how come you didn’t help out?” the “bully” asked the student, who had silently ignored the fracas, which was staged as part of an informal sociological experiment.
“I think the big issue for our generation is bullying,” explains the lead actor in this melodrama, YouTube personality and activist Yousef Erakat. “Why does bullying continue, and why doesn’t anybody put a stop to it?” Erakat and a friend, Ali Amjad, devised what they called The Bullying Experiment, in which they staged incidents at several locations on the UCLA campus and video-recorded the reactions of witnesses.
In one skit, Erakat grabbed Amjad and rebuked him for running away, pointing out that “I know where you live.” In another, he seized his co-star by the throat and then threatened a nearby student, who briefly turned his head to watch and then left without a word. One student – a near-ringer for Community’s Troy Barnes – can be seen using his cellphone to record the confrontation, standing his ground when Erakat threatens him.
The choreographed pseudo-violence reaches a point at which Erakat jumped on top of Amjad and appeared to pummel him, and this provoked some students to intervene physically. The Good Samaritan in one incident was a burly male, who grabbed Erakat from behind and dragged him away. On another occasion, a small and physically over-matched – yet commendably defiant -- young woman named Caitlin Estudillo actually shielded the “victim” with her body.
The point of this charade, Erakat insists, is summarized in this question: “What if no one stopped to help you while you were getting bullied?” This updated and expanded take on the Parable of the Good Samaritan posits an affirmative moral duty to intervene to protect an innocent person who is being bullied by an aggressor.
Assuming that principle is valid, shouldn’t it apply to aggressive violence by people acting on behalf of the State – police officers, in particular? Don’t bystanders have a moral responsibility to intervene, in any way possible, to protect someone being beaten or otherwise abused by a cop?
The behaviors displayed by Erakat in this role-playing exercise, and some of the specific language he used (“Get on the floor! Get on the floor!”), made his character practically indistinguishable from any of thousands of police officers whose violent exploits have been captured on video and broadcast to the world.
There are, of course, some significant differences: The bully played by Erakat didn’t continue to escalate his attack until he had achieved “compliance,” nor did he summon the help of several colleagues – a few who would join in the beating, and a few others who would form a protective ring around the assailants in order to prevent onlookers from intervening on behalf of the victim.
This is to say that although the scripted violence of Erakat’s bully was sufficient to shock the conscience, that of the typical police officer in a similar encounter is immeasurably worse – and bystanders are not only encouraged not to intervene, but prohibited by “law” from doing so.
Erakat’s video, which made its debut several weeks ago, offers a timely counter-point to the murder and manslaughter trial of Fullerton Police Officers Manuel Ramos and Ken Cincinelli. Ramos and Cincincelli are two of the eight cops who beat homeless man Kelly Thomas to death on the street near a bus station on July 11, 2011.
Thomas had done nothing to justify an arrest. (Ramos, eager to confect a pretext, pretended that Kelly had removed discarded mail from the trash, which isn't illegal.) The mentally troubled, 160-lb. man posed no threat to anybody. Thomas died – that is, he lapsed into an irreversible coma – while crying out for his father to help him.
Nobody tried to help Thomas – because Americans have been indoctrinated to believe that it is morally wrong and legally impermissible to do so. This is obviously not the case under the moral law. As Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas acknowledged during closing arguments in the trial of Ramos and Cincinelli, this isn’t the case under the written law, as well.
“There is no legal authority for a police officer to use force to punish someone,” Rackauckas informed the jury. “There’s no authority to use force for `street justice.’ A police officer cannot get mad at somebody and start punching him around, or use any kind of force on him at all.”
When a police officer uses “unreasonable or excessive force, he is not lawfully performing his duties,” the prosecutor continued. Section 2670 in California’s Criminal Jury Instructions explains that defendants accused of resisting arrest cannot be convicted if the arrest was unlawful, and that “a person may lawfully use reasonable force to defend himself or herself.”
The threshold question is whether the victim “reasonably believes he is in imminent danger of unreasonable or excessive force by a police officer.” Of course, the mere presence of a police officer is enough to satisfy that condition.
Ramos, who taunted and mocked Thomas for several minutes before beginning his assault, slapped on a pair of rubber gloves and told the victim that he was preparing to “f**k you up.”
It wasn’t necessary at that point for Thomas to wait until Ramos assaulted him, according to Rackauckas; the officer’s threat “created in Kelly Thomas a right to self-defense.”
“A lot of people don’t understand this idea – but the police know,” Rackauckas continued. “They know if they are not lawfully performing their duty … [and] are using excessive force, that a person has the right to self-defense – that a person has the right to resist. You have a right to resist an unlawful arrest.” (Emphasis added.)
This point had been made earlier from the witness stand by retired FBI Special Agent John Wilson. A former tactical police training expert, Wilson spent 60 hours studying the surveillance video of the Kelly Thomas killing. He testified that the actions of Officer Ramos were improper and unlawful. Under cross-examination by the defense, Wilson emphasized that once the police attack began, Thomas had the right to use lethal force, if necessary, to protect himself. The OC Weekly reports that the off-duty cops who crowded the courtroom reacted to Wilson’s testimony “by shaking their heads and hissing.”
Irrespective of statutory and case law, Police are trained to deal with resistance of any kind by escalating force until the targeted individual submits, or dies. They have been encouraged in such behavior by several decades of judicial rulings that often recognize the innate right to self-defense against police violence while perversely insisting that citizens have a duty to submit to whatever indignity or trauma a cop sees fit to inflict on him.
That was essentially the case made by police union attorney John Barnett in his closing arguments on behalf of Ramos. Appealing to what he hopes is the latent authoritarianism of the Orange County jury, Barnett insisted that by provoking a confrontation with Thomas and then beating him into a coma, Ramos “did everything he could to keep the community safe…. Officer Ramos had a right to do exactly what he was doing.”
From the perspective of Barnett and the police union that fills his doggie dish, when a policeman decides to kill someone, that person has a duty to die. As Rackauckas pointed out to the jury, this morally abhorrent view is a legal fiction – and police are aware of that fact.
All bullying is based largely on bluff. Yousef Erakat, echoing the themes of the government-sponsored “anti-bullying” campaign, insists that witnesses have a moral obligation to call the bully’s bluff and, if necessary, interpose on behalf of a victim. Kelly Thomas was battered into a lifeless pulp in view of dozens of people who have been trained to think that this principle doesn’t apply to privileged bullies in government-issued attire.
William Norman Grigg publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.
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