Elmira Independent Editorial
By now, most of our readers will have seen it — a one-minute video on YouTube, labelled “Police Brutality Elmira.”
The video contains a scene where officers subdue a young man — using force to do so.
One officer is holding the 23-year-old Elmira man, while another uses two knee strikes and a hand strike, to get the man to place his hands behind his back to be handcuffed.
The man, who appears agitated in the rather grainy image, says “I can’t breathe,” and later pleads for a drink of water.
The so-called “violence” takes all of 13 seconds.
Judging by the online comments, most viewers felt the use of force was unwarranted, as did eyewitness Dave Craig, who said that the second officer arrived on the scene, and “immediately started kneeing the guy.”
But was it really unwarranted?
It’s hard for us to compare this incident to others we know about — the infamous Rodney King incident comes to mind, as do numerous others.
In many of those cases, the attacks from officers appear to be racially motivated, and go on at length.
That isn’t the case in the “Elmira incident,” for want of a better phrase.
According to information obtained from Waterloo Regional Police, the individual involved had actively resisted arrest — first by running away, then by refusing to place his hands behind his back for handcuffing.
The second officer had been called the scene as backup, after the first officer had struggled at length with the man.
And, in this case, concealed hands could mean concealed weapons. Officers are trained to respond to these situations by ensuring compliance, as quickly as possible.
When officers are facing potentially dangerous circumstances, they have to act decisively, to ensure the safety of themselves, and those around them.
That appears to be the case in this incident.
The officer in question acts quickly and decisively, and then stops from going further.
Two knee strikes, and one open-hand thrust.
Thirteen seconds, barely the time it takes to read a paragraph or two of this editorial. Even if we add on the additional time estimated by Craig prior to the start of the video, the entire incident lasted 30 seconds.
As police chief Matt Torigian put it at this week’s council meeting, “once in awhile, we encounter disagreeable people. We are trained to use as little force as possible, but that doesn’t mean no force.”
Was it absolutely necessary?
But is it brutality? We don’t think so.
If the officers had continued using force after the man was subdued, we might think otherwise.
After all, there is no indication that this man required any medical attention after the incident. There was no ambulance called to the scene, and, even in the video, he doesn’t complain of pain after being restrained.
In reality, there are likely countless other incidents similar to this one, where officers have to make quick decisions when dealing with the less-savoury (or simply intoxicated) individuals in our region.
It is easy for us to judge when we have a short video clip — one that only shows part of the incident, and gives no context to explain even why the individual was being arrested — that suggests violence.
It’s not so easy to put ourselves in an officer’s shoes, and to know what we would do in a similar situation.