As a grand jury charges former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager with murder for the shooting death of unarmed African American Walter Scott, hundreds have protested in McKinney, Texas, against a white police officer who threw an African-American bikini-clad 14-year-old girl to the ground and pointed his pistol at other black youths at a pool party. We are joined by Cheryl Dorsey, a former sergeant in the Los Angeles Police Department, the third largest in the country. Dorsey’s autobiography is “The Creation of a Manifesto: Black & Blue.”
AARON MATÉ: We begin with the latest in police abuses, including cases where video could prove the difference between accountability and impunity. On Monday, a grand jury charged former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager with murder for the shooting death of unarmed African American Walter Scott. Slager had stopped Scott for a broken light when Scott fled on foot. Slager explained the shooting by saying he feared for his life and claiming Scott had taken his Taser weapon. But eyewitness video shows Slager shooting Scott in the back eight times as he runs away. Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said Slager was charged with the single murder charge allowed under South Carolina law: unlawful killing with malice aforethought.
SCARLETT WILSON: In this case and in cases involving murder, what we’re talking about is an unlawful killing with malice aforethought. And malice aforethought, yes, is a form of premeditation, but there’s no time limit or time requirement in proving malice aforethought. It can be seconds before. As long as malice exists in the heart and mind at the time before and during the killing, the state has proven malice aforethought.
AMY GOODMAN: If convicted, Michael Slager faces anywhere between 30 years to life in prison without parole. Walter Scott’s brother, Rodney Scott, and Scott family attorney, Chris Stewart, welcomed the indictment.
RODNEY SCOTT: This morning, the grand jury made a decision to indict Mr. Slager for murder, and we’re very happy and pleased about that right now.
CHRIS STEWART: Today was just an example that if you just keep the faith, even in the darkest times, you’ll see the light. But this is just step one. We’re going to patiently wait for the criminal trial in this case, and the family is going to patiently wait to see if the city and the police department and the chief is going to accept responsibility in the civil suit, because this entire situation never should have occurred with Officer Slager.
AMY GOODMAN: The indictment comes as a new incident caught on tape in Texas has sparked national outrage. A McKinney police officer has been put on leave after video emerged of his aggressive handling of African-American teens. The officer, Eric Casebolt, was responding to a complaint about a pool party the teens were attending. Several witnesses say a dispute only broke out after local white residents voiced anger at the presence of African Americans and hurled racial epithets.
On the video, Officer Casebolt is seen wrestling a teenage girl to the ground, pulling her hair, slamming her face into the ground. He then sits on top of the girl, who is only wearing a bikini, burying his knees into her back as she weeps. Casebolt also pulls a gun on another African-American teen who voices concern.
Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey spent over two decades at the Los Angeles Police Department. Her autobiography is called The Creation of a Manifesto: Black & Blue.
Sergeant Dorsey, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you tell us—we’ll start here in the McKinney case. Hundreds of people rallied yesterday in protest of what took place. Can you talk about these—this officer’s actions as he went after this 14-year-old girl?
CHERYL DORSEY: Yes, and thank you for having me on the show. You know, for me, as I watch Officer Casebolt, what I see is a bully. I see someone that was totally out of control, that was singularly focused on every African-American youth that he encountered. And then he paid particular attention to this young woman. Why? Because she failed to follow his orders. And what we see is what I like to refer to as contempt of cop. When you don’t do what an officer says, there’s a price to pay. And we’ve seen it over and over. Generally, we’ve seen that that price is death. Thank goodness no young person lost their life in this incident. But he punished her. He sat on top of her, with the full weight of his body, to make a point. And it was unnecessary. It was over the top, outrageous. And he needs to be fired.
AARON MATÉ: We also see him pulling his gun. He rolls on the ground in sort of an action figure type of pose. I mean, what do you make of the behavior here, and what does it indicate to you?
CHERYL DORSEY: What it indicates to me is that this is how this officer comports himself. I would venture to guess, if we were to look into his history, we’ll see that there are probably other incidents where people have complained about excessive force, overzealousness on his part, and I would bet that that department does what a lot of police departments do, is minimize and mitigate that bad behavior. They circle the wagons, they shield the officers, and then that officer lives to offend again. And that’s what happened here. This is not the first time that this officer has pulled his weapon out and used it as a bullying tool, as an intimidation tool to compel these children to come here, to sit down, to don’t move, to shut up. A weapon is drawn in the immediate defense of your life or the life of another. And none of that was going on when he pulled his weapon out of its holster.
AMY GOODMAN: You said that he should be fired. Should he also be charged? I mean, you think about it. A man with a gun is pushing a young woman to the ground, jumping on top of her as she screams, telling her to put her face in the ground. I mean, isn’t this outright assault?
CHERYL DORSEY: It seems very criminal to me. Certainly if a citizen was acting in this same manner, they would be charged with a litany of criminal violations—assault, assault with a deadly weapon, which is a felony, brandishing a firearm. I mean, there’s a plethora of things that he could be charged with criminally. And then let’s not forget that there were other police officers there who also, I think, hold some culpability in the actions of this officer. Although he’s senior, certainly, if you see your partner officer doing something that’s out of policy, outrageous, and could be deadly, you have an obligation to stop that officer, to pull him back, to rein him in. And that didn’t happen.
AARON MATÉ: Let’s turn to eyewitness Aryana Rhodes describing what happened in McKinney.
ARYANA RHODES: It was one police came, the brutal one, the one that attacked my friend, the 14-year-old. He attacked her. And he just came, and he was out of control. He came to these group of young men and, just out of nowhere, put them in handcuffs for no reason. And then we were just standing, me and my friends, were standing on the side, and he told us to back away. And that’s what we did. And my friend, the one that got attacked, said—she said, as I quote, “Oh, my momma, this isn’t right.” And I guess he didn’t like that, and he took it as disrespect. And he took her by the wrist and took her from the group that we were in and dragged her and pushed her into the ground and put his knee in her back so she wouldn’t move.
AARON MATÉ: Video of the incident has been viewed more than seven million times on YouTube. On Monday, protesters rallied in McKinney to call for Officer Casebolt’s firing. This is Reverend Ronald Rice of Justice Seekers Texas.
REV. RONALD RICE: We’re here today because of the unethical misconduct and racial misconduct of a police officer here in the city of McKinney. It is our hope and prayers that the chief of police, the mayor of this city handle this situation by not only firing this officer, but taking his TCOLE license, because this was simply based on race.
AARON MATÉ: Cheryl Dorsey, the issue of how this whole incident started—the teens were at a pool party. Apparently, some—there was a dispute between some white residents and some of the black teens, with the white residents hurling epithets at the black teens, and that was the so-called disturbance that spurred this officer’s response.
CHERYL DORSEY: Right. And so, with that as a backdrop, when he comes in, what he should have done is he should have contacted the reporting party, interviewed that person to find out what was going on, and then attempt to locate and identify the person that was hosting the party to further conduct an investigation. And none of that happened. It seemed as though he merely took the word of the white residents that the black teens were not there legally, permissibly, and then just went about corralling them and harassing them and talking to them in a way that was profane and offensive.
And, you know, since he’s a training officer, I’m concerned, because we also see him on video barking orders to the junior officers, “Go get that MF-er!” And they just followed him blindly. So I’m wondering if this isn’t a problem that’s maybe systemic throughout that department. If this is how your police officers are training younger officers, is this condoned? Is this behavior appropriate? I think not.
AMY GOODMAN: In a video posted to YouTube on Sunday, an African-American teenager named Tatiana said her family was hosting a cookout for friends when a racist woman began insulting them. This is Tatiana describing the incident.
TATIANA: This lady was saying racial slurs to some friends that came to the cookout.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of slurs was she saying?
TATIANA: She was saying things such as “black effer” and “that’s why you live in Section 8 homes.” There was also a male that was saying rude things. And this 14-year-old girl named Grace, which is my brother’s friend, stuck up for us, saying, “That’s not right. You shouldn’t do that. That’s racist,” and things like that. So then they started verbally abusing her, saying that she needs to do better for herself, be better for herself, cursing at her. And I’m saying, “No, that’s wrong. She’s 14. You should not say things like that to a 14-year-old.” And they’re like, “Umm, well, you need to go back where you’re from.”
AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Tatiana describing what happened. We also see in this video a large white man wearing a white shirt and blue shorts who keeps standing over the girl, sort of preventing other people from getting near her, not stopping the cop from doing what he did to her. Do you know who this man is?
CHERYL DORSEY: Well, obviously, I don’t know. He looks like a resident from the community. And he may very well have been part of the group of white residents who thought those kids had no place there, and was doing his part to ensure that the officers did their bidding, which was cause those kids to leave and then punish those who didn’t. And we’ve also seen video of two white women, two adult women, fighting, I believe it was, Tatiana. And we’ve heard nothing in terms of any assault charges against these two women for fighting this young woman. It just seems like it’s totally one-sided, and it’s to the benefit of the white residents.
AARON MATÉ: Broadly speaking, what do you think has to change inside police departments? If you could design training policies, what would you advise?
CHERYL DORSEY: Well, what I would advise is that officers should be psychologically evaluated intermittently. Police officers are put through a battery of tests initially when they come on the department. Psychological testing is one of the tests that we’re given. And then that’s it. And I think, just based on what officers are exposed to on patrol on a day-to-day basis, it makes sense to me that every so often we should just pull those officers to the side and just make sure that their head’s on straight, make sure that they haven’t become jaded.
And I think police departments should not be too quick to promote officers based on time on the job versus common sense and a demonstrated ability to show compassion and empathy for people, because if a trainer, such as Casebolt, is given the charge of teaching other officers, this is the kind of thing that he will teach. And then it becomes generational. And so you wind up with a police force that has a cultural and a systemic problem, which is what we have right now, where some officers are behaving badly because it’s learned behavior. And then some officers, I think, come to these positions with a bias.
And so, we need to identify those officers, and when they’re found to be ill-suited to be a police officer, they should not be given the gift of resignation. They should be fired. They should be terminated so that there’s a record for their bad behavior, unlike Officer Timothy Loehmann, who was allowed to resign from Independence PD and then move on to Cleveland, and ultimately killed Tamir Rice; unlike Darren Wilson, who was fired from Jennings PD and went on to Ferguson PD, and ultimately killed Mike Brown. Officers should get one bite at the apple. And if you mess up, then you’re banned from that position for life.
AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey, you spent over two decades at the Los Angeles Police Department, your autobiography called The Creation of a Manifesto: Black & Blue. Did you experience, when you were out on the street with other officers, incidents like this or worse than this? And what role can you play if you see this happening?
CHERYL DORSEY: Well, certainly, I did. I spent all 20 years in patrol, and I’m very proud of that. I worked South Bureau CRASH, which is our Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums. It’s our our gang detail. And I worked the CRASH unit during the late and middle '80s, when gangs were very prolific in Los Angeles. And so I understand that a lot of what we see is inherent to police work. Bad guys run from us. People are dishonest because they don't want to go back to jail. That’s why police officers receive an inordinate amount of training, so that when you find yourself in that situation, you just revert back to your training. You do that thing that you learned. And it’s important for officers to have common sense. But unfortunately, that’s not something that you can teach someone.
And so, when you identify an officer who either is incapable or unwilling to look at someone that they serve and identify with that person as maybe that could be my son, could be my daughter, could be my sister, and treat them accordingly, if you make those kind of observations, if we see red flags of bad behavior, overzealousness, excessive force, that officer needs to be removed from that situation, retrained if possible, and if not, removed from office. It’s just that simple.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there an issue—and did you find this—but right now, with the many people, soldiers, coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, a number of them going into police departments, how is the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder dealt with, for those that suffer from it, and also making that transition from a war zone to being a peace officer? Because that’s what police officers are supposed to be.
CHERYL DORSEY: You know, I don’t think that there’s much emphasis given to officers who struggle on many levels, whether it’s aggressiveness because of anger management, whether it’s substance abuse, maybe alcoholism, because certainly police officers have been known to get in trouble for drinking off duty, involved in instances where there’s bar fights and drunk driving. We’re not immune. And I think unless and until police department chiefs and commissioners and sheriffs admit that there’s a problem, then there’s nothing to fix. And what we hear and what we see is our police chiefs saying that everything is OK, that this really isn’t what it appears to be. And so, if everything is OK, there’s nothing to do, and there’s nothing to fix, and officers are allowed to fester. They’re allowed to stay in office. They’re allowed to offend again.
AARON MATÉ: And I want to ask you about the role of the federal government. The Obama administration certainly has been very active in going after police departments, entering into a number of different consent decrees. The most recent case was Cleveland just last month, Cleveland agreeing to a series of reforms. How effective can the federal government be in reforming police forces?
CHERYL DORSEY: Well, you know, it’s effective only as long as that consent decree is in place, right? I mean, we had a consent decree on LAPD when I joined. That was one of the reasons that I was able to get through such an expedited process. They were ordered to hire more women and minorities. And so, Cleveland is under consent decree, and they’ll behave for a while. But if you don’t change that system, if you don’t change the mindset of the officers, if you don’t change—and it’s top-down, so I’m talking about police chief down—if you don’t change that mindset, if you don’t change that culture, there’s really no teeth behind consent decrees, because if there’s no accountability, if there’s no consequence for the bad action, then how do you deter it? It’s great to make a recommendation, it’s great to have an observation about what should be done, but when that’s not done, and there’s no consequence, there’s no accountability, how do you deter it from happening again?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Sergeant Dorsey spent over two decades at the Los Angeles Police Department, the third largest police department in the country. Her autobiography called The Creation of a Manifesto: Black & Blue.
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