"I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me." – Ofc. Montrell Jackson
IN AN 'ordinary week’ — whatever the hell that means anymore— the video of Patrick Mumford being tased by Metro Police would be all anyone in Savannah is talking about.
Or in the country even, considering that Twitter celeb and columnist Shaun King reposted the video, attracting hundreds of outraged comments on the usually moderately trafficked Metro Facebook page.
Plenty of folks are talking about it, yes. But dozens of people getting run over by a terrorist in France, a soldier getting shot in a gunfight in City Market, a failed coup in Turkey, and yet another multiple assassination of police officers within the space of hours all had the cumulative effect of drawing most of our attention elsewhere. To put it mildly.
In a weird way, maybe that’s the only thin silver lining we have available: A potentially powderkeg-blowing local incident involving police escalation was averted, or maybe just postponed, by a truly massive confluence of other events.
Many of you have seen the video. Or videos, I should say, since Chief Lumpkin made several bodycam versions available in response to what he says is local attorney William Claiborne “selectively editing” the one he released on behalf of his client Mumford.
Savannah Metro was trying to serve a warrant on one Michael Clay, wanted for assault and stealing a cellphone, at an address on Martha Street.
They roll up to find a man sitting in a car in the driveway. So far so good.
But right off the bat you can tell things aren’t going to end well when one of the white officers immediately tells the African American man in the car, “You got a warrant, dude.”
Problem is, he doesn’t know who this “dude” is. Police later said he matched the description of the suspect, but the rush to judgment clearly sets up the near-catastrophe that follows.
You can guess the rest: Things escalate very quickly, as the man, later identified as Patrick Mumford, quietly offers his name and clearly is frightened and not particularly eager to get out of the car as requested.
While he is still guilty of nothing but slow movement, within seconds the cops basically go to nearly full red alert.
One begins yelling, “Tase him! Tase him!”
Which they proceed to do.
Turns out of course Mumford isn’t the guy they were looking for at all. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for whatever reason opted not to get out of the car as fast as the officers wanted him to.
It’s a very dark comment on the state of current affairs that you can actually say of this incident, “Well, at least they didn’t shoot him,” and not sound like a totally horrible human being. But there it is. That’s where we are.
While one is tempted to say it’s understandable that cops would be on edge given the military-style ambushes on them recently, the fact is this incident occurred on Feb. 1 of this year. It’s only coming out now because of the court case.
An angry Chief Lumpkin released the full versions of the bodycams in an attempt to set the record straight. But candidly the unedited footage doesn’t do much to dispel the sense that this incident didn’t have to happen this way at all.
While Mumford strangely decided to do the one thing cops hate above all other things—fidget around in his car while seeming to ignore their instructions—it’s possible that none of this would have occurred had the officers simply been even a little bit more circumspect.
And keep in mind this was for a suspect wanted for Simple Assault and theft of a cellphone, not a murderer or drug kingpin.
As is the case with so many of these officer-involved incidents, you can pinpoint nearly the exact moment things get out of hand.
And even given the legendary 20/20 vision of hindsight, you’re still left wondering why, in this day and age when police are under such microscopic scrutiny, nobody took the extra few seconds to set the situation up and minimize the chance of escalation.
Many of you saw the Mumford video, and Shaun King made sure it got plenty of play on national social media. An administrative review by Savannah Metro is pending, and this issue is by no means going away soon.
Many of you probably also saw another Facebook post, by Montrell Jackson, one of the officers murdered in Baton Rouge.
Jackson represents perhaps the most marginalized and underpublicized point of view in the country right now: The point of view of an African American police officer.
In his eerily prescient post from July 8, in a sad, exhausted, and resigned tone Jackson wrote, “I’ve experienced so much in my short life and these last 3 days have tested me to the core. When people you know begin to question your integrity you realize they don’t really know you at all.”
While most of the media is focusing on the uplifting portion of Jackson’s message, the thing I can’t get out of my head is the agony of his sense of betrayal, his pure cry of existential despair. His loneliness.
Jackson’s face—and the face of his baby son, now fatherless—are also faces to remember in this ongoing national struggle we find ourselves in.
Everybody seems to have something to say about Black Lives Matter, “All Lives Matter,” hyper-aggressive white cops, institutional racism, and Donald Trump.
But the faces of the people caught in the middle—the ones who don’t fit neatly into any particular political box—are the ones who will eventually help decide the future of this nation, and whether or not it will sink deeper into an abyss from which there is no recovery.
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