It's difficult to watch the video of the Phoenix police assaulting -- killing -- Michael Angel Ruiz. It's also hard to tell what exactly killed him. Was it the chokehold that was applied for no apparent reason? Was it the tasering? Or was it the multiple blows to the head that he received as his head repeatedly struck one concrete stair after another as the police half-dragged, half-carried his limp body from the second floor.
In what is an all too common occurrence, the cops dog-piled someone who didn't appear to be resisting, accused him of resisting and then went hog-wild on him. Following the assault, Ruiz lost consciousness, had to be resuscitated at the scene, transported to the hospital and was eventually taken off life support on August 2nd. Doctors had declared him brain dead.
Channel 15 covered the story:
Many of Michael's neighbors witnessed everything and recorded it all on their phones.
Gary Carthen was good friends with Michael, and witnessed it all.
"This was bad, very bad. Because he didn't deserve that to happen, not like that," he said.Ruiz's father, a former LAPD detective was shocked by what he saw. And if an LAPD cop is shocked by police behavior, then you know it's beyond the pale. It's hard to imagine any thing that could explain what is clear to see on the video other than violent cops out of control. Again.
Carthen and his neighbors want answers. Verna Young says you could hear his head banging on the stairs as police dragged him down.
"I started crying 'cause that's not right, to hurt nobody like that," she said. "He didn't deserve that. He was a nice person, very nice."
It's perhaps ironic, given how the police treated him, that Ruiz's Facebook page, now gathering some condolence messages from friends, also features prominent posts from him supporting the LAPD in their hunt for once-rampaging cop killer Christopher Dorner, including one in which he poses in front of a Confederate flag. The degree to which Phoenix police may have perceived Ruiz, a self-confessed Republican, as not white when they encountered him isn't clear, but one thing's for sure, that gang of cops aggressively piling on him was very white.
But let's take a step back for a minute and see if we can draw any lessons by comparison. To do that, let's check out some coverage of a different encounter with the police that happened this week, this time over at Az Central.
Notice anything? Well, first off there's the glaringly obvious: one got killed by the cops and the other got escorted off the property instead of arrested. There's no indication that the cops threatened John Coulter with violence, at least beyond that which underlies all interactions with the police. In fact, if the cops' stats can be believed, in every other incident such as this, arrest was the result. Coulter may have gotten off pretty well, considering, receiving a only a citation.
And, at first glance, it seems like that there is probably a class difference as well, at least in the eyes of the police. Season tickets aren't cheap, and even though many people share season tickets, I think we can conclude pretty safely that the target of the beer cops' ire was seen by them as respectable and reasonably well off. Meanwhile, the shirtless Ruiz standing on his roof was almost certainly not viewed in the same way, or given the same benefit of the doubt. And, of course, Coulter is clearly white. And Coulter is alive.
In many significant ways, these two incidents are like night and day. But what's really interesting is what Coulter says about what an epiphany it was for him to be treated in what he felt was a disrespectful way by the police. He says, "I would normally support the police if I heard a story like this, however, in this case I was standing right there and I witnessed abuse and over-zealous pursuing of the situation... it was totally uncalled for."
No doubt, it is rare for white people -- especially white middle class people -- to encounter the police in any situation even remotely threatening to them. Police, as far as white middle class people are concerned are helpful and kind; they direct traffic, come to take your report after an accident for insurance purposes, and keep crowds flowing at sports games. They make you feel safe. You generally like having them around. This is the experience of most white middle class people. And they generalize from this that this must also therefore be the experience of other people, people unlike them. People that the police in fact treat quite different far away from white middle class suburban sensibilities. And that therefore, when bad things are done to these other people by the police, it's probably because they deserve it.
So, the question is, can Coulter take the eye-opening, if relatively mild by comparison, run in that he had with the cops and use that to help him understand what other people experience. Certainly the cops had no inkling that Ruiz's father was a former cop. When they saw him, they saw something quite different than what they saw when they looked at Coulter. And they acted accordingly.