News & Politics

Mayors Aren't Going to Tamp Down Violence by Firing Police

Atlanta mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms declares victory during an election-night watch party Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Atlanta. Atlanta's two-person mayoral runoff election is too close to call. Bottoms leads Mary Norwood by a margin of less than 1 percent, which is the threshold where the second-place finisher can request a recount under state law. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has fired two police officers involved in a controversial incident on Sunday night where two college students were arrested.

The officers were fired for using “excessive force.” Bodycam video shows an officer breaking the driver’s side window with a baton while both students exit the vehicle with several officers pointing guns at them.

Investigators Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner were fired by the chief of police at the urging of the mayor. Both officers are black.

Associated Press:

Bottoms said the woman, Taniyah Pilgrim, was released without charges. She said the man, Messiah Young, was released, too, and she’s ordering the charges against him dropped. She didn’t specify what charges he faced. A police report says Young was charged with attempting to elude police and driving with a suspended license.

Dramatic body camera video that police released Sunday night shows police taking another young man into custody in a downtown street alongside a line of stopped cars. The man is pleading with police to let him go, saying he didn’t do anything.

The bodycam video is pretty conclusive.

Young, sitting in the driver’s seat of a car stopped in the street holds up his phone, appearing to shoot video as an officer approaches and pulls the driver’s side door open. Young pulls the door shut and says repeatedly, “I’m not dying today.” He urges the officers to release the other man and let him get in the car as the dark sedan advances a bit.

The car gets stuck in traffic and officers run up to both sides of the car shouting orders. An officer uses a stun gun on Pilgrim as she’s trying to get out of the car and then officers pull her from the vehicle.

Another officer yells at Young to put the car in park and open the window. An officer repeatedly hits the driver’s side window with a baton, and another officer finally manages to break it.

As the glass shatters, an officer uses a stun gun on Young and officers pull him from the car as officers shout, “Get your hand out of your pockets,” and, “He got a gun. He got a gun. He got a gun.” Once he’s out of the car and on the ground, officers zip tie Young’s hands behind his back and lead him away.

Police reports do not list a gun as having been recovered.

Context is everything. The circumstances on Sunday night were putting both protesters and police on edge. A large crowd can be seen milling about in the background of the video which almost certainly played into the fears of police.

The cops overreacted. But was it “excessive force”? We’ll never know what a police board thinks about it because the men were summarily fired before a hearing was conducted. The decision was made by the mayor and police chief.

“I really wanted to believe that the body-worn camera footage would provide some larger view that could better rationalize why we got to this space,” Shields said. “And having spent most of the afternoon with the mayor, reviewing the footage exhaustively, I knew that I had only one option, and that is to terminate the employees.”

Obviously, the mayor herself overreacted. She made a panicky decision which resulted in a panicky move to fire officers — both of whom had been on the job for more than 15 years — when perhaps, in normal times, they would have received a reprimand or suspension.

Does she really think this will assuage the anger of the demonstrators? Does she really believe firing the officers will make a shred of difference to the rioters?

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was not thinking clearly. Giving in to a mob is never a good idea. When you give them what they want, they demand more. Better to stand up and demand adherence to the law than trying to appease the unappeasable.