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A couple thugs accosted a family in Phoenix, Arizona, last month. They waved their penis substitutes and shouted obscenities and threats at Dravon Ames, his pregnant fiancee Iesha Harper, and their two young daughters. What's especially scary but not that surprising is the thugs had badges.


It's not just that the family was black. We're living in a post-racial utopia, after all. No, the officers were investigating reports that the family's four-year-old daughter had taken a doll from a local Family Dollar Store without paying for it. This wasn't even one of those American Girl dolls that's roughly the cost of a month's rent. It was some piddly-ass $5 doll. It goes without saying that a four-year-old girl doesn't comprehend she's committing a crime that might result in the summary execution of her family. That's because alleged shoplifting never justifies gangster-style retaliation. Mall cops on a Segway usually handle this level of larceny.

According to police, a store manager reported the BET Oceans 4 remake. However, the family's lawyer, Thomas C. Horne, claims it was an "anonymous alleged witness" who tipped off the cops. The officers followed the family to their babysitter's apartment complex. Bystander cell phone videos show the officers threatening to "put a cap" in Ames's head. They pointed a gun at the car as the four-year-old girl got out of it. They ordered Harper, who was carrying her one-year-old daughter, to put the child down on the ground like a sack of groceries.

Ames and Harper were rightly confused and terrified but still attempted to comply with the officers, who kept shouting at them and repeatedly saying they were "about to get fucking shot." One officer asked if they were "fucking deaf," which is offensive because people with actual hearing impairments do exist in the world and not just to inconvenience law enforcement. There's no evidence that the cops were prepared to deal with this family as if they were human beings.

The police report of the incident contained as much truth as a Sarah Huckabee Sanders press conference. It claimed Harper was "verbally abusive," and the officers feared she was "hiding something" or reaching for a gun. She was pregnant and was holding an infant. The report refers to Harper by her first name like they're BFFs. The report also states that Ames admitted to shoplifting underwear and throwing it from the car before they were stopped. Horne disputes this. The police did charge Ames with driving on a suspended license and impounded his car.

The family has filed a $10 million civil rights claim against the police and the city. The damages are significant: The officers reportedly dragged Harper from the car by the neck. The couple's one-year-old daughter was injured when the cops pulled on her arm because Harper wouldn't immediately hand her child over to the screaming gentlemen threatening to shoot them. Ames was thrown against a car and kicked so hard he collapsed. Horne says Ames still has a limp. Their four-year-old daughter was so traumatized she has nightmares and wets the bed.

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said in a video post on Facebook that she was "disturbed by the language and the actions" of the officers, which she claims is "not representative" of the majority of Phoenix police. If their behavior was so out of step with the norm, then Williams should just fire their asses instead of putting them on desk duty. The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union that represents the police, has not issued a statement but we imagine it'll be incredible.

California Senator Kamala Harris condemned the incident and proposed solutions, but Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema, who works in Phoenix, has not yet commented. Gallego said that in response to this mess, the city will accelerate the implementation of body cameras that the police will wear while terrorizing black citizens. It'll be higher quality than the Blair Witch-style amateur recordings we have to rely on now. Gallego and Williams, to their credit, have scheduled public meetings for the community to discuss the "troubling footage."

We appreciate the sentiment, but we think the best way to challenge this behavior is to admit that this is "who we are." Police aren't trained in a vacuum and they don't just go rogue because of alleged doll abductions. This is an institutional problem.

[NYT / NPR]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He recently fled Seattle, where he did theatre work for Book-It Rep and Cafe Nordo.

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