A video showing Philadelphia police officers beating a man for nearly two minutes has taken the Internet by storm. The incident is so shocking that the video has received thousands of views and sparked an internal investigation by Philadelphia police.
The incident occurred in West Philadelphia and is two and a half minutes long. The officers are accused of attacking 29-year-old Askia Sabur (pictured below) outside a takeout restaurant in the area on Friday. What is also interesting is that most of the officers appearing in the video are African American, reminding us that the power of the state is not just a white-and-black thing.
Allegedly, officers asked Sabur and his cousin to clear the corner, but they refused, stating that they were waiting for their food. Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, claims that Sabur knocked one of the officers down, but he alleges that this occurred before the YouTube video was recorded.
"It started with a police officer lying on the bottom of the pile," Vanore said. "The video doesn't show everything. Stuff happens before, and stuff happens after. Our Internal Affairs is trying to get the whole picture."
While the police have their version of the facts, the video above shows almost none of that. Instead, it shows Sabur on the ground with officers beating him. Others are heard in the background telling the officers to stop and that they were going to kill him. That's when the video shows one of the officers pulling his gun out on the crowd, telling them to back up.
Sabur was charged with two counts of aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. Police also said he would be charged with robbery for trying to take the gun and baton from one of the officers.
"Not every arrest ends with someone saying, 'Thank you,' " Vanore said. "It's a shame. This is one case where the male was not compliant."
Sabur says he felt like the officers were trying to kill him. He also said that his arm was broken during the attack and that he had to get stitches to close up the back of his head. He also claims that when officers asked him for identification, he reached for his wallet, but was then choked.
Evan Hughes, Sabur's attorney, says that the charges are ridiculous:
"If he tried to take an officer's gun, if he had actually done that, they would have shot him," Hughes said.
"It doesn't take a genius to figure out the police are backtracking, trying to justify what happened, and it's not going to work," Hughes said. "As this develops, the truth will come out."
One problem for Sabur is that he has been convicted of a crime in the past. In 2002, he pleaded no contest to attempted burglary and was given five years of probation.
In spite of his record, though, some of the eye witnesses are supporting him. Jamil Stroman, who saw the incident, referred to the event as a "modern-day Rodney King."
One of the most disturbing things about the video is that while he's being beaten, Sabur continually says, "I didn't do nothing wrong."
As others are pleading for him to cooperate with the officers to avoid yet another whip of the billy club, he appears adamant in his unwillingness to be arrested when he hasn't broken any law. In fact, all of the charges Sabur is facing are a result of the police confrontation. It's not as if he was breaking the law when the officers arrived; he was simply standing on the corner.
Thus, one of the most fundamental problems with our criminal justice system is that those who are more likely to interact with police are the ones most likely to be arrested by them. Given that African Americans are stopped, searched and confronted by officers more than others, situations like this are more likely to emerge. I am not sure why standing on the corner is a crime or why an otherwise law-abiding citizen may now end up in prison when he was simply waiting for his food.
When it comes to the police beating of Askia Sabur, multiple theories are going to emerge. Of course, the police are going to have their story, which is going to be consistent with their loyalty to the blue line. Even if officers were doing something wrong, many of them will protect one another under the presumption that difficult decisions made in the line of duty are justified by their own need for safety. At the same time, not every YouTube video of an officer making an arrest implies that the officer is doing something wrong.
On the other side of the issue, Sabur's attorneys are going to concoct their own story. I am sure the story will present Sabur as a model citizen who was simply unfortunate enough to have an officer decide to beat him half to death for no reason. While this kind of thing certainly does happen on occasion, the video clearly shows that Sabur is resisting arrest. All the while, one can argue that any man being arrested unjustly has a moral right to demand his immediate freedom. If the officers had no initial reason for approaching Sabur, they had no right to be taking him to jail.
There is a clear point to be made about the depths and limits of police authority and what constitutes as an abuse of power. Putting the case of Askia Sabur to the side, one has to question the idea of the officer waving his gun at onlookers to keep them away. Additionally, one has to wonder just how unruly Sabur (or any of us) has to get before an officer feels that it's okay to use physical force.
I have personally seen cases (the police shooting of Bobby Tolan) in which any tiny diversion from police instructions, no matter how confusing or unreasonable, can lead to an arrest, shooting, beating, handcuffs or the inconvenience of appearing before a judge. Askia Sabur's case shouldn't be the one that gets us talking about the way police do business. We should have been talking about that long ago.
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Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Actionresident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.