Editor’s Note: The views expressed in the following column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Collegian or its editorial board.
Last week, Pepsi put out an advertisement that some say implies a simple message of unity. Others were quick to call out the company for the lack of consideration on a controversial issue in America today: police brutality.
On Thursday night, 22-year-old Colorado State University student Michaella Surat was violently arrested by a Fort Collins Police Officer. The arrest was caught on film in a short nine-second snapchat video and has already gone viral, for a valid reason. It was a brutal body slam on a woman in high heels, with her head hitting the pavement so hard you can hear an audible smack.
The video doesn’t show what happened leading up to the incident, police say she “shoulder checked” an officer and bouncer. What the video shows is a man using excessive and violent force against a woman who was posing no serious threat. When I say posing no threat, it’s important to note that the other officer in the film is seen calmly watching the situation, only to react once Surat is thrown to the ground. The officer arresting Michaella does not appear to be fearing for his safety, and just before the takedown, it appears that he is doing his duty in a calm manner.
The officer whose name the department has failed to release was on duty in a downtown district of a college town. He is fully aware that he is in an area where intoxicated college students will be trickling out of bars and onto the streets. Nuisances are not out of the ordinary, and for someone who has been trained in de-escalation, hand-to-hand combat and armed to handle the worst, a woman who is half his body size and unarmed should not make him fear for his safety in such a way that he must resort to ruthless violence. With other officers standing by, they could have easily put her in handcuffs and sat her down. Instead, Michaella Surat was left with a chin contusion, bruises, a concussion and a traumatic experience she must live with for the rest of her life.
To the naked eye, it seems as if the unnamed officer lost his temper and snapped. For someone who is armed with multiple weapons and trained specifically to handle situations which involve interacting with the public, this behavior is unacceptable. Being a peace officer holds a special duty, they swore upon an oath “not to betray my badge, my integrity or the public’s trust.” By lashing out in such a violent way, with almost no thought or rational to your actions, you do the opposite.
According to Fort Collins Police Services the procedure was “standard arrest control.”
If slamming a woman’s, or anyone’s for that matter, head into concrete with full force is standard-arrest procedure, then this is exactly why police are losing the trust of the public. In a case that has been caught on film and garnishing enough attention to reach global headlines for all the wrong reasons, Chief John Hutto should take a stance against the use of force. All too often we see cases of police brutality where the officer gets ‘paid leave,’ the department investigates themselves, and over time the case fizzles out of public attention. If the unidentified officer is cleared of any wrongdoing, the department is openly accepting that this type of violence is normal. As a democracy, we should never excuse this violence.
My understandings are that if a grown man threw a woman to the ground like that in front of a police officer, he would be arrested. Let’s hold police to the same standard we hold civilians, please. This would create a better relationship between police officers and the community. Leading up to her arrest, whatever she said or done did not cause the officers to fear for their safety, or else they would have gripped and/or even deployed one of their many weapons holstered around their waste. In fact, Michaella did not seem threatening at all in the video, only taking two steps back before being slammed.
Chief Hutto said he is in control of releasing the body cam footage of the officers involved, and that he will not release them until an investigation concludes. In his statement, he said that “to release evidence, absent a truly compelling reason, would not be proper.” What he should understand is that using violence against an unarmed individual to the degree that the unnamed officer used is not proper to the public eye.
Police officers have a very tough and stressful job. Dealing with disorderly people on a nightly basis can have its toll, and we can only assume that law enforcement has the training to handle such stresses. The investigation is ongoing, but for the department to publicly state that the officer followed standard arrest procedure, the least we can do is demand a change in the training. This type of mentality, the belief that violence is okay to use if orders aren’t being immediately followed, is extremely dangerous. It encourages this type of violent behavior, rather than condemning it.
One thing that was equally as disturbing as the takedown of Michaella Surat, was the laughing in the background as the video was being recorded. Police brutality is not a joke. It is likely that Surat will suffer traumatically from this event, and to have people laughing while it’s taking place is something that needs to be addressed. Do we really want to live in a culture where violence is a joke to some? It is a deeply rooted problem, and to fix it we must firmly condemn such violence, especially starting in the system.
Officers must be held accountable, and training for these officers, especially ones who will be dealing with drunk college students, needs to be totally revamped with a focus on de-escalation. After all, Surat was charged with 3rd degree assault and obstructing a police officer, but the officer on camera showed no peace.
Cullen Lobe, junior journalism major
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