A tourist captured video of a New York City police officer body slamming a bicycle rider who was participating in a group ride through Times Square. The video posted on YouTube depicts the incident in a way that is inconsistent with the series of events described in the police officer's criminal complaint.
The bicycle rider, Christopher Long, was taking part in a monthly group ride with dozens of other riders called Critical Mass that draws attention to issues that concern bicycle riders in urban centers such as car traffic congestion and poor street layout for riders.
The criminal complaint filed by Officer Patrick Pogan states that Mr. Long “drove” his bicycle straight into him, causing Mr. Pogan's body “to fall to the ground” and “suffer lacerations" on his arms. The complaint, charging Mr. Long with attempted assault, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct, alleged that he "kicked his legs" and "flailed his arms" while stating, "You are pawns in the game, I will have your job."
In comparison, the video shows the officer taking a few steps towards Mr. Long’s oncoming bicycle. Mr. Long appears to try to dodge the approaching officer, but the officer quickens his pace, lowers his shoulder, and shoves him to the curb. Before we see him get handcuffed, the video cuts to a slow-motion version of the body slam.
This isn’t the first YouTube video captured by onlookers that has documented forceful arrests by police officers. This video captures UCLA police officers tasering a student in a university building. In this video, known colloquially as the “don’t tase me bro!” video, several police officers try to subdue Andrew Meyer, a University of Florida student, with a taser gun after he caused a ruckus at a public forum featuring Senator John Kerry.
My first impression of the arrests depicted in these videos, including the latest bicycle rider body slam, is that police are using excessive force. Yet, these videos may only tell half the story. No matter how amateur the video seems, even deciding where to begin and end the video is an editorial decision that can dramatically influence how the conent is percieved by audiences. Context is key to understanding what really happened in each of these arrests.
For instance, in the case of the University of Florida arrest, another video showing a longer sequence of events was posted on a local news site that depicts a much different scene than the widely viewed YouTube version. In the local news version, one can see the interaction between Mr. Meyer and the officers grow tense over time. At one point, Mr. Meyer shoos the officers away and suggests he is going to “inform” the audience before he asks his question. The difference between the two videos is startling: in the first one he looks completely innocent of any wrongdoing; in the second one he seems to provoke the officers.
My question is: are their any other videos out there that put Mr. Long's arrest into perspective?
I found one clue in this March 2007 video of a Critical Mass group ride that was shot in nearly the same place from the opposite side of the street. In this video, we see multiple uniformed police officers in the middle of the street near Times Square attempting to grab riders as they go by. The riders and cops look like they are playing a serious game of red rover. Then, as an eerie prequel of the July 2008 video, a cop picks his target rider, walks slowly towards him, and then slams the rider to the ground. The reaction of the onlookers sounds like they've just seen a dark horse prize fighter take out the world champ. This video may suggest that arresting Critical Mass bicycle riders in such a fashion is common or unofficially allowed.
But this doesn't give us the full story of the Mr. Long and Mr. Pogan collision, nor the subsequent arrest where Mr. Long allegedly flailed and threatened to get Mr. Pogan fired. If you have a video that shows another perspective, or shows the actual arrest as it happened, please link to it in our comments. I would be interested in knowing if there is another side to the story.
Until another angle is posted on the web, I can’t help but see a police officer wind up and body slam Mr. Long into the sidewalk in the middle of Times Square with dozens of camera-toting tourists gaping at him -- a patently poor way to go about arresting someone, especially in a sea of potential inadvertent citizen journalists.
(Jason Crow is a second-year law student at Boston College Law School and a CMLP legal intern.)