"A violation of law, duty and trust"

Police brutality turns suspect into victim, officer into criminal

A 22-year-old from Williamsville lies face down, subdued and handcuffed on the sidewalk. A Buffalo police officer stands over the man and repeatedly kicks and slaps him. Other officers stand and watch while a bystander films the injustice.

The video depicting the brutalizing of John Willet was posted on YouTube last week, leading to federal investigation of the incident. In the wake of the video's debut, six officers have been put on leave and public ire is burgeoning.

The case comes on the heels of a similar incident of documented police brutality involving a publically intoxicated college student in Tennessee and an officer who choked the student until he passed out.

Police brutality also went viral on Twitter, via the hashtag #myNYPD, as what was meant as an innocuous photo contest initiated by New York City's police department became an avenue to post photos of police brutality and overreach.

Police brutality deserves a spot in headlines wherever it occurs - visibility of law enforcement overstepping clear moral and legal boundaries is critical in stopping the endemic problem and ensuring censure for officers who engage in unnecessary violent behavior.

It is unfortunate that our city is receiving national attention for this problem.

Daniel Derenda, Buffalo's police commissioner, held a press conference Monday to discuss the video of the April 19 event. Derenda assured the public that a complete investigation was under way and that "99.9 percent of our police officers every day do the right thing."

That remaining tenth of a percentage, however, is absolutely intolerable. And those who chose to stand and watch are by no means innocent.

Willet was arrested on charges of drug possession and resisting arrest. His suspected actions were unlawful and he should be held accountable in a court of law for them.

The sidewalk is not the place for justice to be served and the end of an officer's boot is not an acceptable mode of delivery.

Police brutality itself is an alarming problem that has long plagued communities across the United States, and one that often goes unreported. More than 50 percent of officers stated it is not unusual for an officer "to turn a blind eye" to improper behavior by a fellow officer, according to a survey by the National Institute of Justice.

The pervasiveness of cameras among such a wide swath of the population has, as indicated by the incidents above, opened the eyes of society to a problem long left unseen, left on dark street corners or alleyways.

Visibility of the issue is the first step to counteracting it.

The case of John Willet in Buffalo, Jarod Dotson in Tennessee and the countless individuals whose mistreatment has been illuminated through #myNYPD reveal a disturbing trend but also potential for change.

As this nation's eyes are opened by social networking to the wrongdoings by those meant to protect and serve, reprehensible abuses of power can be addressed.

What is needed now, in Buffalo and elsewhere, is swift punishment for offenders and those that stood idly by as someone sworn to protect the public violated that duty. Officers who are morally indifferent enough to not intervene deserve to be reprimanded quickly and severely, lest a culture of tolerant apathy is reinforced among those whose morals should stand as an example for the community.

This city's police department has been tarnished by the actions of a few. Only an appropriate penalty will reinstate the trust of the public.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com