APD beating demonstrates need for change

Christine Gendy
Opinion Staff Writer
cgendy@unca.edu

A black man walks across the parking lot of a closed business in Asheville, followed and then confronted by two white policemen.

The leaked footage from former police officer Chris Hickman’s body cam reveals Hickman and another then-trainee with the Asheville Police Department Verino Ruggiero beating Johnnie Rush, with Hickman as his main assailant.

Returning from a 13-hour shift at Cracker Barrel, Rush was seen jaywalking multiple times by two Asheville policemen who told him he could either go to jail or receive a ticket. During the confrontation, Rush becomes visibly frustrated and uses the expletive “fuck,” which triggered Hickman to charge at him and send Rush running away.

This ends with Rush being badly beaten and tased, suffering from trauma to the head and several wounds on his arms and legs. EMS arrived to treat his wounds and he was charged with assault on a government official, resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer, trespass and traffic offenses, as reported by Asheville Citizen Times.

Since a video of former Asheville Police Officer Chris Hickman beating resident Johnnie Rush for jaywalking surfaced, theses no jaywalking signs are popping up around the city as a silent protest against this beating. Photo by Phillip Wyatt.

“Jaywalking is like one of those things that you aren’t supposed to do but everybody does it. Technically it’s a misdemeanor, but I think it was because he was black. He wasn’t hurting anybody, he was just walking around, I don’t see a reason,” said Isaiah Krider, a junior psychology and Spanish student at UNC Asheville.

I have jaywalked on many occasions, and have likely done so in front of a police officer. Yet, I have never been questioned or harassed because of it.

This seems to be a case of punishing the individual over punishing the crime and it is not the first time, Krider said.

“It’s crazy that we live in a society where issues like this happen. Every few months you turn on the TV and someone was killed by the police or someone was beat up by the police or detained illegally by the police. More often than not that individual is black,” Krider said.

Statistically, black people are three times more likely to die at the hands of police officers than a white person. Out of 1,129 people killed by police in 2017, 25 percent of those were black, according to Mapping Police Violence. This becomes especially shocking when considering that only 13 percent of the American population is black, according to the 2016 United States Census.

Where you live can impact how likely you are to suffer brutality at the hands of a police officer. Police departments in certain cities like Reno and Santa Ana kill black men more frequently than people are murdered in the United States, according to Mapping Police Violence.

When I think about Asheville, I think about how inclusive it claims to be to all people and its welcoming nature to everyone who comes to visit. When something like this happens in Asheville, it comes as a surprise.

“I’m not very fond of policemen, but it was the first time where it was like, ‘Oh I can talk to them, I’m not a suspect.’ So when it was happening here, I thought it was different, but we’re still in the south. It was disappointing,” Krider said.

While it is great Krider does not constantly feel like a suspect during his time in Asheville, this is not his experience in his hometown.

“I’m from Charlotte originally so I’ve been stopped and asked to see my bag and asked where I’m going or why I’m out so late,”  Krider said.

From watching news segments, I have often noticed police officers cite fear for their own safety as an excuse for harmful actions against a “suspect.”

“Every time you get pulled over or every time you see a police officer it’s like, am I gonna be the next hashtag? It’s sad more than anything. You interact with police officers and you’re nervous and defensive and they pick that up and say, ‘Oh, this dude is aggressive,’ and then it’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Krider said. “I don’t know how to not be scared, you turn on the news and all you see is people dying at the hands of police. There’s no justice or conclusion. The event happens and people say, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ people talk about it and that’s it.”

Some people will claim police brutality is sensationalized, that it is not as bad as the media makes it seem, but you cannot deny the experiences people go through which cause this fear. You cannot deny the thousands of police brutality cases against unarmed black men and women across America.

“I don’t know how things can change. This dude had a body cam on him and he still acted that way. I don’t want to be like, ‘Things are awful and that’s how they are,’ or, ‘I’m black and people should feel sorry for me.’ There’s no videos of white women being beat for jaywalking,” Krider said.

However, it is not right to stereotype every police officer as inherently racist or gun-crazy. You should not lump any group of people together and characterize all of them based on the actions of some.

“It’s not even like all cops are bad. That’s impossible, you can’t say a complete group of people are bad,” Krider said.

Instead of saying all police officers are bad, we should instead examine things from the inside.

“In an ideal world, the process of becoming a police officer would be more in-depth. It’s a very dangerous job so more time should be taken to prepare the individual,” Krider said.  

If anything is to change outwardly, something needs to be done differently from the inside, beginning with the preparation and testing one goes through to become a police officer and ending with an individual fully ready to take on the role of someone with the power to take lives out of this world.

“If you watch TV and everytime you see someone with a mohawk and they’re always cussing out their parent or vandalizing property, when you see someone with a mohawk in real life, you’ll think you know what kind of person they are. Even if you don’t believe those things, its a preconceived notion,” Krider said. 

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