Reaction to Accusations of Police Brutality at the University of Western Ontario

Yesterday, a crazy person rampaged through the Social Science Centre at the University of Western Ontario – the building I would have been working in had I not been home sick – and after barricading himself in an office and threatening people, had a run-in with police. His arrest was captured on video and posted to Youtube almost immediately.

Here’s the full story at the London Free Press, and the video is below (warning: a bit disturbing).

Opinions are divided on this one. Many people think it is an example of police brutality. Others think the officers used an acceptable level of force. Here are my thoughts.

When it comes to a violent act, people often consider whether or not the person “deserved it.” This guy deserved it. He had already punched an officer and caused grief on upper floors (though it’s unclear whether he caused physical harm to anyone else) before being taken down on the first floor.

However, we, as a civilized society, and especially our police officers, should need better reasons for violence than whether or not someone deserved it. Judging someone as worthy of punishment is an emotional decision, and not a rational one. In my humble opinion, violence should only be carried out when it is the only possible way to bring about a greater good (e.g., preventing further violence). “Deserving it” has nothing to do with whether or not the violent act would be effective in accomplishing the actor’s goal.

I prefer to avoid having strong opinions unless I am fully informed about a situation. With many issues, I think it is more useful to identify the questions that would need to be answered in order to have an informed opinion, rather than immediately forming one based on gut reactions to incomplete information.

In this case, the crucial question is this: after the six police officers had the man on the ground, could they have subdued him without kneeing him, punching him, and beating him with a baton? Or were these actions motivated purely by a sense of “he deserved it”?

I genuinely don’t know. It is quite possible that the only way to get handcuffs on a strong, struggling, possibly insane man is to weaken him with pain, and this is reflected in police training and proper procedure. It’s also possible that the actions were motivated purely by the darker side of human emotion.

And I understand that. It’s quite possible this dangerous man passed by my office yesterday; I feel that dark desire to see him harmed and locked up, for what he did and could have done to me and people I care about. He deserved to be hurt. But if we want the world to be a better, more humane place, we need to resist these gut reactions and look at violence purely with cool-head rationality.

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6 thoughts on “Reaction to Accusations of Police Brutality at the University of Western Ontario

  1. I have my own opinion based on the article and the video and the accounts by others. I actually don’t think that the police were even full out beating the guy. Even on the video, I saw a lot of restraint on the officers part. If it was police brutality I would have much more violence but seeing as how more security officers werE called and I didn’t see any kicking while the person was down, I think the amount of force that they used was just enough to restrain him, and not motivated by whether or not he deserved it.

    It’s just my opinion of course.

  2. After reading a lot about this and debating it with others, I’m coming to a similar opinion. I hope we’re right.

    I wish the police and administration would stop beating (hah!) around the bush and just come out and say that it was necessary to use carefully controlled hits to take him into custody and preserve the safety of all involved. Show us some papers, or even anecdotes, with evidence that such hitting has a purpose.

    I guess I think too scientifically though.

  3. Mike, your commentary seems very rational, and I agree with you on several points, but I still disagree with the point that “perhaps” the police used just enough force to keep others safe and subdue the man.

    The police are always “innit to winnit”, which is fair and the way it should be when a crime is being committed or when civilians are in danger… but there is a limit to acceptable methods. I don’t believe that 6 officers on top of one man need to brutally hit him with kicks to the stomach, punches to the head, and raps with a baton. EVER. If 6 cops are on him, he is subdued. He ain’t goin’ anywhere. There is no resisting the weight of 6 heavy uniformed men.

  4. I’d think so too, but he resisted pepper spray and was freakishly strong. Plus they had to get him in a police car eventually; they couldn’t sit on him all night until he fell asleep.

    Is there a better way to accomplish that than beating him? That’s what I don’t know.

  5. is it possible this man was suffering from an illness such as psychosis, schizophrenia or bi-polar? it’s been stated that prior to this he was a good student whom police had not had contact with.

  6. It’s quite possible that mental illness was involved in some way. Hopefully this draws some sort of productive attention to people who suffer from mental illnesses.

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