What should have been a 10-minute officer-initiated Q&A ending with a parking ticket or stern warning quickly escalated to a violent assault and arrest.
On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Police Department released bodycam footage of a violent encounter between several of its officers and NBA Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown earlier this year in January.
A lone patrol officer was waiting for Brown to return to his car, which appeared to have been parked across several marked parking spaces in what appeared to be a mostly vacant, desolate Walgreens parking lot on a dark and rainy night.
Research has shown that police often speak very differently to black motorists than they do to white motorists upon contact. That night was no different.
As Brown neared his car, the officer confronted Brown using a harsh, aggressive and disrespectful tone. Research has shown that police often speak very differently to black motorists than they do to white motorists upon contact. That night was no different. The officer’s tone and the way he questioned Brown was snarky, aggressive and seemed to beg for a similar response from Brown.
The officer could be heard asking Brown questions that in my police supervisor mind were intended to escalate the situation; first verbally and ultimately physically. As I watched the bodycam, I knew almost immediately that this was going to end badly.
As a 20-year veteran sergeant of the Los Angeles Police Department, I have often managed and resolved similar conflicts during an officer-initiated traffic stop. As the professional on scene, the officer’s job was to advise Brown of the reason for the encounter, issue Brown a traffic ticket (at his discretion), and let Brown go on about his business.
But the isolation, location, and early morning hours seemed almost too irresistible for this officer.
So, instead, this first officer requested additional units and continued to badger Brown as he awaited his back-up. At one point the officer can be heard when asked by Brown, “what are we doing? The officer’s response was, “we are waiting.”
This officer requested additional units—not because Brown presented a threat, not because Brown was being uncooperative, but because once the cavalry arrived they were going to “put in work". Police talk for “Brown was about to get his a - - handed to him.”
The bodycam showed Brown was compliant. When asked, he presented his ID. But the back-up hadn’t arrived yet, so the officer needed to stall. And to fill the time the officer continued to berate Brown.
What happened next was textbook Contempt of Cop��—responding units begin to arrive and there were at least six or more police officers now surrounding Brown in this desolate, dark, wet, parking lot. After several more minutes, arriving officers each appeared to take turns peppering Brown with questions—no doubt designed to be upsetting. The officer who started this mess is seen talking and visiting with other responding units as some of them remained seated in their patrol cars.
Let’s face it, who wants to stand in a parking lot on a dark and wet night while six or ten cops ask you the same questions over and over? No one. Brown however, maintained his composure and continued to comply.
This is no doubt about to get ugly. A lone, black male, in an isolated convenience store parking lot surrounded by a squadron of police cars with flashing red and blue lights.
And sure enough, one of the responding officers could be heard, as the first officer on scene is returning to the fray, yell, “take your hands out of your pocket.”
Based on my years of experience on the LAPD, when an officer yells out some command like “stop kicking me,” “don’t move,” or “take your hands out of your pocket”; this is akin to the starting gun being sounded at a track meet.
This was the moment they all had come for. This was the moment they all had been waiting for.
Like a pack of feral dogs, several of the officers, without provocation by Sterling Brown, swarmed him and began barking commands from every direction. Then, Taser! Taser! Taser!
Of course, Brown was subsequently arrested for that thing that cops love to arrest a detainee for when they have nothing else; resisting, interfering. These are the “go-to” charges when officers put hands on someone and now they cannot just let that person go. That person must go to jail for something. Never mind that it will be a district attorney reject days later. Person inconvenienced, arrested, car impounded: Mission Accomplished.
These officers on that night understood the process. It’s the culture. It’s condoned. It’s the Blue Wall.
Research indicates what those who live in minority communities already know and what I corroborate—racial bias exists. And racial bias continues because it is acquiesced, condoned and then minimized and mitigated.
Let me tell you why racial bias exists. Racial bias exists because it is allowed. Based on my lived experiences on the LAPD, I know firsthand that some white officers yearn to work in those neighborhoods where black and brown folks are plentiful. On the LAPD, the code word for those neighborhoods were “busy divisions”. I’ve heard many white officers gushing at the possibility of being assigned from a Valley or West Division to a “busy division” in South-Central Los Angeles
I also know firsthand that some white officers enjoy working what we refer to as “morning watch”—that is generally anytime after 10pm. Why? Because under the cover of darkness, these errant, overzealous officers can conduct themselves in a manner much like they did during those early morning hours in January with Sterling Brown.
It wasn’t a coincidence that so many officers showed up for a mere alleged parking violator. My guess is that those officers on scene at 2 a.m. were like-minded. That type of officer wants nothing more than to work morning watch with a bunch of “kick a_ _ & take name” partners and will do so for years and with the same partners, in some instances. It’s the culture. It’s condoned. It’s the Blue Wall.
We can surmise this to be true because not one of them stepped in and said, “that’s enough”.
They heard the call (on their radios) and they answered. Time to kick ass and take names! It’s the police culture. It’s the code. It’s the Blue Wall.
Yeah, it’s been reported, in what I term police code talk by Chief Alfonso Morales that the involved officers were “disciplined”; whatever that means. Understand, Chief Morales decides what “discipline” looks like and refused to answer any questions during his press conference. Discipline can be as simple as a paper penalty or reprimand. Since this incident has been under the radar all these months, my guess is the discipline was minimal at best. What we know is that all of the officers involved STILL HAVE THEIR JOBS.
Now that Chief Alfonso Morales has let the public in on his little secret, no more circling the wagons. Time for substantive accountability and consequences for the officers involved.
So to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Police Chief Alfonso Morales, we are going to need more than just an apology on this one.