Last Monday, police officer Ian Walsh observed a group of women jaywalking near MLK Way in central Seattle. He directed the women to his squad car, presumably to warn or cite them for breaking the law. They refused to cooperate.
One of the women, Marilyn Ellen Levias, decided to walk away instead. As Officer Walsh grabbed her, and the pair struggled, a crowd gathered to watch. Levias’ companion, Angel Rosenthal, shoved Walsh so that Levias could escape.
Officer Walsh responded by punching Miss Rosenthal in the face. The event, minus the initial confrontation, was captured on video by an alert citizen.
Were the officer’s actions justified? Some local groups have labeled this an instance of brutality or excessive force, but without advancing any theory of “reasonable force” under these difficult circumstances. Let’s consider the alternatives:
The officer could have just let them leave, after they started to resist. Does anyone think this would be an appropriate response?
The officer could have tried talking to them, instead of using physical force. In fact, this is how the confrontation started: Walsh wanted to talk, but Levias wasn’t willing to listen. At that point, he had to either ignore the offense, or to escalate the response.
The officer could have used, or threatened to use, a weapon. Scratch pepper spray off the list immediately, because if the target is two feet away, you may as well spray yourself. Other options include Taser, baton, and pistol. Which of these weapons would have been preferable?
The Taser’s reputation as a “safe” or “nonviolent” weapon is totally unjustified. When you seize up due to electrocution, you fall down. When you fall down without any bodily control, you often hit your head. And when you hit your head on the ground, you can die.
Should Officer Walsh have drawn his gun, in this growing crowd of people, over an overblown jaywalking violation? Or should he have beaten Rosenthal with a stick instead? I don’t think so.
The officer could have shocked and intimidated her into compliance, with a minimal and strategic use of force. (Minimal is defined in relation to the officer’s previous, ineffective attempts.) This is the option he chose, and as bad as it looks, I haven’t heard any better ideas yet–not even with the benefit of hindsight.
The officer could have called for backup. And when they arrived a few minutes later, they (ideally) would attempt to subdue Levias and Rosenthal using minimal force. In the meantime, Walsh would still have to deal with them both, while avoiding the active interference of the crowd, and trying to maintain control of the weapons on his belt. In other words, nothing would have changed.
Let me know if I missed anything.