Thursday, April 8, 2010

Racism in Rutland?

It’s an ugly picture that conjures up memories of Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant who was sodomized with a broomstick by Brooklyn police in 1997, creating a national furor.  But this picture is in progressive, pristine Vermont.

A video taken New Year’s Day has just been released that shows a Rutland police officer, Michael Nesshoever, repeatedly firing a pepperball launcher at a detainee named Jamek Hart, who is constrained in a holding cell with his feet shackled and hands cuffed behind his back.

The pepperball pistol, which works something like a paintball gun and is ordinarily used for crowd control, fires three pellets at a time.  The video shows the detainee, whose pants have fallen to the floor, being hit repeatedly on the bare skin of his lower legs and buttocks.  At least twenty shots were fired at the helpless man, according to the head of the Rutland Police Commission.  As the pepperballs strike, the victim’s angry rants and protests turn to screams of pain before he falls to the floor.  Police then place a bag over his head–reminiscent of Abu Ghraib.

At least three police officers, all of whom are white (with one sporting a “skinhead” style haircut), were involved in the assault on Hart, who is black.

The director of Vermont’s ACLU, Allen Gilbert, warns against assuming the brutality was racially motivated.  “People usually jump to that conclusion if an incident involves a person in the minority, but it’s not necessarily the case,” the Rutland Herald reports him cautioning.

Maybe or maybe not.  Police have a hard job and have to deal with some unsavory characters.  And perhaps these particular officers abuse all their prisoners, regardless of color.  But when white cops on an all white force gratuitously torment and torture a black man who is bound hand and foot, powerless to resist, it certainly looks like institutionalized racism to me.

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