Just down the street from me in Garner, NC is a family of folks from Guatemala. There’s a dad, a mom, couple kids, I think a nephew and an uncle. They all work at the same place so to save on transportation costs, and they live together and share the expenses. Nice folks.
Late this past Spring, when I was getting ready to drive my wife to her classes at NC State (studying social work), I heard a great commotion not far away. Lots of sirens and horns and so on. I figured it was probably a traffic accident since HWY 70 is close by and has more than its share of mishaps. Not five minutes later, as my wife and I drove down the street headed to Raleigh, I was surprised to see that all the commotion was in fact on our street at my neighbors’ house.
I stopped as we approached the house on our way down the street and inquired through the open window what was going on. A man I later would recognize as Garner PD Chief Brandon Zuidema answered my inquiry curtly, brusquely:
“Who are you?”
To which I responded that I am a neighbor and just concerned about what’s going on in my neighborhood.
“It’s a traffic matter, sir.” was all he said.
Now I’ve seen swarms of cops on a traffic stop before, but usually it’s some big accident or something. This just didn’t seem that way. My wife and I counted no less than ten Garner police cars, marked and unmarked, at the location, some parked, some driving by, and about the same number of police in the vicinity.
As we continued on to NC State, I took mental note of all I saw on the scene there, and made it a point to make an inquiry later. And I did.
That evening, my neighbor—a young lady in her early twenties—told me the whole story. Seems she was riding her little motor scooter back from work along HWY 70 about a mile down the road when she bumped into the rear of a big SUV stopped just ahead of her at an intersection. There was no damage to either vehicle and the driver of the SUV didn’t seem interested in doing anything more than making sure the young lady on the scooter was ok. All being well, she remounts her scooter when the light changes and continues along.
Now across the intersection, stopped at the light for traffic on the intersecting road, happened to be a Garner police officer. He witnessed all of these happenings and, though he was not summoned over by anyone, wanted to see for himself what was going on. He turns on his lights and starts in after the young lady on the scooter. Here’s where the fun begins.
This Garner cop, lights and siren going, following after the scooter (which may be doing a max of like 35 mph) decides that the scooter is not pulling over to suit him, so he picks up his radio and calls in for assistance. Now it just so happens that the young lady on the scooter is headed back to her house, and to get there she must pass by the police station. So the next thing that happens is all the cops that were in the station and hear this one cop’s radio call, take it upon themselves to jump in their police cars and give chase too. After a tiny Guatemalan young lady on a scooter. Yea. you heard that right. A bunch of cops blaring sirens at a scooter.
So now there’s not just one, but like ten marked and unmarked Garner Police cars, sirens in full wail, hauling ass after this little lady on a motor scooter. They give chase all the way to her house and pull in at various angles around her. Now the young lady, who is at this point still on her scooter, helmet on, in her own front yard, with her back to the officers (according to the officers), did not obey their commands to get off the scooter. It little mattered to them that she speaks no English (nor they Spanish I might add).
Signs of a real macho hero police officer: body tackling a young latino lady off her scooter
So Chief Zuidema himself, one of the ones in pursuit, takes it upon himself to make a fucking flying body tackle and knock this poor young lady off her scooter and to the ground. Then, hearing all the ruckus outside, a family member emerges from the house to see what’s going on and is greeted by other GPD with guns drawn. In handcuffs, a stunned and confused young lady is detained on her own property while her scooter is searched stem to stern, with the swarm of Garner police standing idly around the yard watching and chuckling to themselves. Yes, that’s how it looked. Ok. So that’s the story. And here’s my commentary: Hey Zuidema. WTF? First, if there’s no beef between these two drivers when there’s some minor collision, and no one even calls the cops, why is it that your patrol guy sees it necessary to jump in and start speeding after one? I mean, is the public interest really so high that all the hazard HE causes by hauling ass down the highway really is outweighed by the benefit of issuing some stupid-ass fail to reduce speed citation? Ok. Whatever. Second, when this lady “refused to stop” for the officer, was he so absolutely scared that the situation would become unmanageable for one gun-wielding cop in a squad car that he need to call in the cavalry? Really? Like ten fucking cars? For a little Guatemalan lady on a moped? And third, YOU Zuidema, you think it was really a good move, a necessary move to do some flying football tackle on this lady? Did it ever occur to you that the reason she -as you claim- did not obey your commands to get off the scooter could be for a reason other than that she was challenging your authority? What if she was hearing impaired? What if she was sick? or how about this: did you ever even give any thought to the possibility that not everyone who lives in Garner NC speaks English? Have you ever thought about having your cops take some basic law enforcement Spanish? Do you yourself speak any? Or did you think that there might be some alternative than to use this degree of physical force? I mean, she wasn’t actively resisting you, she just seemed not to hear you, right? Are there other little incremental kinds of escalation you guys could have done before resorting to this kind of tactic? I mean, a little Guatemalan lady on a moped made you guys this scared? And that about the guys with guns? I now understand that there were at least two (was one you?). If you are scared enough to whip out a gun in these circumstances, do you think that the probability of an accidental shooting of someone who is in fact not a threat is increased? I mean, no one at this scene ever used or attempted to use contrary force to any one of your guys, right? Are you ok with these risks to the public that YOU and the GPD are supposed to protect? Basically Brandon, this is yet another example of how cops fail again and again and again to use the resources that they have to protect the public, and instead resort to overblown “full force” tactics in situations which, if given the littlest bit of real thought, would be correctly appraised as NOT in fact needing all that heavy stuff. But hey, if your tool kit has only a hammer, everything looks like a nail, as they say. Maybe you should be a carpenter?