SAY WHAT?-As our macro horrors drag on -- surging plague, burning planet, grim detritus of a senseless war - it's cold comfort to learn America's more prosaic atrocities also persist unabated.
After a two-year legal battle, the Associated Press has forced the release of harrowing body camera footage of a Louisiana State Police trooper pummeling an already handcuffed, prone black man 18 times in the head with a heavy-duty, department- issue flashlight for the crime of. . .wait for it, "improper lane usage" -- one of countless such attacks on black residents now, finally, the subject of a federal probe. The savage attack in May 2019 on Aaron Larry Bowman, 46, came shortly after a traffic stop near his Monroe home.
A prodigious crowd of sheriff's deputies had already removed Bowman from his vehicle and taken him to the ground when they were joined by Jacob Brown, 31, a white officer and sociopath who later told investigators he "was in the area and was trying to get involved.” Within two seconds of his arrival at the scene, Brown -- who in just four years had tallied 23 use-of-force incidents,19 targeting black people -- jumped out of his car and began bludgeoning Bowman on the head and body with an aluminum flashlight reinforced with a pointed end to shatter car glass.
As Bowman repeatedly yelled "I'm not resisting!" and tried to explain he was a dialysis patient who'd done nothing wrong, a frenzied Brown kept battering him while screaming "Shut the fuck up!", “Give me your fucking hands!” and "I ain't messing with you!” Brown unleashed 18 strikes in 24 seconds; he later defended the assault as "pain compliance," though Bowman was already compliant and on the ground. The attack left him with a broken jaw, three broken ribs, a broken wrist, a six-staple gash in his head and enduring trauma.
For a year and a half, police higher-ups shrugged off the assault and hid the video. It was only after Bowman filed a civil lawsuit in the fall of 2020 that they launched an investigation that found Brown "engaged in excessive and unjustifiable actions,” failed to report his brutality to supervisors, muted his bodycam audio to remove Bowman's screams, and mislabeled his footage as a "citizen encounter" in “an intentional attempt" to hide it. He was arrested that December and charged with aggravated second-degree battery and malfeasance in office. He was allowed to resign, but was again arrested and faces state charges in two earlier violent attacks on black drivers, including one in which he celebrated to fellow dirtbags the chance "to educate that young man." He seems nice. As a member of Troop F, he also seems to be part of the same psychotic unit that, weeks earlier, tasered, punched, shackled hand and foot and dragged facedown by his ankles Ronald Greene, another black motorist, for leading them on a high speed chase; Greene later died in custody.
Again, police declined to investigate and repeatedly lied, claiming he died of a car crash, not his injuries, after actions that were "awful but lawful." Earlier this summer the AP got that bodycam video released, but it took another two-year fight -- thus suggesting, mildly notes one police reform advocate, that cops are "hiding something." It was only after release of searing video of a bloodied Greene that police declared dragging a handcuffed human being facedown by his ankle shackles was "malicious, sadistic, completely unnecessary."
The attacks on Bowman, Greene and several other black drivers beaten bloody by members of the Monroe-based troop during so-called traffic stops - one man was punched, stunned and hoisted to his feet by his hair in another bodycam video obtained by the AP - have now spawned a federal investigation into often-vicious police racism, a "shocking" lack of accountability for it, and potential cover-ups extending from troopers to state police brass. The abuses come as little surprise in a state that long boasted the country's highest incarceration rate - it's now second to Oklahoma -- and double the number of blacks in prison than in the population. This week's release of the Bowman video, said the head of Louisiana's ACLU, confirms it's time for the federal government to "put an end to LSP's vile pattern of unconstitutional brutality against Black people."
Bowman's attorneys, who were initially told there was no bodycam video, also argue the footage verifies the "senseless and state-sanctioned violence" to which black Louisiana residents have long been victim. In a blistering statement, they slammed state police who "seemingly could not be bothered" to investigate Jacob Brown's and too many others' clear abuses. "Though he was not party to the initial stop," they noted, "Brown's hunger for the blood of black citizens drew him to the scene." Sadly, they added, Bowman is "only one of countless individuals who have been terrorized by state troopers, leading us to wonder how many other victims (are) out there whose voices have not yet been heard." Meanwhile Bowman, re-traumatized by watching the newly surfaced video, still faces charges of battery of a police officer and resisting arrest. Along with, lest we forget, "improper lane usage."
(Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues.)