Another death of a black man in an encounter with the police has re-emerged from 2019, this time from Louisiana. It has even more of the unethical elements of past tragedies/botches/fiascos than usual, and the cast of characters are all playing their now familiar parts to maximize the likelihood of protests, riots, political grandstanding and confusion, not to mention more deaths and further damage to race relation and law enforcement. Good job, everyone!
This is a true ethics train wreck, because nobody, literally nobody, who has been involved with the episode so far has behaved ethically. At this point, I see no hope that the mess can be cleaned up, but maybe we can learn something from how thoroughly another Police Meet Black Lawbreaker disaster has been mishandled by everyone to ensure the worst conceivable outcome. In no particular order, here is a list of those responsible for the Ronald Greene Ethics Train Wreck.
1. The Louisiana state police. This is the only place to start: the police screwed up, a black man died, and they tried to cover it up. Once the authorities have done that, there is no going back: they are presumptively villains, racists, murderers. The facts barely matter. Maybe somebody said that a cover-up was necessary because there would be inevitable Black Lives Matters demonstrations and maybe violence if the facts were admitted and release. After all, the troopers involved were white. Maybe someone was afraid of having to pay damages to the family once Ben Crump or an equivalent predator trial lawyer swooped down on the case like a hawk on a rat. It doesn’t matter why or how the cover-up came about now, but it certainly did.
Greene was a 49-year-old man who lived in Monroe, Louisiana. He was, as far as we know, driving to meet his wife in Florida and died shortly after midnight on May 10, 2019. The authorities told Greene’s family that he died from injuries he sustained when his car crashed into a tree outside Monroe after he refused to stop for state troopers as they tried to pull his car over for a traffic violation. A single-page crash report said only that troopers tried to stop Greene for an unspecified traffic offense, that he refused to pull over and troopers pursued him.The Union Parish coroner ruled Greene’s death accidental and due to cardiac arrest.
But the dashcam and bodycam footage that was mysteriously withheld, and it did not support that narrative. Eventually, it was shown to the family, who sued the town and police a year after the accident, in May 2020. A few teeny details had not been included in the report.
The films show Greene’s SUV stopped on the side of the road, presumably after the police chase. Troopers open the door and shock Greene with a stun gun, as Greene screams, “I’m sorry” and “I’m scared.” One officer wrestles Greene to the ground, puts him in a chokehold and punches him in the face. Another trooper is seen briefly dragging Greene by shackles on his ankles as he lay on the ground. Greene was jolted again by a stun gun as he lay handcuffed on the ground. He lay facedown and moaning for more than nine minutes, as troopers wiped blood from their hands and faces. “I hope this guy ain’t got AIDS,” one of the troopers said. Another trooper can be heard saying that he had beat Greene: “Choked him and everything else, trying to get him under control…[he was] “still fighting and we were still wrestling with him, trying to hold him down, ’cause he was spitting blood everywhere — and then, all of a sudden, he just went limp…. I thought he was dead.”
2. Louisiana. The state, faced with a video record of police brutality that appears worse than what befell George Floyd, delayed releasing the tapes. A State police spokesman said that the agency could not yet release it because the encounter was the subject of an administrative and criminal investigation, but the federal investigation didn’t start until after the family’s law suit was filed, a year after Green’s death. This kind of delay, which happens frequently in these events, looks like “Let’s keep this away from the media and the pubic as long as we can while we get out stories straight,” because that’s what it is. The delay makes the government and law enforcement appear guilty, implies a cover-up, and destroys any reason for the public to trust or believe the police.
3. The victim. As is the case in almost all of the alleged “racist killings” by police, Richard Greene would almost certainly be alive if he had just pulled over and followed police instructions. Instead, he tried to elude the police. Resisting arrest is the common denominator of these tragedies. It’s illegal, it’s reckless, it’s dangerous (he was pursued at more than 100 mph), and it cannot be removed from the equation, though the news media and activists try mightily to do so.
4. The news media. Here is how the Times describes Greene: “He was married, worked as a barber, and had recently gone into remission after battling cancer for two years.” The sanctification of all black victims in police actions is now the norm. A few paragraphs later, we learn that he “failed to stop immediately for a traffic violation.” Oh, right: in the first sentence of its article, the Times mentioned “a chase.” That’s deceit, a deliberate misrepresentation. In other sources, we learn that Greene was speeding away from police at more than a hundred miles an hour. Why did the Times omit that fact in an article headlined, “What We Know About Ronald Greene’s Death”? It’s obvious, isn’t it? The Times wants to make the black victim appear as blameless as possible, and the state police, who hardly need any assistance in this regard, to look as bad as possible. The phenomenon of police reacting emotional and vindictively after a high speed chase is well documented; it’s illegal and a marker of poor training, but nonetheless the eluding driver created the catalyst for his own abuse.
5. The race-baiters and inciters. After the AP got a hold of the dashcam and bodycam footage and released it to the news media, MSNBC’s host Tiffany Cross, ranted on the air,
“I am outraged, and exhausted, and angry. That video is practically unwatchable. And I think about that man’s family, and his mother, and what they must be going through. And I just wonder— this is clearly not a system that can be reformed, and I just— what can we do to stop this? Because it feels like it’s just time to burn it down, you know? We ask, please stop killing us. It hasn’t happened. At this point it’s a demand and it’s still happening. I don’t even know the words to describe the level of outrage I feel thinking about what this man’s— his mother had to watch that tape. You’ve organized all over the country. I am so ready for this fight. I am so ready for this fight, because I don’t want to see another person go through that. How do we organize ourselves out of this quagmire? They’re attacking our voting rights. They’re attacking our lives and livelihoods. They’re killing us if they’re not over-criminalizing us and putting us in jail. As a longtime organizer what is it that we do?”
There will be more like that. This is incitement to riot by definition, in addition to having no relationship to journalism or responsible punditry. News and broadcast organizations have an ethical obligation to stop their employees from behaving like this; instead, they encourage it.
I see no end to this cycle of stupidity, incompetence, violence and hate until each category above begins reforming its conduct and behaving ethically.
Realistically, what are the chances of that?
In the clips published by the A.P., covering more than two minutes, Mr. Greene is seen being jolted again with a stun gun while lying handcuffed on the ground.
The A.P. reported that the troopers, who were white, left Mr. Greene lying facedown and moaning for more than nine minutes, as they wiped blood from their hands and faces. “I hope this guy ain’t got AIDS,” one of the troopers is heard to say, adding an expletive.
Video from several minutes later shows Mr. Greene limp, unresponsive and bleeding from his head and face, and he is then seen being loaded onto an ambulance gurney with his arm cuffed to a bedrail, according to The A.P.
In one body camera video that the state police later released, a trooper can be heard saying that he had beat Mr. Greene, using an expletive. “Choked him and everything else, trying to get him under control,” the trooper says.
After Mr. Greene was in handcuffs, the trooper says, he was “still fighting and we were still wrestling with him, trying to hold him down, ’cause he was spitting blood everywhere — and then, all of a sudden, he just went limp.”
“Yeah,” the trooper continues. “I thought he was dead.”