Ethics Observations On The Spring Valley High School Arrest

1. After a 48 hour review, Ben Fields, the school resource officer who was caught on camera violently flipping the desk of a disruptive South Carolina high school student, was fired for violating police department policy. Naturally, he and his lawyer claim otherwise, but that’s just posturing for the inevitable union challenge. He had to be fired for many reasons, including terrible optics and bad judgment. The worst of the defenses offered for his conduct was that the girl, treated like a professional wrestler by the much larger male officer, wasn’t injured. If true, that was pure moral luck: from the violent nature of the arrest, it is a miracle he didn’t break her neck. (The student’s lawyer claims that her arm is broken, among other injuries.)

2. The news media immediately declared this a racial incident. The New York Times, for example, began a report like this:

A white sheriff’s deputy in South Carolina was fired Wednesday after county officials concluded he had acted improperly when, in a videotaped confrontation, he dragged and then threw a female African-American student across a high school classroom this week.

I can find no evidence that race had anything to do with this incident, unless one accepts the Black Lives Matter assertion that the colors of participants in black-white confrontations prove that the white individual is a racist and the black individual is a helpless victim who has no racial biases whatsoever. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Montgomery County, Md. Police Chief Tom Manger

"Cops": Chaz Pando as the doomed perp; Nello DeBlasio as the hostage.

“Cops”: Chaz Pando as the doomed perp; Nello DeBlasio as the hostage.

My theater company is performing the 1976 Terry Curtis Fox drama “Cops” as we wind down this season after 20 years. I chose the show, and its companion piece in an evening called “Crime and Punishment in America,” William Saroyan’s classic one-act “Hello Out There,” in direct response to Ferguson, the growing controversy over police violence, the increased racial divide in the U.S. and the gun control debate. Both dramas, as cast, involve African American victims of violence in a law enforcement setting. “Cops,” in particular, features openly biased Chicago police (at least based on their choice of words) and the police execution of a disarmed and surrendering cop-shooter. As the lights fade, the police are discussing what their cover story should be.

I invited the Chief of Police in Montgomery County, Maryland, Tom Manger, to come to the production and field questions from the audience regarding its relevance to current controversies in Ferguson, New York City and across the nation. [Full disclosure: I have known Chief Manger and his wife for many years, and consider them friends] You might recognize him: he was a major figure in the apprehension of the D.C. Snipers, and has been seen and interviewed on the national news and on issue talk shows several times, most recently on CNN’s “State of the Nation” with Candy Crowley. Not only did Tom agree to come, but he let me schedule him twice, said the sessions could be videotaped, and that no question would be off limits.

The first of the talkbacks took place last week (I am moderating another this Sunday), and Tom was as good as his word—candid, blunt, open, and frank.  He was quizzed, hard, by our diverse, astute and always combative audience members about police training, police force diversity, bad cops, police who lie and cover-up misconduct, and racism in the ranks, as well as the details of specific shootings including the local one I have referred to here more than once, in which an unarmed white man, John Geer, was shot and killed by police as he stood in his doorway negotiating with them over a domestic dispute.

Since the episode in Ferguson, Chief Manger said, he has been meeting with community groups two or three evenings a week, doing everything he can to bolster community trust. Among his comments in response to questions: Continue reading