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A Thanksgiving Day Marred by Police Brutality Reveals Another Aspect of the Culture of Death
By Michael Terheyden
December 1st, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
The horrific incident left Newman's grandson in tears and his wife Pamela hysterical. Firefighters treated his grandson for minor injuries at the scene. Newman was taken to the hospital by ambulance and treated for a head wound. Then he was booked into the Maricopa County jail.
KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - How did you spend Thanksgiving this year? Fifty-four-year-old Jerald Newman of California, who builds custom furniture and is involved in a prison ministry, spent it in the hospital and in jail after a policeman knocked him to the ground and arrested him because the policeman suspected Newman was going to steal a video game.
Like many other people this year, Jerald Newman was visiting family over the Thanksgiving holiday. He probably sat down to a full-course spread with turkey and all the trimmings sometime in the late afternoon or early evening. After a filling dinner, he and his wife took their grandson to the Walmart store in Buckeye, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.
Based on an Associated Press article, the store was crowded. There were about 200 people surrounding the discounted video game stand, alone. Around 10:00 p.m., customers rushed the stand. Cardboard displays were knocked down and crushed underfoot. Video games were flung about. Officers witnessed a man being trampled and a young girl holding her mouth in pain and crying. Another man said three video games had been ripped from his hands.
Jerald Newman was caught in this pandemonium with his grandson. The child was being trampled by the crowd, and his lip was bleeding. Newman had to think quick. According to his wife, Newman put the video game he was holding in his waistband, so his hands were free to rescue their grandson. A Walmart employee saw him put the game in his waistband and reported it to one of the six off-duty policemen hired by Walmart.
And that is when Newman's trouble began. The officer confronted Newman and handcuffed one of his wrists. According to the officer, Newman responded by saying, "I'm not going to jail," and he started pulling away and flailing his arms. The officer said he yelled at Newman to stop resisting. Then he used a leg sweep on the 54-year-old grandfather, taking him to the ground and smashing his face onto the concrete floor and rendering him unconscious.
The incident left Newman's grandson in tears and his wife Pamela hysterical. Firefighters treated his grandson for minor injuries at the scene. Newman was taken to the hospital by ambulance and treated for a head wound. Then he was booked into the Maricopa County jail for resisting arrest and suspicion of shoplifting. He was released from jail on a $900 bond on Saturday.
One witness said, it looked like Newman was just trying to get to safety without someone grabbing the video game out of his hands. Another witness was David Chadd, a CNN ireporter. He said that "Newman 'was not resisting' arrest as he was led away from the crowd by a police officer. That officer, Chadd said, then suddenly hooked the suspect around the leg, grabbed him and 'slammed him face first into the ground. It was like a bowling ball hitting the ground, that's how bad it was.'"
The arresting officer justified his actions in the police report as follows: He wrote, "The store was incredibly crowded, and I was concerned about other customers' safety and possibly getting involved. I then utilized a leg sweep with my right leg as I pulled down with my arms to take Jerald to the ground to better affect the arrest and protect the other shoppers."
Larry Hall, the assistant chief of police, said, "it appeared the officer acted within reason." He went on to say, "The officer didn't lift the guy over his head and slam him to the ground. . . . He used a minimum amount of force, the suspect resisted arrest, and the officer actually could have escalated his use of force. But he didn't. . . . Unfortunately, the suspect landed on his head."
This incident beckons us to look at the relationship between the police and the public, which has been deteriorating for the past 15 years or so. The police are increasingly confronting average citizens as they go about their daily lives. These confrontations are often initiated without a reasonable suspicion or a factual or legal basis. Furthermore, many of these confrontations involve excessive force and violence.
This is what happened to Newman. Even if it was his intention to steal the video game, the police officer could not possibly have known Newman's intention when he confronted him. Therefore, the officer should not have confronted him, let alone arrest him and slam him to the floor. On the other hand, if Newman had walked out of the store without paying for the game, that would have constituted a reasonable suspicion based on a factual basis. Then it would have been justifiable for the officer to confront Newman.
This incident could be a practical example of the "dictatorship of relativism" that Pope Benedict has warned us about. It is definitely an example of Blessed John Paul II's warning about the "culture of death," which was never just about the murder of millions of children in the womb. More fundamentally, the "culture of death" reflects a certain attitude toward the human person. We are fools if we thought the arrogant and calloused attitude toward the unborn would not also be aimed at the rest of us.
What happened to Newman was not unusual. It could easily happen to any one of us anywhere at any time. Typically, an incident like Newman's can cost the victim thousands of dollars in medical expenses and legal fees. It establishes a criminal record and damages his or her reputation. It can cause psychological trauma and feelings of anger and hatred. It also destroys the bonds of trust between the public, the police and government.
This is not a healthy or acceptable way for us to live, and we must not tolerate it. If we want to be truly free and secure and live in peace, then we must demand that all laws and modes of governance are based on objectively verifiable standards which all of us can assent to through the use of reason. In addition, we must completely reject subjective or relative standards as the basis for our laws and their enforcement.
Jerald Newman, his wife and their grandson will never forget this past Thanksgiving Day. They will possibly be scarred for life as a result of this incident. We pray that the Newmans experience healing, and that their grandson will not grow up fearful. We also pray for the strength to combat all forms of injustice and evil when they confront us. Let us also ask Saint Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of police officers, to help them stay true to their oath to serve and protect the public.
Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
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