Galveston, Texas officers on horseback led a handcuffed Black man by a rope for six blocks to the local police station.
The police officers, who are White persons, had arrested Donald Neely for criminal trespassing.
Video and images captured from the incident have sparked local and national outrage. Although the police chief, a Black man, apologized, various activists continue to call for termination of the police officers’ employment.
Were these police officers saving the day or riding high on racism?
In this post, I discuss three considerations to help answer this question.
1) Feelings and Justice
Initially, I felt angered, stunned, grieved, and sickened.
To give you an idea about the disgraceful horridness video:
I was not born during slavery or Jim Crow and I had flash backs.
It is that bad.
I thought of images of Black people who have been lynched. The horrid sight came eerily close to treatment of Black people as chattel to be sold.
Too close to resembling slave patrols.
Too close to Klansman riding horses to terrorize Black communities and kill Black people in the name of law and order.
Too close to a history that is not long ago.
Many Black people within Galveston and people across race are dismayed by the visual, and most importantly, the practice.
Questions remain about if the arresting law enforcement officers knew of Neely’s condition and circumstances at the time of arrest.
Who gets to have dignified arrests? How often are they more dignified or humane for White perpetrators? The arrest of the terrorist behind the Charleston church mass shooting comes to mind. Did the police officers offer Neely any take out while in custody?
After I allowed myself to feel my initial reaction, I focused on the “now what.”
That is, I wanted to think about the situation form various angles, and not just filter them through an initial emotional response.
Racism, police brutality, and law enforcement exist. Yet, they do not exist in every questionable cross-racial situation that pulls at our emotions.
I acknowledge and accept the root of my reactions, and I recognize that allowing myself to look at the situation critically does not take away from the validity of my feelings.
I am suspending my emotions to consider other ways of looking at the situation. I want to seek understanding and learn, not make myself right because of my feelings.
The visual image of two white men wrangling up a Black man with mental illness, who is also experiencing homeless, and leading him away by a ROPE (yes, I am aware I used all-caps) is hard to ignore.
Feelings can be biased.
Because of the weightiness of the visual, a commitment to justice involves collecting and examining information while monitoring our own biases.
If these were Black police officers arresting a person of same or different race for armed robbery, murder, or sexual assault, would the same people call for changes in the practice?
If the police officers had arrested a White man who committed a crime against Black and Latinx people, I doubt the police chief would be dealing with community backlash. And this acknowledgment prompts one of countless “million-dollar” questions:
Have the officers used the same procedure when arresting White men?
2) Biases, Safety and Effective Procedures
As I reflected on biases, more questions emerged about their role in the establishment and execution of procedures. Was this protocol part of standard procedure for the Galveston police on horseback or was it something used mostly/only when arresting Black men?
Regardless of race, this situation reveals the need for alternatives and more effective procedures.
If they stopped using the rope, it seems unsafe to put the person on horseback behind the law enforcement officer. For example, propping up a violent perpetrator who resisted arrest on horseback behind the police officer and expecting the best of behavior carries much risk to the safety of the officer.
By having the person in their vision handcuffed with the rope, keeps the person in their line of sight, unable to take weapons or hurt anyone. Also, it helps the other officer to look on to ensure everyone’s safety.
However, the distance from the police station creates far too many opportunities for danger to all parties involved.
Off the top of my head, I think a better alternative would be to call for back up and have an officer in a motor vehicle take the suspect to the police station.
This process might be safer because the person could try to startle the horse or pull the police officer from the horse. Much is dependent on the cooperation and mental state of the person under arrest. Let’s face it there are people who would not be as cooperative as Donald Neely.
Also, it might be safer for the person under arrest, for the police officers might not be aware of any underlying mental or physical illness that might become exacerbated by this king of process.
The vehicle is more contained and easier to control safety variables involving the person under arrest. From my understanding a “transportation unit” was unavailable, which is concerning. If a more serious/threatening situation was underway, the lack of transportation units could have placed the victims, bystanders, and the officers in a compromised state.
Other police departments have mounted protocols and methods that do not involve leading a person by a rope for six blocks in the Texas summer heat, so I think it is wise move for Galveston police department to change to more appropriate training and procedures.
3) Establishing Bias and Malicious Motives
In order to determine bias and/or malicious motives, I think at several indicators surrounding this situation:
a) How often is this practice used?
If this practice was something that two white men suddenly decided to come up with to fulfill some twisted White supremacist fantasy through the use of a badge, then we hands-down, then racist motives would need to be explored more.
If it is a standard practice that is used by all law enforcement officers on horseback, then it is difficult to connect this particular arrest with racist motives.
In a statement released by Galveston Police Department, Chief Vernon L. Hale III, acknowledged that the technique is a best practice in certain scenarios, but not in this instance.
We became aware Monday afternoon of a post circulating about a Saturday arrest involving two mounted patrol officers and…
According to the chief:
Although this is a trained technique and best practice in some scenarios, I believe our officers showed poor judgment in this instance and could have waited for a transport unit at the location of the arrest. My officers did not have any malicious intent at the time of the arrest, but we have immediately changed the policy to prevent the use of this technique and will review all mounted training and procedures for more appropriate methods.
At this time, the public is unaware about how the police chief established the non-malicious intent of the arresting officers. Neely has stated that the police officers treated him well during the arrest.
Perhaps, this information helped to establish this incident as a matter of poor use of protocol. I do not think this information is enough to rule out racial bias or malicious intent, which are not one and the same.
If the officers use the protocol incorrectly, establishing malicious intent would require ascertaining the frequency of their use of the protocol, the times used effectively versus ineffectively, and related racial demographics of their protocol usage. Determining the patterns of the two police officers properly following protocol and corresponding arrest demographics can help substantiate the chief’s findings or the activists’ allegations.
Furthermore, the police officers can have good intentions and still demonstrate unconscious racial bias in their protocol decisions and arrest patterns. Further investigation will furnish the clarifying data to develop additional support and training, if necessary.
b) What are racial demographics and offenses associated with the use of this method?
If this practice is disproportionately on Black men for similar arrests of other races, then the race element needs to be explored.
If there is a pattern of arresting Black men by leading them by a rope for several blocks, while White men, who are arrested for the similar or worse crimes, are discreetly ushered away in patrol cars, then investigating racist/biased motives need to be further explored.
Uncovering the same-race and cross-race arrest demographics can also give an understanding about if matter suggests White police targeting Nonwhite civilians.
c) What is the culture/climate of the police department?
In addition to examining officer race and arrest demographics, more data needs to be collected. A racially diverse police department can still have anti-Black and anti-Latinx attitudes. People can be of African, Asian, and Latinx descent and support White supremacy. Discovering how all of the police officers view their community will help understand the subjective decisions made by all law enforcement officers. Is there a culture where integrity is prized over solidarity? Is authoritarianism feeding any normalized abuses of power within the community?
These are the kinds of questions that lead to long-term solutions that help law enforcement officers protect and serve the community and not save each other’s and their horses’ hides.
I doubt most people would enjoy others criminally trespassing on their property. I doubt they like would enjoy it if the same people took it further by breaking in or assaulting them, too. Whether the crime is violent or nonviolent, numbers of police officers are trying to do their jobs, like days ago when the Dayton Police Department responded in under 60 seconds to the terrorist attack/mass shooting in the Oregon district.
I want police officers to do their jobs and to do it with high levels of integrity and cultural responsiveness in service to all community members.
As for the controversy surrounding Galveston Police Department and the local community, the optics-the visuals are extremely difficult to reconcile.
In order to determine if the police officers were casualties of poor judgment caught up in a viral media storm or abusers of authority riding high on racism, more information needs to be examined before ruling out any racial bias, malicious intent or determining the future employment of police officers.
It is the fair and just thing to do—
in addition to the police immediately changing the horseback arresting procedures.
It is a bad look because it is a bad practice.