‘Back Up, Motherfuckers,’ A Cop Yells at Kids With His Gun Drawn

Over the past week, a Facebook video went viral, showing an El Paso police officer drawing his gun on a group of Latino kids outside a community center and handcuffing the person taking the video. The video has drawn outrage — and rightly so — as an illustration of the urgent need for robust police policies and training emphasizing de-escalation and how to interact with youth.

The video cuts in when the officer has one of the kids detained on the ground. The other kids — upset about what’s going on — yell at the officer. In response, he draws his gun, points it at the group, and yells, “Back up, motherfuckers!” Another officer runs up, and they drag the detained kid to the roadside. While the second officer cuffs him, the first officer returns to the group with his nightstick out, yelling at the kids to “get back.”

Seeing that the other kids are getting upset, the kid with the camera yells over, “It’s all good, wait, we’re going to put a report on these two fools. It’s all good.” The officer then approaches him and places him in handcuffs. After the kid’s mom takes the camera, the officer directs her to come over to him. When she runs away, he threatens, “I know where you live!”

Shortly thereafter, the officer goes back to the kids and asks them what they’re going to do. He challenges them: “Do something! Do something!” He moves chest-to-chest with one of them, staring aggressively down — and ends up bringing that kid to the police car too, detaining him.

The video captures a police officer acting contrary to his sworn oath to protect and serve. Instead of de-escalating the situation using techniques designed to calm everyone down and avoid violence, the officer raised the stakes. And when another kid tried to de-escalate the situation by telling the kids he had everything on video — which the First Amendment gives him the right to do — the officer arrested him and put him in the back of the patrol car.

De-escalation is one of the most important strategies for policing. The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), an independent research organization, calls it the “preferred, tactically sound” approach for resolving incidents and recommends that it should be a “core theme” of any agency’s training program. Without de-escalating situations, officers create opportunities for unnecessary use of force with devastating consequences for the communities they are supposed to serve.

Although many police departments across the country have some form of de-escalation referenced in policies and training, police departments generally place much more emphasis in training on using force instead. A 2015 PERF study of 280 departments across the U.S. found that for every hour recruits received on de-escalation training, they received over seven hours of firearms training. De-escalation training needs to be emphasized for all officers serving their communities. Otherwise, we wind up with situations like the one in El Paso.

For similar reasons, officers also need clear policies and training on interacting with youth. Even though juveniles are only involved with 3.5 percent of all police interactions, they make up 30.1 percent of all interactions where police use force (the vast majority of which are initiated by officers).

Strategies for Youth, which specializes in research and evidence-based training for law enforcement, has found that “a little bit of knowledge about how teens think can go a long way toward avoiding the escalation of minor incidents.” It’s “how officers read the youth and the incident” that affects how the incidents go down. Unfortunately, few officers receive this type of training in any meaningful way. In Texas, the most recent survey of hours spent on juvenile justice training for new recruits showed an average of just 2 percent of total training time.

According to Strategies for Youth, “The critical factor in the youth’s response and perception of the legitimacy of police authority is how an officer approaches a youth.” The El Paso kids in the video were insulting the officer — but responding aggressively and with violent displays of force was counterproductive, not to mention counter to the professional standards we should hold police officers to.

Interactions like these reinforce the serious disadvantage youth of color already experience and recognize in their interactions with police, which have lasting and radical effects in our communities. And arrests like the ones in this video for “youthful disobedience rather than significant crimes” funnel kids of color into the criminal justice system, triggering a chain of events that can disrupt the rest of their lives.

The El Paso Police Department as well as police departments across the country must ensure that their policies and their police training allow officers to automatically de-escalate situations and respond to youth effectively. The kids in this video are the canaries in the coal mine.

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Anonymous

You might want to correct the quote. It's kind of funny, but there's a Spanish word you've mis-transcribed. “It’s all good, wey, we’re going to put a report on these two fools. It’s all good.” He's telling his friend "It's all good, dude/guy/bro, we're going to put a report on these two fools."

Anonymous

Where's the video?

Dr. Timothy Leary

What to say to a policeman if you are a black American:
"Good evening officer. I am glad that you bees here to protect my civil rights. I is a good Afrosheen-American, not one of those Fergusonites who is trying to welfare you into the poor house. What can I do for you?"

Dr. Timothy Leary

What not to say to a policeman if you are a Black American"
"Buzz off, you hunky, jail house f----t."

Anonymous

Criticism should primarily be directed towards police chiefs, police union bosses, governors and state legislatures NOT lower ranking order-takers. Most rank & file officers perform high risk jobs for modest pay to serve their communities. These officers have rent, mortgages and college tuition like the rest of us. How many of us refuse to follow orders from our employers? Lower ranking officers are in a no-win situation on some of following these policies. Many times they are the social workers trying to solve what the higher-ups in state government haven't.

For example: In states like Virginia, big cities like Richmond are prohibited from annexing surrounding suburbs to increases the city's tax base. Instead of a tax rate based on commuting miles to the biggest city, in some neighborhoods a resident a block away in the suburbs pays a much lower tax rate than his city neighbor across the street. This creates an incentive to buy the house outside the city limits instead of residing in the city. In Richmond over the past few decades, multi-million dollar schools with modern computer labs were built, while just less than 10 miles away schools were literally falling apart. Not too long ago, city schools couldn't assign homework to students since they didn't have enough paper text books. Ironically, the surrounding suburbs are only wealthy due to their proximity to their big cities. This is a problem nationwide.

Lower ranking police officers are the ones that have to deal with these larger systematic failures which they have no control over. It's counter-productive to focus on the order-takers, we should be directing our focus towards the police chiefs, police union bosses, governors and state legislatures.

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, led by Vanita Gupta, issued a report a few years ago about Ferguson, Missouri's local and state governments that also identified other issues as well. Everyone should read it.

Anonymous

That is true in the sense that the solution lays in what management can do by way of, as this article suggests, far better training. But the problem comes to light from witnessing and judging problematic police behavior. For an given incident, we do not know if management is to blame for how this officer was trained, or if this person should really be working in a different job. Only some people can and should do this difficult job well.

Yes police officers have a very tough job and are not paid what they deserve. However, better training in de-escalation- as but one example illustrated here- would actually make their jobs more effective and safer FOR THEM as well. Both in the immediate short term (eg such as in an episode like this) as well as the long term (eg less animosity toward the good people in blue).

We need both: solutions at the higher end, AND better training of officers. These are not mutually exclusive.

Anonymous

You aren't wrong, but at some point those cops decided to abuse their power. It's not *just* training, it's also people being power drunk assholes. They need to be held accountable for that.

Anonymous

So it's ok to be morally bankrupt, an asshole and a bully because you got a family and a mortgage and a reasonable paying job.

Check.

Anonymous

The low level officer is absolutely culpable. He arrested a kid who attempts to de-esclate a crowd by informing them they should file a report against the officer instead of using abusive language. The officer knows he has no authority to make an arrest based on that, he knows that arresting people who express a desire to file a legal complaint is a serious form of intimidation. The officer knowingly performed criminal behavior. He is personally responsible. He needs to be held accountable with fines and/or jail time.

Anonymous

You didn't put the whole story. Why are you only selling one side of it? Why didn't you say that the cop was responding to a trespassing call, and a weapon might have been involved. Why didn't you write how the mom was threatening the cop? How she said her kids were going to give the cop hell as adults? Why didn't you write how the kids display themselves as gang members with guns? How neighbors explain that they kill animals for fun and have vandalized the area? Yea, the cop knows where mom lives because he has dealt with them in the pass. Bad reporting on your part.

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