There is a controversy in Oakland where an officer was shown spitting at a citizen who was videotaping him while questioning a group of people at a gas station. Spitting is person is considered battery under California law (Penal Code 242).
What makes this video even more interesting is that we have previously seen officers charge people with battery or assault over air kisses, bubbles, hugs, pillow fights, errant french fries, and even flatulence, snowballs, and raspberries.
The officer first appears to take something out of his mouth and toss it at the citizen and then appears to spit on him.
The men who took the videotape say that the officer was questioning them about their cars and “harassing us” and “giving us trouble.” In the videotape the officer appears calm however. One man admitted that one of their friends called the officers “pigs.” After that, they said that the officer called for back-up and the two men were surrounded. The officer on the video was reportedly chewing sun flowers and the man said that was what he tossed from his mouth. The officer reportedly says “if I had another, I’d do it again.”
While the men said that they did not give consent, their cars were searched.
The incident is under investigation. Here is the video:
The most important aspect of this videotape is reaffirming not just the importance of the right of citizens to film police but the continued hostility and threats that citizens received from police in exercising that right. While the courts have consistently upheld this right, police continue to arrest or threaten citizens who film them in public. Yet, these videotapes have proven the single most important tool in fighting police abuse in our lifetime. Before the invention of cellphone cameras, this would be likely been dismissed as a rivaling account between an officer and a suspect. It obviously cannot be dismissed when there is a videotape record.
As for the officer, I have expressed concern of lowering standards for battery (including charges brought by police for trivial touchings discussed above). The imposition of criminal charges against the officer seems a bit extreme but, if charges are avoided, the same standard should apply to citizens in their contacts with officers.
What do you think?