Use of force criticized in protests about police brutality

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Shelby County Sheriff's deputies pepper spray a crowd of demonstrators advancing on the Hernando Desoto Bridge in Memphis, Tennessee, early Monday, June 1, 2020, as they protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody May 25, 2020. (Daily Memphian via AP)

As protests grip the nation, officers have doused crowds with pepper spray, struck protesters with batons, steered police cars into throngs, shoved demonstrators and screamed curses. Some police action has been directed against people smashing windows, breaking into stores and burning cars, but many find other instances more difficult to understand — like the elderly man knocked over by police as he walked with a cane on a Salt Lake City sidewalk.

The protests began after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer who is now charged with murder, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

Now, some are questioning whether tough police tactics against demonstrators are actually making the violence worse rather than quelling it.

While the protests and subsequent police interactions may be shocking to some, many African Americans aren’t surprised because they’ve endured police brutality for decades, said Chris White, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality,

“What’s happening, it’s the way American society has always been,” White said.

U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, who was hit by pepper spray Saturday as scuffles broke out near the end of a demonstration in Columbus, Ohio, said police escalated matters by using heavy-handed tactics against “passionate” young demonstrators who were mostly orderly.

“Too much force is not the answer to this,” said Beatty, who pressed for peaceful tactics on both sides in a video posted on Twitter by Columbus City Council president Shannon Hardin, who also was pepper-sprayed. Both are African American.

In Salt Lake City, a police officer shoved and knocked over an older man who was walking with a cane on a sidewalk near a protest. Another officer stepped in within seconds to assist the man, as did the officer who knocked him down. Police Chief Mike Brown issued a video Sunday saying he'd personally apologized to the man.