AJPH Editorial: Understanding Police Violence as a Mutual Problem

Howard Rodenberg, MD, MPH 

American Journal of Public Health

Here is the introduction to this journal article:

This past Thanksgiving, I was in Chicago visiting family when a cellphone video of a police officer taking down a man hit the local airwaves. The images showed an officer using an emergency maneuver that resulted in the man’s head hitting the pavement. There was an immediate outcry; it was said that the takedown was unwarranted, yet another case of “rogue policing.” Lost in the clamor was that the man was intoxicated and had verbally threatened, licked, and spit on the officer. The man further refused ambulance transport, and the officers themselves took him to the hospital for care. At the time of this writing, two officers remain under investigation, while the man was bailed out of jail (he had outstanding parole violations) amid claims that he was “thrown onto the sidewalk with no regard for his life” (https://bit.ly/37piikW).

Is this another example of police violence or simply an officer trying to protect himself? If all politics are local, then most opinions are personal. I will freely admit that my view of law enforcement comes from more than 20 years of working night shifts in the emergency department, watching officers and deputies protect society’s most vulnerable. To be quite honest, I am most often impressed at the restraint police officers exhibit when dealing with violent and abusive people and when faced with imminent threats to life and limb. The idea that unthinking violence is somehow basic to law enforcement system seems contradictory to my lived experience. Individuals and institutions within the law enforcement community want to do right, and while one might argue that they do so not out of goodness but out of fear of public backlash, everyone recognizes that law enforcement officers can only do their job well if they do so with restraint, impartiality, and integrity. There are bad cops, just as there are those ill-suited to any profession, and sometimes people who clearly do not belong in police work can slip through the cracks. But it is a certainty that within law enforcement nobody likes a bad cop.