No police department should ever have to explain why they tased an 87-year-old woman. It’s not that the public doesn’t deserve an explanation. It’s that there is seldom any reason to deploy force against 5’2″ 87-year-old. But that’s what Chatsworth Police Chief Josh Etheridge had to do after one of his officers tased the woman during a “confrontation” behind the local Boys and Girls Club.
The police chief of a small Georgia town is defending an officer who deployed a stun gun on a “smiling” 87-year-old woman, saying she refused to comply with numerous commands to put down a kitchen knife she was using to cut dandelions.
Perhaps we civilians just don’t appreciate the danger presented by a smiling 87-year-old woman — in this case, Martha al-Bishara, who lived across the street from the Boys and Girls Club. I mean, she was carrying a kitchen knife and “refused” to put it down. If we could just see the recordings…
He said there is police body-camera footage of the incident, but he has yet to release it because charges against al-Bishara are pending.
Because we civilians probably can’t imagine a situation where we might have to use a stun gun against an octogenarian, here’s some helpful statements by the PD to help us visualize how a 5’2″ 87-year-old got the drop on responding officers.
“We were able to contain her to the back area. She was in an elevated position above both myself and the other officer that was there on scene. She did have a knife in her right hand.”
I understand the only way out of this debacle is going straight through it, but it’s astounding the chief is actually trying to present this as a dynamic situation in which officers were at a tactical disadvantage. It was two (2) officers against a 5’2″ 87-year-old woman who didn’t speak English. It seems they could have regained the high ground by walking at a normal rate of speed around her. And if it looked like she might charge them, they could have walked slightly faster. (And it’s your own damn fault you “contained” her on the high ground.)
But we’re supposed to be grateful she was only tased. Chief Etheridge twice suggests she could have been shot. First, she might have been “accidentally” shot because an officer might have pulled a gun for god knows what reason…
Etheridge said he realizes that some people might ask why the officer didn’t just retreat. But he said had the officer backed up down the sloping terrain, he could have fallen and accidentally shot the woman.
Go ahead and click through to view the gently sloping terrain for yourself. I guess this explanation is plausible. But that doesn’t make it any less stupid. And the only plausible part is the “accidental” part. As we know, officers never shoot citizens. Their weapons “discharge” magically and fill citizens with bullet wounds. The only way an officer could “fall” and “accidentally” shoot someone is if the officer already has a gun out and pointing at the person. This is Chief Etheridge admitting he would have escalated to deadly force to “resolve” the situation.
Second, if the elderly woman had changed her grip on her kitchen knife in any way during the incident, she’d probably be dead right now.
“Lord help us if she had tried to stop the officer and held the knife in an aggressive manner, and then deadly force would have been used.”
There are many problems with this statement, including the fact that “aggressive manner” is in the eye of the gun-wielding, badge-wearing beholder, but here’s just one of them: for many people, knives are tools, not weapons. Its police officers who insist every tool is a weapon that keep situations like these from being de-escalated.
When an 87-year-old walks down a hill towards officers carrying a kitchen knife, she’s not taking advantage of the high ground to overpower officers. She just wants to know why cops are yelling and pointing weapons at her. But these cops didn’t want to know what she was doing. They just wanted her to stop walking around with a knife. So they tased her. And then they charged her. Here’s one final detail from the story which indicates how little these officers actually care about the people they serve.
The grandmother was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor criminal trespass and obstruction of an officer and held at the police station for about three hours, Douhne said. Police refused to allow his mother and sister to interpret for al-Bishara while she was being booked and having her mugshot taken.
At the end of the day, I guess we’re supposed to be grateful officers showed up, took control of the situation, and got this 87-year-old miscreant off the street, if only for a few hours. I’m sure we’ll see these same defensive statements again in the eventual civil rights lawsuit. When that happens, the cops will have to convince an actual court the force deployment wasn’t excessive. Unfortunately for this woman, that court is far more easily persuaded than the court of public opinion.