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 In 1955, Emmett Till's mother made the tough decision to have an open casket funeral for her son.  It was a horrible sight.  When asked why she made that choice, his mother said, "I want the world to see what they did to my baby."  

The picture presented here is disturbing.  It was taken recently by Terez Miles.  Her son, Jordan Miles, was brutally beaten (see update II) by undercover Pittsburgh police.  It is hard to look at this picture.  But as parents, how can we look our children in the eyes if we turn away when someone else's child is in trouble?  

Jordan Miles is an honors student at Pittsburgh's Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) Magnet School.  When Michelle Obama and Yo-Yo Ma visited this prestigious school last year, Jordan was one of the students performing for them.  

The more details that emerge, the more outrageous this story becomes.

The facts that are currently being reported are as follows:

Jordan Miles was walking to his grandmother's house late in the evening of January 12, 2010 when he was approached by three officers in plain clothes saying,

"Where's the money?" "Where's the gun? Where's the drugs?"

Unaware they were officers, Miles says he ran away for fear of his safety before being chased down and being beaten, kicked, choked, and having his hair ripped out.

The officers contend they thought he had a gun in his pocket but said it turned out to be a bottle of Mountain Dew.

Miles denies those claims and says nothing was in his pocket and he rarely drinks Mountain Dew.

The teenager,a senior honors student at the CAPA magnet school, has no record of any previous problems with police, teachers, or administrators.  Miles faces a preliminary hearing Feb. 18 on charges of aggravated assault and resisting arrest on accusations that he fought the officers but says all he did was try to get away from three men he thought were trying to abduct him.  The police officers also claim they believed he was on drugs, although he tested negative for any drugs.  

His mother's believes the police officers, Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak beat him without provocation, then concocted a story because there was nothing to justify their behavior.

The city is taking this seriously.  The mayor has weighed in.  Members of Pittsburgh's City Council are demanding the police release the dashboard camera from the officer's vehicle.  The FBI is also investigating.  

In spite of the local response, the story needs to get broader circulation.  We have seen numerous reports of police officers in various jurisdictions using excessive force with minimal repercussions.  People have been using tasers inappropriately.   About a year ago, on New Year's Eve, a police officer working for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) shot an unarmed man in cold blood in front of a train load of witnesses at a stop in Oakland.  Police officers in Prince George's County, Maryland have shot and killed unarmed men and been cleared of their actions.   It is easy to dismiss these as "isolated incidents" but that would be a mistake.  We know these cases are under-reported.

It was not too long ago that a Glenn Beck fan shot and killed police officers in Pittsburgh because he believed the propaganda about big guvmint coming to take away his guns.  That underscores the importance of corralling the wingnuts, regardless of whether or not they are carrying badges in addition to their guns.  The officers who died gave their lives serving the community.  The officers that abuse the trust of the community make a mockery of that sacrifice.

Rogue police officers do more than damage relations with the community.  They put their fellow officers at risk.  They create rifts within their own department.  They undermine the work of fellow officers and other public officials who rely on the cooperation of citizens to perform their jobs.   They may have beaten the hell out of just one kid, but that takes its toll on everyone.

Studies of police violence consistently show only a few percent (somewhere between 2 and 4 percent) of all police officers engage in this sort of vigilante behavior.  However, it is also commonly found that the majority of officers who engage in vigilante behavior have prior histories of citizen complaints alleging excessive force by the officer.

All of the officers involved in this assault have been on the Pittsburgh force for five years.  If there is anything in their records that points towards a history of abuse, then the problem is no longer three rogue cops.  The system itself has a problem and that means we are all at risk.  

The last point is particularly troubling.  Based on the statistical probability that one or more of these officers would have a record of similar misconduct, I checked to see if anything came up.  

Turns out I hit a double jackpot.

Mr. Lewis  [attorney for Jordan Miles] said the city should also investigate the officers' conduct because two of them, Mr. Saldutte and Mr. Sisak, have federal lawsuits pending against them.

I'm shocked.  SHOCKED, I tell you.

In July, an inmate, Jamil Sharif Gray, sued Mr. Saldutte, saying the officer "assaulted" him "which resulted in severe injuries" during his arrest in February 2009 on a string of drug and traffic charges. Bryan Campbell, an attorney for the FOP, responded in a court filing that Mr. Gray resisted and "reasonable force had to be used to overcome said resistance."

In July 2008, James S. Stringer sued, saying Mr. Sisak racially profiled him when he stopped his vehicle in Bloomfield. Mr. Sisak wrote in court papers that he did not know Mr. Stringer's race when he stopped him on license registration violations, charges that were later dismissed. The federal suit is still open.

Faced with these facts, I hope that justice is swiftly and unambiguously meted out.  

******UPDATE II*******

We have a new definition for "brutally beaten".  

Miles’ family and attorney say he was hit with a stun gun and hospitalized after the violent struggle, during which a chunk of his hair was yanked out and a tree branch went through his gums.

WTF? A stun gun AND a tree branch?  Even if you spot them the hair pull...a tree branch?  Through his gums? Really?  Three guys armed with deadly force accost a kid they think is armed and they use stun guns and tree branches?  Is that how veteran Pittsburgh police officers think you neutralize an armed suspect?  This just keeps getting more and more outrageous.

Some have complained that the title of this post is irrelevant, misleading, distracting, inflammatory, or too political.  I disagree for the following reaons:  

The title is true.   The title takes note of several facts that become increasingly relevant as you go through the body of this essay.  All of these facts allow you to assign high probabilities to unobserved features.  This assignment allows you to create an hypothesis which can be tested.  

That is important because none of us were there when this event occurred.  In order to get a better sense of what really happened, it is important to see if we can identify any prior patterns of behavior among the parties.  

That is important because people usually behave the way they usually behaved.  A break from that pattern invalidates all of the assigned probabilities to unobserved features.  An explanation for that break raises the bar on the evidence needed to support it.  A break from past behavior is extraordinary.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  

Here is what the title implies:

  1. A student who performs for Obama is probably talented.
  1. An talented music student is probably a good student.
  1. A good student probably is not a behavior management challenge.
  1. A music student is probably a bright student.
  1. Police beating a student who is probably all of the above better have a good explanation.

As you start the essay, the ante gets upped in the opening line.  The parallelism between Jordan Miles' image and Emmett Till's strongly implies parallel motives behind both attacks.  

  1. White cops who beat a black student who is probably all of the above need an outstanding explanation because there is now a probability the beating may have been racially motivated.

Implicit in all that is the fact we are checking the kids' background for patterns of prior behavior.  This opens up the legitimate inquiry into the background of the cops and their behavior.  When we look, it turns out that 2 of the 3 are currently embroiled in federal complaints about their excessive or inappropriate use of authority.

If these were police with a history of commendations, outstanding service to the community and heroic actions on behalf of citizens, their situation would be radically different.   The fact the cops are all white and the victim is black, by itself does not mean anything.  However, the fact that one of the cops has a prior complaint for racial profiling  raises the probability this may have been racially motivated.  It is unlikely this raises to the level of hate crime, per se.  However, it is more probable the cops assumed privileges they would not have assumed if the kid was white.

In this case, the title implies a lot about the kid which subsequent research substantiates.  In contrast, the history of these cops comes back to bite them in the ass with a vengeance.

If you review the essay, you will see it followed that structure.   The title made implicit promises.  The essay delivered on them.  The title is neither ironic or misleading.  In fact, it foreshadows the arc of the narrative by setting expectations of the reader and then fulfilling them in the essay.

Originally posted to 8ackgr0und N015e on Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 09:02 PM PST.

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