Why teen punched by Seattle cop was in the wrong

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In Seattle on Monday, Jun 14th while arresting 19-year-old Marilyn Levias, Officer Ian Walsh was pushed by a 17-year-old friend of Ms. Levias’, resulting in Officer Walsh punching the 17-year-old in the face. Both Ms. Levias and her friend were placed under arrest. Levias has since been cited for jaywalking and charged with obstruction. Her friend has also been cited and charged with third degree assault.

As a result of this incident, James Kelly, CEO of the Urban League of Seattle, the Rev. Al Sharpton and others have stated the 17-year-old was wrong but…Officer Walsh should not have punched her in the face. Kelly stated, “I don’t excuse her behavior. She was clearly in the wrong, but, the force of the punch to the face is not justifiable.” Rev. Sharpton stated, that he was “Outraged to see the punch…a policeman you would expect to have a higher standard.”

At what point do we as responsible adults start holding our adolescent and teenage children accountable for their actions? The message has to be clear and unequivocal, putting your hands on a police officer while affecting an arrest is indefensible and what will happen a result of such will probably be painful if not lethal! This is the message that should have resonated from the Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates fiasco and this is the message that those in positions of leadership should be taking here.

For James Kelly to say, “She was clearly in the wrong, but…” after the 17-year-old put her hands on and pushed Officer Walsh, there is no “but”. The story is over, there’s nothing else to discuss. For Rev. Sharpton to say that he was “outraged to see the punch…”—he should have been more outraged that this young woman felt justified in pushing a police officer who was in the process of doing his job.

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Yes, this young individual is 17 and yes, this individual is a young woman. Under normal circumstances a man should never aggressively put his hands on, let alone, punch a woman. These were not normal circumstances. Officer Walsh was the lone officer struggling with two individuals in the middle of a growing crowd. If as a result of being pushed Officer Walsh had fallen to the ground, this could have been an entirely different outcome. As Rich O’Neill with the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild correctly stated: “When an officer is knocked off their feet and knocked to the ground, especially with a group that’s around, horrible things can happen. People can start grabbing for their weapon or duty belt.”

Once this young woman physically interfered with Office Walsh performing his sworn duties, all bets were off. He had every right to use the level of force he did in order to protect himself and regain control of the situation. The fact that it was only one punch and the situation did not escalate further goes a long way in validating his choice of action and level of force used. For Mr. Kelly and Rev. Sharpton to state or infer otherwise is irresponsible and counter productive to their otherwise valid efforts of holding law enforcement accountable when excessive force is used.

As an African-American male I have always been taught to show respect towards the police, even when or if I feel that the officer is wrong. As a survival technique, I am teaching this to my son and I convey this to my students and all of the other young people that I engage in my lectures. My parents and other elders have always taught me, “an argument with a cop is an argument you will always loose…if you don’t get along with the police; you will probably go along with the police and that’s a trip you do not want to take. Even when you’re right, if you fail to comply you’re wrong. You’re objective during an encounter with the police is to leave that encounter in the same manner in which you entered it, in one piece. You can challenge the officer later in court. ” That’s the message that should be sent in response to this event and that’s the lesson to be learned.

In stead of cooperating with Officer Walsh and just receiving a citation for jay walking and being allowed to go on with her day, Ms. Levias was cited, arrested, taken to jail, and charged with obstruction. In stead of minding her own business and being able to enjoy the rest of her day with her friends, this 17-year-old young woman was punched in the face, cited, arrested, taken to jail, and now faces charges of third degree assault.

Since this event, as a result of Mr. James Kelly’s efforts, this teen has seen the error in her ways and has met with Officer Walsh and apologized for her actions. It has been reported that Officer Walsh has accepted her apology. It is good to see that on both sides of this issue cooler heads have prevailed.

It is important for those in positions of leadership to note; when you attempt to defend the indefensible you loose the moral high ground in the immediate debate. You also lay the foundation for your detractors to invalidate other wise valid arguments going forward.