The next time someone tells you that America doesn’t have a police brutality problem, show them this picture.
The man, as yet unidentified, is lying prostrate on the ground, his tongue sticking out of his mouth in a gesture of submission or helplessness. Atop his head is a pair of antlers. This, coupled with the two white officers leaning upon him on either side, rifles in hand, sounds the message behind the photo with excruciating clarity: White men are hunters. Black men get hunted. Like animals. Black men are animals. And it’s open season.
Even beyond the racial angle, there’s so much that’s painfully wrong here. You only need to look in the officers’ faces to get a sure sense of how much perverted pride they feel in their misguided masculinism.
The photo was likely taken between 1999 and 2003, but didn’t come to light until 2013, when it was given to the city by the feds, resulting in the dismissal of both officers from the Chicago Police Department in a 5-to-4 vote by the police board. That’s still a close one, considering. The 4 who voted against the firing argued that the officers should merely be suspended, reprimanded, for an act that the rest of the board believed was “disgraceful and [shocking] to the human conscience.” Remember, this was just two years ago.
Since the photo was taken, one of the officers, Jerome Finnigan (right), has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for robbery, home invasion, and a slew of other crimes. On the contrary, the other officer, Timothy McDermott (left), on the contrary, had been a celebrated officer up until the 2013 vote. Since then, he has been driving a truck to support his family, and appears remorseful.
“I am embarrassed by my participation in this photograph,” he said. “I made a mistake as a young, impressionable police officer who was trying to fit in.”
And that is precisely what’s most troubling about racism, about violence: not everyone involved in a flawed system is an uncomplicatedly “bad” person. But they are involved nonetheless, and it is their relative goodness, and our willingness overlook systemic abuse in an attempt to forgive them as individuals, that makes the corruption so insidious, so difficult to cure.