published Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Cook: Blinded by the baton

Adam Tatum is a human being.

We tend to forget that. Many of us remember his criminality, trumpeting that he was high on drugs on the much-publicized June night when Chattanooga police officers went to the Salvation Army halfway house to apprehend him.

That he had a knife, and was holding it to the neck of another inmate there.

That he resisted arrest -- continuously -- and was super-villain able to throw off the Taser barbs fired into his chest.

"A thug," readers said.

Viewing him through this lens excuses the 40-some-odd baton strikes that he received that night. It forgives the Taser, the pepper spray, the punches to the face, the broken legs. It's OK, because he's a thug.

Yet when we see Tatum as fully human, the ground under us shifts. As a human being, Tatum possesses an inherent worth and inalienable rights. Simply by being alive, he is of great value and worth.

Put it religiously: Tatum is unconditionally loved and infinitely valued. Nothing less than a child of God.

Yet the same is true of Adam Cooley and Sean Emmer.

Some of us forget that. We only see their batons and Tasers. We refuse to accept that such anger and fear could be part of our interior landscape as well. We have the luxury of judging without ever being called into such a situation.

The opposite of calling Tatum a thug is to call them monsters.

Both sides distort the other, and the truth is never discussed.

On a June night in 2012, the three crashed into one another in the midnight trauma of the Salvation Army halfway house on McCallie Avenue. Their collision -- Tatum an inmate there; Emmer and Cooley two of the Chattanooga police officers called in to restrain him -- was recorded on video and has become ingrained in the collective consciousness of our city.

Last week, an administrative law judge ruled that Emmer and Cooley -- who were fired for their actions that night -- should have their jobs returned to them. It is the same message sent by a grand jury that earlier refused to indict the officers and a federal investigation that refused to press charges.

"Certainly, the use of force and the injuries sustained by Mr. Tatum were not ideal but neither were they dictated by the conduct of officers Emmer and Cooley," wrote Judge Kim Summers.

For days this summer, lawyers and experts argued over the rightness of Emmer and Cooley's actions, citing policy and procedure to the point of tragi-comic proportions: was the 37th baton strike, for example, done in an appropriate way on a procedurally correct spot on Tatum's body?

It was all seduction: our conscience and morality and common sense were slowly put to sleep under the anesthesia of policy-talk and expert testimony. At one point, I found myself, morally, nodding OK: the officers did nothing wrong.

Yet how is it ever acceptable -- when you have the whole weight of a police department behind you -- to beat someone 40 times who is passively resisting?

"Even with the benefit of hindsight, no one has been able to offer a better approach for resolving the situation," Summers wrote.

This is completely untrue.

People are trained all the time, all over the world, to respond to high-stress incidents without choke-holds or batons. A different toolbox is used, as methods of violent force are replaced by nonviolent methods and psychological tactics.

We have invented smart phones and 3D printers and spaceships to Mars. To say that we have neither the wisdom nor capability of being able to talk -- not beat -- Tatum into submission only continues the dangerous myth that we are each only slightly better than the beasts, and the only way to coerce is through baton force.

We must lay a new foundation, one that never forgets the full humanity of the other, regardless of the situation.

"Hate is the real problem," writes peace scholar Michael Nagler.

There will be more men with knives, and officers will continue to arm themselves. The greater threat is found in our amnesia: the way we forget who we really are.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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daytonsdarwin said...

Always video encounters with law enforcement.

Immediately upload to your cloud storage. This will protect you from having your video device seized and video erased.

The importance of video can not be over-estimated. Without the video evidence from the beat-down by Emmer and Cooley the incident would have been swept under the thin blue rug.

In Russia most drivers have dash-cams to record insurance fraud. In the US it now appears that dash-cams are necessary to record law enforcement abuse. Make sure you have an audio-enabled system to record police contact driver-window interviews as well.

The days of the Norman Rockwell police officer are over. The militarization and storm-trooper days are here.

While some will say not all police officers are like Emmer and Cooley (and you are correct), look at how many officers stood by while the abuse was happening.

Sad, but true.

October 1, 2013 at 11:27 a.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Also sad,but true...If you mess with the bull, you get the horn...

October 1, 2013 at 4:26 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

In this case, Tatum will own the bulls. He'll get a settlement that will be more than all the bulls make in a year.

The bulls had no power, just bulk. If two big bulls couldn't handle a little weasely calf, they should be ashamed.

Were the bulls checked for steroids? There should be a drug test every month for cops.

October 1, 2013 at 9:49 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

The FACT remains, "IF you mess with the bull you get the horn!"

October 2, 2013 at 9:18 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

Remember what happens to the bulls in a bullfight? Eventually, it's ground bull.

October 2, 2013 at 9:48 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

We all know that Tatum was no choir boy, but these cops in their machismo and display of brute force have unwittingly turned him into a martyr, and quite likely a very wealthy one. Sagoyewatha, you have a very narrow perspective of what "getting the horn" means. Those cops were indeed giving Tatum the horn, over and over and over again, but they have ended up being the ones getting gored the worst. Even if they get their jobs back, they will be walking on eggs for the rest of their careers.

October 2, 2013 at 5:06 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

dd and rickaroo have a myopic insistence that I have a narrow view of what "If you mess with the bull you get the horn," is about. Boys, it is a metaphor for LIFE. It does not need to be about criminals and police, though these two try to make it so. dd, whom I think of as a wannabe OZ,the magnificent and powerful, wants to talk about bullfighting and ground meat. I think the only thing he knows about bulls is shooting it. He wants to fantasize what will happen in some imaginary trial where some criminal will end up owning everything. I've had this guy's number since I read his first puerile comments about God, religion and believers. It is very simple for little Oz, there could not possibly be anyone smarter, bigger, more powerful than he. Anyone who would believe that must be a moron, therefore, no God. Very comfy for a very anxious person.Who owns the bull, who grinds the meat, who goes to trial...all fantasy. "If you mess with the bull you get the horn." Still fact, and that is life.

October 3, 2013 at 9:42 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

sagoyewatha, I believe you've again confused the horn with the tail. That explains the bs on your pants and legs.

And the number is 42. Are you one of those true believing, Bible-Banging, snake-handling, gibberish-speaking fundies?

If you are, let me know. I'll only use one syllable words so you can follow along.

Hey Conservative, it appears you and Orr now have a new pivot man, sagoyewatha!

October 3, 2013 at 3:42 p.m.
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