We'll defend the general First Amendment rights of local groups to expose what they believe is police brutality in the recent battering of a black man already in handcuffs, but we strongly believe each time such exposure is misused the public — right or wrong — is a little less sympathetic to the situation.
Such was the case with local rapper Charles Toney, who has been shown in a viral video being punched and kicked by a white Hamilton County Sheriff's Office detective after he'd been placed in restraints.
As exposure to the case and video expanded earlier this week, protesters came to Tuesday's Chattanooga City Council meeting, which has no say-so over personnel in the county sheriff's department.
Council members expressed outrage over the beating and calmly attempted to make the protesters understand, but their efforts were to no avail. Eventually, the council members understandably walked out, delaying the rightful business of the people.
Individuals in police departments, sheriff's offices, highway patrols and military forces have used excess force long before the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri, riots following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a policeman that — at least in that case — was found to be in self-defense.
But just as when a banker commits fraud, a businessman kites checks, a teacher alters grades and a priest molests a child, due process must be carried out. And even as the protesters were taking their complaints to the wrong venue, the matter was being turned over from the sheriff's office to the office of the Hamilton County district attorney to the United States Department of Justice. Thus, no one is taking the matter lightly.
Time well tell if Blake Kilpatrick, the detective shown in the battering, was in any way justified in what he did. If he was not, he should be summarily punished. But the video does not show the whole sequence of events, and it is not accompanied by audio. In the video, it is evident Toney — even in handcuffs — repeatedly refuses to respond to the orders of officers to stop moving.
A civil rights attorney representing Toney said here Thursday he plans to file a lawsuit in Chattanooga's U.S. District Court over the incident. He also took council members to task for walking out, mistakenly — we believe — saying they should call "a spade a spade" even when they're not involved.
It also was disappointing to hear former District 28 state House candidate Brandon Woodruff say, about the incident, that "if that means we have to turn Chattanooga into Ferguson, we will."
That is exactly the wrong sentiment to express and the quickest way to reduce sympathy for Toney. We hope he'll rethink that.