Please take the witness stand.
But first, review your testimony. Watch the video by clicking on it at the end of this column.
Did a surveillance camera capture police brutality as Omaha police officers subdued Robert A. Wagner after he allegedly pushed and punched an officer May 29 outside Creighton University Medical Center?
Watch the video again. Amazing that we can do this now. Start it. Stop it. Freeze frame. Play again. No need to dig back into your memories as the prosecutor begins to question. Just play the video ad infinitum.
Yet, still. Even seeing it now in plain sight. The truth is blurry, or clearly multifaceted? The facts are without doubt filtered through our individual lenses, polished into subjective vision by our unique life experiences.
Do you trust the cops?
I do and I don't. Experience suggests we should mostly and we shouldn't sometimes.
We must assume that Wagner struck an officer before the action in the video. I'll believe that for our purposes here.
I watch this video, and for the first several seconds I see several officers doing a textbook job of subduing a strong man.
Oh! Wait! Stop. 58 seconds. Blond officer in the right side of the frame. She's holding a Taser, which seems to be discharged and tethered to Wagner. Then she just begins kicking him full force with her right foot. It's like she's trying to kick in a door.
This is one of the two officers Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes has placed on leave as the department continues to investigate the incident.
Well, there you have it. Sorry for making it sound like there was something confusing here. After she's finished kicking the guy, the incident just winds its way down. Nothing to see here.
"You weren't disturbed by that?" UNO criminology professor emeritus Sam Walker asked me after I called him to discuss the surveillance video.
"By what?" I asked.
"That nothing happened," he said.
Walker is arguably the area's leading researcher of policing procedures and, also, a leading advocate for better oversight of the region's law enforcers.
"The kicking is just the first issue here," he said. "That's the clearest problem, obviously."
Or not. Omaha City Prosecutor Marty Conboy declined to charge any officers involved in the incident. "Marty needs to schedule an eye examination," Walker told me. Conboy did not return my call seeking a comment regarding his vision.
"It's what happens after the kicking that's even more disturbing," Walker said.
What I didn't see, what Walker sees, what so many in the community see, what so many particularly in the minority community see, what I should have seen but have perhaps become too comfortable to see, is this:
"You don't see the other officers stop the officer who starts kicking away at the man," Walker said. "Everybody is just acting like it is business as usual."
Walker said Hayes deserves credit for releasing this video to the city prosecutor. "He didn't have to do that. He could have just sat on it."
What you're seeing, or not seeing, is "a culture," Walker said.
Think about it. This video came from a surveillance video outside Creighton University Medical Center. Being impolite here: But if you're a cop, you've got to be pretty dumb to not realize you're being videotaped when you're responding to an incident just outside of an Omaha emergency room.
"Assuming they're not just being dumb, does that just mean that's how things are always handled?" Walker asked rhetorically. "That's just how it is?
"The bottom line is this: You have a lot of people in this community who feel that what was caught on this video is really quite common," Walker said. "The accountability simply isn't there. Without that accountability, you've got an immense amount of mistrust."
Walker sees this incident as "another in a long list of reasons to re-create the position of police auditor," a position Walker helped create that was eliminated by the city in 2009.
After my conversation with Walker, I watched the surveillance video one more time.
I see it this time.
A few moments of kicking. Easy to see. Easy to judge.
Then, police taking the suspect away. Some milling around.
Maybe the other officers were so focused on removing the threat that they didn't see the abuse?
A few moments that seem so clearly wrong.
Followed by a frightening scene of business as usual.
Contact the writer: