An upsetting incident involving police has people angry, in Oklahoma and across the United States, as the video spreads virally. During a tense moment in the home of a suspect’s mother, police pepper-sprayed an 84-year-old woman. Many community members of Muskogee, Oklahoma are alarmed by these developments.
The woman’s son was chased back to his mother’s home, where he hid inside. The police burst in by breaking down the door, then tasered the woman’s son. But when the elderly woman refused to turn around as ordered by police, an officer pepper-sprayed her, and she fell to the floor.
The video is disturbing, and raises important questions. The mother and son are African-American, and police violence against members of the African-American community has been a major issue in the media, propelling the Black Lives Matter movement to a position of national visibility.
Would an 84-year-old white woman in similar circumstances have been treated differently? Many think so, and fear that this was an over-step of authority by the local police department, and an example of institutional racism. What if the woman had hurt herself seriously by falling to the floor? No effort was made to catch her fall, as revealed in the video tape. And elderly women are prone to osteoporosis, and a fall like that could have been debilitating and even fatal.
In addition, could a painful dose of pepper spray have serious health consequences for an elderly woman, who would be statistically more likely to suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular issues? Though the police have to react quickly on the job, did this unarmed and frightened 84-year-old woman, in a room full of police officers, represent a threat significant enough to warrant this extreme response?
The suspect was under control, and multiple officers were in the immediate presence of the small elderly woman. Frankly, it’s hard to see this incident as anything other than an over reaction by law-enforcement, at best, and a tragic example of racism at work in our communities, at worst. Fortunately this incident concluded without serious harm to the woman, or her son. It could have easily turned out differently.
Muskogee’s Chief of Police has released the tape showing the officers entering the dwelling, tasering the suspect, and ultimately pepper-spraying the old woman. The Police offers the video to the public as a sign of transparency, and seems to be willing to discuss the incident with reporters. The police are reviewing the incident. Will the police officer who pepper-sprayed the woman receive disciplinary action? Will the city make restitution to the woman for her suffering? Will the police department initiate new training procedures to minimize the chance that an incident like this won’t happen again? Time will tell, and the community of Muskogee is watching.
Watch video of police pepper-spraying elderly woman (Muskogee PD / CNN)
Photo: Muskogee PD / CNN (screen capture)