Scenes from "pro-life" America

Via TalkLeft, the Ninth Circut Court of Appeals has ruled that “[t]hree Seattle police officers were justified when they used a stun gun on a pregnant mother who refused to sign a traffic ticket.”  Whut?  What about the adorable innocent baby fetuses?  I guess they don’t count when it’s a mere woman who’s trying to protect her own fetus:

Malaika Brooks was driving her son to Seattle’s African American Academy in 2004 when she was stopped for doing 32 mph in a school zone. She insisted it was the car in front of her that was speeding, and refused to sign the ticket because she thought she’d be admitting guilt.Rather than give her the ticket and let her go on her way, the officers decided to arrest her. One reached in, turned off her car and dropped the keys on the floor. Brooks stiffened her arms against the steering wheel and told the officers she was pregnant, but refused to get out, even after they threatened to stun her.

The officers – Sgt. Steven Daman, Officer Juan Ornelas and Officer Donald Jones – then stunned her three times, in the thigh, shoulder and neck, and hauled her out of the car, laying her face-down in the street.

Here’s what the 2-1 majority of the so-called “loony left-wing” Ninth Circut Court ruled:

Judges Cynthia Holcomb Hall and Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain held that the officers were justified in making an arrest because Brooks was obstructing them and resisting arrest.

The use of force was also justified because of the threat Brooks posed, Hall wrote: “It seems clear that Brooks was not going to be able to harm anyone with her car at a moment’s notice. Nonetheless, some threat she might retrieve the keys and drive off erratically remained, particularly given her refusal to leave the car and her state of agitation.”

They also noted that the force used wasn’t that serious because the Taser was in “touch” mode rather than “dart” mode, which hurts more. They reversed the lower court’s opinion and held that the officers were entitled to immunity from the lawsuit.

How little “resistance” it takes to justify police brutality:  just staying in your car and refusing to sign a ticket apparently gives the police carte blanche, even (especially?) if you’re a pregnant woman driving her child to school.  The dissening judge lost her $hit and laid into her thuggish colleagues:

The majority’s opinion outraged Judge Marsha Berzon, who called it “off the wall.””I fail utterly to comprehend how my colleagues are able to conclude that it was objectively reasonable to use any force against Brooks, let alone three activations of a Taser, in response to such a trivial offense,” she wrote.

She argued that under Washington law, the officers had no authority to take Brooks into custody: Failure to sign a traffic infraction is not an arrestable offense, and it’s not illegal to resist an unlawful arrest.

Berzon said the majority’s notion that Brooks obstructed officers was so far-fetched that even the officers themselves didn’t make that legal argument. To obstruct an officer, one must obstruct the officer’s official duties, and the officers’ only duties in this case were to detain Brooks long enough to identify her, check for warrants, write up the citation and give it to her. Brooks’ failure to sign did not interfere with those duties, she said.

Furthermore, Brooks posed no apparent threat, and the officers could not have known how stunning her would affect the fetus, or whether it might prompt premature labor – another reason their actions were inexcusable, Berzon said

Jeralyn Merrit agrees:  “This is one of the most illogical, poorly reasoned court opinions I can recall in a long time.”  Fortunately, Ms. Brooks gave birth to a healthy full-term child.  Unfortunately, we all now live in a world where “even the liberal” Ninth Circut Court thinks it’s A-OK to yank her out of her car, slam her on the ground, and tase her for refusing to sign a speeding ticket.  Neither the AP nor the court decision specify Ms. Brooks’s race, but since she was driving her son to an African American academy, I wonder if this case speaks to the 500-year history of vicious attacks on and/or appropriations of African American motherhood in this “New World,” in both slavery and freedom.

Someone, alert Bart Stupak and Marcy Kaptur!  Maybe they’ll hold a bill hostage again to pass a law to protect the innocent baby fetuses of women who are accused of committing moving violations tweleve miles over the speed limit!  (Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.)

0 thoughts on “Scenes from "pro-life" America

  1. When are we going to get a study informing us of the social harms and benefits of taser guns? How do they protect the public? Do they have a deterrent effect that reduces dangerous resistances of arrest? Have they saved any lives and, if so, at what cost?

    I am old enough to have been around when they were first distributed to police officers and the notion back then was ALWAYS that they’d inflict less harm on the citizenry: that getting stunned was what would happen to a person instead of getting killed. Now they’re handy torture devices that can be aimed at anyone at whim. If you don’t like it, you’re obviously against law enforcement!


  2. Remember when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was considered a “liberal” court? So let’s say this is a law class. What could be cited as a rational basis for the state having ANY interest whatsoever in requiring somebody sitting behind the wheel to sign a ticket? Is there some fine print in there indemnifying Officer Fife in the event it becomes necessary to tase the customer? You could be signing an implied confession. If you have on-board fax, can you fax it to your counsel for a quick read-over? Would an illiterate infractor automatically get tased and bound over? This is pretty nuts.


  3. As Digby has pointed out repeatedly (and, of course, eloquently), the original justification for the acceptability of arming cops with Tasers was that they would be used solely as a safer alternative to deadly force: i.e., firearms. Now, without any real public discussion whatsoever, they are being used routinely as a tool for inducing compliance under circumstances where deadly force would never, ever have even been contemplated. This is an extremely bad development.


  4. has been regular reading for me since I was on the receiving end of police misconduct last year. The collection of case law there illustrates that incidents like those described here are a routine part of 21st century policing. If you can stomach it, also check out the comments section at, which brillianty illustrates “the increasing professionalism of police forces, including a new emphasis on internal police discipline”, to use Justice Scalia’s words.


  5. What an ugly continuum: from torture for (suspected) enemies of the country to tasers for ordinary citizens who disrespect cops. They’re not identical, of course, but these practices are products of the same cultural climate. Oy.


  6. Profane–tell us more. What happened to you?

    I think Tony Grafton is correct. In the last thirty years or so, Americans have increasingly identified with the bullies rather than the bullied, so it’s easy to believe that if someone was a victim of brutality they must have done something to “deserve” it. The Bush/Cheney years didn’t create the problem–they just exported it and used it as an instrument of foreign policy.

    In an article forwarded to me by Indyanna in the Huffington Post published Friday, Linda K. Kerber and Christopher Merrill suggest that the American acceptance of torture and brutality is perhaps linked to the longstanding withdrawl of support for higher education in the U.S.


  7. The short of it (as much as I will say in a public forum) is that I was nearly struck in crosswalk by a plainclothes State Trooper who ran a red light, left his vehicle to shout and curse at me, tackled me in the middle of the street without announcing that he was a police officer, and followed that up by choking me while I was handcuffed. Naturally I was the one who ended up being charged.


  8. Good lord. Were there any witnesses? Malaika Brooks’s decision not to get out of her car was probably the right one, considering how you as a pedestrian were assaulted anyway.

    I hope you found good legal representation.


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