Some people see them as heroes. More people see them as idiots. Anyone who has met them knows they are loveable goofballs.
But to me, the people who were savagely beaten after spraying off-duty Burnsville cops with squirt guns are some of my closest friends.
This past weekend, I was at a music festival in Detroit, an annual celebration of electronic music and Detroit itself. As the first day came to a close, I checked Facebook and the news started rolling in.
Our friends were arrested. They'd been beaten badly by off-duty police who were riding the pedal pub. They weren't even Minneapolis cops.
Then I saw the YouTube video. I saw cops pinning my friends down with their knees. One, Kurtis Johnson, was pinned down by two different cops -- a male and a female who both weigh more than Kurtis does soaking wet (which he was).
One cop can be heard telling a friend that he "will break your fucking arm" if he moved.
The following day, I had a discussion on Facebook about what happened. One commenter insisted that this was not a bad cop story. A couple twisted individuals felt a severe beating was an appropriate response to being squirted with a water gun.
A few commenters said my friends deserved little if any pity compared to victims of totally unprovoked police brutality. I agree with those people. Most people who commented on my discussion saw what I saw: an incredible abuse of power, one more example of a police state run amok.
I know my friends are very lucky. It could have been a lot worse, especially if all of them were black, instead of just one. This could have ended a lot differently.
My friends are in pain, but they will heal, and you'd like to think the Burnsville Police Department will be short an officer or six. There will be a much happier ending to this story than most cases of police brutality.
For most of that day, I was furious, particularly at those who came to the defense of the cops' actions. Later on, however, I started to feel very bad.
Why did I wait until it happened to people close to me to take police brutality seriously? Before this happened, my heart ached for black people who face the threat or much worse on a daily basis. I would discuss police brutality on Facebook with those who came to the defense of killer cops. But that is not enough. Not even close.
At the very end of that second day, smack dab in the middle of what is usually the happiest weekend of the year for me, I broke down and cried uncontrollably. I was embarrassed. I was extremely disgusted by and ashamed of myself for waiting until now to take this issue as seriously. You may think some terrible things about me, but I guarantee I am taking this harder on myself than anyone else possibly could.
That doesn't matter, though. None of it does. It's not about me, nor is it about my dumbass friends. It's not about squirt guns or whether off-duty cops from the suburbs should be able to attempt to do their jobs while intoxicated in Minneapolis. It's not about Pedal Pub or the public intoxication and disruption it encourages with the blessing of Minneapolis.
Here's what it's about:
Either you think it is OK or not OK that police follow a different set of rules than everyone else does, even when they are off duty. Either you think it is OK or not OK that mainstream media institutions are at best police apologists (like the Star Tribune and WCCO) or at worst straight-up mouthpieces for the police unions, like KSTP proved to be with the Pointergate scandal.
The only message I hope anyone takes from reading this is that if you are in the not OK camp, don't make the same mistake I did. Don't wait until it's too late to wish you had done more sooner, because you may not be as lucky as my friends.
No more waiting. If you aren't already doing everything you can to help end this abuse of power and authority, I encourage you to rise up, arms locked as brothers and sisters, and take a stand against police brutality, the justice system, and the institutions that give them all a free pass.
I used to be afraid of cops, but not any more (and that goes double for Pedal Pub cops). They can't arrest all of us. They should fear us, not the other way around.
I promise you: Unless some big changes are made soon, it's not a matter of if you will feel as bad as I feel. It's a matter of when.
If you have something important to say, send it to City Pages.