Student beatings draws attention to civil rights violations

You are a 150-pound senior nearing graduation as an honors student from Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School. Your violin skills are good enough to have recently caught the ears of first lady Michelle Obama. As you’re walking to your grandmother’s house on a cold Monday night in January, your bottle of Mountain Dew bouncing back and forth in your coat pocket, things take a tragic turn.

Sound like a movie? Jordan Miles certainly wishes that’s all it was.

As 18-year-old Miles was walking to his grandmother’s on Jan. 11, he was approached by three unfamiliar white men.

I’m going to pause the story for a second to provide some background. Judging from local and national news reports, it sounds like Miles’ mother is a lot like mine. When I was still living with my mother, I was always told to run away from danger. It sounds to me like Miles’ decision process was very similar to mine. Three grown men approaching me plus nobody else to defend me equals me taking off in the opposite direction.

Now, back to the story.

Unfortunately for Miles, and to his surprise, the three men were aggressive undercover Pittsburgh police officers. At this point, the police report and Miles’ assertions part ways. The officers claim that a badge was presented and that they made it “clear” they were police. They also claim that they thought Miles’ soda bottle was a weapon. Miles denies that he had any knowledge that it was police officers who were violently assaulting him. Both sides agree that he was tased for avoiding the men’s instruction and then beaten brutally.

A local Pittsburgh ABC affiliate reported that Miles “ended up in a hospital with facial bruises, swollen eyes and hair ripped from his scalp.”

Regardless of who you believe, even the police reports state there were “knee strikes to both sides of Miles’ body in an attempt to get his hands behind his back,” after being tased. I’ve never been tased (knock on wood), but I’ve certainly seen videos. It is overtly clear that a suspect is hardly a threat after being subdued by a taser. Therefore, the officers used unnecessary force.

The three officers were initially placed on uniformed duty. It wasn’t until Feb. 1, three weeks after the incident, that the officers were placed on paid administrative leave. It was reported Tuesday that Miles passed an FBI polygraph test to confirm his side of the story.

While a lot of questions and lessons will continue to develop from this incident, the City of Pittsburgh certainly didn’t react in a timely or appropriate fashion. Miles, as well as his family and legal representation, deserve praise for being brave and intelligent enough to file a civil rights violation in this tragic and unique situation.

I imagine the three officers – who are being paid not to work at the moment – are wondering what would have happened if they simply would have let Miles walk down the street. It’s unfortunate that it takes incidents of this magnitude for law enforcement officers to realize they should leave law-abiding citizens alone.

John Andrew Willis is a junior environmental science major from Dallas.