Public officials should do their due diligence before commenting on police incidents

by May 11, 2020Opinion1 comment

Mayor of San Juan and gubernatorial candidate Carmen Yulín Cruz (PDP, D) recently reposted a tweet from Senator Kamala Harris (D) of a 15-second video showing a Rancho Cordova police officer detaining a minor. She captioned that tweet asking “what is wrong with that man[?]” Senator Harris took a similar tone, calling for the officer to be “held accountable.” Taking that 15-second video at face-value, one would think that it was an abuse of power. There is no doubt that Mayor Cruz and Senator Harris did. But, when placed in context, it was far from abuse.

The minor shown wrestling with the officer in the video is Elijah Tufono. He’s 14 years old. In an interview with a local news station, he admitted to partaking in an illegal tobacco transaction. This was the impetus for the officer approaching him. He also admitted to resisting the officer’s attempts to detain him, saying that he “pulled [his] right hand back.” This caused the scuffle seen in the video. 

The fact of the matter is that Elijah resisted arrest and was actively resisting arrest when the video was running. Any police officer in that situation would have to use force. So, the officer was justified. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter. 

All the public sees is a grown man aggressively pinning down a 14-year-old. So, pity is automatically placed with Elijah, despite his being in the wrong. And thus, an innocent action is turned into a reprehensible show of police abuse. This indicates something very troubling about our society: We are not very intelligent. If all it takes is a 15-second video to persuade us that something is bad, then we are in deep trouble. A simple Google search shows Elijah’s video interview where he implicates himself and the Rancho Cordova Police Department’s statement, explaining exactly what happened. It doesn’t take rocket science to get the totality of the facts; all it takes is a Google search. Americans need to get it together. So do our elected officials.

Had Mayor Cruz and Senator Harris waited just a little longer to see how the story panned-out, they would not have slandered that Rancho Cordova police officer. As public officials, they are held to a higher standard. They should be expected not to presumptively comment on controversial matters. Unfortunately, they did. As a result, an innocent man’s reputation has been set ablaze.

It would be no surprise if their rush to judgment was rooted in pent-up animosity toward the police for past misconduct. California, where Senator Harris is from, has had its share of police brutality headlines over the decades. Puerto Rico, where Mayor Cruz is from, is also no stranger to police brutality. They both, no doubt, have familiarity with police misconduct. Be that as it may, they still have a duty to be fair in their analyses of controversy. They do for the purpose of intellectual honesty and for the purpose of not misleading their constituency. Unfortunately, they fell short on both ends. And it was preventable. Their contribution to the lynching of that officer’s reputation was preventable. All they had to do was reserve judgment until all of the facts were revealed—literally one day after their tweets. But perhaps that’s too much to expect from politicians these days.