Until 1989, when deciding whether police use of force was excessive, courts would evaluate the officer’s state of mind. Unless the officer maliciously and sadistically used force to hurt the person, that force was not excessive.
The Supreme Court of the United States then decided in Graham v. Connor (1989) that police use of force is governed instead by the Fourth Amendment. The question becomes, was the use of force objectively reasonable?
“An officer’s evil intentions will not make a Fourth Amendment violation out of an objectively reasonable use of force; nor will an officer’s good intentions make an objectively unreasonable use of force constitutional.”
The Youth / Police Project’s primary objective is to build conversations with teenagers about how their lives are affected by the character of the police presence in their neighborhoods. Each year, we meet weekly with a set of teenagers, discuss their questions about constitutional law, and commit to being a regular presence in their lives as they grow into young adults.
We called a session of the Supreme Court of the Youth / Police Project to review, de novo, the question of whether excessive use of force should require that the officer had evil intentions.
The Supreme Court of the Youth / Police Project immediately inquired into whether Dethorne Graham, the plaintiff in this case, was black. We had to look beyond the opinion for contextual reporting and analysis in order to determine that yes, Dethorne Graham was a black man. The Court could not determine the race of the officers, to their unending frustration. In a review of other landmark Fourth Amendment cases this omission proved consistent—race is not preserved in the record.
Ultimately, Supreme Court of the Youth / Police Project agreed with the Supreme Court of the United States that an officer’s intentions need not be malicious in order for the force to be excessive. It is nearly impossible to prove someone is a racist in court.
However, that should not prevent an inquiry into the mind of the officer. For the historical record we must note whether any explicit racism (or other prejudice) is involved. Or we won’t know the whole story. The opinion published here reflects the logic of that position.
In the case of Graham v. Connor, the justices of the Supreme Court of the Youth / Police Project chose to announce the enter opinion from the bench. There was no dissent.
The footage captured of the reading has been combined with candid footage of the authors of the opinion. Justices are also humans with full lives and important experiences. Young black people have concepts of reasonableness that may differ from real-world justices.
Do I need my hands up on the dashboard every time or can I just be a regular citizen?
SUPREME COURT OF THE YOUTH / POLICE PROJECT
GRAHAM v. CONNOR
CERTIORARI BEFORE JUDGMENT TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
No. 87-6571. Argued July 03, 2019 – Decided July 03, 2019.
This is what we know:
On November 12, 1984, Graham, a diabetic, felt the onset of an insulin reaction. He asked a friend, William Berry, to drive him to a nearby convenience store so he could purchase some orange juice to counteract the reaction. Berry agreed, but when Graham entered the store, he saw a number of people ahead of him in the checkout line. Concerned about the delay, he hurried out of the store and asked Berry to drive him to a friend’s house instead.
An officer of the Charlotte, North Carolina Police Department, saw Graham hastily enter and leave the store. Officer Connor became suspicious that something was amiss and followed Berry’s car.
Nobody even called about the orange juice being possibly stolen. The police didn’t see him steal.
About one-half mile from the store, he made an investigative stop. Although Berry told Connor that Graham was simply suffering from a “sugar reaction,” the officer ordered Berry and Graham to wait while he found out what, if anything, had happened at the convenience store. Graham tried multiple times to explain that he was having a sugar reaction, which would have explained his behavior.
When Officer Connor returned to his patrol car to call for backup assistance, Graham got out of the car, ran around it twice, and finally sat down on the curb, where he passed out briefly.
In the ensuing confusion, a number of other Charlotte police officers arrived on the scene in response to Officer Connor’s request for backup. One of the officers rolled Graham over on the sidewalk and cuffed his hands tightly behind his back, ignoring Berry’s pleas to get him some sugar.
Another officer said: “I’ve seen a lot of people with sugar diabetes that never acted like this. Ain’t nothing wrong with the motherfucker but drunk. Lock the son of a bitch up.”
Several officers then lifted Graham up from behind, carried him over to Berry’s car, and placed him face down on its hood. When he woke up, Graham asked the officers to check in his wallet for a diabetic decal that he carried. In response, one of the officers told him to “shut up” and shoved his face down against the hood of the car. Four officers grabbed Graham and threw him headfirst into the police car. A friend of Graham’s brought some orange juice to the car, but the officers refused to let him have it.
Berry was begging the cops to give graham some sugar, definitely not trying to hurt someone. The other person on the scene was the friend with orange juice; both were trying to help de-escalate and were not making threats or behaving threateningly.
Finally, Officer Connor received a report that Graham had done nothing wrong at the convenience store, and the officers drove him home and released him. Also another Officer vouched for Graham saying “I know where he stay at. Please just take him home,” and then he went to begging again. He said, “Please take him home. I’ll take care of him.” But Connor and the other officers wouldn’t listen to him.
Graham ended up with a broken foot, cuts on his wrists, a bruised forehead, and an injured shoulder; he also claims to have developed a loud ringing in his right ear that continues to this day. Also, Graham was bed ridden for 5 weeks. he couldn’t move his hands for weeks as well.
- First, we say there was no need for application of force.
Overall, Graham had not committed any crimes. There was no need to even use force at all. If they had searched him, they would have seen that he did not shoplift at all, so there was no need for force. They automatically applied force.
The supposed crime is not severe and it wasn’t a crime to be moving quickly. It’s not a super crime so there were many other` options. He could have had to pee, he could have been suffering a life threatening insulin reaction. It is not reasonable to assume that a person moving with haste is committing a crime.
All of that happened over orange juice; they didn’t even see him drink it or take it out of the store.
- Second, not committing any sort of crime and almost dying should not lead to this level of injury.
His behavior after being stopped, while at times erratic, posed no threat to officers on the scene. Most of his injuries were sustained from being thrown into the police car after being cuffed, which is not reasonable in most cases, including this one.
Making his cuffs excessively tight and throwing Graham into the police car was a degree of force that was not necessary to stop, cuff, or put Graham in the car. He has a case against the police because he was very badly injured, and could not move for five weeks. He couldn’t move his hands for two weeks, he had a ringing in his ear, a broken foot.
As Mr. Graham was fully unconscious when the cops were abusing him and none of his actions, like running to no particular place, and then fainting, were directed towards the officers. The threat was not even a threat. Running in circles around a car isn’t a get away maneuver. Maybe the cops thought he was drunk or intoxicated, but that’s still not an excuse to use that much force.
- Third, we say that the officer’s intentions don’t matter, the force was excessive no matter what.
We should not need to ask the question about the officer’s intentions. That’s like reading somebody’s mind. You can’t just assume the intentions. It’s hard to prove in some situations.
We can know from the outcomes about whether the force was excessive. Here, the police applied force for the purpose of petty theft. Which isn’t that big of a crime – if it was just orange juice, what does that cost, a dollar? Some change? Anything else that could be taken from a convenience store, probably of relatively low value, is not a severe crime
A reasonable officer would have allowed him to speak & realized that he had witnessed panic due to a sugar reaction rather than shoplifting. Ain’t nobody even call him, obviously the store owner didn’t care. He wasn’t resisting. They also didn’t handle the situation right because the victim had a medical background. They weren’t listening to his friend saying he was diabetic. They didn’t check his ID.
It does not matter what the cop thought in this situation. They had a whole other source, the friend of the diabetic man, but didn’t ask him. A reasonable officer would not beat up an unconscious person. Of course anyone could be armed? But why would you assume that. He had a wallet in his pocket w his diabetes card but any reasonable officer wouldn’t assume wallet is a gun. So if the officer is not being reasonable, we don’t care about why they’re doing that behavior.
If we need to prove their intentions then of the course the cops will say they’re not being mean. It’s just to cover their ass. Everybody lies in court, cops lie, sometimes judges lie, everybody lies period. They can make up an excuse, like they would say, “The only reason I hurt him was because he was fighting back.” Like when they say, “I shot him because I thought he had a gun, but it was cell phone.” It’s covering their ass.
Any cop who stops someone like that for orange juice is wrong. It needs to be a yes or no answer. The answer is no, the cops shouldn’t have done all that.
- Finally, we say that we should still ask about the officer’s intentions, because if we don’t, the people in the future won’t know the full story.
An officers’ position is to serve and protect, so the officer should have asked what was going on to actually assess the situation. Immediate violence is never the answer.
Our opinion is that if it was a white man they would have took the time to assess the situation differently. I’m so glad I’m not a black male. As far as police stuff, that is extremely hard. It’s like they said “There go a n-word let’s get him.” That’s not what they said for sure, but that’s maybe what they were thinking. “Okay we have a target, it’s our intention to do something let’s get it down”
They be bored, so the minute they found a black man, a target, they went in. Period. They saw an opportunity to be a bully, and they took that opportunity. To break someone’s foot and give them cuts is excessive. You should know what the cop’s intentions was by the results. If end up with a broke a foot, they all got bad intentions. If they had evil intentions, it was loaded from the beginning. Look at the man’s bruises.
It’s complicated to ask about intentions, but we want still to know if they are racist or not. It’s important to record people’s races in court cases, because we don’t right now. We don’t include race so that we won’t seem racist. But if the officer is racist, that matters for history.
So, if the cop is already in trouble, we should still ask about the intentions to determine the different degrees of excessive force. You should always care about the officer’s intentions. They are supposed to serve and protect. If the police officer approached me, I need to know their intentions.
You definitely have to pay for the broken foot, or his headphones. You pay for his feelings if you are racist. You need to pay more restitution for racism.
The ultimate question is do I need my hands up on the dashboard every time or can I just be a regular citizen?
In the Film
Editors & Advisors
The decision and video of deliberations can be viewed as part of the exhibit “Graham v. Connor 1989. Fighting Police Violence in Chicago,” currently open at the Uri-Eichen Gallery, 2101 S. Halsted St., through August 2 by appointment. (312) 852-7717. uri-eichen.com