The video is immediately gripping, shocking. It opens with a kinetic savagery that immediately drops your jaw. Three men in uniform, crouched over a man lying prone in a parking lot, beating and kicking with animal abandon. One officer, apparently bored of punching the man’s face in, decides to start slamming his skull into the concrete instead. His colleague starts stomping on the man’s lower spine.
Two women captured the whole thing in Mulberry, Arkansas, their shocked voices just audible over the camera phone. “This is bad,” one says quietly, just before gasping in horror.
A bystander can be heard protesting, though the words aren’t immediately clear. The cops were unmoved. “Back the f**k up,” is all one says in response. The other just points at the camera, a look of menace on his face before the video cuts.
The suspect’s name is Randall Worcester, a 27-year-old from Goose Greek, South Carolina. The Associated Press reports that he had allegedly threatened a convenience store employee, and now faces charges of criminal trespass, terroristic threatening, resisting arrest and refusal to submit. He was sent to a hospital “for examination and treatment” before going to jail.
The video went viral and the three officers were taken off duty. The Crawford County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that two of the men had been suspended while the Arkansas State Police investigate. “The City of Mulberry and the Mulberry Police Department takes these investigations very seriously and holds all their officers accountable for their actions,” the city said in a statement. “We will take the appropriate actions at the conclusion of the investigation.”
The horror and disgust of the video are magnified by the exhaustion at this genre of story. How many more times can those sworn to uphold the law be caught violating it before the sorts of sweeping, systemic transformation we are clearly in dire need of actually takes place? To put it simply, what will it take? One need not go full #AbolishThePolice to take one look at the startling pattern of the last few decades of headlines, recorded videos, studies and accounts from people on the ground to determine that this is not sustainable.
There are ways out of this horrible predicament. New York City has had success with an early pilot program, in which behavioral health specialists are sent to mental health calls in lieu of armed police. According to the most recent numbers, the traditional police response usually ends up sending about 82 percent of people to the hospital for treatment. The B-HEARD team only sent about half of the people to the hospital, all of whom received follow-up care. Twenty-five percent of the people received treatment at the scene and 20 percent were taken to community health centers.
Could such a tactic have helped Worcester? We don’t know. We know he is alleged to have made violent threats, although right now there is no indication he acted on it. But even if Worcester was being violent, it does not seem unreasonable to expect three officers to be able to safely detain that man without repeatedly bashing his skull into the pavement once he has already been brought down. It does not seem unreasonable to ask that our tax dollars not go to things that shock us with their cruelty while we are instructed to “back the f**k” up.” It does not seem unreasonable to expect grown men to act like grown men, police or otherwise.
But apparently is is unreasonable to expect political leaders from either party to actually mount a serious effort to enact these reforms. If indeed the ranks of our officers are full of good men and women, as we are often assured, then they should not fear any actions to address the “bad apples” in their midst and inject some accountability. Because right now, the closest thing we seem to have to accountability are shaky smartphone cameras. And in this, as well, we are being told to back up.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.