Why do some victims of alleged police brutality merit more attention than others?
Why should the trivial inconvenience suffered by Professor Henry Louis Gates become an international obsession while major media outlets continue to ignore the disabling brain injuries of Christopher Harris?
Isn’t it obvious that the stark contrast in the treatment of the two cases by politicians and the press stems from the fact that Gates is black and Harris is white?
Harris is a 29-year-old from suburban Edmonds, Washington who had driven to downtown Seattle on Sunday night, May 10th. Unfortunately for him, police received reports that same evening of a bloody brawl in a bar that later spilled out onto the street. A female witness wrongly identified Harris (now acknowledged by all as an innocent bystander) as a participant in a knife fight, and two King County Sheriff’s deputies tried to approach him. According to eyewitnesses, the deputies never identified themselves as law enforcement officers and in the darkness Harris didn’t recognize them as cops. Frightened by the encounter, he ran for several blocks as the determined deputies gave chase. Eventually, Harris slowed and stopped in front of the popular Cinerama movie theatre, at which point Deputy Matthew Paul lunged at him, knocking Harris off his feet and inadvertently slamming the back of his head against a concrete wall.
For several days, Harris failed to regain consciousness and his brain injuries may well leave him permanently disabled. More than two months after the tragic incident, his family’s attorney told the Seattle Times that “he has responded to some simple commands, and the family is hopeful they will be able to move him soon to a place where he can get more aggressive rehabilitative care.”
Despite the grim outcome, prosecutors decided that no charges would be brought against the deputies involved. An official statement explained: “The law provides that an officer ‘shall not be held criminally liable for using force without malice and with a good faith belief that such an act is justifiable.’ Christopher Harris was identified by witnesses to officers as a suspect in a violent crime. He ran for several blocks after he was told to stop by uniformed officers. As the deputy caught up to him, the deputy used a standard takedown procedure. As a result, no criminal charge can be filed.”