HomeNewsOPINION: Hold judgement on traffic stop until facts come out

OPINION: Hold judgement on traffic stop until facts come out

Editor’s note: This column previously mentioned a closing time for the drugstore from which the people in the car were traveling from. The paragraph has been edited to reflect it’s open 24 hours.

I originally had a nice and simple column planned for this space this week that was light-hearted and funny about having traveled to a much larger city over the weekend and coming back appreciative of the less-populated area that is Jackson and rural West Tennessee.

But watching the video from the traffic stop and reading Julia’s story from her interview with Ashley Thomas in the aftermath of that traffic stop and arrest leads me to believe that a column needs to wait a week or two.

Here’s why.

I’m not taking a stance accusing the Madison County Sheriff’s Office of doing anything illegal or unnecessary in that incident because of two things: We haven’t seen the deputies’ body cam footage and we have no statement from MCSO other than them saying this is an ongoing investigation that they can’t speak publicly on until it’s complete.

But the video that Thomas sent us that’s been put out for the public to see is giving anyone looking for a reason to not trust law enforcement exactly what they’re seeking.

What we know is a man, his sister and his underaged son were out in the wee hours of the night/early morning trying to get medicine at a 24-hour drugstore.

On their way home, an unmarked MCSO car is sitting at an intersection, further away than necessary from the stop sign, sitting on the left side of the street. Knowing the area the car was sitting in and how narrow those streets are, that last statement is an inference based on what I saw and what I know.

Then we see more than five minutes of a back-and-forth conversation where the deputy wants Reem Cooper to roll down his window then get out of the vehicle, and Cooper is staying in his vehicle with the window down just enough to have a conversation with the deputy until the deputy decides to progress the conversation by shattering the window, pulling Cooper out of the car and tasing him.

Other deputies then come and pull Thomas and Cooper’s son out of the vehicle and eventually arrest them.

We don’t know what happened before the initial encounter between the two vehicles at the intersection. We don’t know what happened between the two clips that were given to us.

All we know is that a few MCSO deputies needed to use force to pull three people from a vehicle and arrest them.

We don’t know how long it will take for the drama involved with this incident to play out.

Here’s what I do know, if I’m Cooper and I’ve had multiple run-ins with law enforcement that didn’t end well, I’d be less-than-willing to put my window down.

But I also know that whenever I’m stopped, even when it’s not obvious why I’m stopped, that I generally will put my window down, keep my hands visible and comply with what the officer says so I can go ahead and get my punishment and get to where I’m going with as little incident as possible.

Not everyone has that assurance with compliance, and that’s understandable. Because how many times have we seen video in the past decade of bad apple officers using excessive force in a situation where it doesn’t appear warranted to unnecessarily injure or kill a person for something that doesn’t warrant bodily harm or death?

And it’s not just the last decade. I’m showing my children a television show I enjoyed watching when I was their age 30 years ago, and I was too young and naïve to realize that racist police officers was an issue that television show addressed in the early 1990s.

Was this incident another in a series that brings Jackson officially into that conversation? We don’t know yet.

Was the force used by the deputies warranted based on what they saw from their perspective before and during Thomas’ video? We don’t know what either.

Here’s what I do know: Between mayor elections, drag show events, school funding issues, and other public local issues, tensions have been high around here recently. I don’t know if it’s the heat getting to us or if everyone is so loyal to their own beliefs that they take the beliefs of another person as an attack on theirs unnecessarily.

Either way, I urge everyone to take a step back and think before reacting publicly to anything you see or hear regarding this until all the facts are out.

Hopefully MCSO will release its investigation results soon so we can get an idea of the deputies’ thinking and not have to spend much time wondering what was the first deputy on the scene thinking, as well as the others.

All of our local government and leadership entities like to talk about transparency. Timely disclosures in cases like this are a big part of that transparency. We hope that happens soon to bring this to a quick resolution as long as we get to the correct resolution.

Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at brandon@jacksonpost.news. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.

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