Police try to strike balance between guardian, enforcer

ARLINGTON, Va. — Police departments across the country are under the microscope, and many are working to bolster community relations. From the cases of Michael Brown to the continuing conflict over policing in Baltimore, departments are being scrutinized over the way they deal with the public, particularly how they handle calls involving African Americans.

At a Monday morning conference organized by the National Black Child Development Institute, Prince George’s County Police Chief Mark Magaw spoke on a panel on community relations. He told the conferees in the crowded auditorium, “One of the things you’re seeing across the country is — a lot of police departments are occupying forces. They don’t know their communities. Their communities don’t know them. They don’t want to know each other. And to be honest with you, 30 years ago, Prince George’s County wasn’t much different.”

Today, Magaw insists, things are different.

“We are not an occupying force.”

But a video that showed up on Twitter and social media this weekend generated plenty of criticism on the Internet. The video shows the apprehension of a handcuffed suspect. The suspect, an African American man, is on the ground, pinned there by a white police officer. The two struggle, and it appears the officer hits the man in the head — hard. Magaw doesn’t mince words.

“Use of force is ugly — it just is,” he says.

What’s missing from the Twitter videos, says Magaw, is context. What you don’t see in that video, says Magaw, is the fact that the suspect shown, 21-year-old Giovanti Young, had struggled when pulled over by three officers earlier in the day. During that stop, Magaw says Young became aggressive, assaulting the arresting officers. Young complained of a shoulder injury and was taken to an area hospital. After being cleared by doctors, Young was being transported by another officer, when he leaned forward in the patrol car, freed himself from the seat belt, manipulated the door handle, opened the car door and rolled out onto the roadway.

Magaw says the suspect, Young, bit the police officer who tried to get him back into the patrol car.

“This officer was trying to subdue a person that had escaped from him — out of his car — and he was trying to defend himself from being bitten again, and kicked.”

But what does Magaw say about that punch to the head the suspect appears to sustain?

“He was trying to keep that individual from biting him again — and keeping his face away from him,” says Magaw.

Still, Magaw says, the incident is under review.

“We’re going to take a look at this from start to finish, frame by frame,” he says of the video.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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