With yesterday’s news that a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the police officer who killed an unarmed man, Eric Garner, by placing him in an illegal chokehold, renewed attention has been brought to another case of racially motivated police brutality here in Texas.
As Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer reported, last month a grand jury in Jasper refused to indict two white police officers who brutally beat a black woman in jail last year. Officers Ricky Grissom and Ryan Cunningham were caught on tape beating Keyarika Diggles, “grabbing Diggles by the hair, slamming her face onto a counter and pinning her to the floor, before dragging Diggles, by the feet, into a holding cell.” Diggles then spent hours in a dark “detox” cell before being strip-searched by another female officer. For those who wish to see it, the video of the incident is available here.
What makes the case even more troubling was the reason that the officers had arrested Diggles, a single mother of two: an unpaid traffic ticket. The ticket was technically not even unpaid. Diggles had been paying it in installments, and still owed $100. It is unclear why the police chose to arrest her that day.
After the incident, the Jasper city council voted to fire the two officers. Diggles also settled a civil rights lawsuit against the city for $75,000. Michels at the Texas Observer noted that “that alone was a stronger response than many allegations of police brutality get, and Jasper Mayor Mike Lout said the council would work with the district attorney to consider criminal charges against the officers.”
Lout also emphasized that this was an isolated incident, and not part of a larger trend. Said Lout, “The law is the law for everyone, and just because you have a badge on doesn’t mean you have the right to break the law, or do something wrong.”
However, as we reported last week, there are dozens of Texas cities who arrest black people at a higher rate than Ferguson, MO, where white police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for shooting unarmed teenager Mike Brown last week. And in the wake of the Ferguson decision, we have been reminded that prosecutors can easily procure indictments when they want. In Diggles’ case, as in Eric Garner’s case, the police brutality was captured entirely on video. Yet, grand juries refused to indict even when they had photographic evidence in front of them.
The Texas Observer obtained records that after losing his job with the Jasper Police Department, one of the officers, Ryan Cunningham, got hired by the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, meaning he is still in law enforcement despite having brutally beaten a woman on camera.
What happened in Jasper is yet another symptom of the problems plaguing the American criminal justice system. After Darren Wilson was not indicted for the death of Mike Brown, some suggested that equipping police with body cameras would help prove instances of police brutality. But as Garner’s and Diggle’s cases prove, cameras alone will not solve the problem. As long as those who hurt black bodies are immune to justice, it will remain abundantly clear that, contrary to what Jasper mayor Mike Lout wants to believe, the law is not really the law for everyone, only for a privileged few.