Racial profiling leads to man being violently tasered on San Francisco BART train

Racial profiling leads to man being violently tasered on San Francisco BART train

Feb 4, 2014

This is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen in my life. Reader Vikram Bastian tipped us off to his friend Vidya Kaipa‘s incredibly disturbing experience on one of San Francisco’s BART trains.

Kaipa was riding the train around 10pm, when a black man came and sat next to her. He was drunk, but he was kind and he was friendly. He did nothing wrong. He talked about his wife, he asked her about her book. Some busybody, it seems, saw this interaction and decided that Kaipa was in danger somehow, and called the cops with an anonymous tip. This is what happened:

Kaipa describes the incident on Medium.com:

After a few relatively civil back-and-forths, the cop lightly touched his shoulder, saying “come on, let’s just talk on the platform.” Robert shook him off. This continued for a bit. Eventually, it escalated to the point where the cop was physically pulling him up from the seat with two hands, and Robert was pushing the cop off him. When both men were standing, Robert cornered by the door to the next carriage and the cop standing in the path to the main entrance, Robert asked again and again why the cop wanted him to get off the train, and that he hadn’t done anything. These are valid questions. The cop kept repeating that he didn’t want any trouble, but that he would just need him to step off the train for a minute and that he’d be free to get back on after answering a few questions. Since the train had been stopped for a while, I guess this is when the drama garnered the full audience attention.

At one point, Robert got very aggravated and tried to sit down again, or maybe it was that he was just shouting and the cop got tired of trying to peacefully usher Robert out of the train. So he pulled out his taser and told Robert that if he didn’t disembark the train, he would tase him.

This is where it gets very stressful. Up until this point, no weapons were involved, and both men were within their rights to have acted in the way they had. Before you jump to conclusions, think about it from the cop’s perspective. The cop was summoned by an anonymous tip, and having surveyed the situation, he probably thought it was within reason that a small woman might have felt threatened by a big drunk guy. Even me insisting that it was okay might have seemed like a polite gesture, rather than a true indication of the situation. It’s also entirely possible that when I spoke to my mother in Telugu, the anonymous caller thought I was asking for help. Whatever. There’s motive. Plus, he’s a cop; generally if a cop asks you to do something, you do it at risk of punishment if you don’t. It’s messed up, but it’s kind of the purpose of having a police force in the first place.

Of course, from Robert’s perspective, the whole ordeal is fucked up. Heliterally didn’t do anything, and on top of that, he was a genuinely nice guy. We were having an admittedly uncomfortable conversation, but only because I was tired and didn’t want to talk to anyone, not because I didn’t want to talk to him. So he was completely in the right to ask for what reason the cop wanted him off the train, and to not get off until that question was answered. Unfortunately for him, he ran.

Let me tell you, if a cop asked me to leave a train and come with him, I’d sure as hell want to know why too, and I certainly wouldn’t want to get off that train. And I’m a white woman! Granted, one of the first lessons I learned as a kid was “the only word you ever say to a cop is ‘LAWYER,’” (along with “Never cross a union picket line” and “Florence Ballard got totally screwed by Diana Ross and Berry Gordy”)–but it’s not without reason. They can say you did anything, or plant something on you, and then you go to jail for the rest of your life.

Granted, when a cop tells you that you are supposed to do something, you do it, because they will hurt you if you don’t. The real issue here seems to be that someone just happened to see a (admittedly intoxicated) black man talking to a small Indian woman and assumed that something bad was about to happen. Which is fucked up. Sure, drunk talky people are not always a pleasant thing on public transportation, but to assume that this man was a threat to her–or for the police officer to assume he was violent and that this clearly excessive and brutal tasering was somehow necessary–is extremely messed up.

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