The Milwaukee Police Department released body camera footage on Wednesday of the January arrest — and tasing — of Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown at a Walgreens.
The incident sparked outrage at the time. But the video reveals that Brown, who’s black, seemed to pose no threat to the officers, yet multiple cops were deployed to the scene and used a Taser on him, during an arrest that began with a dispute over a parking violation.
The video begins with an officer standing by Brown’s car, preparing to write a ticket because the vehicle was parked across two handicap spaces. Brown then arrived and argued with the officer, but ultimately they came to a standstill when the cop said that he needed to wait for backup. Within minutes, multiple police cars arrived at the scene. Several cops — at least six at one point — surrounded Brown, and he talked with them.
Brown had his hands in his pocket for much of the conversation, which officers did not seem to mind at first. But after a while, an officer ordered him to take his hands out. Suddenly, and with no sign of aggression by Brown, the cops got extremely aggressive, grabbed Brown, and pushed him to the ground. As Brown was on the ground, an officer yelled, “Taser, Taser, Taser!” The officer then used a stun gun on Brown.
At no point did Brown appear to pose a threat to the officers, based on the video.
Brown was initially arrested for resisting or obstructing an officer, but he was not charged with any crime after review of the body camera footage. The officers involved in the arrest were disciplined, Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said in a statement.
“My experience in January with the Milwaukee Police Department was wrong and shouldn’t happen to anyone,” Brown said in his own statement. “What should have been a simple parking ticket turned into an attempt at police intimidation, followed by unlawful use of physical force, including being handcuffed and tased, and then unlawfully booked.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that “although the Milwaukee Police Department’s use of firearms has dramatically declined in recent years, there has been a rise in the use of Tasers” — suggesting some sort of substitution effect. Stun guns were originally marketed as nonlethal, but they were relabeled “less lethal” after their use resulted in deaths in some cases.
Milwaukee has a long history of struggles with police and racism. A 2013 ranking, for example, deemed Milwaukee the most racially segregated metropolitan area in America. In 2016, riots broke out in the city after a police officer shot and killed 23-year-old Sylville Smith — leading City Alder Khalif Rainey at the time to remark that the city’s struggles with racism had led to a “powder keg.”
City officials are concerned that this new video could lead to a similar backlash. According to the Journal Sentinel, police shared the video with community leaders prior to its release to help prepare the city. Officials warned the Journal Sentinel before the video’s release that “this could be bad.”
The escalation of the arrest once again puts a spotlight on police use of force in America, particularly against black Americans. There are vast racial disparities in how police use force. These kinds of incidents, in which a dispute over a parking ticket can escalate into a violent arrest, are a major reason that police have lost so much trust and legitimacy within the black community.