Calling BS: Only some people deserve police protection

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Dejuan Yourse (third from left) listens to a discussion about police accountability. (photo by Eric Ginsburg)

The allegations are pretty grotesque: two counts of assault on a female, assault by strangulation, battery of an unborn child, habitual misdemeanor assault and being a habitual felon, according to the News & Record.

Those are the charges faced by Dejuan Yourse, a Greensboro man who received a $95,000 settlement after being beat up by then-Officer Travis Cole, a classic example of a “bad cop” who had already cost the city $50,000 in another brutality settlement.

Brian Cheek, a former deputy chief with the Greensboro Police Department, appeared to revel in the news of Yourse facing up to 51 years in prison. In a public Facebook post in the Greater Greensboro Politics group last week, Cheek referred to the Cole incident at Yourse’s mother’s house, writing: “I guess after paying his child support [Yourse] has spent all the money the city gave him. Who knows, maybe he has no place to live and he is scared to attempt to break in his mother’s house again.”

Quick refresher: while investigating an alleged break-in attempt, Cole started physically attacking a seated Yourse seemingly out of nowhere, as shown on police body camera footage released last year. A relatively calm situation escalated rapidly as Cole’s reasonable questioning turned physical. Cole was promoted after the incident, but later quit amid an internal investigation.

Here’s what’s wrong with Cheek’s conflation between the charges Yourse faces from unrelated incidents and the Cole encounter, as outlined by my former Guilford College classmate Casey Thomas on the Facebook thread.

“Is the implication here that because a private citizen is violent towards other people in their lives, police officers should have the right to be violent towards them while not in the act of preventing the private citizen from committing violence?” she asked.

(Cheek didn’t respond, and neither did anyone else directly, despite a massive comment thread.)

Thomas’ point is salient because the Cole assault didn’t occur while investigating an alleged violent crime. Seated on a porch chair and holding a cell phone, Yourse started to get a little agitated by Cole’s questioning, but didn’t in any way suggest a physical or violent confrontation. Yourse’s hands were visible, and it was daytime.

You shouldn’t have to be a “model citizen” to merit fair treatment from the police. There’s no justifiable reason for an officer to instigate an incident like the Yourse assault in a totally nonviolent context. When police beat people up needlessly, no matter who they’re attacking, it destroys community trust in the department, and local government more broadly.

Simply put: Yourse’s alleged behavior doesn’t absolve Cole.

It’s possible that Cheek and other officers — current and retired — would agree with that. But the pattern of maligning victims of police violence and excusing the actions of the most notorious cops suggests otherwise. It’s the department’s job to protect and serve all of us, and to use appropriate force. That’s not too much to ask.