Mimesis Law
27 May 2020

Blame The Law, Not Just Racism, For Larnie Thomas

October 29, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Another day, another outrage as white police officers unfairly arrest another black man for something stupid. This time, the arrestee is Larnie Thomas:

A Minnesota NAACP branch demanded a formal investigation and apology after a black man walking in the road was arrested.

The incident in Edina drew national attention after video of the arrest was posted online. That video has been viewed more than 300,000 times. City officials later announced that the misdemeanor citation will be dismissed, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Also par for the course is the fact that outrage followed video of the incident being released and then viewed many times. Dismissal of the charges followed on the heels of that, and the NAACP’s call for an investigation and an apology was perhaps appropriate, but also predictable.

Things have gotten to point where every incident like the one involving Thomas triggers the same theatre production. Video comes out and people are pissed. Police try to say video doesn’t show the whole picture. Whether or not that placates people determines if there’s a dismissal of charges. In cases where there isn’t video, the people getting arrested are quietly shuffled through the system, a process that in all likelihood results in a conviction. Many of them aren’t the slightest bit more guilty than Thomas.

Although the situation with Thomas is a good example of what a difference video can make, it’s also a good example of how much our laws suck. Or more precisely, it’s an example of how out of touch our criminal laws are with what we all seem to now recognize as largely harmless, common human behavior and what seems to be the feelings of the general public when it comes to what should or shouldn’t be illegal.

Consider the charges against Thomas:

The Minneapolis man was cited for disorderly conduct and pedestrian failure to obey a traffic signal but was later released.

Then consider the actual video of the incident with Thomas:

According to the article, the woman who took the video thought there was no reason for the officer to stop Thomas because he was hugging the right side of the road, apparently walking on the white line marking the shoulder. She said she easily got past him. Moreover, the article is written in a way that makes what the officer did sound scandalous. He “openly declares” Thomas was in the road, apparently something the author doesn’t think cops should do. He “admitted” he was arresting him, like he was confessing to some sort of wrongdoing. Larnie Thomas wasn’t being belligerent, he was “visibly upset” by the officer’s “tight grip.”

It isn’t necessarily that some of that doesn’t match the video, though that’s likely part of the problem. The bigger problem is that there’s a pretty solid argument that Thomas broke both laws in question.

Sure, there’s a factual dispute. The officer said Thomas was in the middle of the road. The person recording said he was on the white line for the shoulder. Both narratives may be describing something illegal, however. The law he probably broke is complicated and broad. Was he walking on the correct side? Was it practicable for him to move? It doesn’t matter if that lady thought she could’ve gotten around him.

About four minutes into the video, the woman recording tells the officer he could’ve just shown Thomas where to walk and that the officer incited what happened. There’s no law requiring the officer educate someone who’s breaking the law before arresting them. There’s no law requiring that the officer avoid inciting someone he’s seen break the law. In all likelihood, the officer was doing what he was authorized to do pursuant to the laws of Minnesota.

The disorderly conduct charge may be even more justified. First, when Thomas says about fifteen seconds in that “you can’t just put your hands on me like that,” he’s probably wrong. The law on arrests seems to permit the officer to do just that. And if Thomas hadn’t already broken the disorderly conduct law at that point, he sure did when he then decided to hit the squad car with his backpack. After a minute into the video, he just keeps screaming as the officer says “settle down,” remaining pretty calm.

What happened to Thomas shouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have been arrested for what he did in a million years if he was an old white guy in a business suit in a nice neighborhood. Thomas deserves an apology, but not just from the police. He should also get one from the entire legislature and the citizens of the state who are complicit in the laws being the way they are.

Don’t be upset at the officer if you aren’t as mad about the laws. If you’re the sort of person who worries that doing away with laws regarding pedestrians obeying traffic rules, disorderly conduct, and an officer’s ability to arrest without a warrant would result in people breaking the law constantly and police being unable to enforce it, then you’re getting exactly what you wanted. You should be applauding that officer for doing his job.

We can’t have these laws and expect the cops to only use them when we think they should. Unless we change the laws, things are never going to change.

4 Comments on this post.

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  • Donald
    19 October 2016 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    >We can’t have these laws and expect the cops to only use them when we think they should.

    Isn’t that the exact counter argument made by law enforcement and prosecutors when someone questions if a law is so vague that abuse seems inevitable.

    Yes, the dumbass legislature is responsible for writing crap laws, but that doesn’t absolve law enforcement for their role in over policing.

    Similarly, the “We don’t make the laws, we just enforce them” trope is intentionally misleading. A more accurate statement would be “We don’t make the laws, we just aggressively lobby for them, and malign legislators who don’t get on board”

  • wade
    21 October 2016 at 1:31 am - Reply

    Your right Matt, the most important lesson here is that all of us owe Mr. Thomas an apology for the bad laws we’ve enacted. And we should just ignore the cop who’s decided to selectively carry out that bad law.

    Excellent idea.

    • shg
      21 October 2016 at 6:28 am - Reply

      Disagreement is fine. Snarky is cool. But it works best when you don’t misread. See the title: “Not Just Racism”? The two are not mutually exclusive.

  • Kimball Rhodes
    16 November 2016 at 11:27 am - Reply

    Verifiable video reporting is God’s latest gift to a very troubled nation. From Edina Police Chief Nelson’s OWN comments, as seen in the official transportation meeting minutes, not altered. [ May 14, 2014 6pm ]:
    ” pedestrians walking/running at nights without reflectors, not using sidewalk, etc. and asked if these behaviors are enforced. Chief Nelson said no and he said as an officer on patrol probably would not be looking for a pedestrian running/walking in the street and this would not cross his mind as being dangerous. ”

    What he means is ‘white pedestrians’ walking/running at night. Thanks Nelson, your man, Olson, grabbed that man, Thomas, in a manner reminiscent of the 1939 films of fascists grabbing Jews off the streets for ‘processing’. Look in the mirror. Your actions reflect your agenda. The mindset is clear. Shame on Edina.
    Prepare for the unemployment line: Nelson and Olson. You reap just what you sow.