Why Jaison Gardner’s Arrest Probably Doesn’t Matter To #BlackLivesMatter
August 3, 2016 (Fault Lines) — News of Jaison Gardner’s arrest is likely to confirm many of the biases that people who are not so fond of the Black Lives Matter movement have about its members:
A Black Lives Matter activist and a co-host of the local Strange Fruit podcast was arrested and charged Monday with driving a stolen vehicle.
Anytime the news describes someone who just got arrested as being connected to Black Lives Matter, it’s worth looking a little deeper to see first if they really have more than a passing connection to the movement, and also whether the arrest is really that big a deal at all.
Whether it’s announcing a Black Lives Matter “leader” was charged with sex trafficking despite the fact the movement doesn’t really have much hierarchy or centralized leadership and the guy really just seemed to run his own thing intended to help protesters, or noting an activist was convicted of “lynching” when what she really tried to do was just get someone out of police custody, news outlets seem to delight in depicting the movement as a bunch of criminals.
It’s a facile way of looking at something quite complex. There are probably people in the movement who are up to no good, but there are also cops who are up to no good. Just as plenty of people want to see those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement arrested for unrelated criminal activity, thus confirming their suspicion that the protestors are all anti-cop law breakers stirring up trouble, there are probably just as many people hoping to see cops who are sympathetic to the Blue Lives Matter movement get in trouble for police brutality, thus confirming their suspicion they’re just a bunch of brutal thugs hoping to continue abusing black people without consequences. Sadly, because there’s so much of a draw to alter the truth to fit preferred narratives on both sides, it’s hard to know what to make of any stories involving people involved with either movements.
In Gardner’s case, there’s reason to question the stop and the arrest in the first place:
Louisville Metro Police officers were “conducting surveillance” on Jaison Gardner – listed in court records as Jason Gardner – and a 2016 black Mazda, according to an arrest citation.
It would certainly be a lot cleaner if officers weren’t targeting Gardner to start. Although the surveillance may in fact be due to evidence that he had committed a crime, officers’ interest in him in particular before the stop and arrest was sure to cause concerns, which it did:
Supporters quickly alleged that his arrest could be the result of his activism speaking out against police brutality, but a fellow activist who spoke to Gardner on Monday said it was a misunderstanding over past-due rental car payments.
“We don’t believe he was targeted over his activism,” said Chanelle Helm, a Black Lives Matter organizer. “We believe he was arrested because of that car.”
But Helm said she had a brief telephone conversation with Gardner on Monday and that he said that the arresting officers had mentioned his Facebook postings and activism. She said Gardner’s supporters are concerned about those comments and will be present with him through the legal process.
On one hand, a pretty clear picture of what happened emerges based just on that. It seems he hadn’t paid for a rental car, one that he was still driving. It shouldn’t be controversial that people who drive vehicles that don’t belong to them and that they haven’t paid for have committed a crime. I doubt many people would say that cops shouldn’t stop and arrest someone in that situation.
On the other hand, there’s also something troubling about arresting officers knowing about and mentioning what might be perceived by many as anti-cop postings and activism. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t sit right. Even if they had cause to arrest Gardner and were doing their job just as they should have, a smarter bunch of cops would’ve kept their mouths shut about his involvement in the movement. Their comments make the arrest look vindictive even if it wasn’t.
Gardner’s supporters clearly latched onto that:
“They told him they have been watching him because he is vocal about police brutality,” local activist Gary Brice said via Facebook, alleging police told Gardner his Facebook had been reported by an anonymous individual.
Others alluded to comments made by Louisville FOP President Dave Mutchler last year that said police critics needed to be investigated for making false statement about officers.
Like the cops’ supposed comments during Gardner’s arrest, Mutchler’s comments also fit in the “stupid things for a cop to say” category. They’re even stupider because they were public. When you have someone who represents cops suggesting that cops investigate people for criticizing cops, it’s natural that people are going to be very suspicious when someone who criticizes cops gets arrested. That’s true even if there do appear to be other valid grounds for the arrest.
The official police version of events sounds reasonable enough:
Metro Police spokesman Dwight Mitchell said Monday that Gardner was arrested after a detective observed a vehicle cut erratically in front of him in traffic. He said the detective recognized Gardner as a person who he knew was wanted on a felony warrant from Indianapolis.
“While awaiting backup and verifying the warrant, the detective briefly surveilled the suspect and vehicle and also learned the vehicle had been reported and confirmed to have been stolen,” Mitchell said. “Backup officers arrived to assist.”
Furthermore, Gardner’s past is going to make him less than sympathetic to a lot of people:
Jefferson County court records also indicate Gardner was arrested for an outstanding warrant. Indiana court records show that warrant stemmed from a 2003 forgery and theft case out of Indianapolis.
It may be that Gardner is a guy who refuses to quit breaking the law. He may be a guy who forged documents and stole things, and then evaded the consequences of his crimes for thirteen years while complaining loudly about police. Gardner may have then rented a car, quit paying for it, and kept it only to commit a blatant traffic violation in front of a detective who, it just so happened, recognize him.
Or it may be that Gardner was wrongfully accused of forgery and theft in 2003 due to a racist system and cops who were out to get him. It may be that his unfair treatment led him to speak out against police misconduct and that, after a simple misunderstanding regarding a rental car that never would’ve resulted in charges for a white man, police targeted him again because of his comments and his race.
We may never know which scenario is true, and it may be that neither is entirely accurate. Luckily, it may not matter.
The Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t exist to stop cops from arresting black people who’ve committed serious crimes like driving a stolen vehicle, forgery, or theft. Cops who are critical of it aren’t out to arrest, beat, or shoot every black person they meet.
On each side, you have people who feel targeted. On each side, you have people with a healthy perspective as well as people who are too myopic to see that, even if all of the people protesting have committed crimes at some point and all of the cops opposed to it have been treating black people unfairly, that justifies neither police brutality nor open hunting season on police. There are lots of people fighting straw men.
In all likelihood, unless he was without fault and targeted for his race and activism, Jaison Gardner’s arrest may not have much to do with the Black Lives Matter movement at all.