Arizona earned its reputation for police excess yet again recently when an officer demanded identification of an African-American pedestrian — for the crime of walking in a campus street to avoid construction on the sidewalk — and got violent when she refused to produce it.
Arizona State University professor Ersula Ore was walking around some construction on the Tempe college campus last month when an ASU police officer stopped her. Before she could even explain why she was walking in the street, he asked her for ID. When she bristled at the request, he threatened her with arrest. Before long, he had slammed her violently to the ground, her body exposed, and his hands in all the wrong places.
“The reason I’m talking to you right now is because you’re walking in the middle of the street,” Officer Stewart Ferrin told Ore when he stopped her. “That’s called obstruction of a public thoroughfare.”
“I’ve been here for over three years and everybody walks this street,” she replied. “Everybody’s been doing this because it’s all obstructed. That’s the reason why. But you stop me in the middle of street to pull me over and you ask me, ‘Do you know what this is? This is a street — ’”
“This is a street,” Ferrin interjects.
Then he demands that she put her hands behind her back, she demands that he take his hands off her, and trigger warnings start to fly.
Police officers — even in Arizona — can only require a person to present ID when they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe there’s criminal activity going on. The criminal activity in this case is walking — some would say “walking while black.”
By the end of the altercation, once Ore is already in handcuffs, another officer tells her to relax, as if he’s talking to a 3-year-old having a tantrum. “How am I supposed to relax when something this unjust is happening to me?” she asks him. “You can talk about it,” he counsels her.
Even worse, Ore was only walking in the street because the sidewalk was blocked for construction — and it apparently had been for quite a while. Tempe’s public works regulations state that “all sidewalks shall remain open” during construction. The city’s building codes require a walkway to be provided and pedestrians to be protected if construction interferes with pedestrian travel.
What happened to Ore is not unique to Arizona. Other police departments also target pedestrians for enforcement, sometimes violently.
Ore has been charged with aggravated assault. The police officers have been cleared of all wrongdoing.