Martha Al-Bishara is an elderly Arab woman who does not speak English and likes to cut dandelions near her home. One day she went to the Boys & Girls Club across the street to do what she does, and somebody called the police on her. The police came, tazed her, and then arrested her and said it was her fault because she was cutting with a knife and did not speak English:
Police in northwest Georgia fired a stun gun at an 87-year-old woman who does not speak English when she would not comply with demands to drop a kitchen knife.
A family member told police that Martha Al-Bishara, whose native language is Arabic, likes to wander near her home on 7th Avenue in Chatsworth to cut and collect dandelions, according to a police report obtained by AJC.com.
On Friday, she walked too close to the Boys and Girls Club in Murray County for staff members’ comfort, and they called police.
The 911 caller said he told the woman to leave, but she continued walking toward him carrying the knife.
Officers arrived at the Boys and Girls Club just before 4:30 p.m. with guns drawn, according to the report. They instructed three boys standing near Al-Bishara on a bike trail to “get back.”
“While we were approaching the female, she bent down to the ground and cut a weed and stood back up holding the weed in her left hand with the plastic bag,” an officer said in the report.
During her interaction with the officers, police said Al-Bishara remained “calm even seeing us with our guns out … (she) never changed her demeanor even after I turned my Taser on and pointed it at her.”
Realizing she couldn’t understand them, the officers tried to mime that they wanted the woman to drop the knife. Police Chief Josh Etheridge at one point pulled out his pocket knife and threw it to the ground, according to the report. Still, Al-Bishara held her knife and continued walking toward the officers, police said.
When she was about 5 yards away, one of the officers deployed his stun gun, striking Al-Bishara in the chest. She fell to the ground, was handcuffed and arrested for obstruction of an officer and criminal trespass.
Etheridge defended the officer’s use of his stun gun in an interview with the Dalton Daily Citizen-News.
“There was no anger, there was no malice in this,” he told the newspaper. “In my opinion, it was the lowest use of force we could have used at the time. And I know everyone is going to say, ‘An 87-year-old woman? How big a threat can she be?’ She still had a knife … An 87-year-old woman with a knife still has the ability to hurt an officer.”
Family members are not convinced the force was necessary. They told the newspaper that Al-Bishara is recovering at home after spending two hours at the Murray County jail.
“She was not a threat. If anything, she was confused and didn’t know what was going on,” Al-Bishara’s great-nephew Solomon Douhne, a former police officer in Dalton, told the Daily Citizen. “If three police officers couldn’t handle an 87-year-old woman, you might want to reconsider hanging up your badge.”
The charges against the woman are still pending, police said. (source)
It is understood that the police have a difficult job and they need to make difficult decisions in a very short amount of time that can involve life and death, and that many people are decent people who want to do their jobs and do them well. However, there are a lot of people in the police force who, with a combination of having some power, an inflated sense of self, and the license to use deadly force, gravely abuse it. It is known that younger officers are far more likely to arrest or kill another person than an older officer, and that while older officers agree that discretion is lacking among younger officers, these cases indicate a greater cultural change between the generations reflective of society at large.
Let’s compare this incident in Georgia with a serious case that happened last year in Thailand in which a man with a knife attempted a real attack at an airport:
As the UK Daily Mail reports:
This police officer in this video provides an exceptional example of how to calm a potentially explosive, violent situation.
A man, armed with a large knife, enters the Huay Kwang police station in Thailand – but instead of being ‘banged up in Bangkok’ he is met with a huge hug from officer Anirut Malee.
The 45-year-old assailant had entered the station on Saturday night, the incident was caught on CCTV and the video was shared online.
He has a knife but Hero officer Anirut sits down very calmly opposite him with relaxed, slumped shoulders and very non-confrontational body language.
He quickly convinces the assailant to hand over the knife.
When he does, the policeman throws the knife away and approaches the assailant – arms outstretched and embraces the man with a giant hug.
He continues to hug him for a few moments as other people start to gather around.
The assailant then sits quietly on the chair and appears to thank the officer.
Anirut told Thai Visa News: ‘He used to be a musician but had been working as a security guard for three days and had not been paid. On top of this he had had his guitar stolen and it was all stressing him out.
‘I heard him out and sympathized and said I had a guitar to give him, and suggested we go out for a meal together. We were conversing in Southern Thai dialect’.
The cop was praised online for his sensible actions.
The unnamed assailant was sent to a hospital for an evaluation of his mental state and no charges were reported. (source)
In fairness, Thailand is not a place where one wants to commit a crime. Thai prisons are infamous places that, like many of such prisons throughout the world, are terrifying. One must also say that Thai police naturally have their share of mistreatment and abuse cases. However, the Daily Mail story indicates that there is a cultural difference in comparison with the USA, for as most Americans would agree, if the same case happened in the USA, the man with the knife would likely have been shot to death as soon as police arrived.
My grandfather grew up in a rural area, and would bicycle to school. He would bring his rifle to school with his bicycle some days, and before going home he would ride to the local dump with his friends to shoot rats. One day a police officer rode to the dump and asked my grandfather what he and his friends were doing. He told him that they were shooting rats. The police officer said it was no problem, and that he only came because he heard gunfire and wanted to make sure everything was OK. The officer left, and they kept shooting rats, and it was fine. This was around 1942.
The officer did not ask my grandfather about his parents.
The officer did not arrest my grandfather
The officer did not arrest my great-grandparents.
The officer did not pull a gun on him.
The officer did not threaten him.
The officer did not shoot him or his friends.
The officer did not file a report.
This is what police officers used to be- officers of the peace who used force when necessary.
Today in 2018, 76 years later, the “law enforcement” response would be different. If my grandfather and his friends were not shot and killed, he and his friends and their parents would have been arrested, subject to heavy fines and potentially had their property seized.
Note the difference in terms I used. “Officer of the peace” as opposed to “law enforcement”. Both are policemen, but the difference is one of emphasis. Traditionally, police in the USA and much of the Anglosphere were officers of the peace, and their first emphasis was on keeping general peace and public order. The change to “law enforcement” officer began during the 1960s but has rapidly advanced since September 11th, 2001. A “law enforcement” officer puts an emphasis on “enforcing” the law by finding “lawbreakers” and then “punishing” them.
Such a distinction and criticism is not an “attack on the police” It is the difference between the legitimate, necessary, and healthy function of maintaining public order and using force when necessary, and the submission of a people into compliance common to an occupying military force. While it is true that sometimes more force is necessary than at other times, what is being witnessed here is a change in the nature of the relationship of the government to the governed due to a cultural decline.
The Bible states that the law exists not for the righteous, but for those who will not heed the law or truth. While no society is perfect, and as is the reason why police in some form are always needed regardless of a culture, the increase in laws and the enforcement of said laws, as well as the emphasis in work to those who are charged with maintaining law and order indicates the health of a people. The volume, complexity, and enforcement of said laws as well as the nature of said enforcement tells us about the moral health of a people, as the more laws that are needed the less healthy a people is.
In Wisdom 2, God speaks of men who do not believe in God, holding that the life a man has is the sum of his existence, and that such men indulge in the worst of crime, attacking those who believe in God and persecuting them even to death. However, the end is their own death, because man is made in God’s image and likeness, and to endure forever.
There is a link between this passage and the state of law. If man will not govern himself in accordance with God’s law, he must be governed by force. It is why the Bible speaks of Christ ruling with an iron rod at his return (Revelation 2:27), because while there are many who will obey joyfully, there are many more who will not, and as Christ is God, He will see to it that all submit to His reign. This heavenly reality is reflected in the temporal world, where those who will not obey the law by choice must be made to obey it by force.
Police abuse of innocent persons is real. However, police officers are human beings who come from the same people as those around them, and often their actions are a reflection of the moral state and attitudes of those around them. Because this problem is not just in one area but is a national issue, it speaks to a broad cultural decline that affects all and which even the most well-intentioned of men are incapable of avoiding on some level because of the fact that they are part of the society.
What happened with Ms. Al-Bishara- both her treatment and the justification for their actions- was wrong. It should be of more concern how the state of police came to such a point that she was treated this way.