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Christopher Pate's arrest: lessons from the video 

The footage of the arrest, beating, and subsequent treatment of Christopher Pate is now available for all of us to see, and it is incredibly troubling, in multiple ways.

In May 2018 two white Rochester police officers, thinking that Pate, a young black man, resembled a burglary suspect, stopped him as he was walking in a northwest city neighborhood and asked for identification. Pate showed it to them, but apparently not as quickly or as politely as they wanted. The result: Pate was pushed to the ground, struck seriously enough that a bone in his face was broken, and Tased.
click to enlarge Christopher Pate (center) with his mother and the Rev. Lewis Stewart at a news conference in early August. - PHOTO BY RENEE HEININGER
  • Christopher Pate (center) with his mother and the Rev. Lewis Stewart at a news conference in early August.

Last week, the city released nearly an hour’s worth of video of Pate's arrest. It’s hard to follow at some points, and because it’s a compilation of footage from several officers’ body cameras, parts are repetitious. But it’s yet more proof that Rochester has a serious problem in how some officers relate to the community they serve – particularly people of color.

Thanks to the video, we watch while officers pursue Pate and push him to the ground. We see blood on the sidewalk. We hear Pate crying out in pain from the shock from the Taser barbs.

We hear an officer berating Pate: “Why are you so uncooperative? ... If you would have stopped, this would all be over. Instead you want to act like a clown…. You want to be a smartass? Then we’re going to ding you for jaywalking.”

We hear one officer complaining to another about Pate “being a freaking asshole... goddammit... fucking garbage, for nothing.”

And we watch as Pate sits in the back seat of the police car, crumpled, crying, apologizing, and pleading with police officers: “Please, I didn’t do anything wrong. I apologize. I apologize. I’m sorry. Please. Please. Please. Have mercy on me.”

“No,” the officer says, “because you didn’t have mercy on me.”

It is true that police officers face dangerous situations that few of us will ever encounter. And yes, when a police officer asks us to show our identification, we should do it. And yes, if they ask us again, we should keep our aggravation under control and show it again.

But there's no excuse for the way Christopher Pate was treated. No excuse for the beating. No excuse for the humiliating, demeaning way officers talked to him and about him.

One of the officers has been fired, convicted of misdemeanor assault, and is awaiting sentencing. The other officer has been suspended from the Rochester police force. And in a press conference last week, Police Chief La’Ron Singletary said that the conduct of the officers on the video “is not reflective of the rest of the men and women who work for the Rochester Police Department.”

Cases like Christopher Pate’s, of course, are what led local activists to push for the creation of a Police Accountability Board, which will be on the ballot in November. But even if voters approve the board, it may be a long time coming; the police union is likely to sue to block its creation.

That doesn’t mean there can be no reform. The key controversial part of City Council’s Accountability Board legislation concerns who should discipline police officers. But police policies are also important. So is training – in attitude, in community relations, in respect.

While we wait for the November referendum, it would be good to know what steps the chief and the Warren administration are taking as a result of Christopher Pate's arrest.
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