It’s a police tactic that has garnered national criticism recently, especially in the wake of Minneapolis resident George Floyd’s death last month.
A police officer kneeling on the neck or back of another individual while that individual is in police custody.
But for Pastor Romon Oglesby of Great Faith Christian Church here in Kokomo, it’s not just about the tactic.
It’s about 400 years of systemic oppression felt by millions of African Americans throughout the country, and it’s reaching a fever pitch.
“When you have me in handcuffs, now I’m psychologically asphyxiated,” Oglesby said. “It doesn’t matter about the rest of my physicality. Psychology is also a part of the process. So I’m saying to you, when you have a fella where he’s detained, it doesn’t matter if you have your knee on his back or neck, you have your knee on his psyche.”
Oglesby’s comments came during a conference call on Tuesday with the Tribune and Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church’s Pastor Lonnie Anderson to discuss policing concepts like use of force.
“We’re talking about the death of men, that this hold was their reality, but then also how many men had to suffer at the hands of those types of holds that didn’t die?” Oglesby continued. “The humiliation and the dehumanization that connects us to that, there’s a psychological thing that happens in a person’s brain. We’re talking about a few deaths, but what we’re talking about more than that is the demoralization of an individual.”
And while even local police noted that the knee on the neck or back tactic is effective if used properly, both Oglesby and Anderson added they believe there are other effective ways to police a situation.
“My question would be to an officer, did the knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd work?” Anderson said. “Give me 8 minutes and 46 seconds [total amount of time authorities said the officer knelt on Floyd’s neck] to show you what’s wrong with a knee on the neck and the catastrophic effects of having a knee placed on the neck when you’re down on the ground with handcuffs on.”
During the nearly hour-long conference call, both Oglesby and Anderson admitted that the problem with such tactics and excessive uses of force more or less apply to policing as a whole in this country and not necessarily here in the city of Kokomo, but they also admitted that doesn’t mean Kokomo is immune to these types of issues either.
The two men then cited the statistic given out by Kokomo Police Department officials as an example, which stated that just 3.6% of arrests in 2019 resulted in the filing of use of force reports, which officers are required to fill out whenever there is a physical altercation with an individual they are attempting to arrest.
“I would like to know … is that the average for each police officer?” Anderson asked. “Are there specific officers who are seemingly doing it more so than the average, and if so, what’s the average? Let’s look deeper into that number. … When you give me that number 3.6%, fine, but out of that 3.6%, how many of those are people of color? Or what percentage of that has come from the north side?”
And if he had to take a wild guess, Oglesby said that the number is likely higher than people want to admit.
“I would like to know what the [breakdown of] numbers are on the 3.6%,” Oglesby said. “Then we could have a conversation as to who police are feeling threatened by because for me … excessive force is any force that’s used for one that’s not used for the other. So if you can have a conversation with this one group of people, but you don’t think you can have a conversation with me on the street without getting out handcuffs, I would think handcuffs are an excessive force.
“If I have to be handcuffed in order to be interrogated or even questioned, when a white man gets to just have a conversation while swinging his hands and screaming with an AR-15 on his hip, I think a man who’s asked to get on the ground and is put in handcuffs is excessive force at that point,” he continued.
And while Oglesby and Anderson both said the solution to getting rid of excessive force — particularly toward African Americans —isn’t just a “snap of the fingers” movement, there are ways to begin moving in that direction.
“We are over-policed,” Oglesby said. “And when you’re over-policed, and the more often you have encounters, the higher the likelihood of there being a bad one. That’s our point of contention. It’s not just that there is a George Floyd in our history. The problem is that there are too many unnamed non-threatening people who are being harassed just by simply being stopped and questioned.
“‘What are you doing in this neighborhood?’ Well, if you don’t answer it properly, now you have a potential problem when you probably shouldn’t have been stopped in the first place,” Oglesby added. “So it’s an over-policing that creates a scenario for the potential of the problem of police brutality.”