Professional decisions come at different times and places for us. For me, one happened on a hot July afternoon in 2006 2 kilometers west of Tarmiyah, Iraq. A roadside bomb had just exploded behind the Humvee in which I was riding when I made the professional decision that I didn’t want “war correspondent” to be the last thing on my résumé.
Despite my initial terror, it was a defining moment for me. I’d take the job again. But one job I definitely wouldn’t want is the one held by Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams. In fact, I’d go back to the Middle East as an embedded journalist – with a side hustle of bull riding – before taking that gig.
In the month of May, three different multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the City of Phoenix were announced. In each case, the notice of claim was based on the alleged actions of Phoenix police officers. The most infamous case of the three occurred at the end of May when a couple of officers approached a car in an apartment complex parking lot, guns drawn. You can hear one officer screaming, “I’m gonna put a f***ing cap in your f***ing head!!”
Later, an officer can be seen violently kicking out the leg of a young African-American man named Dravon Ames after he’s already handcuffed, legs spread, leaning against a patrol car. Not a good look for Phoenix police. Especially when we see Ames’ young children and pregnant fiancée emerge from the backseat – and learn that the genesis of all this might’ve been a little girl taking a doll from a dollar store.
After viewing the video, many “professional” journalists concluded the cops were completely unprofessional. Williams told me on KTAR that some of those officers did act unprofessionally – but she was referring specifically to Officer F-Bomb and the leg sweep. Not the rest.
Maybe the Ames case was a huge police overreaction to a teeny-weeny crime. Maybe some outrage is warranted. But maybe those videos of the Ames incident were like the last two minutes of a movie. Maybe other, earlier scenes explain – in part – the unholstered guns and unhinged cops. Scenes like the one where Ames ignores his passengers’ pleas to pull over, suggesting he was fleeing police. Or a flashback that explains why Ames was driving on a suspended license in May – most likely from a charge of driving under the influence of marijuana after a car crash in Tempe last October. The same night he was charged with two counts of assault on a police officer.
It’s always important to consider context when meting out judgments about professionalism. Consider Josh Cobin, the guy we all saw get hit by a police-fired pepper ball in the groin during that post-Trump rally riot in 2017 – after kicking a tear gas canister back at police. He’s also suing the PPD, and will represent himself in court. What’s the saying? Anyone who acts as their own lawyer has a fool for a client. It’s a professional decision, like that of the f-bombing cop, he’ll probably regret.
Jim Sharpe is the host of Arizona’s Morning News on KTAR-FM 92.3 (weekdays 5-9 a.m.). Visit ktar.com to find more information about his on-air work.