Unnecessary Cruelty

What kind of world do we live in where police officers appear to take great delight in using force to arrest a 73-year-old woman with dementia? The story of the Loveland woman has made it around the world now, with good reason. For the offense of walking out of a Wal-Mart without paying for $14 worth of items, police slammed Karen Garner to the ground, hogtied her and took her to a jail cell where she was handcuffed and left alone for six hours. Police apparently made no effort to call her family.  

Not only did the officers appear to use unnecessary force, as shown in a video, but later, at the station, they are shown watching the video of the arrest and laughing at the noise—the “pop”— that happened after the officers dislocated her shoulder, as if they were proud of having subdued and hurt a frail woman. Garner also suffered from a fractured arm and sprained wrist, and her family reports that her dementia has gotten worse since her encounter with police officers.

Garner likely left the Wal-Mart without paying because she forgot; memory loss is part of dementia. When an employee stopped her, she offered to pay for the items, but instead the employee called the police. This seems unnecessarily callous, as Garner walked from her home to this Wal-Mart every day, so employees must have known her. Why is there no room for forgiveness, for leniency? Has the world really become this harsh and judgmental?

Maybe this story has affected me so much because I’m two years younger than Garner. I’ve never been treated that badly, but I see much ageism in this world—a lot of contempt for older people. I think of older people who have been spat on because they were wearing masks. And the racist attacks from those who blame Asians for Covid-19 has included assaults on several older Asian-Americans. Why would someone see an old man or woman as a threat?

When did we stop protecting and revering the elders of our community and start seeing them as something to be made fun of?  When police officers attack the most vulnerable and frail in our society, something is very wrong.

When white police officers use unnecessary force against black citizens, I see their attitudes as reflecting a white culture that views blacks as second-class citizens. Similarly, when I see photos of police throwing to the ground an older woman, I can only surmise that they are channeling society’s contemptuous attitude toward older people. Would the same police officers hogtie a child and later laugh at a video of the arrest? And I even wonder if an old man would be treated this way, or is it just old women who society feels free to ridicule?

If it had been just one officer responsible for this cruel arrest, I might have convinced myself that this was the action of one sadistic person. But three officers were involved, all of whom resigned last week from the Loveland police force. Do these officers have mothers, grandmothers? Do they have any feelings?

A lawsuit is pending against the officers involved, but even if they are ultimately absolved, they eventually will face their own form of punishment. Some day they too will be old and frail. Some day someone may spit on them, push them or just ignore them. Some day they may fall and hear that same “pop.” My bet is that they won’t be laughing.

10 thoughts on “Unnecessary Cruelty

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  1. There aren’t words to describe how horrified and outraged I was when I first saw this story. I just turned 78. I wonder how I’d have been treated by the Loveland police? I’ll never drive through there again without thinking of this incident. And it will happen, because I live just down the road in Thornton.

    Not only did they injure that poor woman and leave her handcuffed in a cell for 6 hours before she got treatment, but as a result her dementia was made worse. And where she had been living independently near her daughter, she’s now in an assisted living facility.

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    1. Susan, I continue to be outraged. I was glad to read yesterday that a group of mostly women in Loveland staged a protest in support of Karen Garner.

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  2. I, too, was horrified and outraged when I heard of this incident. I hope those police are prosecuted, sued and jailed for their actions. Unbelievable cruelty, ignorance and inhumanity! You summed it up well and put it in context to the sad deterioration of our society

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  3. Ah, Kath! My first reaction was to ask myself where was the humanity? I felt–and still feel-sick when I think of this. And yes, because there were three officers involved, it’s not just one bad apple. The problem is with the Loveland police department, who hired and trained these three. And let’s extend that to what’s happening in the rest of this country: we need to reconsider what it means to “police” a community. We need a drastic change from the top down as well as from the bottom up. Those three resigned. Big deal. I hope the family of Karen Garner brings charges.

    It is long past time for outrage about all police brutality. I wonder what it will take to bring about real change?

    Thank you for this post, Kath. Keep ’em coming!

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    1. Thanks, Verna. Things seem to be changing already. In the Denver Post this morning was an article about how various police agencies in Colorado want to train officers how to treat those with dementia. And a group in Loveland held a protest this weekend to support Karen Garner and her family, which is suing the police officers. So hopefully this will increase awareness. Though if it hadn’t been for the video, this would probably have gone unnoticed.

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  4. Thank you for writing such a poignant article regarding the violence and hatred placed upon one of our elders by an establishment that is supposed to be responsible for protecting the innocent. My heart bleeds to know someone as vulnerable as Karen Garner has been harmed violently with immediate and lasting harmful results for her and her family. By caring for folks diagnosed with dementia, I know first-hand the vulnerabilities that naturally occur for individuals and their families without an experience like this. This story both breaks my heart while enraging the part of me that deeply respects the older people in our community. Thank you for this heartfelt and informative article. I would love to see your article submitted to the newspapers.

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    1. Thanks, Nicole. Both my parents suffered from dementia, so I also feel very protective of those who suffer from it.

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  5. Kathy, thanks for writing this important piece. I hadn’t heard about this despicable incident. Sadly I think the world has gotten more cruel and care for elders let alone not hurting them has gone by the wayside.

    I also think that on a practical level we need to look at police recruitment and training. Society needs to reestablish the police motto, protect and service. This incident shows that those officers did not understand what they needed to do in this case to live up to and beyond their sacred duty. Same of course for officers who are assigned to minority majority neighborhoods who pull people over for trivial infractions (usually to raise money for their city or the PD), escalate, and end up injuring or killing someone.

    I look forward to seeing the agenet group on Sunday June 6. A midday pot luck lunch would work great for me. You and Niki can pick the exact time. Thanks. N

    >

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    1. Thanks, Nancy. I agree that the world has gotten more cruel, which is especially hard for vulnerable seniors. This story, BTW, made the New York Times and the Guardian, so it’s touched a nerve across the country.
      Look forward to see you on June 6. Hope your travels are going well.

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