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.