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Ohio State Rep: If Police Tase or Shoot a Child, She Probably Acted ‘Stupid’ or Was ‘a Punk’

Rep. John Becker doubles down on his recent comments about the tasing of an 11-year-old for allegedly shoplifting.

Ohio state Representative John Becker
Office of Rep. John Becker

Ohio State Rep: If Police Tase or Shoot a Child, She Probably Acted ‘Stupid’ or Was ‘a Punk’

Rep. John Becker doubles down on his recent comments about the tasing of an 11-year-old for allegedly shoplifting.

Cincinnati police officer Kevin Brown’s decision to fire a Taser at an 11-year-old girl suspected of shoplifting from a grocery store in August immediately drew criticism from city officials and advocates.

But Ohio state Representative John Becker had a different take. Had it been his daughter, he announced in an August newsletter, “I’d be ashamed and embarrassed that she did something stupid enough to get herself tased.”

Becker’s remarks appeared in his newsletter “Beckerisms” weeks after the Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley apologized for the officer’s actions and the county prosecutor said the girl would not face charges. An internal review released this month found that the officer had violated multiple rules; a departmental hearing is pending.

Becker also addressed police shootings in his newsletter. If his child were shot by police, he wrote, “rather than blaming the cop, I’d be blaming myself and endlessly soul searching to figure out how I failed as a parent and why my kid grew up to be a punk.” He added, “Based on the evidence of what I see on television, it often times appears to me that justice was delivered to the dead punk.”

When he tased the girl on Aug. 6, Brown was working off-duty as a security guard at a Kroger market. Police say he believed the girl was shoplifting. (A report stated that the girl had stolen items, including a backpack, candy, and baby clothes totaling $53.81.) Brown fired his taser from about 10 feet away, striking her body just below her waist.

Body camera video includes Brown telling the girl, after he tased her, “Sweetheart, the last thing I want to do is tase you like that. When I say stop, you stop. You know you’re caught, just stop. That hurt my heart to do that to you. Then I got to listen to all these idiots out here in the parking lot, telling me about how I was wrong for tasing you.”

Later, also captured on video, the girl cries as EMTs remove the taser barbs from her skin. Police Chief Eliot Isaac has said Officer Brown’s use of the Taser was “unnecessary in this circumstance.”

Tasers are often billed as “less lethal” weapons,” though Tasers can kill. A 2017 Reuters study found 1,005 cases of fatal stun gun use by police, nearly all since the early 2000s, with “more than 150 autopsy reports citing Tasers as a cause or contributor to deaths.”

When The Appeal asked Representative Becker if it’s appropriate for police to use potentially deadly force against children, he replied via email, “Children? Are we talking about 5-year-olds or 17-year-old armed gang members? It obviously depends on the age of the ‘child’ and the circumstances involved.” When The Appeal pointed out that the child in this case was 11, Becker responded, “She was simply tased for resisting arrest.”

Becker also told The Appeal that if police tase a child, “it could be an indication of a parenting problem.” He added, “If I were to do research, I would expect to find that kids that come from two parent in-tact [sic] supportive families are less likely to get in trouble with the authorities than kids that came from tougher environments.”

But his response elides well-established research on disparities in policing. According to the Sentencing Project, Black youth are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for property offenses than white youth. In schools, Black girls are nearly four times more likely to be arrested than white girls, according to a Georgetown Law School study. One reason for the disparity, based on an analysis of Department of Education data, may be because Black children are more likely to encounter school-based police.

“I don’t know to what degree, if any, racial disparities are a factor,” Becker told The Appeal. ““I don’t doubt that [Officer Brown] would have tased a white 11-year-old shoplifter under the same circumstances.”

Becker calls himself “pro-gun,” and earlier this year, he introduced a bill to permit teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools. In November, Becker will face a Democratic challenger, Patricia Lawrence, for his seat in the Ohio House of Representatives. Lawrence spoke out against Becker’s newsletter comments on police shootings. “Every American has a right to a fair trial and due process under the law,” she said in a statement. “John Becker’s comments show not only a lack of respect for the U.S. Constitution, but a lack of respect for human life.”

‘Safer to Leave Them There’

How the politics of storm preparation reveal whose lives matter, and who gets left behind.

Prisoners from the Brevard County Jail worked to fill and load sandbags ahead of Hurricane Irma in Meritt Island, Florida in September 2017.
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

‘Safer to Leave Them There’

How the politics of storm preparation reveal whose lives matter, and who gets left behind.

As Hurricane Florence lurches toward the Southeast, there’s another, familiar storm brewing. Right-wing gadfly Rush Limbaugh has speculated that the forecasts are just a way to “heighten the belief in climate change,” with more moderate voices warning that we shouldn’t politicize what’s likely to be a human tragedy with talk of global warming. Environmentalists argue that it’s exactly the time to politicize the event, and seize the opportunity.

Whether or not to politicize a storm, though, isn’t a question that makes a whole lot of sense. How hurricanes play out—and who they kill—are the result of deeply political choices. Officials in South Carolina have made theirs. In a press conference on Wednesday, Governor Henry McMaster urged residents that, “If you are in one of the evacuation zones, you need to leave now.” But there were no plans made to evacuate the roughly 650 prisoners at MacDougall Correctional Institution, a medium-security men’s prison in one of the five counties under mandatory evacuation. Prisoners there are being forced to stay put as the storm, recently downgraded from Category 4 to Category 2, barrels onto shore. As a South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC) official explained, “In the past, it’s been safer to leave them there.”

It’s not the first time lives have been deemed expendable in the face of a catastrophic storm. Last year, Hurricane Maria hit an island—Puerto Rico, a territory of the U.S.—that has been under a form of colonial control for centuries. The United States diverted nearly $10 million in funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ICE, potentially hampering recovery efforts in order to help lock up people who themselves may be fleeing the slower climate impacts of droughts south of the border. This week, President Trump implied the death toll of that storm in Puerto Rico was fake news, suggesting that estimates of 3,000 people (and most likely more) killed in that storm were numbers issued to undermine his presidency.

Another obviously political choice driving storms is the one to continue extracting and burning fossil fuels, the main contributor to global warming. It’s manifestly true that climate change has helped fuel Hurricane Florence, with warmer waters allowing it to move more slowly and gather strength in the process. Yet there’s nothing inherently dangerous about storms emboldened by climate change. The real threat is in how the societies they hit are organized: Who gets hit worst, and whose lives matter enough to protect from storm surges, floods, and winds?

Hurricane Florence approaches the U.S. coast.
Credit: NOAA

Jordan Mazurek, a Texas-based researcher with the group Fight Toxic Prisons, has spent the lead-up to the last several big storms to hit the continental U.S. organizing call-ins (or what he calls “phone zaps”) to pressure local, state, and even the federal government to evacuate prisoners in harm’s way. It worked in North Carolina and Virginia, but South Carolina’s DOC—which hasn’t issued an evacuation order for prisoners since 1999—is holding out. (As of Friday morning, there had been no word from the governor’s office that it intends to evacuate the prisoners, though one minimum security prison was evacuated.)

Still, even if evacuations are agreed to, that’s no guarantee they will actually happen. “We should not trust governments to do this work of their own volition,” Mazurek said. Around Hurricane Irma last year, he adds, the Florida Department of Corrections agreed to an evacuation of prisoners, but thousands of federal, state and county prisoners were left behind.

If past storms are any indication, what could await prisoners in Florence’s path is a lack of access to clean water, severely limited food supplies and overflowing toilets, conditions likely to be exacerbated if guards and prison staff don’t show up. Prisoners left behind during Hurricane Harvey in Texas last year dealt with water up to their knees for several days, and taps cut off as their prison’s plumbing gave out. One prisoner told Mother Jones’s Nathalie Baptiste, “They left us locked in an 8 by 12 foot cell for several days with feces and urine piling up in our toilets,” and that few if any arrangements were made in advance of the storm to ensure their safety.

Hurricanes aren’t the only effects of climate change that pose a threat to prisoners. As an investigation from Truthout and Earth Island Journal found, officials in Texas admitted to 23 heat-stroke-related deaths since 1998 throughout its state-operated prisons, 10 of which occurred in 2011. Seventy-nine of its 108 units lack air conditioning, the investigation found, despite temperatures that can easily exceed 100 degrees.

“Historically prisoners have not been part of hurricane planning,” Mazurek said, “until it comes time to use them as cheap labor to help with disasters.” The same prisoners forced to endure Florence may well be made to do unpaid labor cleaning up its damage, like prisoners in Florida after Irma. (Prison labor has also been a major part of California’s plans for fighting wildfires; more than 2,000 prisoners in the state are serving as firefighters, earning around $2 per day.)

“A lot of the environmental movement is increasingly focused on frontline communities,” Mazurek tells me by phone, referring to those most impacted by fossil fuel extraction and climate change. “What a lot of the mainstream environmental movement has neglected up until this point is that those exact same communities are overincarcerated. If we’re going to lift up the stories of frontline communities, we have to do the same for incarcerated people.”

More in Explainers

In a new genre of criminal justice programming, incarcerated people are the creators

In a new genre of criminal justice programming, incarcerated people are the creators

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: In a new genre of criminal justice programming, incarcerated people are the creators

  • Justice in America Episode 8: Crimmigration

  • In New York, most parolees can now vote—but many websites say they can’t

  • Ohio state representative blames 11-year-old girl for getting tased by cop

  • In NYC, turnstile jumping arrests down, but race disparities persist

  • Border Patrol agent changes his mind about immigration and quits

  • Another point for the ‘blue wall of silence

In the Spotlight

In a new genre of criminal justice programming, incarcerated people are the creators

Yesterday, the hit podcast “Ear Hustle” began its third season. “Ear Hustle” can be seen as one of a new genre of criminal justice programming, one that goes beyond the lock-em-up retributivism of the “Law & Order” shows as well as the prison voyeurism of shows like “Prison Break” which might involve formerly incarcerated people as consultants, but often play to stereotypes. In this new genre, people directly affected by the criminal justice system share their insights, not only as characters or interviewees, but as creators. “Ear Hustle” is created by Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, two men incarcerated in San Quentin, with Nigel Poor, a visual artist. The show tries to get at “a more three-dimensional view of prison,” according to Poor. [ely kalfus / Crime Report] Today we include three short excerpts from excellent stories of life inside, edited for clarity and brevity.

In the first episode of “Ear Hustle,” which focused on the ups and downs of having a cellmate, two brothers named Emile and Eddie, incarcerated at San Quentin, told their story:

Emile: I’m in there with my brother, and I’m thinking to myself, “We’re brothers. We should live together. We should cell up.” Right? In an environment where nothing is safe, it’s like, “Hey, what could be better and safer than that?” So, he moves into my cell.

Eddie: I was happy. To be able to just exhale for a moment in prison.

Emile: The first few nights were great and then it wasn’t.

Eddie: I didn’t really know my brother like I thought I did.

Emile: He’s still Seventh Day Adventist. And he’s devout. So, the Sabbath, you’re not supposed to watch television, but I watch television. So, he asked me to use my headphones. Which, in theory, wasn’t a horrible request, but my headphones are like 3 feet long, and the space between my bunk and my television is like 3 1/2 feet. “Man, I’m not going to do that.”

Eddie: He was watching soap operas and soap operas was like a trigger for me because I remember hearing “The Young and Restless” tune and there’d be straight violence in the household.

Emile: I didn’t really understand what he was going through. I thought like he was just trying to convert me. I’m a grown man and this is my television. And he turns my television off. I turn the television back on. I’m like, “Have you lost your mind?” So he declares a passive aggressive war on me, and he stopped showering.

Eddie: They say the aluminum in the antiperspirant deodorants and stuff will cause memory loss or Alzheimer’s when you get older, and I was like, “Why would I poison myself like that?”

Emile: He wants to “be natural” and “it’s just a natural smell” and “what’s the big deal.” It’s a big deal. Let me tell you.

They would squabble so much that a neighbor began yelling, “Fratricide!” Eventually, they asked to be moved to different cells because, according to Emile, “living with someone in an apartment is difficult enough, but living with someone in a box, you have to be compatible in a lot of different ways and me and Eddie aren’t compatible.” They get along far better now that they don’t share a cell. [Ear Hustle]

For the Marshall Project’s “Life Inside” series, Jerry Metcalf described a day in his life at a Michigan facility. We feature here the first half of that day. “At 1:30 a.m., I’m jarred awake in my cell by an officer wielding the brightest flashlight in the world. He gives me 10 minutes to throw on some clothes and escorts me to the isolation cells, where I strip down again for a thorough search and begin a three-hour suicide watch. This is my prison job: to sit with inmates deemed suicidal and just talk with them, and make sure they don’t try anything. Shift over, I’m strip-searched again and escorted back to my housing unit, where I take a quick shower, stretch, meditate, pray, then climb back under my itchy wool blanket and hit the sack around 6 a.m. I wake up at 10, thanks to all the hooting and hollering outside my cell.  I then hike down the Rock (our term for the cell block) to the communal bathroom I share with 48 other inmates, [and] brush my teeth between four young kids who are rapping. I jog over to our unit’s kitchen area, where I wait in line to use one of two microwaves shared by 96 convicts. Luckily, I’m able to heat up my coffee before I hear, ‘Five minutes til count time, people! Be on your bunks and be visible!’” [Jerry Metcalf / Marshall Project]

Reporter Keri Blakinger has published reflections on her time incarcerated. “Makeup wasn’t just a beauty ritual; it was one of the few remaining outlets of self-expression we had. [E]ach hard-won stroke of makeup was a painted symbol of rebellion.” She includes instructions for jailhouse mascara:

Step one: Break apart a black pen and pour the ink into a bowl.

Step two: Mix in toothpaste.

Step three: Spread this minty fresh mess onto your eyelashes by whatever means possible.

Step four: Remember this is not waterproof and, whatever you do, do not cry all day. (Yes, the no-crying dictum can be a major stumbling block in jail, especially on visitation days.)

“It sometimes looks like circus makeup,” she writes. “But we didn’t really care. Because makeup wasn’t just about appearances—especially in the places where it was banned. It might have looked like a mishap to everyone else, but to us it looked an awful lot like a middle finger.” [Keri Blakinger / Houston Chronicle]

Stories From The Appeal

Protesters rally in July in Bridgeport, Connecticut. [John Moore/Getty Images]

Justice in America Episode 8: Crimmigration. Josie and Clint talk with Alida Garcia, an attorney and advocate at, about where immigration and criminal law increasingly overlap. [Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith]

In New York, Most Parolees Can Now Vote—But Many Websites Say They Can’t. A review by The Appeal before today’s primary election found that as of this week, more than half of the state’s county-level Board of Elections websites stated explicitly that parolees don’t have the right to vote. [Emma Whitford]

Stories From Around the Country

Ohio state representative blames 11-year-old girl for getting tased by cop: An Ohio state lawmaker from Clermont County responded to news that a Cincinnati police officer used a taser on an 11-year-old girl by saying that he would be “ashamed and embarrassed” if his child “did something stupid enough to get herself tased.” John Becker, a Republican, wrote in a monthly letter to constituents that if his child resisted arrest, “I’d be blaming myself and endlessly soul searching to figure out how I failed as a parent and why my kid grew up to be a punk.” Becker said he has “had it with all of the finger-pointing at law enforcement officers for shooting a punk in self-defense.” He added, “Every time I hear shouts of, ‘Justice! We want justice!,’ I want to shout back, ‘Parenting! We want parenting!’ [Sam Rosenstiel / Cincinnati Enquirer]

In NYC, turnstile jumping arrests down, but race disparities persist: As broken windows policing strategies are increasingly discredited, many have advocated against aggressive arrests of turnstile jumpers in New York subways, which they say largely punish the poor and people of color. Last year, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said he would no longer prosecute most fare evasion charges. But a recent Marshall Project analysis of data shows that while turnstile arrests have decreased significantly, one thing that has not changed is who gets arrested: “89 percent of those arrested this year are black or Hispanic, virtually the same proportion since 2014,” write Anna Flagg and Ashley Nerbovig. “Across the city, neighborhoods with the most turnstile arrests per subway card swipe tend to be predominantly black or Hispanic.” [Anna Flagg and Ashley Nerbovig / Marshall Project]

Border Patrol agent changes his mind about immigration and quits: Joshua Childress spent seven years as a U.S. Border Patrol in Arizona. Last month, he resigned. He had changed his mind about immigration. At first, he believed in the mission: “My understanding of the laws at the time was that there were proper ways to get into this country legally, and that the people that were coming across were just shirking those laws.” Once, he saw lash marks on a man’s back. He asked the man how he’d gotten them, and it turned out that a drug trafficker had whipped him for refusing to carry drugs over the border. “I didn’t feel good about sending that guy back,” says Childress. “But there are countless others that don’t have a dramatic story like that. They just want a better life. I think most people in their shoes would do the same. And I stopped being able to reconcile that.” He was also influenced by podcasts he would hear while driving around the border, especially a show called “Unregistered.” [Zach Weissmueller / Reason]

Another point for the ‘blue wall of silence’:

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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