It was a story that provoked knowing nods from African-Americans and caused soul searching amongst the enlightened white populace. A car was pulled over by a white police lieutenant at a traffic stop for suspected DUI in Cobb County, Georgia. The cop goes over to the car and speaks with the occupants.
A white woman is in the passenger seat, and apparently the police officer doesn’t like the attitude he’s getting from her. He tells her that its OK for her to use the cell phone that’s sitting in her lap. She replies that she doesn’t want to move her hands because she’s seen “way too many videos” of what happens when police stop motorists who subsequently reach for something in their car.
Sadly, there are too many examples of exactly what can happen in these situations to cite, but the shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Philando Castile in Minnesota are perhaps the most well-known.
The story might have ended there were it not for the next thing that Lt. Greg Abbott said, a sarcastic comment that would change his life, thanks to the dash camera in his patrol car that recorded the exchange.
“But you’re not black. Remember, we only kill black people. Yeah. We only kill black people, right? All the videos you’ve seen, have you seen white people get killed?”
When word of the incident reached TV station WSB in Atlanta, they filed an open records request and got a copy of the dash-cam video. After they posted it, the video went viral, and the clamor for Lt. Abbott’s dismissal began.
Now, word has come that Lt. Abbott, who tendered his resignation last week after the interaction became public, would be instead terminated from the Cobb County Police Department, an action that reportedly won’t affect his retirement benefits from 30 years of service.
At a news conference, Cobb County Police Chief Mike Register said that Abbott was an “honorable” officer who had made a mistake, but that he would be fired nonetheless.
“I don’t know what is in his heart, but I know what came out of his mouth….No matter what the context, statements like these are unacceptable and are not indicative of the type of culture we are trying to facilitate here in the police department, as well as within the county,”
Lt. Abbott may have thought he was just joking sarcastically, but in the times in which we now live, his thoughtless words bring up too many reminders of the imbalance of power that occurs in situations like this and of the too many innocent people who were killed in similar circumstances. Now he will have to live with the consequences of his behavior.
Watch the video of the encounter below.
Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.