Media Used: SERIAL, SERIAL Podcast, 2020, LINK
The media source I reviewed was the third episode of season three of the podcast SERIAL titled “Misdemeanor, Meet Mr. Lawsuit.” The episode turns a critical eye on police-community relations, more specifically that of police and the Black community. The episode starts in earnest after a segment regarding a community event that brings police and the community together to discuss relations in an informal, moderated setting where Samira Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, attends. The core of the episode is concerned more with the experience of Erimius Spencer, a Black man living in an apartment building in Euclid, Ohio. The episode is a first-hand look into a police brutality case and the minutiae that comes with trying to fight a system with a staggering upper hand. The issue at hand is twofold, containing the law enforcement officers and the legal system and the way in which they often work hand in hand with the protection of law enforcement, for better or worse.
The initial issue is the encounter Erimius has with law enforcement that results in a savage beating that leaves his orbital broken and his face swollen. In this case Erimius was stopped in the hallway as he was knocking on the door to a friend’s apartment, looking to ask for a cigarette. Officers were known to work the building off the clock and happened upon Erimius. They told him to stop, asked for his ID and received permission to search him. The search turned up a single marijuana cigarette which prompted an arrest from the officers, the point at which the trouble starts. Asking for the reason for arrest, Erimius was not answered, prompting the stiffening of his arm and further questioning. Officers continued to ignore his question before delivering a knee to his groin and an order to “Shut the fuck up.” Brought to the ground with an arm behind his back, the assaulting officer proceeds to kick Erimius in the face an indeterminate number of times. This is followed by being tased in the neck, back of his thigh, and his left chest. His heart. Seven total Taser discharges with notable burns. The case is a notable instance of overzealous force to subdue a subject; two police officers subduing a 5’6” Black man over a single marijuana cigarette.
In spite of the brutality of his arrest Erimius described the incident as only “uncomfortable” and that he was trying to avoid letting it get to him. Koenig outlines a number of statistics in the podcast, discussing the impacts of reports of police brutality on community relations and crime rates. This is only one consequence and another argument could be made that Erimius was racially profiled, adding another layer of distrust to the interaction. The race of the victim can serve to further increase the distrust between police and the community while simultaneously increasing the prevalence. According to Hutchins (2017) in her essay on racial profiling, “blacks who were the subject of such policing… felt more black…”(p. 106). This is exacerbated by a video mentioned as the cliffhanger of the episode in which an officer, whose testimony held great weight in the criminal charges being faced by Erimius, was recorded beating a Black driver during a traffic stop.
The distrust of police officers can easily bleed into distrust of the legal system itself with cases similar to Erimius when prosecutors attempt to remove journalists from a public proceeding and create testimony on a “bulge” in the defendant’s pocket. Davis (2017) corroborates two practices that appear in the case of Erimius: the stacking of charges on a defendant and the ease of creating probable cause. Erimius is given a sizable list of charges such as drug abuse, resisting arrest, theft, and criminal damaging. Cristallo corroborates this in a segment where he provides a brief outline of the practice and why they would have to take the bait in this instance. In regard to the ease of probable cause, Hutchins (2017) provides an explanation through their identification of “Race Plus” racial profiling with an example similar to Erimius’s story. This is when the officer uses the fact that an individual is Black and combines it with other factors, such as running in a high crime area or even knocking on a door in a nice apartment complex.
This episode of SERIAL was a candid look into the less favorable side of police interactions with an easy to follow and engaging timeline. There is no question as to the bias of the piece, but it reads like a modern muckraker aiming to take a stab at injustice. Koenig does an impeccable job of keeping the listener well informed without lacing the subject with their opinions. There is a relatively clear definition between opinion, fact, and circumstance in the piece with no attempt to hide any allegiances. It is clear everyone has a side and everyone is given their opinion. I would recommend this piece to anyone looking for an in depth example of the darker side of police interactions and no qualm with being caught with a well-executed cliffhanger.
Davis, A. J. (2017). The prosecution of black men. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 178-208). Vintage Books.
Hutchins, R. M. (2017). Racial profiling: The law, the policy, and the practice. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 95-134). Vintage Books.