When Complying is Resisting: The RUPD’s Catch-22
By Drew Winter
Art by Blake Jones
“Stop resisting! Stop resisting!” the officer shouts into my ear as he holds my docile, motionless body against the table. He is demanding my right arm, which is pinned between the table and my torso—which he is leaning on with his body weight. The Rice University police officer says I am resisting him because I am not giving him my arm, but if I push against him to create enough space between the table and my chest to remove it, then I will be technically resisting. This occurred at the Baker Institute last May, when former British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited campus. When I heard the RUPD justify their brutal beating of Ivan Joe Waller because he refused to give them his right arm, I immediately remembered my own experience, in which I was accused of resisting for the same reason.
Last August, Waller, 37, stole a “bait bike” from Rice University—a bike placed by the police department with a GPS unit attached. After being caught and confronted by police, Waller was beaten by numerous officers with batons, which the police department claims was necessary because, they allege, Waller refused to be handcuffed by keeping his arm underneath his torso. In its most recent statement on the incident to date, Rice University claims that the officers then “used pressure point control techniques” and then two officers “deployed” batons in what they call “standard protocol.”
My own experience with the RUPD leads me to be extremely suspicious of their claims, having been accused of “resisting” in the same way as Waller. After standing up to speak to Tony Blair during his visit in May, I was quickly shoved out of the room by the RUPD and put in the impossible position of having to physically resist a police officer in order to comply with his demand, all the while being told that I am already resisting. It’s a clever tactic: The officer was shouting a lie—that I was somehow resisting, rather than lying completely still—that would be heard by everyone nearby and recorded on A/V devices.
I left this encounter unscathed and I certainly cannot equate my experience to Waller’s, but this should give anyone serious pause before accepting the RUPD’s story and its definition of “resisting arrest.” Perhaps Waller was afraid to push back against officers, as I was, and they interpreted this as the grounds for striking him repeatedly with batons. If they treated him like I was treated, it seems an open possibility.
But let’s assume for a moment that this premise is true, and Waller for some reason did resist being handcuffed. Are we to believe that the extended beating carried out in the video by two officers—who raise their batons over their heads and repeatedly strike Waller while a third officer looks on—is required to secure one wrist of a single, seated, unarmed man? The question reveals the utter absurdity of what the police claim, especially when placed within the context of the epidemic of police violence in the United States—particularly against people of color. It should go without saying that anyone concerned about justice should be outraged by the conduct of the RUPD in this case and their pretensions of privacy, but members of the Rice community bear a special burden to stand against RUPD brutality and lack of transparency. The beating of Ivan Joe Waller should deeply alarm everyone associated with the institution. Our police department has refused to disclose the full video to the public on the grounds that it answers to a private institution, and is therefore, somehow, not subject to public scrutiny. This lack of transparency should not only alarm us, but force us to question the very legitimacy of being subject to an armed group that contends it is able to evade public review of its actions. To hold the RUPD and the specific officers involved accountable for their actions and ensure the public’s safety, the full tape and documentation of Waller’s arrest should be made public immediately. That would be a start, at least.
Drew Robert Winter is an anthropology graduate student and a member of Rice Left.