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Rising above the chaos

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The Philadelphia Inquirer's frame-by-frame review of a television station's videotape of a swarm of Philadelphia police kicking and beating an alleged carjacker and police shooter indicates that the suspect, already wounded from police gunshots, was struck at least 59 times in 28 seconds before a supervisor rushed in to quell the disturbance.

The suspect, who has served prison time for felonies, allegedly resisted arrest for carjacking, shot an officer, stole a police cruiser, nearly ran into another officer and initiated the second chase. Some 40 shots were fired during the incident, a few of which struck the suspect, Thomas Jones. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer's reports, Jones at one point eluded police by careening through a crowd of funeral mourners on a sidewalk.

Several witnesses observed that Jones wouldn't give up. He likely perceived he had nothing to lose. Yet, the officers involved had nothing to gain by permitting adrenaline and emotion to override police training that drills them to rise above the chaos and use only as much force as is necessary.

It is not this page's role to second guess police conduct in this particular case. But this incident has an undeniable ripple effect in how people perceive relations with police in their own communities.

First, it should be noted that these types of incidents are the exception, not the norm. The vast majority of police officers conduct themselves appropriately in the line of duty. Their work requires them to sometimes make split-second decisions and sometimes they err. Most of the time, they make appropriate judgements under treacherous conditions. Unfortunately, the videotape isn't rolling to document those events.

Second, it would be foolhardy to - as some have done - compare this episode to the 1991 Rodney King incident. Unlike Thomas, who was eluding police after firing a gun at an officer and nearly striking another with his car, King had been pulled over by Los Angeles police for speeding and was then beaten with night sticks while other officers stood by passively.

Thomas was known to authorities and was in the course of a crime spree when he was finally restrained by police.

Third, these kinds of incidents require thorough, impartial review so that the responsible parties are brought to justice and that the innocent are not falsely incriminated. According the Philadelphia Inquirer analysis, the majority of blows were delivered by only three officers. Yet, others who did nothing to stop the alleged assault, may also be culpable.

While the videotape recorded what appears to be 28 seconds of mob mentality run amok, justice demands that all involved are presumed innocent. Four investigations will be conducted to sort out just what happened here, both what was caught on tape and that what wasn't.