“Can’t We All Just Get Along?” Thoughts on the Denver Police, Captain Joe Black, Alex Buck, The Confrontation Between The Two, and Disorderly Conduct
By Ken K. Gourdin
Video of the confrontation between Denver Police Captain Joe Black and Alex Buck in the stands at a recent Colorado Rockies game now has gone viral. While news accounts do not reveal whether Buck was charged with a crime, there’s always that old, faithful, reliable standby catchall, all-purpose statute, Disorderly Conduct. See, e.g., the following address, last accessed July 25, 2014:
Full disclosure: I pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct following an incident that occurred in 2003 following a confrontation with officials at the University of Utah’s Center for Disability Services after they declined to intervene in my behalf to request accommodations on an exam. My guilty plea was held in abeyance for six months, during which time I kept my nose clean, after which the charge was dismissed.
Disorderly Conduct is the chicken-crap charge leveled when one officer looks at another and asks, “Should we charge him with anything?” And his partner scratches his head and asks, “Well, we have to charge him with something, don’t we?” And the first officer replies, “Ah, heck, let’s just charge him with disorderly conduct and be done with it.”
“Dis-Con,” to use the officer parlance favored by some agencies, is sort of a handy, all-purpose, we’ll-slap-you-on-the-wrist-and-you-won’t-do-it-again kind of deal. It’s likely that countless suits have been filed over disorderly conduct statutes for being vague and overbroad, but none of them ever has prevailed; such statutes are the Timex watch of criminal charges: They’ve taken a lickin’ . . . and kept on tickin’!
Granted, it’s not clear what precipitated the confrontation between Captain Black and Buck, the unruly fan. One of the criticisms of the video taken of the Rodney King beating is that it didn’t tell the whole story. (May the great philosopher Rodney King, who has now departed for that Great, Philosophical Ivory Tower in the Sky, rest in peace: “Can’t we all just get along?”) The thing is, once people decide that the part of the story a video clip does tell is bad enough, the fact that the clip doesn’t tell the whole story ceases to matter.
Also in the interest of full disclosure, since my father spent 43 years on the job, I’m very prone to give police officers the benefit of the doubt. I’m not often wont to criticize them. That said, even if what Captain Black did was entirely justified, it’s very likely – because video exists of this incident – that he’ll have won this Dis-Con “Battle,” only for his agency to lose the Public Relations “War.”