By David J. Krajicek
Najee Rivera admits he panicked on the night two white Philadelphia cops pulled over his motor scooter in El Centro de Oro, a Latino ghetto in the city’s Fairhill section.
“To be honest, I was afraid,” Rivera said. “I saw them get out of their car with nightsticks. I heard one of them call me a spic. I hadn’t done anything wrong, so I took off. I shouldn’t have, but I was scared of them.”
With good reason. A private security camera captured what happened next.
As Rivera puttered along at perhaps 25mph, the police car raced up alongside him. The cop on the passenger side leaned out the window and clocked Rivera on the back on the head with his truncheon, knocking him off his scooter to the pavement. Officers Kevin Robinson and Sean McKnight bounded from the car and began clubbing Rivera as he lay wailing. They hauled him to his feet, slammed him against a building and then drove him back into the sidewalk.
When the beating was over that night, May 29, 2013, Rivera’s wounds required 38 surgical staples to his head and 18 stitches to his face. His nose was broken, an ear was gashed and the orbital socket of his right eye, swollen and plum-colored, was fractured.
The felonious assault on Rivera, then 21, was covered up by Robinson and McKnight with the familiar police-report narrative: The perp was resisting and the cops felt endangered, so they used “necessary force.” The truth came to light in February, when Rivera’s girlfriend, a South Philly nurse named Dina Scannapieco, revealed the smoking-gun security video. The cops were suspended and charged with aggravated assault.
Rivera’s story represents a broader trend in police violence that has been largely overlooked in the recent headline examples, from Cleveland to South Carolina, Baltimore to San Bernardino, Calif. Many of the most appalling examples of police brutality seem to spring from an officer’s rage when a citizen has the audacity to flee. Too many police officers can’t resist a pursuit—on foot or in a patrol car—even though they’ve been schooled repeatedly on the narrow parameters for permissible chases.