A young girl — I’d guess she was maybe 8 years old — thrust a sign above her head Wednesday night and cheered as passing cars honked in approval. Her hand-drawn placard showed a stick-figure cop, dotted lines depicting a bullet’s path and a black dog in the line of fire.
“Stop Terrorizing Filer,” her poster said.
The child with pig tails and a polka-dotted skirt was one of the hundreds that turned out in Filer demanding “Justice for Hooch,” who was shot dead Saturday by Filer Police officer Tarek Hassani.
My quick walk through the crowd left me with sensory overload. It was rainy. The gravel-covered lot where the enraged throngs had assembled sagged beneath my feet. You could taste the rage.
That youngster’s sign, one of at least a hundred calling for revenge, is burned in my mind now. It told the true story of the fallout following the incident where Hassani shot the 7-year-old black Labrador, made famous by the gruesome images captured on his dash-cam. The long-time Filer cop isn’t a man anymore in the eyes of the mob. He’s a dehumanized caricature of evil so accurately depicted by that little girl.
I wrote Tuesday’s original story describing the incident. I asked for the dash-cam footage and was genuinely excited after seeing it. I knew it was going to be huge.
“This is gold,” I said to a colleague over the phone, while driving back from the Filer Police station.
People love to say, “Reporters are looking to sell papers.” That’s simply untrue. Journalists want the big story, the one that will drive conversations at the coffee shops.
Sure enough, that video went viral. It’s gritty, brutal and powerful. Hassani’s .45 caliber hollow-point drives the poor animal into the ground as if it was hit with a sledge hammer. You watch the dog slink away to its death.
In a few days, the story has gone international, more than 8,000 people have liked a Facebook page demanding Hassani’s job and the comments on the various retellings are filled with rage and, even more powerfully, hate.
Almost every day, we run a story about some child that was brutalized by a stepfather or a drug dealer slinging community-destroying concoctions. Where are the crowds for these stories? Where’s the outrage? Where are the dogs wearing T-shirts calling for retribution? It doesn’t happen.
The video fuels the Hooch story, and the fury. Without it, the outcry would have been substantially softer, the rage substantially more restrained. Hundreds of thousands of people have watched Hooch die and they’re rightly angry.
Wednesday night’s mob says a lot about how far we’ve come as a society. The impoverished are too busy collecting untainted water and scraping by an existence for such compassion. Our ability to care so much about our pets is a symbol of just how successful of a people we are.
But the very system that makes us so prosperous is deeply rooted in the principle of forgiveness. We return the right to vote to felons. We hire people who embezzled cash. We understand that life is complicated and, all too often, each and every one of us makes a bad choice or two.
I don’t know what was going through Officer Hassani’s head when he got out of his cruiser last Saturday. The video shows him explaining after the shooting that he had been bitten before. He kicked and thrashed at the dogs that surrounded his car when he rolled up to owner Rick Clubb’s home. His aggression made the situation worse, and ended it with a pull of the trigger.
He made mistakes, which makes him human. He’s a man with a family, a life and passions. Hassani isn’t merely a dog-killing stick figure.
I was ecstatic Monday while driving back from Filer with a copy of Hassani’s dash-cam video in my pocket. I knew I had something big. Now, I can’t seem to shake a guilty ache in my gut, a sickness that’s slowly built but exploded after seeing that little girl.
To thousands, maybe millions, Officer Hassani is no longer a man who simply made a few very bad moves. He’s the target of a public lynching and it’s all my doing.