A BPD Officer’s Arrest Comes at a Tense Time

Michael Doherty is accused of assaulting an Uber driver and operating his car without authority.

A Boston protest over the killing of Michael Brown in August. Image Credit: Olga Khvan

A Boston protest over the killing of Michael Brown in August. Image Credit: Olga Khvan

A Boston police officer’s alleged assault of an Uber driver comes at a decidedly tense time for police relations.

In the past months, Boston residents have joined nationwide protests against the lack of prosecution of white police officers who killed African-American civilians in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri. Meanwhile, police complain that public officials have taken an anti-police stance that makes them unable to do their jobs safely. BPD officers traveled to New York for the funerals of two officer murdered by a man who claimed he was seeking retribution for those grand jury decisions.

Amidst all this, there is the case of Michael Doherty, a 16-year veteran of the BPD. According to the police report, Doherty took an Uber ride early on Sunday morning, complained that his driver wasn’t in the right spot, began to hit him, then called him a racial slur. When the driver got out of the car to flag down help, Doherty moved to the driver’s seat and sped off. A man who stopped to assist the Uber driver then pursued Doherty. Eventually, Doherty stopped the car and climbed out. In another confrontation, he hit the Uber driver and used more slurs until police arrived.

Doherty does his fellow police officers no favors here. The idea that the justice system treats people of color differently is explicit in the protests against the recent grand jury decisions. Any time an officer, on duty or off, utters racial epithets against Hispanic or African-American people as he smacks a civilian, he fuels that suspicion.

Though he has been arrested, there is already the fear that Doherty will get off easy, too. Already in forums like the Boston Reddit, people have accused police and prosecutors of going easy on him. He is charged, for example, with “using a motor vehicle without authority” rather than carjacking or grand theft auto. (The difference, there, is in the intention to permanently take the car. Doherty seemingly didn’t. He stopped the car a few blocks away and climbed out. His charge is more akin to joyriding than theft.)

Doherty’s legal case and his future at the BPD are, of course, still undetermined. But in an atmosphere of protests that police operate in an unfair and racially unequal system, behavior like that alleged of him does his brethren no favors.