WASHINGTON -- Once again, a piece of videotape seems to show everything. Or so it would appear.
As a hovering news helicopter watched, a throng of officers -- some with guns drawn -- punched, kicked and grappled with a burly black man in Philadelphia. The melee Wednesday went on for 28 seconds before the stunned and bloodied suspect, Thomas Jones, was led away in handcuffs. Within hours, television footage of the incident was broadcast around the world.
The raw aggression of the swarming police officers instantly brought to mind the 1991 arrest of Rodney King, another black suspect whose beating by Los Angeles police was captured on video by a bystander. ABC's ''World News Tonight'' made the connection explicit, leading its newscast Wednesday night with the Philadelphia story and the endlessly repeated King tape.
Although the circumstances of the incidents vary widely, the two cases may ultimately be linked in another manner: It's what you don't see that could prove as important as what you do. As a federal investigation into the incident begins, the pictures may only be part of a larger context.
''TV always gives you the impression that you've seen it with your own eyes,'' said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. ''In this case ... there's a whole set of facts that don't have a fair fight because they haven't been played 27 times on national TV.''
In the Philadelphia arrest, it's not clear how much resistance Jones -- who police said is 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds -- is giving because he is obscured in the video by police. One eyewitness told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Jones struggled with arresting officers. Another witness said Jones refused orders to get out of the police cruiser he had commandeered earlier. Both may have been factors in the police response.
Viewers also did not see the chaotic events that led up to Jones' arrest, a sequence that may not excuse, but could help to explain the arresting officers' state of mind.
According to police and eyewitness accounts, Jones was suspected of driving a stolen car when officers began chasing him Wednesday morning. Although the first cruiser broke off pursuit, fearing it was too risky, a second police car soon began tailing him. Within minutes, the chase turned violent. Jones allegedly drove the wrong way down a one-way street, and at one point careened onto a sidewalk, sending mourners at a funeral scurrying. He then crashed into an oncoming car, injuring the driver and a passenger.
Officers finally cornered Jones on foot, beating him with clubs and fists, witnesses told the Inquirer. As gunfire broke out, one officer, Michael Livewell, was shot in the thumb, though it is unclear where the shot came from. Police also say Jones bit another officer's hand. Jones was shot several times but was able to break free and commandeer a police car.
However Jones may have behaved, his actions do not explain away those of police, say community and civil rights leaders. Philadelphia NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire said the group is pressing for criminal charges against the officers and will help the Jones family sue the city.
''You don't take a wounded man handcuffed with a choke hold,'' Mondesire told a news conference at which he appeared alongside Jones's mother and nephew Friday. ''That was sick. That was disgusting. When he was being kicked and stomped, it's clear his resistance was futile.''
Jones, 30, was hospitalized in fair condition Friday with two gunshot wounds to the stomach and three to the left arm, said his mother, Clemeline Jones. She said he woke up and spoke Thursday morning but has been under heavy sedation since.
The action of police was captured on video because a news helicopter from station WPVI was checking out reports of a nearby fire when the initial chase and gunfire erupted. An assignment editor at the ABC-owned station heard about the incident on a police scanner and redirected the chopper to the scene. Live pictures didn't begin until police officers had surrounded Jones' stolen police car in North Philadelphia and were moving in for his eventual arrest.
The camera does catch a plainclothes officer trying to pull Jones out of the car. As he does so, another officer reaches in and lands the first punch. Thereafter, Jones can't be seen. In all, Jones took 59 blows from about 10 officers before a supervising officer cleared the scene after about 28 seconds.
The helicopter's pictures ran live on WPVI for 2 3/4 minutes.
Philadelphia Police Chief John Timoney has rejected comparisons to the King beating, noting that King was unarmed and offered little apparent resistance. It's not clear from the aerial view, he said, whether Jones was struggling or whether arresting officers were attempting to disarm him.
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