On August 10, 87-year-old Martha Bishara went on her usual afternoon walk to collect dandelion greens that grow near her house in Chatsworth, Georgia. Bishara, a grandmother who immigrated to the United States from Syria over two decades ago, uses the dandelions to make a salad typically found in her ancestral homeland.
Bishara arrived at a partially fenced lot owned by the Boys and Girls Club and began cutting the dandelion greens with her knife. Shortly thereafter, someone called 911 to report a “woman in a blue dress and a brown headscarf” holding a knife on their site.
“The caller noted that the woman “’did not try to attack anyone or anything.’”
“She told me she doesn’t speak English, and she’s walking up our bike trail with a knife towards me,” a man said in a 911 call obtained by WRCB News. “She’s old, so she can’t get around too well, but . . . looks like she’s walking around looking for something like vegetation to cut down or something. She has a bag, too.”
The caller noted that the woman “did not try to attack anyone or anything.”
When police arrived, they spotted Bishara carrying a plastic bag in one hand and a steak knife in the other. According to the Washington Post, it was “unclear whether the officers realized Bishara did not speak English, but, according to police, the woman did not respond to multiple verbal requests to put down her knife. Instead, she reportedly continued walking and collecting dandelions.”
One of the responding officers pointed his gun at Bishara, while the other fired a Taser and struck her in the chest and stomach. According to the police report, the officers then handcuffed and arrested her on charges of trespassing and obstructing law enforcement officers. Later, Bishara was taken to a hospital, where she was treated for her injuries and released.
“An 87-year-old woman with a knife still has the ability to hurt an officer.”
“She did not know what was going on,” Stephen Douhne, Bishara’s grandson, told the New York Times about Bishara’s inability to understand English. “When she was growing up, they didn’t even hardly have school for women.”
In the following week, the Chatsworth police department faced heavy scrutiny from press nationwide about their procedures.
“Why did we Tase an 87-year-old woman?” said Chatsworth police chief Josh Etheridge to the Daily Citizen-News of Dalton. “I guess in that circumstance, I am glad I was there and saw it firsthand and understand why it occurred. An 87-year-old woman with a knife still has the ability to hurt an officer.”
Jeff Dean, Bishara’s attorney, is working to get the charges against her dropped and “evaluating what we’ll do as far as an unreasonable use of force case” against the police department.