Michael Brelo, Cleveland police officer, stood on his car and shot unarmed blacks 15 times after 100 officers riddled it with 137 bullets in 2012. Police chased the car because it backfired while passing the police headquarters. He said he thought he was in danger, and today a judge ruled he was not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault. Brelo’s lawyer had described the armed police officer as the underdog in a “David vs. Goliath” fight. A review panel showing the violations in the 22-mile chase and the subsequent shooting resulted in the firing of one supervisor, the demotion of two others, and suspensions of 72 officers from one to 30 days. No other police officer faced criminal charges in the deaths of the man and woman in the bullet-riddled car.
Last year, a Cleveland officer killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was holding a pellet gun. Rice was killed within two seconds of the arrival of the 26-year-old officer who had left another police force after his supervisors declared he had “a dangerous loss of composure” during firearms training and was unemotionally unprepared to cope with the job. Almost six months later, the investigation into that shooting isn’t yet finished. In another investigation, 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson, identified by her family as bipolar, lost consciousness and died in police custody after pushed face down on the pavement. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide.
Last year, a Department of Justice investigation into the Cleveland Police Department found a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force” that resulted in dangerous and reckless behavior by officers. Abuses included excessive use of force by the police involving not just firearms, but also less-than-lethal weapons like Tasers, chemical spray, and fists, sometimes used for retaliation. The police used excessive force against mentally ill people and employed tactics that escalated potentially nonviolent encounters into dangerous confrontations. In one case the police fired at a fleeing man wearing only boxer shorts, and another man suffered a broken bone in his face while restrained on the ground with spread arms and legs after officers kicked him.
Cleveland is part of a culture across the United States in which police kill blacks while grand juries fail to indict or judges and juries fail to bring in guilty verdicts. A white police officer escaped any punishment for killing black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson (MO) with another white police officer in New York escaping indictment for the choking death of another unarmed black man, 43-year-old Eric Garner.
What all these killed people had in common is that they were black. Although killings are down in the past half century, young black men are 21 times as likely to be killed by police as young white men. Conservatives claim that anyone breaking the law risks the police killing them. Recently, nine bikers died in a Texas restaurant, another 18 were wounded, and 170 arrested. Waco Police Sergeant Patrick Swanton said that it was “the most violent crime scene” that he’d been involved in during his “34 years of law enforcement.” The police had been alerted to possible violence weeks before the event, and afterwards the restaurant floor was littered with bullet casings, knives, and a club. Yet the police didn’t kill any of the participants–almost all white–of the bloodbath.
Law enforcement used no SWAT teams, armored vehicles, tanks, snipers, Tasers, pepper spray, tear gas. There weren’t hundreds of police pointing assault weapons at the suspects, and the National Guard wasn’t called out. Mug shots show no beatings or chokings in the arrests. When the white men with supremacist tattoos and patches opened fire on the police, no one gunned them down en mass or forced them down onto the ground or beat them. Mainstream media largely gave the murders and arrests a pass with no reference about it’s being called “one of the worst gunfights in Waco history.” Almost all the white men in the mayhem belonged to organized “serious and violent criminal enterprises” going back over four decades. The aftermath of the violence looked like a Sunday gathering as they sat around smoking and checking their cell phones. Nobody was hogtied or harassed.
After the Baltimore protests, both Texas GOP senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, blamed the riots on absent fathers because of the breakdown of family structures in the black community and raising children out of wedlock. Cruz went farther to accuse President Obama for “inflaming” the riots, that the president “exacerbated racial misunderstandings, racial tensions.” Neither one said anything about the cause of the biker gang killings in their home state.
The Waco event shows that blacks face a different standard than privileged whites. That was obvious a year ago when armed white terrorists took over part of Nevada and forced law enforcement to back down. A year after the standoff at the Cliven Bundy ranch, there have been no arrests, no indictments, no prosecutions.
Nothing clarifies the difference between treatment of blacks and white more than the language. Almost all the white men in the mayhem belonged to organized “serious and violent criminal enterprises” going back over four decades, yet they are described as belonging to clubs. Black protesters are almost universally referred to as “thugs.”
Incensed by the comparison that New York Times columnist Charles Blow made between Waco and the protests in Baltimore after Freddie Gray was killed in a police van, CNN “law enforcement analyst” and ex-NYPD detective Harry Houck blamed the black community for pundits’ description of only blacks rioters and not white criminals as rioters as thugs. Houck tried to explain why thug refers to “bad guy” because of rappers.
“They started coming out with songs and calling themselves thugs, and I think that’s how this whole thing started, with the black community and the young men calling themselves thugs. Alright? And I think that’s how that all started.”
Much to Houck’s dismay, Blow disagreed with Houck’s etymology of “thug” and said that a bigger concern is that the black community is treated as the problem in a way that the white community never is. Sally Kohn agreed with Blow about a double standard, noting that no one identifies the race of white shooters or complains about a “whiteness” problem in violence.
Ferguson protesters were also labeled as “thugs” with news footage edited to demonize peaceful protesters. Yet a riot over a football game in Morgantown (WV) labeled the white people as “rowdy” and “unruly” in their “celebration.” White people rioting at a pumpkin festival “just got too drunk.”