Nel's New Day

July 8, 2016

We Need to Save Both Blacks, Police

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s (D-NY) husband was killed in a mass shooting in 1993, the same horrific event that seriously wounded her son. Elected to Congress four years later, she fought for gun safety legislation. Not until 2007 did she succeed—in a small way. During the last session before winter holiday recess that year, Congress passed a law requiring federal agencies to keep up-to-date records on people who might be disqualified from purchasing guns such as those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, those convicted of crimes punishable by imprisonment for more than a year, and those with documented mental health issues.  Other than a vote to renew a ban on plastic firearms in 2013, that’s the last gun safety legislation that got through Congress. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have died because of firearms, and the number of mass shootings are drastically increasing.

After the 50 deaths from a shooter in an Orlando nightclub on June 12, House Speaker Paul Ryan still refused to bring any gun safety bills to the floor. Fed up with continued inaction on the public health issue of deaths from guns, a majority of the House Democrats began a 25-hour sit-in on the chamber floor on June 22. At this time, Ryan has said that “all options” were being considered to discipline sit-in participants for their protests.

Ryan also promised to bring a gun bill approved by the NRA for a vote but then pulled it. He said, “We’re not going to rush it…. We’re going to get it right.”That was the day after two black men were murdered by police officers and the same day that a sniper murdered five Dallas (TX) police officers and wounded nine other people, seven of them police officers. The same week Ryan changed his mind, family members killed each other, and there were a variety of “smaller” mass shootings.

After a 15-hour filibuster by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), the Senate voted on four bills–two of them supported by Democrats and the other two that would make no change. All four of them failed when the GOP voted against change and the Democrats refused to support do-nothing bills.

This past week, President Obama has been forced to make two painful speeches about horrific gun deaths—the first one after police killed two black men and the next after the deaths of five law enforcement officers in Dallas. During the second speech, he said that at some point people will need to think about the “powerful weapons” that help these deadly shootings. He said this after he expressed his horror at the “vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement” and his support for law enforcement. He will cut short his diplomatic mission to Europe intended to smooth over foreign relations after the British Brexit fiasco in order to visit Dallas.

The president was immediately attacked for getting “political” (Ben Carson) because people need guns to “defend themselves from an overly aggressive government.” Another former GOP presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, wanted the president to emulate President Ronald Reagan’s speech after the Challenger disaster as if killing police and space shuttle disasters are the same. Actually, Reagan supported a universal background check, a seven-day waiting period before buying guns, and a ban on assault-weapons.

Since 2000, an average of 50 police officers have been deliberately killed each year. In contrast, the first six months of 2016 saw police kill 532 people, many of them unarmed, mentally ill, and people of color. About half of them were white, but black people and Native Americans are killed at higher rates than any other ethnic group. For example, 31 percent of people killed by police in 2012 were black although blacks comprise only 13 percent of the population.

The vast majority of these officers who killed people will receive minor or no punishment; not one officer was convicted of murder or manslaughter in 2015 when the police killed 1,200 people. An example is Freddie Gray, apprehended on April 12, 2015 because he allegedly possessed an illegal switchblade. He was alive when he was put into a van with no seatbelt; when the van arrived at the station, he was in a coma from a spinal injury that led to his death seven days later. Thus far, three of the six police officers involved in Gray’s death have been exonerated despite evidence to the contrary.

The most recently publicized death of a black man shot by a police officer was that of Philando Castile. He legally owned a gun and had a concealed carry permit, issued by Minnesota, for the gun. When the police stopped him for a broken tail light, he said that he had a permit. The police officer ordered Castile to show him his ID, Castile reached for his wallet to get it and was instantly shot dead. Castile, 32, had worked for the St. Paul Public Schools for 13 years, becoming a kitchen supervisor two years ago. He was shot and died in front of his girlfriend and the girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said in his speech that the killing was at least in part because of Castile’s death.

The NRA, pushed into a statement two days after Castile’s killing, said only that there should be an investigation. The organization most likely wants to avoid controversy about black men who are killed while carrying guns because studies show the relationship between white identity and opposition to gun control. The NRA said nothing about the police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge (LA) the day before Castile’s death after Sterling was thrown on the ground by two police officers because he was selling CDs in front of a convenience store. He didn’t draw his gun, but he was killed when the police shot him multiple times.

Sterling’s and Castile’s deaths set off protests, mostly peaceful and without incident, throughout the nation. Even the one in Dallas (TX), with about 800 protesters, was peaceful. After they started to disperse, a lone sniper, an Army veteran with an honorary discharge who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, killed five police officers and wounded seven other people with an assault weapon. The sniper was killed by the police with an armed bomb-disposal robot.

Only one person was involved in the killing although the police announced other suspects. They even posted his photo online asking people to help them find the suspect and left it there for almost 24 hours after he had turned himself in and they decided that he had nothing to do with the killings. His only crime was being a black man with a gun (although open carry is legal in Texas), but he’s now getting thousands of death threats.

In Portland (OR) a well-known Trump supporter pulled a gun on protesters, threatening them with it. He is well known for stalking and harassing people, filming them at leftist protests to put the video online with their names and addresses. The man had a round in the chamber of his gun that he used to sweep the crowd in front of him. He also had five other magazines of ammunition with him. Some of the protesters tried to calm him down and offered to take him out for coffee. As the incident ended, over a dozen police officers arrived in two trucks, and arrested him along with another man.

The Bahamas has issued a travel advisory for the United States, warning young men “to exercise extreme caution” in their “interactions with the police.”

A problem with passing legislation to make the country safer is the low bar for electing members of Congress. House Rules Chair Pete Sessions (R-TX) had earlier claimed that the Pulse nightclub, the location of the recent mass shooting, was not a “gay bar” although it described itself as the “hottest gay bar in Orlando.” Now he expresses concern that the Dallas police officers “let their guard down.” Perhaps we can’t expect much from a person who said in 2009 that House Republicans would look at “the Taliban” as a tactical model to take over Congress and that “everything we do in this body should be about messaging to win back the Senate.”

This philosophy aptly explains the reason behind the gridlock in the U.S. government reinforcing continued deaths from guns. It is guaranteed that Congress will hold a moment of silence for the five Dallas police officers killed this week. It’s probably also a guarantee that they won’t be commemorating the untimely death of Philando Castile—and the other people killed unnecessarily by the police.

“Black Americans shouldn’t be killed in routine traffic stops, and police shouldn’t be killed while protecting and serving their communities.”

Elizabeth Warren’s tweet succinctly provides the goal; now Congress needs to live up to it. They probably won’t.

December 29, 2015

Tamir Rice on Trial

Filed under: Police — trp2011 @ 9:29 PM
Tags: , , ,

 

Over 13 months ago, a 12-year-old boy carrying a toy gun was shot down in a Cleveland park on November 22, 2014. It took 401 days for a grand jury to exonerate the policemen, largely because of the prosecutor’s dragging his feet. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty’s rigorous defense of the police officers was to persuade the grand jury to not indict the officers. McGinty brought in his own expert witnesses for that purpose—almost never done in a grand jury—and then grilled the experts brought by a lawyer for Tamir Rice—again an anomaly in grand jury practice. The prosecutor’s leaking of negative information about the boy and selective use of information to excuse and defend the actions of the killers was background for his blame for the 12-year-old “man” with “gun,” a fake.

McGinty’s  out-of-state experts, retired FBI agent Kimberly Crawford and Colorado-based S. Lamar Sims, have a history of sympathy toward police. Before he released his report, Sims defended the officers on television; Crawford’s memo on use of force by law enforcement was rejected by the Justice Department. Ignored were statements from experts Roger Clark and Jeffrey J. Noble that the prosecutors’ reports “contradicted one another, made unfounded assumptions and ignored principles of police training.”

McGinty characterized Timothy Loehmann as a “reasonable” officer. This is the man who resigned from a Cleveland suburban police office after he experienced an “emotional meltdown” during firearms training that made his facility with a handgun “dismal,” according to the instructor’s report. A letter in Loehmann’s file stated that he was “distracted” and “weepy” during firearms qualification training. Deputy Chief Jim Polak of the Independence police wrote:

“[Loehmann] could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal. I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies.”

McGinty depicted Tamir Rice as big and scary. The prosecutor description Rice’s size and his carrying a toy gun indicated that Rice deserved the shooting and reinforced that the belief to many white people that black boys are older and more menacing. A former senior police official who helps a city government manage claims of excessive force or other wrongdoing by police officers in another city said that Frank Garmback’s driving up close to Rice was a “poor tactical decision”:

“That was a tactical decision that required the man to make a much more rapid decision. It looks like they could have stopped 100 or 200 yards away and taken cover.”

McGinty talked about the police officer’s concern because law enforcement officials had been killed previously near the park where Loehmann killed Rice. The shootings in 2006 and 1996 occurred long before Loehmann had been hired a few months earlier. Cleveland police officers work in many areas where violence has occurred. Michael Benza, a criminal law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said that race takes place in evaluating a person with a gun. He said that white people on the streets with assault-style rifles are treated much differently than black people:

 “When [police] go into a neighborhood where there is a perception of danger and they see a big black guy that matches the description of a guy with a gun, they are going to act very differently than if they see a white guy with a gun in the suburbs.”

McGinty didn’t require the officers to testify. Instead they were allowed to submit their written the statements to the jury with no questioning. The prosecutor may have known that the story they told could not stand up to cross-examination.

The prosecutor said, “We don’t second-guess police officers.” Actually, the prosecutor’s job is to reexamine the police officers conduct and to question the appropriateness of their actions. This didn’t happen.

The caller  told the dispatcher that the “guy” was a juvenile and that the “gun” was likely a toy. The dispatcher failed to communicate that to the officers.

Loehmann told the grand jury that Tamir was reaching for his waistband, but the surveillance video doesn’t show this before Loehmann shot him. A surveillance video shows Loehmann with his gun out of his holster and shooting Rice before the car stopped. Loehmann claimed that he ordered Tamir to drop his weapon multiple times, but he had no time to say that and not time for Tamir to respond if he said anything. No witnesses heard Loehmann say anything.

After Tamir Rice was shot in the torso, the police officers realized that he was a child with a boy but failed to render any medical aid. The child wasn’t given first aid until an FBI agent in the area arrived at the scene. Loehmann said he had a sprained ankle, and his partner was busy handcuffing Rice’s 14-year-old sister and putting her in the back of their cruiser.

When Rice arrived at the ER, doctors couldn’t intubate him because the police had said that he was an adult. The tube was too large to pass Tamir’s vocal cords. Instead they took him into OR where he hemorrhaged to death by early the next morning.

Judge Ronald B. Adrine had earlier “found that sufficient cause exists to charge Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide, and dereliction of duty.” He also found that Loehmann’s partner, Frank Garmback, could be charged with “negligent homicide and dereliction of duty.” Instead, the prosecutor defended Loehmann and Garmback.

Although the grand jury failed to indict Loehmann and Garmback, they will face a new administrative review. The investigative committee which includes civilians will begin all over, starting with the calls to 911. City Council member Jeffrey Johnson announced that he would ask the council to seek local charges of negligent homicide, the most serious charge that can be sought under city law. Conviction would mean only six months in jail, but the process would allow for another full review of the shooting. In addition to reviewing the conduct of the two officers, the Cleveland Police Department’s Critical Incident Review Committee will also determine whether the 911 call taker and dispatcher should face disciplinary charges.

McGinty has reinforced the growing belief in the United States that police are justified their killings if they perceive any threat to themselves–no matter how minor—even if their confrontation was unnecessary. Police may now take control of even situation, even ones that are not criminal, and kill people at will. Police no longer have any obligation to see a less violent situation before using lethal force.

Part of a police officer’s job is taking a risk, and it can be dangerous. More and more, however, police eschew risk through lethal means to guarantee safety for themselves at any cost to the people around them. The old mandate of “serve and protect” is now for police officers to protect themselves. Killing someone in this drive for self-protection and then exonerating them result in acceptance that this behavior is the norm, that police officers shouldn’t be held accountable.

Of the 1,125 people who were killed in the United States by police—about three each day—965 were shot to death. The number may be far greater because no official entity is keeping track of these travesties. The number of people killed by police far exceeds those who die from pneumonia and influenza, measles, and malaria and mumps. The rate of U.S. police killing in 2014 was 100 times that of England, 40 times that of Germany and 20 times the rate in Canada.

At least 90 of people killed by police were totally unarmed—no hammers, knives, or any other weapon. Forty percent of the unarmed men shot by police were black although black men make up just 6 percent of the country. Police say that they feel “under attack,” but only 34 of them have been killed in the line of duty during 2015.

Killings by police combined by exoneration of the killings have reached epidemic proportion.

August 13, 2014

Protests Might Make a Difference – Stop the Brutality

Ferguson, Missouri, is a suburb of St. Louis. Two-thirds of its population of 21,203 is black, but four out of five city council members are white. The black superintendent of schools was forced out for unknown reasons last November and replaced by a white man. Of the 53 police officers, 50 are white, yet blacks account for 93 percent of the arrests.  Of the 54 police officers, 52 of them are white. As Rachel Maddow pointed out in this video, the police officers’ prejudice against people of color in this town has been rampantly open for many years. The situation came to a tipping point four days ago when a town police officer killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, possibly by shooting him in the back ten times.

When people gathered in protest after the teenager’s killing, police fired tear gas at them, sometimes when people were standing in their own backyards. The FAA banned air travel under 3,000 feet over the town from August 12-18. Yesterday morning, police claimed that the man who was shot and critically wounded by a St. Louis County police officer had pointed a handgun at the officer. A woman was also shot in the head and wounded. Looting has been reported, but townspeople say that these are not by Ferguson’s residents. These photos show the police in this small town.

Police Shooting Missouri

Witnesses to the killing say that Brown and a friend were stopped by a police officer for walking in the middle of the street. Brown’s hands were in the air when the last shots were fired, according to the witnesses. Police claimed that Brown was fighting over the officer’s gun.

One of the peaceful protesters tear gassed Monday was Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal. Yesterday afternoon she asked Police Chief Tom Jackson if she would be gassed again. There was no response until he discovered she is a State Senator when he looked shocked and said, “I hope not.”

tank with people in front

The armored mine-resistant vehicle and riot gear-clad officers give the impression of a war zone rather than police employed to protect citizens. There was no violence when police lobbed tear gas into groups of demonstrators and journalists. Journalist Radley Balko wrote in his book The Rise of the Warrior Cop:

“Law-enforcement agencies across the U.S., at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier. Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment—from bayonets and M–16 rifles to armored personnel carriers—American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield.”

The federal government sent billions in surplus military equipment during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to state and local police departments. Since 2006, they have acquired 435 armored vehicles, 533 planes, 93,763 machine guns, and 432 mine-resistant armored trucks–$4.3 billion worth of equipment. Military equipment in these police agencies increased from $1 million in 1990 to almost $450 million in 2013.

With all this hardware, police departments are looking for more reasons to use SWAT teams and other heavy-handed tactics. Search warrants seem to be a good excuse; 79 percent of SWAT deployments from 2011 to 2012 are for this purpose. The result is sometimes death, as in the case of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a seven-year-old killed during the SWAT team attempting to deliver a search warrant in Detroit.

swat police girl in teal shirt

Recruiting videos for SWAT teams feature images of officers “storming into homes with smoke grenades and firing automatic weapons,” according to The New York Times. SWAT teams resemble occupying forces and enact repressive, punitive policing.

Police have attempted to keep media out of Ferguson. St. Louis Alderman Antonio French wrote, “A line of police cars with high beams on greets anyone trying to enter #Ferguson. It’s shut down. No media allowed.” Two journalists, Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post and Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, were arrested. Although both of them were released unharmed, they were roughed up as they sat working in a McDonald’s. Reilly reported that the restaurant was quiet until the police officers came in.  Lowery had just filed this story when he was arrested.

loweryEarlier tonight, when asked on Twitter who he feared more, protesters or police, Lowery (right) replied: “easy answer, i’m a black man – the police.” L.A. Times reporter Matt Pearce said on Twitter that when he informed Ferguson’s police chief what he knew about the reporters’ arrests, he replied, “Oh, God.”

The police requested people to disperse at dark, but the town has no legal curfew. Snipers pointing their guns at unarmed civilians throughout the afternoon. As I write this, police are firing tear gas canisters into the crowds who are using the hands-up signal of “don’t shoot.” It looks like a war scene out of Iraq.

Otherwise, there’s little news coming out of Ferguson. The police have said they will not release the name of the police shooter—although many people know the name in this small town—and will not reveal any other information until after the toxicology report which could take at least four weeks.

Two days after the killing of Michael Brown, two LAPD officers shot and killed Ezell Ford. Mentally handicapped, the 24- or 25-year-old was unarmed and shot in the back, according to his mother. The first shooter, LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said, “Mr. Ford basically tackled one of our officers and went for his gun.”

Although the Ford shooting generated very little media notice, the killing of Michael Brown has gone around the world. The difference is that people protested. It’s time for us to worry about the injustices in the United States as well as in other countries.

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