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“Cop Used Whiteness As His Weapon To Rape Black Women”: He Thought His Badge And His Race Would Protect Him

“Is this the first time you sucked a white cock?” Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw asked as he bent over his victim. “You’re gonna have to give me head or ass or go to jail.”

Holtzclaw was found guilty Thursday night on 18 of 36 counts, including first-degree sexual assault. He now faces up to 263 years in prison.

What’s more remarkable than a police officer being convicted of crimes on duty is that Holtzclaw is “white” and all but one of his 13 known victims were black, including a 17-year-old runaway and a fiftysomething grandmother.

Technically, Holtzclaw is biracial: born to a white veteran police officer and a Japanese mother—but, make no mistake, Holtzclaw claimed to be white.

Don’t take my word for it. Holtzclaw is the most reliable witness to his own life.

He used that “whiteness” as a weapon to ridicule and demean his black victims (“Bet you never ducked white dick,” he told one). He wanted them to know that he was white. He wanted them to know that they were black and therefore powerless. He wanted them to know that nobody—not police, not investigators, not the media, not a jury—would believe them. He wanted them to know that his badge and his “whiteness” placed him among a privileged class to which they did not and could not belong; that it meant he could subjugate them with all manner of defilements with impunity.

The fact that this jury was able to sort through the physical evidence and direct witness testimony to return guilty verdicts on 18 counts is an indication of measurable progress. Historically, all-white juries have almost always meant that there would be no justice for a black defendant or victim. Together, this jury panel spent 45 hours weighing, questioning, and deciding. As the hours stretched on, many began to believe that Holtzclaw might walk away a free man.

It almost never got this far, though. Despite other accusers who previously stepped from the shadows, it wasn’t until a grandmother went to police the night she was assaulted that the wheels of justice began to turn. She testified that she was on her way home from a game of dominoes with friends, when Holtzclaw pulled her over and forced her to perform oral sex. She thought he was going to kill her, she told the courtroom.

Ultimately, the jury believed her and seven other victims. The message from the prosecution team to the victims was clear: Black women’s lives matter.

“We’re going to ask the judge to make sure that this defendant never sees the light of day,” District Attorney David Prater told CNN. “And we’re going to ask him to run consecutive, every count.”

However, five of his victims left the courtroom without justice. We do not know if they were the same women who were forced to come to court in jailhouse shackles. We do not know if they were among those allegedly engaged in prostitution or drug possession. But what we do know is the jury did not believe them—at least not beyond a reasonable doubt.

All too often, how much justice one receives depends largely on the social strictures of wealth, race, and gender. In that regard, even a predator like Holtzclaw probably thought he was walking into a county courthouse holding a pocket full of aces. In his estimation, he was everything they were not: middle class, white, and male.

Based on his own words, Holtzclaw embraced some of the most unfortunate aspects of that privilege. Despite his mixed racial heritage, he bought into and used that sense of supremacy to sexually violate his victims and the oath he swore to serve and protect them. In the end, likely based in part on that, he believed he would get away with it. He was counting on this jury to see his victims the same way he saw them—black, poor, and without value.

He wagered the house on that. The jury called him on the bet.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, December 11, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | Black Women, Daniel Holtzclaw, Police Abuse, Violence Against Women | , , , , , | 4 Comments

A ‘Kill-And-Cover-Up’ Police Culture?: Systemic And Institutional Problems That Extend Far Beyond One Allegedly Trigger-Happy Cop

When public officials refuse to release a video that shows alleged misconduct by a police officer, you should only expect the worst.

That’s particularly true in Chicago, where one “bad apple” too often has signaled a bushel of cover-ups and other problems underneath.

Such are the suspicions that haunt the city’s stalling for more than a year the release of a dashcam video that shows white police officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots into the body of black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel denounced the behavior as a case of one allegedly bad apple. Yet the video and various actions taken before and after the shooting point to systemic and institutional problems that extend far beyond one allegedly trigger-happy cop.

Why, for example, did the city sit on the dash-cam video for more than a year before a judge ordered its release on open-records grounds?

Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez have said the time was needed to conduct proper investigations. But compare that to the Cincinnati case last summer in which black driver Samuel DuBose was fatally shot on camera by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing during a routine traffic stop.

The video, which contradicted Tensing’s account of being dragged by DuBose’s vehicle, was released and Tensing was charged with murder and fired from the department in less than two weeks.

The Chicago video similarly refutes a police union spokesman’s allegation of McDonald lunging at police with a knife on the night of Oct. 20, 2014.

Instead it shows the teen, reportedly with PCP in his system, holding a small knife but moving away from police when Van Dyke opens fire — and inexplicably keeps firing at McDonald’s flinching body on the ground. Only Van Dyke fires his weapon and none of the estimated seven police officers on the scene moves to help McDonald. Van Dyke has been charged with first degree murder.

Then there’s the question of what happened to video from a security camera at a nearby Burger King. A district manager for the restaurant chain has said police visited shortly after the shooting and were given access to the surveillance equipment. The next day, he has said, a portion of the video was missing.

Witnesses to the shooting told Jamie Kalven, an independent journalist and human rights activist whose nonprofit called the Invisible Institute filed a FOIA request to have the dashcam video released, that police tried to shoo witnesses away from the scene after the shooting instead of collecting names and other information.

And why, many wonder, did the mayor persuade the City Council to authorize a $5 million settlement for McDonald’s family, which had not filed a lawsuit. Emanuel claimed a desire to avoid jeopardizing the case. But Chicagoans with long memories — like me — wonder whether the cash is reparations or a form of hush money.

The city fought to conceal the video, even after the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and a freelance journalist all filed FOIA requests for its release.

To Kalven, the most important issue here is not just the shooting but how governmental institutions — from the police to the mayor’s office — responded to it, he says.

“And at every level,” he told me in a telephone interview, “we can see they responded by circling the wagons and creating a narrative that they knew was completely false.”

Kalven’s institute worked seven years to open up police files and establish an online database of misconduct complaints against police officers — 97 percent of which resulted in absolutely no disciplinary action.

Among other issues, Chicago and other cities will have to determine, like the rest of us, how to adjust to the new video age, an age that exposes so much to public view that used to be swept under various rugs.

The McDonald video reveals the flipside of the so-called “Ferguson effect,” a widely alleged tendency by some police to hesitate before responding to crime scenes for fear of getting caught in a career-ending cellphone video. If fear of video can prevent atrocities like that revealed in the McDonald case, that’s not a bad thing.

 

By: Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency; The National Memo, November 30, 3015

December 1, 2015 Posted by | Police Abuse, Police Unions, Public Officials | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Need Cops With People Skills”: Police Authority Presupposes Legitimacy And Trust

What can I do?

Not quite six months ago, a reader named Tracy posed that question to me and I, in turn, posed it to you. Tracy, a 55-year-old white woman from Austin, said she was sick of hearing about unarmed African-American men being injured or killed by police. “What can be done?” she asked. “What can I do? I’m sincere in this question. I want to DO something. What can that be?”

Well, Bob has some ideas. In an email, he describes himself as a “retired professional firefighter from a metropolitan area” whose 20 years as a paramedic often required him to work closely with police.

“I witnessed many cases of police brutality,” he writes. “A stressed patient or family member would call 911 for medical assistance. We would respond as well as the PD. A situation that required a calm and caring presence and an ambulance ride to a care center or psych ward would end up in a physical altercation with mace and cuffs.”

Bob says he and his partner would talk about what they had seen on the way back to the station, “but knew better than to alert our superiors or file complaints because we did not dare open a rift with the local PD. We (and paramedics on other shifts) needed PD backup on potentially dangerous calls. So we all kept quiet.”

Based on that experience, Bob has two suggestions. One is that we should push for more thorough screening of police applicants. “We need cops to DEFUSE situations,” he writes, “not escalate. We need cops with people skills. No more bullies. Very intense psych examinations should be part of police applicant training.”

Bob’s other suggestion? Require that non-sworn civilians be part of any investigation of police brutality. Just as you would never assign a 7-year-old to solve the mystery of the broken cookie jar, he thinks it makes little sense to ask police to investigate their own.

“Do we really think cops will give an unbiased and honest effort when investigating other cops? NO! It is always the same old game. Make the investigation last for months until it is back-page news. Discount or do not document damaging statements. Intimidate convincing witnesses. Conveniently forget to note damaging facts. When all else fails, lie or plant evidence to close cases.”

From where I sit, both of Bob’s suggestions have merit, but as we approach the first anniversary of the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice with no one yet held accountable, his second carries particular resonance. Even granting the need for thoroughness, it strains credulity to believe it takes the better part of a year — and counting — to decide whether to prosecute Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, especially given the surveillance video that shows Loehmann shooting the boy, who had been holding a realistic-looking toy gun, within two seconds after the patrol car skids to a stop in front of him.

Would the decision on prosecution proceed at such a leisurely pace had it been Loehmann who was shot? Would the prosecutor be agonizing like Hamlet almost a year later?

You know the answer as well as I do.

The impulse to cut cops some slack — “Hey, he was only doing his job” — is understandable. It is also wrong and, more to the point, shortsighted.

One of the most important weapons in a cop’s arsenal is his authority. But authority presupposes legitimacy and trust. How much of either can a police officer — or a police force or the institution of policing itself — command when they operate under such a blatantly different set of rules? A requirement that outside eyes be involved in investigations of serious allegations of police misconduct would go a long way toward rectifying that.

At the very least, it’s a conversation we are long overdue to have.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 5, 2015

October 6, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Abuse, Police Brutality | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Police Abuse Is A Form Of Terror”: State Violence Versus Community Violence

Writing about the wave of deadly encounters — many caught on video — between unarmed black people and police officers often draws a particular criticism from a particular subset of readers.

It is some variation of this:

“Why are you not writing about the real problem — black-on-black crime? Young black men are far more likely to be killed by another young black man than by the police. Why do people not seem to protest when those young people are killed? Where is the media coverage of those deaths?”

This to me has always felt like a deflection, a juxtaposition meant to use one problem to drown out another.

Statistically, the sentiment is correct: Black people are more likely to be killed by other black people. But white people are also more likely to be killed by other white people. The truth is that murders and other violent crimes are often crimes of intimacy and access. People tend to kill people they know.

The argument suggests that police killings are relatively rare and therefore exotic, and distract from more mundane and widespread community violence. I view it differently: as state violence versus community violence.

People are often able to understand and contextualize community violence and, therefore, better understand how to avoid it. A parent can say to a child: Don’t run with that crowd, or hang out on that corner or get involved with that set of activities.

A recent study by scholars at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale found that homicides cluster and overwhelmingly involve a tiny group of people who not only share social connections but are also already involved in the criminal justice system.

We as adults can decide whether or not to have guns in the home. According to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, having a gun may increase the chances of being the victim of homicide. We can report violent family members.

And people with the means and inclination can decide to move away from high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods.

These measures are not 100 percent effective, but they can produce some measure of protection and provide individual citizens with some degree of personal agency.

State violence, as epitomized in these cases by what people view as police abuses, conversely, has produced a specific feeling of terror, one that is inescapable and unavoidable.

The difference in people’s reactions to these different kinds of killings isn’t about an exaltation — or exploitation — of some deaths above others for political purposes, but rather a collective outrage that the people charged with protecting your life could become a threat to it. It is a reaction to the puncturing of an illusion, the implosion of an idea. How can I be safe in America if I can’t be safe in my body? It is a confrontation with a most discomforting concept: that there is no amount of righteous behavior, no neighborhood right enough, to produce sufficient security.

It produces a particular kind of terror, a feeling of nakedness and vulnerability, a fear that makes people furious at the very idea of having to be afraid.

The reaction to police killings is to my mind not completely dissimilar to people’s reaction to other forms of terrorism.

The very ubiquity of police officers and the power they possess means that the questionable killing in which they are involved creates a terror that rolls in like a fog, filling every low place. It produces ambient, radiant fear. It is the lurking unpredictability of it. It is the any- and everywhere-ness of it.

The black community’s response to this form of domestic terror has not been so different from America’s reaction to foreign terror.

The think tank New America found in June that 26 people were killed by jihadist attacks in the United States since 9/11 — compared with 48 deaths from “right wing attacks.” And yet, we have spent unending blood and treasure to combat Islamist terrorism in those years. Furthermore, according to Gallup, half of all Americans still feel somewhat or very worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism.

In one of the two Republican debates last week, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed to be itching for yet another antiterrorism war, saying at one point: “I would take the fight to these guys, whatever it took, as long as it took.”

Whatever, however, long. This is not only Graham’s position, it’s the position of a large segment of the population.

Responding to New America’s tally, Fareed Zakaria wrote in The Washington Post in July:

“Americans have accepted an unprecedented expansion of government powers and invasions of their privacy to prevent such attacks. Since 9/11, 74 people have been killed in the United States by terrorists, according to the think tank New America. In that same period, more than 150,000 Americans have been killed in gun homicides, and we have done … nothing.”

And yet, we don’t ask “Why aren’t you, America, focusing on the real problem: Americans killing other Americans?”

Is the “real problem” question reserved only for the black people? Are black people not allowed to begin a righteous crusade?

One could argue that America’s overwhelming response to the terror threat is precisely what has kept the number of people killed in this country as a result of terror so low. But, if so, shouldn’t black Americans, similarly, have the right to exercise tremendous resistance to reduce the number of black people killed after interactions with the police?

How is it that we can understand an extreme reaction by Americans as a whole to a threat of terror but demonstrate a staggering lack of that understanding when black people in America do the same?

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 12, 2015

August 16, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Abuse, Police Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s Not Just Bad Cops; Prosecutors Run Wild”: The Ones Who Lie And Cheat To Win At Any Cost

One year ago, Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer. Since then, the nation has debated the justice system more feverishly than any other period in recent memory. Most of the scrutiny has rightly fallen upon the police, which is where the justice system meets the people viscerally and sometimes fatally. Cops only have the power to arrest, though; the power to prosecute and put millions of Americans in prison—and more than a few to death—rests with prosecutors.

And too many are abusing that power.

Suppressing evidence, coddling informants, even outright lying are some of the instances of prosecutorial misconduct that sent away nearly half the 1,621 people convicted for crimes they didn’t commit since 1989, according to the University of Michigan Law School’s National Registry of Exonerations. These are only the cases we know about, and they are surely only a fraction of the wrongly convicted. Even so, the figure is stunning—especially when you consider that 115 of them were people condemned to die.

The punishment for bad prosecutorial misconduct is virtually nil. In a 2011 report on 707 such cases, only six prosecutors were disciplined. Almost all still have their licenses, and are still practicing law.

Almost nothing is being done to systematically fix prosecutorial misconduct despite multiple avenues available for reform and bipartisan agreement that there’s an epidemic on our hands. But, let’s face it, convicted criminals (even wrongfully convicted ones) don’t play well at the polls.

Over the next several weeks, The Daily Beast will dive into this blight on the judicial system. We’ll look at how money, race, and politics distort the judicial system, and incentivize even decent attorneys to misbehave. We’ll talk with some of the leading critics of the system, liberal and conservative. And we’ll hear some of the most appalling tales of prosecutors run amok—in many cases, involving attorneys still on the job, unsanctioned and undeterred.

The prosecutorial role is an unusual one in the American judicial system. Usually, attorneys have one client, and their responsibility is to advocate solely for that client’s interests. Prosecutors, however, have a dual responsibility. On the one hand, they are the government’s lawyers, charged with making the state’s best case against the accused. On the other hand, prosecutors are also part of the judicial system, and they are meant not simply to secure convictions, but to pursue justice.

At times, those two obligations conflict. When a prosecutor discovers potentially exculpatory evidence, he or she must disclose it—as confirmed by the Supreme Court in the 1963 Brady decision. No civil lawyer would do this; nor would any criminal defense lawyer. But prosecutors are uniquely cast in the dual roles of advocates and what some have called “ministers of justice.”

In theory, anyway. In practice, numerous factors cause many prosecutors to tilt toward convictions. Perhaps the best known recent example is the corruption trial of former Senator Ted Stevens, which resulted in his conviction, and in which the government was later found to have withheld exculpatory evidence. By that time it was too late for Stevens, who had already died.

America is the only country in the world in which many prosecutors are elected—and many of them run as being “tough on crime.” The disciplinary commission that sanctioned Durham County, North Carolina District Attorney Michael Nifong—prosecutor of the Duke lacross team on false rape charges—noted his upcoming primary election as a motivating factor for his misconduct. The pressure to produce wins has led to a “win-at-all-costs” mentality in some offices, especially when voters reward such behavior.

Perhaps most importantly, prosecutors are granted immunity for most kinds of misconduct. It’s easy to see the reasons for this policy: otherwise, every well-heeled convict would sue, clogging the system and making it impossible for prosecutors to do their jobs. At the same time, that immunity is so absolute that prosecutors simply get off scot-free, even when misconduct is established. Even worse, most states lack any meaningful oversight of prosecutors: no commissions, no review boards, nothing.

Then there’s race. Ninety-five percent of elected prosecutors are white, and two-thirds of the states that elect prosecutors have no black ones. Yet 40 percent of the incarcerated population is black and one in three black men will have spent time in prison. How is the justice system supposed to be seen as fair when this crucial element of it is almost exclusively run by white people?

Despite the racial divide, the response to prosecutorial misconduct and overzealousness has been striking in its bipartisan nature.

In some ways, the issue of prosecutorial misconduct is an ideal opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to work together. Republicans wary of overzealous state action become concerned “when district attorneys attack,” to quote the National Review. Conservatives also place a high value on public trust in the justice system, and are thus keen to root out bad prosecutors who may undermine it.

Judge Alex Kozinski, no bleeding heart liberal, recently called the problem an “epidemic,” excoriated a California prosecutor for trying to maintain a conviction (in probably the only appellate court recording to qualify as “viral” on YouTube), and proposed a host of major reforms.

Liberals, meanwhile, may see overzealous prosecutors not as anomalies within an otherwise just system, but as examples of an inherently unjustice system doing little to protect the vulnerable, especially people of color. Liberals tend to value fairness and compassion over the strong administration of justice, even when some guilty people may go free as a result. Thus they, too, are wary of prosecutorial misconduct, albeit for very different reasons from conservatives.

It’s odd, then, that so little has been done. For example, efforts to create an oversight commission in New York have failed two years in a row, and there is nothing on the congressional agenda.

That’s not for lack of proposed reforms, which The Daily Beast will explore in detail in the coming weeks. These include proposals to:

– Create oversight boards, like those that already exist for judges, to monitor, censure, and report misconduct;

– Allow the wrongly convicted to sue for monetary relief—including from the prosecutor’s office, if misconduct is established;

– Reduce prosecutorial immunity to a qualified, rather than absolute, form. In particular, open prosecutors to be tried for perjury if they have lied under oath;

– Eliminate the election of prosecutors, which distorts the incentives they face;

– Expand Brady requirements with model rules which states could adopt as they see fit. These could include an “open file rule,” in which all information about a case must be shared with defense counsel; and

– Investigate the racial disparity among prosecutors and treat it as a civil rights issue.

Perhaps the time for such reform is, at last, at hand. The seemingly unlimited use of police violence against people of color, and the failure of prosecutors to take action against it, has led to a crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system at large—one amplified by the racial disparities within that very system.

Is it possible that the left’s concern with racial justice, and the right’s concern with law and order, might converge in this area where reform is so desperately needed? Will there be progress at last?

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, August 8, 2015

August 9, 2015 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Police Abuse, Prosecutorial Misconduct | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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