mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Ideology Of Policing”: After Ferguson, Can We Change How American Police React To Potential Threats?

The story of Michael Brown and Ferguson, Mo., is not over, even if the city is calmer today than it was just after the decision not to try officer Darren Wilson was announced. As we look for lessons about race, power and justice, we also have to ask some fundamental questions about the ideology of policing in the United States.

One of the defenses people have offered of Wilson’s decision-making on that day is that if a police officer fears for his safety, he is allowed to use deadly force. And that is indeed a standard, in one form or another, used by police departments around the country. But that standard is near the heart of the problem that Brown’s death has highlighted.

American police kill many, many more citizens than officers in similar countries around the world. The number of people killed by police in many countries in a year is in the single digits. For instance, in Britain (where most officers don’t even carry guns), police fatally shot zero people in 2013 and one person in 2012. Germany has one-quarter the population of the United States, and police there killed only six people in all of 2011. Although official figures put the number killed by American police each year around 400, the true number may be closer to 1,000.

The most common explanation is that since we have so many guns in America, police are under greater threat than other police. Which is true, but American police also kill unarmed people all the time — people who have a knife or a stick, or who are just acting erratically. There are mentally disturbed people in other countries, too, so why is it that police in Germany or France or Britain or Japan manage to deal with these threats without killing the suspect?

This is where we get to the particular American police ideology, which says that any threat to an officer’s safety, even an unlikely one, can and often should be met with deadly force. We see it again and again: Someone is brandishing a knife; the cops arrive; he takes a step toward them, and they fire. Since Brown’s death, at least 14 teenagers have been shot and killed by police; the weapons they were wielding included knives, cars and a power drill, all of which can be obtained by European citizens, at least as far as I know.

If you’ve read parts of Wilson’s account of his confrontation with Brown, you know that the justification so commonly made in cases like this — I was afraid for my safety, and therefore I killed him — is the basis of his defense. You don’t have to be convinced that Wilson should be tried for murder to find his version of events absurd at every level, starting with the assertion that he politely inquired if Brown and his friend might consider walking on the sidewalk, only to be met with a stream of invective and an unprovoked assault from this “demon” with superhuman strength.

Maybe that really is what happened. But it seems much more likely that, as the account of Brown’s friend goes, Wilson began the encounter by shouting at them to “Get the [expletive] on the sidewalk” — in other words, seeking to establish his authority and dominance. This, too is part of police ideology: that one way to keep safe is to make clear to those you interact with that you are the one in control and that they should fear you.

Two months ago I interviewed an expert in police training procedures around the world, and she pointed out that in many other countries, particularly in Europe, future police officers go through much more extensive training than American police do, a large part of which is learning how to calm down agitated people and defuse potentially dangerous situations. American cops, she said, average only 15 weeks of training before getting their badges. Even after they’re on the job, they continue to be inculcated with the idea that in a situation with a potentially dangerous individual, they need to be ready to kill to protect themselves.

Much of the focus of discussions about Ferguson has been, quite properly, on race. And race matters to this question as well; we know that cops are more likely to see black people as potential dangers to their safety. But the question is whether, even beyond the differences in how different groups are treated, we can change the way so many American police approach confrontations, both actual and potential.

Of course, this is easy for me to say. Nobody’s going to wave a knife at me while I sit in front of my computer every day. Being a cop is hard and dangerous work, particularly in places where crime is common. Most officers are never going to fire their guns in the line of duty. Even in Ferguson itself, there are officers trying to approach people as people and not as potential threats. But the fact that police all over the world manage to do the same job while killing barely anyone, while American cops kill hundreds of people every year, means that something is wrong with American policing.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, November 28, 2014

December 1, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Gun Violence, Police Officers | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Heart Of American Exceptionalism”: When The U.N. Committee Against Torture Says You Have A Police Brutality Problem…

As everyone waits to see if the actual torture report will ever be released, the uptick in American police shootings hasn’t gone unnoticed by the international community, either:

The U.N. Committee against Torture urged the United States on Friday to fully investigate and prosecute police brutality and shootings of unarmed black youth and ensure that taser weapons are used sparingly.

The panel’s first review of the U.S. record on preventing torture since 2006 followed racially-tinged unrest in cities across the country this week sparked by a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision not to charge a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

The committee decried “excruciating pain and prolonged suffering” for prisoners during “botched executions” as well as frequent rapes of inmates, shackling of pregnant women in some prisons and extensive use of solitary confinement.

Its findings cited deep concern about “numerous reports” of police brutality and excessive use of force against people from minority groups, immigrants, homosexuals and racial profiling. The panel referred to the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”

Conservatives will accuse the U.N. of hypocrisy in tut-tutting America while doing little about major human rights abusers like Iran or China. But that’s hardly the point. America shouldn’t be in the position of saying, “Oh yeah? Well that dictatorship is worse!” The United States holds itself up as a beacon of justice and freedom. And when it comes to police shootings, America stands out from other industrialized countries as nearly barbaric.

A cursory and incomplete tally shows United States police officers kill at least 400 people a year in shootings, and the real figure is probably much higher. About a quarter of those involve white officers killing black people.

By contrast, police killings in European countries tend to fall into the single or low double digits.

Something is seriously wrong there, and either way you look at it, it cuts to the heart of American exceptionalism. Either our police forces are far too ready to use violence, or the American people are somehow far more dangerous and violent than those in other countries, or some combination of both. Or there are simply far too many guns and too many people who are too eager to use them.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 29, 2014

December 1, 2014 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Ferguson Missouri, Torture | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Badge Does Not Confer Credibility”: Bias Can Strain An Already Difficult Standard In Prosecuting Police

Average people find it difficult to place themselves in the shoes of police officers who live everyday knowing their next call could be their last. So when faced with a shooting by a police officer in questionable circumstances, they give deference to the officer’s decisions.

Jurors usually find that such officers reasonably believed the slain person posed a threat of serious bodily harm or death, justifying deadly force under legal standards.

Prosecutors are keenly aware of this tendency and know they will have difficulty prosecuting such cases. It would be hard, however, to create an alternative legal standard that could better ensure both an officer’s right to safety and the individual’s right to be free from excessive force.

Many minority citizens fear that jurors’ racial biases expand the notion of when it is reasonable for an officer to use deadly force. Indeed, one of the first questions many commentators asked when the decision was announced in the Michael Brown shooting was whether the grand jurors who declined to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot him to death, were split along racial lines.

Perceptions of racial bias undermine the legitimacy of the criminal justice system, splitting citizens along racial lines when a white police officer kills an unarmed racial minority.

While we cannot eliminate the possibility for bias in prosecutions, we can make the process more transparent. Local prosecutors should not be faced with the choice of bringing charges against members of the police departments they rely on every day. These cases should automatically be referred to the state attorney general’s office or a special prosecutor who does not have the same perceived conflict of interest.

Jurors should be given clear instructions that an officer’s testimony carries the same weight as that of any other witness and that a badge does not confer credibility.

Criminal prosecutions, however, are not the most effective way to address systemic problems in a department because they focus solely on the actions of an individual officer and not on the organizational culture that likely shaped that conduct. To force broader changes in police practices, advocates should focus on institutional factors that encourage police misconduct, such as the failure to identify, supervise and discipline officers who are prone to misconduct.

 

By: Kami Chavis Simmons, Former Federal Prosecutor, Professor and Director of the Criminal Justice Program at Wake Forest University School of Law; Room for Debate, The New York Times, November 25, 2014

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Grand Juries, Police Officers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Collective Failure”: The Crisis Of Leadership And Confidence In Ferguson, Mo.

Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. The unarmed 18-year-old’s body laid in the street for more than four hours. Ever since that fateful Saturday afternoon, there have been protests about the way Brown was treated and the way African Americans in general have been treated in the St. Louis suburb. The most dramatic and revealing were those that erupted the evening of Aug. 13. Demonstrators were met with a militarized police force that lobbed tear gas at them, shot rubber bullets at them and arrested journalists. But in the chaotic nighttime scene three people were missing: Gov. Jay Nixon (D), Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

As their city and state and their police forces ran roughshod over the First Amendment rights of demonstrators with the entire world watching, those three public officials were nowhere to be seen. Their inexcusable absence that night, the lack of leadership it exposed and the subsequent bumbling efforts to show control might explain why there was so much hysteria leading up to tonight’s announcement that Wilson will not be charged in Brown’s death.

My view of their actions is certainly colored by my 16 years in New York City. Whenever anything big happened or was about to happen in the Big Apple or the Empire State (from snow storm to terrorist attack), you were guaranteed to see the mayor, the governor, the police commissioner and every relevant city and state commissioner squeezed behind a podium to give anxious New Yorkers an update. Both in word and presence, those public officials at least gave the impression that someone was in charge. Someone was accountable. Someone was speaking for them. Nixon, Knowles and Jackson (especially Jackson) have consistently failed that basic test of leadership.  The leaks from other local law enforcement agencies throughout the various investigations served to exacerbate tensions.

In the three months since Brown’s killing we have come to learn that their collective failures are just the tip of the iceberg of problems in Ferguson. My colleague Radley Balko reported extensively on how municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty. “If you were tasked with designing a regional system of government guaranteed to produce racial conflict, anger, and resentment,” he wrote, “you’d be hard pressed to do better than St. Louis County.” The inherent mistrust of police, the grand jury process and the motives of elected and law enforcement officials that we have seen from blacks in Ferguson can be traced back to the Balko’s observation.

The Post’s Wesley Lowery is back on the ground in Ferguson just as he was on that tumultuous night in August. When I asked him whether Nixon, Knowles and Jackson had a local presence now that wasn’t being captured at the national level, his reply came quickly. “Not at all. There is no leadership from electeds on the ground. None,” he said, explaining his assessment came from “dozens of interviews” and his personal observations.  “This is a disenfranchised populace – they don’t vote for their elected leadership, and don’t feel represented by them, so why would they turn to them for leadership now?”

After his 20-minute presentation of the grand jury decision and the evidence supporting it, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCollouch acknowledged that the killing of Brown opened old wounds and urged protesters to “continue the demonstrations, continue the discussions” to ensure this doesn’t happen again — soothing words from a public official that are of no comfort to a community that was hurting long before Wilson shot and killed Brown on a hot summer day.

 

By: Jonathan Capehart, Post-Partisan, The Washington Post, November 24, 2014

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Darren Wilson, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Police Officers Mouth Ain’t No Prayer Book”: Blacks And Whites Need To Wake Up To Racial Injustice

In September, I received an email that should have left me feeling vindicated.

It was in response to the non-fatal shooting of Levar Jones, an unarmed African-American man, by Sean Groubert, a white South Carolina state trooper. Groubert would later claim he shot Jones because Jones came at him in a menacing way. But this lie was unmasked by Groubert’s own dashcam video, which shows Jones complying with the trooper’s orders until Groubert inexplicably panics and starts shooting.

That video moved a reader named David to write the following: “Think I FINALLY get what you’ve been saying all along. That cop just shot him down for doing nothing more than compiling [sic] with his commands. No offense to black people, but I SURE AM GLAD I’M NOT BLACK IN THIS COUNTRY! Re-evaluating my opinions of the last 50 years.”

As I say, it should have felt like vindication. But it only made me sad. I kept thinking that, had there been no camera to prove Groubert lied, had there been only testimony from witnesses and whatever forensic evidence was gathered, Groubert would likely still be making traffic stops and David would support him, his opinions of the last 50 years unchanged.

My point is not that cameras are a panacea for justice — they weren’t for Oscar Grant in 2009, they weren’t for Rodney King in 1991, they weren’t for Abram Smith and Thomas Shipp in 1930. No, my point is that the bar of proof is set higher when white people — police officers in particular — kill black ones. My point is that rules change and assumptions are different when black people seek justice.

Knowing that, who can be surprised at what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, Monday night? Who can be surprised that a prosecutor who didn’t seem to want an indictment did not convince a grand jury to return one in the August shooting of Michael Brown? Who can be surprised that Officer Darren Wilson now goes on with his life after firing 12 shots, at least six of which struck home, at an unarmed teenager while said teenager remains imprisoned by the grave? Who can be surprised people in Ferguson and around the country convulsed with shock, sorrow and disbelief? Who can be surprised some vulturous knuckleheads saw the calamity as an excuse to break windows and steal beer? Who can be surprised at pictures showing that the “injuries” Wilson sustained in his scuffle with Brown, injuries that supposedly made him so terrified for his life that he had to shoot, amount to a small abrasion on his lip and a reddened cheek?

I’m glad that video helped David to “FINALLY get” what I’ve been “saying all along,” i.e., that a police officer’s mouth, to use one of my mother’s expressions, ain’t no prayer book; no source of infallible truth the way too many of us think it is. And that benefit of the doubt is something black people are often denied. And that America devalues black life. But if we have to go David by David to those realizations, each requiring a dashcam video before he gets the point, we are doomed to a long and dreary future of Fergusons.

Last year, when the thug George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, I wrote that black people need to “wake the h–l up” — organize, boycott, vote, demonstrate, demand.

But black people aren’t the only ones sleeping. Too many — not all, but too many — white people still live in air castles of naivete and denial, still think abiding injustice and ongoing oppression are just some fairy tale, lie, or scheme African-Americans concocted to defraud them. Or else that these things are far away and have no impact on their lives. The fires in Ferguson Monday night suggest that they continue that delusion at their own peril.

I still think black folks need to wake the h–l up.

But white ones do, too.

 

By:Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, November 26, 2014

November 28, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

%d bloggers like this: