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“Tragedy And Blame”: Expecting Elected Officials To Violate Their Oaths To Show Unconditional Support For “The Team”

I managed to screen out virtually all news during a weekend of bicoastal travel, shopping, and relative visitation. So now encountering the maelstrom over the murder of two New York City police officers by a crazy person is sad and confusing. But at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has the right reaction, particularly in terms of the bizarre blame game being played in New York right now:

Early reports suggest that both police officers were well-liked in their communities, though their killings would be tragic and worthy of condemnation in any case. And they are, in fact, being condemned by nearly everyone commenting on the case, which is no surprise: opposition to the murder of police officers is as close to a consensus belief as exists in American politics, culture and life.

The Sergeants Benevolent Association, a group that claims to represent “approximately 12,000 active and retired sergeants of the NYPD,” would have us think otherwise. “The blood of 2 executed police officers is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio,” the group declared in a statement that attempted to exploit these murders to advance their political agenda. In a similarly dishonorable statement, “the president of the city’s largest police union, Patrick Lynch, blamed Mr. de Blasio for the tragedy. The officers’ blood ‘starts on the steps of City Hall,’ he said, ‘in the office of the mayor.’”

And Howard Safir, a former NYPD commissioner, wrote this in Time: “When Ismaaiyl Abdulah Brinsley brutally executed Officers Ramos and Liu he did so in an atmosphere of permissiveness and anti-police rhetoric unlike any that I have seen in 45 years in law enforcement. The rhetoric this time is not from the usual suspects, but from the Mayor of New York City, the Attorney General of the United States, and even the President. It emboldens criminals and sends a message that every encounter a black person has with a police officer is one to be feared.”

Notably, none of these intellectually dishonest statements quote or link to any actual rhetoric spoken by Mayor de Blasio, Eric Holder, or President Obama. That is because none of them has uttered so much as a single word that even hints that violently attacking a police officer, let alone murdering one, would be justified. Suggesting that their words are responsible for this murder is discrediting. Even the weaker claim that their words “embolden criminals” is absurd, both as a matter of logic and as a statement made amid historically low crime rates.

With regard to the particular crime of killing police officers, “the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty-that is, killed with felonious intent by a suspected criminal-plummeted to 27 in 2013, its lowest level in decades.” That is the Obama/Holder record on this issue. We needn’t speculate about whether their rhetoric has proved dangerous for police. We know for a fact that it has not.

Perhaps police officers everywhere (including the New York union officials who have been engaged in tense contract negotiations with representatives of Mayor de Blasio) feel the need to express solidarity with Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo and treat them as identical to Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. That’s disturbing, but at least understandable. But expecting elected officials to do so–to violate their oaths in order to show unconditional support for The Team without regard to the circumstances–is inherently objectionable. As for the pols who are exploiting this situation for partisan purposes and seeking to encourage the police to view themselves as besieged and persecuted and owing no allegiance to civilian authorities? They are disgusting and lawless people promoting true anarchy.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 22, 2014

December 23, 2014 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Police Officers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Breathe Easy, Respect The Presumption Of Innocence”: A Legal Precept That’s Never Been Terribly Popular

So the latest riposte in the war of t-shirt messages involving police shootings is this, via a report from TPM’s Brendan James:

A cop who owns a clothing business in Indiana has responded to protests over the police killing of an unarmed black man in New York with T-shirts reading: “Breathe Easy: Don’t Break the Law.”

The phrase was a play on the last words of the man, Eric Garner, after he was placed in a chokehold by New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in July: “I can’t breathe.”

Jason Barthel, a police officer and owner of South Bend Uniform, told television station WSBT the shirts were selling quickly.

“We are not here to do anything negative to the public,” he told the station “We’re here to protect the public and we want you to breathe easy knowing that the police are here to be with you and for you and protect you.”

The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, but a grand jury on Dec. 3 decided not to indict Pantaleo in the death. Protesters demonstrating across the country in the wake of the decision have adopted “I Can’t Breathe” as a slogan.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the backlash to protests over the Brown and Garner’s killings is the underlying sentiment that both men assumed the risk of getting blown away by breaking the law. They were not convicted of anything in a court of law, and last time I checked, there is no state where selling black market cigarettes or stealing cigarillos or smoking reefer is a capital offense.

But the painful truth is, presumption of innocence is not a legal precept that’s ever been terribly popular. I may have told this story before, but the crusty old legal aid lawyer who taught the Criminal Procedure class I took in law school told us on the very first day: “Forget presumption of innocence. Your average juror looks at a defendant and says ‘Of course he probably did it. He’s up there in the dock, isn’t he?'” Mix in a little racism with this attitude, and it can provide a free pass for anyone–particularly anyone in a uniform–to get way out of line, since the victim “asked for it,” which means he or she isn’t really a victim at all, right? This needs to change.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 16, 2014

December 17, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Police Shootings, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Free Spirits With No Accountability”: 179 People Killed By NYPD, 1 Cop Conviction, No Jail Time

Over the last 15 years, NYPD officers have killed at least 179 people, according to a new investigation.

The New York Daily News found that in only three of those incidents, the officer involved was indicted and only once was the cop convicted.

In that one instance, when ex-officer Bryan Conroy was convicted in 2005 of criminally negligent homicide for killing Ousmane Zongo, Conroy didn’t serve any jail time.

Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, defended the NYPD officer’s actions.

“When there is a life-or-death situation on the street, be it an armed robbery, a homicidal maniac on the street or someone driving a vehicle in a dangerous and potentially deadly way, it is New York City police officers who step in and take the risk away from the public and put it on themselves,” Lynch said in a statement. “Our work has saved tens of thousands of lives by assuming the risk and standing between New Yorkers and life-threatening danger.”

To be sure, some of the incidents catalogued by the Daily News involved the justified use of deadly force by officers.

But, holding cops accountable when they are not justified in killing someone is difficult, because often the prosecutors tasked with bringing charges against officers also rely on good relationships with police to do their day-to-day work. DA’s also count on endorsements from police unions when they run for re-election.

The recent decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo in the Eric Garner chokehold case, has set off calls for laws requiring special prosecutors in cases involving possible police misconduct.

The idea behind any proposed legislation would be to keep local district attorneys out of cases where they might be biased in favor of the police department they work with regularly.

But some, like panelists involved in a recent Democracy Now discussion, said such reforms have been sought for years and have little chance of becoming law, at least at the federal level.

Harry Siegel, a columnist for the Daily News, pointed out that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who recently said special prosecutors could be necessary in some cases, had the chance to appoint a special prosecutor in the Garner, case but didn’t.

“I would note that Governor Andrew Cuomo, who’s now mumbling about all sorts of reforms, had the opportunity to appoint a special prosecutor here,” Siegel said on Democracy Now. “Andrew here, who’s now outraged by where we’re at, allowed us to get to this point.”

 

By: Simon McCormick, The Huffington Post, December 8, 2014

December 9, 2014 Posted by | Justifiable Homicide, NYPD, Police Shotings | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Two Grand Juries, The Same Disappointing Result”: The Criminal Justice System Is One Of The Last Bastions Of Blatant Racism

No expressions of sympathy or regret can resurrect Eric Garner, the New York City man killed by police in July. Garner died after an officer placed him in what appears to be a chokehold during an arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, an offense not usually regarded as a capital crime.

But, at the very least, officer Daniel Pantaleo (or his representatives) showed a spark of decency after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict him for any crime. “I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” he said in a statement. “My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”

That’s just one contrast to events in Ferguson, Missouri, where Officer Darren Wilson showed no hint of sympathy for teenager Michael Brown or his family. “I don’t think it’s haunting. It’s always going to be something that happened,” Wilson said in a televised interview.

There were other equally stark contrasts. While Brown’s response to Wilson will always be the subject of dispute, bystanders recorded video of Garner’s arrest and posted it on the Internet, where it went viral. There is no disputing Garner’s tragic last words as Pantaleo’s arm lingers around his neck: “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” Even Fox News’ bellicose Bill O’Reilly was moved to observe that Garner “didn’t deserve what happened to him.”

But the greatest contrast between the deaths of Garner and Brown may have been in the reactions of elected and civic leaders. Backed by its politicians, Ferguson’s police force responded to criticism of Brown’s death with excuses, equivocation and armored personnel carriers.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio took to the podium to express sympathy for Garner’s loved ones, and equally important, a simple shared humanity. Compassion. Understanding. Empathy. “This is now a national moment of grief, a national moment of pain,” he said. Members of Congress — liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats — joined to criticize the grand jury’s decision.

That matters. All citizens, regardless of color or creed or religion, want to believe that the people who govern them share their fears, their hopes, their aspirations. Or, at the very least, that their leaders can understand their frustrations.

Even now, that’s not always the case in the United States, especially when it comes to law and order. The criminal justice system is one of the last bastions of blatant racism, a tangled net of explicit prejudices and implicit biases, of rank stereotypes and unfair perceptions, a web that ensnares black men disproportionately. Countless studies conducted by experts have borne out the view held by so many black Americans: We do not stand equally before the bar of justice.

Black motorists are subjected to more traffic stops than white drivers. Black men and women are arrested more often for drug offenses, even though we are no more likely to be drug users than whites. And the use of the death penalty tilts against black defendants and devalues black lives: It is more likely to be meted out if the victim is not white.

Has there been progress? Of course there has. The nation’s top law enforcement official, the attorney general, is a black man. But the nation’s criminal justice system started out in a hellishly low place — where officials were complicit in lynchings, where the wealthy extracted unpaid labor from black men by having them arrested, where black crime victims were ignored. De Blasio referred to that unfortunate history: “We’re not dealing with years of racism leading up to it, or decades of racism — we are dealing with centuries of racism that have brought us to this day.”

For all the striking contrasts between the reactions to the deaths of Brown and Garner, there was one stunning consistency: Grand juries saw no evidence of wrongdoing by a white police officer who killed an unarmed black man. Bear in mind that a New York City medical examiner, citing “compression of his chest and prone position,” ruled Garner’s death a homicide. Still, a Staten Island grand jury found nothing to suggest that Pantaleo committed any criminal offense.

Some things haven’t changed at all.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, Visiting Professor, The University of Georgia, School of Journalism; The National Memo, December 6, 2014

December 7, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, Criminal Justice System, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Eric Garner Case’s Sickening Outcome”: When Being The Wrong Color Becomes A Capital Offense

I can’t breathe.

Those were Eric Garner’s last words, and today they apply to me. The decision by a Staten Island grand jury to not indict the police officer who killed him takes my breath away.

In the depressing reality series that should be called “No Country for Black Men,” this sick plot twist was shocking beyond belief. There should have been an indictment in the Ferguson case, in my view, but at least the events that led to Michael Brown’s killing were in dispute. Garner’s homicide was captured on video. We saw him being choked, heard him plead of his distress, watched as no attempt was made to revive him and his life slipped away.

This time, there were literally millions of eyewitnesses. Somebody tell me, just theoretically, how many does it take? Is there any number that would suffice? Or is this whole “equal justice before the law” thing just a cruel joke?

African American men are being taught a lesson about how this society values, or devalues, our lives. I’ve always said the notion that racism is a thing of the past was absurd — and that those who espoused the “post-racial” myth were either naive or disingenuous. Now, tragically, you see why.

Garner, 43, was an African American man. On July 17, he allegedly committed the heinous crime of selling individual cigarettes on the street. A group of New York City police officers approached and surrounded him. As seen in cellphone video footage recorded by an onlooker, Garner was puzzled that the officers seemed to be taking him into custody for such a piddling offense. He was a big man, but at no point did he strike out at the officers or show them disrespect.

But he wasn’t assuming a submissive posture as quickly as the cops wanted. Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold, compressing his windpipe — a maneuver that the New York Police Department banned two decades ago. Garner complained repeatedly that he was having trouble breathing. The officers wrestled him to the sidewalk, where he died. An emergency medical crew was summoned, but officers made no immediate attempt to resuscitate him.

The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. He suffered from asthma, and Pantaleo’s chokehold killed him.

The Staten Island prosecutor presented evidence against Pantaleo to a grand jury; the other officers involved in the incident were given immunity in exchange for their testimony. On Wednesday, it was announced that the grand jury had declined to indict Pantaleo on any charge.

This travesty — there’s no other word for it — came just nine days after a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for Brown’s death. Demonstrators took to the streets across Manhattan. What else was there to do but protest? Set aside the signs that say “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” Bring out the signs that say “I Can’t Breathe.”

There are two big issues here. One involves the excessive license we now give to police — permission, essentially, to do whatever they must to guarantee safe streets. The pendulum has clearly swung too far in the law-and-order direction, at the expense of liberty and justice.

As I wrote Tuesday, we are so inured to fatal shootings by police officers that we do not even make a serious effort to count them; the Brown case illustrated this numbness to the use of deadly force. Garner’s death is part of a different trend: The “broken windows” theory of policing, which holds that cracking down on minor, nuisance offenses — such as selling loose cigarettes — is key to reducing serious crime.

Police officers, whose brave work I honor and respect, are supposed to serve communities, not rule them.

The other big issue, inescapably, is race. The greatest injury of the Brown and Garner cases is that grand juries examined the evidence and decided there was no probable cause — a very low standard — to believe the officers did anything wrong. I find it impossible to believe this would be the result if the victims were white.

Garner didn’t even fit into the “young black male” category that defines this nation’s most feared and loathed citizens. He was an overweight, middle-age, asthmatic man. Now we’re told that the man who killed him did nothing wrong.

Eric Garner was engaged in an activity that warranted no more than a warning to move along. But I recognize that he also committed a capital offense: He was the wrong color.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 3, 2014

December 7, 2014 Posted by | Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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