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“A Shadow Justice System For Police Officers”: Freddie Gray’s Killer Cops Are Walking Away Unscathed

Officer Caesar Goodson, Jr. is a free man.

A year after 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s life came to an end after he fell into a coma while in the back of a Baltimore police van and the city erupted, Goodson, 46,  strode down the courthouse steps and into the next chapter of his life. That the 16-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department broke its policies in handling Gray is not in dispute. That Gray got into that van alive, only to be removed later with a devastating spinal injury, is a matter of fact.

Goodson was behind the wheel of the transport van and was accused of giving Gray what proved to be a fatal “rough ride.” Among the six police officers indicted by a grand jury, Goodson faced the heaviest charges, including second-degree depraved heart murder. Thursday, he became the second officer tried and acquitted of all charges in a bench trial before Circuit Judge Barry Williams.

If State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is trying to represent a new generation in criminal justice reform or even a new chapter for Baltimore law enforcement by bringing charges against the officers in the first place, the new book is reading a lot like the old one—with experts erring little chance of a conviction in the remaining trials given the verdicts so far.

Baltimore officials, including Mosby, had to know what few will admit out loud: Getting a conviction would be next to impossible, especially in a system so reticent to see young men like Gray as victims.

“I think that this is a reminder that there is a shadow justice system for police officers,” said social justice activist and former Baltimore mayoral candidate DeRay Mckesson. “This is a reminder that the work to make police officers accountable at the structure level must continue.”

In fact, there was never much chance that Goodson would ever have seen a day in prison, that a jury of twelve or a judge  would ever send him to the state penitentiary—not in a place like Baltimore nor almost any other place in America.

In all likelihood, those six police officers—five men and one woman—will walk away scot free. A third trial ended in a mistrial late last year.  Prosecutors say they expect to re-try Officer William Porter. But there is little hope that Porter or the three remaining cops (they’ve all opted for bench, rather than jury, trials) will be convicted of anything. In fact, with the Goodson verdict, those cases are in jeopardy and they may never come to trial.

The officers involved may well have done every single thing the public suspects: Intentionally placing an unsecured suspect in a metal-lined police van and then purposely finding every pothole and sharp turn along the way in an effort to send the shackled black man careening across the steel encasement. Then, according to prosecutors, they denied him immediate medical attention. Gray subsisted in a coma for a week until he died from his injuries.

Goodson reportedly had five separate chances to help Gray after his neck was broken and did nothing. His defense attorneys blamed the judgement of the other officers and even Gray himself, when it was Goodson who had the keys to the van.

Unfortunately, at least on some level, as a society we agree with the defense and think Gray deserved it. When they are black and poor, we are culturally prone to exact a moral examination of the victim.

Injustice is injustice no matter who it touches or who they were in the moments before. But we don’t believe that. He had to have done something wrong, right?

When all is said and done, a negotiated civil settlement—worth nearly $7 million—may be the only justice Freddie Gray’s family ever sees. The plain fact of the matter is that jurisdictions across the country—small and large—collectively pay millions to resolve police brutality cases. All the while, few officers are ever charged, tried, let alone convicted on criminal charges—even when the suspect dies, even when that suspect is unarmed.

Even when that suspect is helplessly shackled in the back of a recklessly driven police van.

The proliferation of video cameras has certainly meant more public inspection and, sure, a few more indictments. Prosecutors, who normally sail to re-election now face an additional layer of accountability. However, as the Eric Garner case demonstrates, video evidence can mean next to nothing in a grand jury room. Unfortunately, the same implicit bias that sometimes fuels the actions of officers also functions to protect them in the criminal justice system.

“The police understand how well they are protected from criminal liability,” Mckesson told The Daily Beast. “Clearly, Freddie Gray got into that van alive and left it with his spine severed and there are six people who contributed to that.”

For their part, Baltimore officials did not admit the officers were at fault. They didn’t have to. The money tells the story. However, if one listens closely, the criminal justice system is saying something else: This is all the justice we have.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, June 24, 2016

June 25, 2016 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Criminal Justice System, Freddie Gray | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Do We Humanize White Guys Who Kill People?”: We Live In A World Made For And Shaped Around White Men

On Friday, November 27, a 57-year-old white man named Robert Louis Dear allegedly injured nine people and killed three in a shooting spree at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Among those shot were four police officers, one of whom died. As several media outlets and many on social media noted, Dear was given the opportunity to surrender peacefully, just like convicted mass shooter James Holmes, and alleged Charleston mass shooter Dylann Roof, both of whom are white, and very much unlike the black men, many of them unarmed and not engaged in criminal activity, who nonetheless have been shot and killed by law enforcement in just the past couple of years: Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, John Crawford III, Freddie Gray, Rumain Brisbon, Walter Scott, Eric Harris …

By Monday, reporters had begun to gather information on Dear’s past, including allegations of assault, rape, animal cruelty, and being a peeping tom. A Washington Post story detailed at least eight episodes in which Dear “had disputes or physical altercations with neighbors or other residents.” Yet the headline of the Post story practically conveyed a kind of tenderness, with its description of Dear as “adrift and alienated.” An early version of a New York Times report went further, leading with a description of the shooter as “a gentle loner who occasionally unleashed violent acts toward neighbors and women he knew.” The Times, which has since produced some of the best and most thorough reporting on Dear, soon changed the careless wording of its initial story.

But what the earliest attitudes toward a man who allegedly sprayed bullets into 12 people — people who were parents, cops, friends, husbands, wives, Iraq War veterans — show us is the reflexive sympathy, interest, and dignity that we as a nation, our law enforcement and our media, are capable of extending even to those who commit monstrous acts.

Provided that those monstrous actors are white men.

It is, of course, correct and just that Colorado Springs officers made such efforts to take Robert Dear alive. It’s also perfectly humane to acknowledge that individuals are capable of containing troubling contradictions: that even criminally aggressive people may be lonely. But the notion that we might understand a person with the capacity for violence to also have the capacity for gentleness is downright laughable set against the contemporary backdrop of state violence committed against black men. An ability to consider Robert Louis Dear as a complex and compelling figure, one whose motivations might be worthy of our curiosity, highlights our lack of curiosity about, and certainly our lack of compassion for, all kinds of nonwhite, non-male figures who might themselves be adrift or alienated.

Robert Louis Dear’s alleged murder spree happened, after all, in the same week that protesters marched in response to the release of video that showed Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black teenager, walking down the middle of a Chicago street, at a slow pace and a solid distance from police, nevertheless getting shot to death by those cops. McDonald was spared so little sympathetic acknowledgment that, as is plain on the video, he lay dying without a single officer approaching him to offer help or comfort. His life, his nature, his very humanity was accorded so little value that it took over a year for his death, by 16 bullets, to be treated as a murder by authorities. Here is what I have read about Laquan McDonald: He had PCP in his system and was carrying a three-inch knife at the time of his killing.

It’s a stark contrast that plays out all around us, the horrifying product of a culture, of a media, and of social, economic, and political structures that teach us to value white men more than any other kind of human beings. White men are our norm; we are told practically from birth, via the books we’re read and the television we watch and the history we learn, that their existence stands in for human existence. White men’s contradictions, priorities, and personalities are sifted, sorted, nudged at, explored, described. They’re the figures that drive our fictions and our facts. We are shown regularly their strengths, their failings, their flaws, their complexities, the full range of their humanity. Other kinds of people may exist around them, as subsidiary characters, but the status of these others is secondary, their internal dimensions compressed and more swiftly caricatured.

To be sure, white men may be charged, tried and convicted; they may be regarded as brutish criminals. But they can be simultaneously understood as human beings, driven by conflicting emotions, able — even in their criminality — to have experienced loss and confusion and anger and love, emotions we do not imaginatively afford America’s poor and black, the men and women who often find their way into our news cycles simply by having the audacity to live in a world that was not built for and around them.

Think that’s an exaggeration? Recall earlier this summer, when Roof, the 21-year-old white man charged with killing nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, was arrested after fleeing the scene. Cops described him at the time of capture as “very quiet, very calm … not problematic.” Roof told the cops he was hungry, so they bought him lunch at Burger King.

Which, I hasten to add, is the humane and correct way to treat a prisoner. But it’s not the way most people who have run-ins with law enforcement are treated.

In the same month that Roof quietly ate his Burger King after killing nine people, 15-year-old Dajerria Becton attended a Texas pool party and got into a fight after some white kids reportedly told a black girl to “go back … to Section 8” housing. When white cop Eric Casebolt arrived on the scene, he slammed Becton to the pavement, grabbing her violently by her braids. Later reports helped us understand that Casebolt had been particularly stressed that day, having already attended to two suicide calls. But Becton, the black teenager, was described by Fox News host Megyn Kelly as “no saint,” for having not obeyed the officer. There was little curiosity about Becton’s experience of having been held roughly by her hair while wearing only a bathing suit, just the pressing question about white-male psychology: What could this one-dimensional black girl have done to make the multidimensional white man react in the way that he did?

It goes on and on: After 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, the New York Times famously asserted that the teenager was “no angel.” After 25-year-old black man Freddie Gray died from spinal injuries after having been arrested, dragged roughly into a van, and driven around the city without a seatbelt by Baltimore police, CNN described him, stunningly, as “the son of an illiterate heroin addict” and “a symbol of the black community’s distrust of the police.” Curiosity about this man extended only to his relationship to things Americans recognize as deviant — illiteracy and addiction — and to his usefulness as a symbol, not as a full human being whose life was lost and mourned by family or friends. When 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead by cops while playing with a toy gun, he and his family were regarded as so far from discernibly human that when his 14-year-old sister ran to help him as he bled, cops forced her to the ground, cuffed her, and placed her in a police car.

And these are not, of course, unusual examples. In a 2014 study that has now been cited often, researchers found that police officers were more likely to dehumanize black boys and men, to see them as older and more dangerous than they are, and to confer on white young men a presumption of innocence. These dynamics persist well beyond instances of violence, as we struggle to find the humanity in some kinds of people, while easily dismissing others.

We learned an awful lot about the childhood of white Colorado-movie-theater shooter James Holmes, in part because he was arrested and brought to trial. During that trial, we learned that Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured 70 during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises, called his mother “Goober” and his father “Bobbo” as a child. One (very compelling) Los Angeles Times story about Holmes’s devastated parents evoked their horror at watching the trial of “their awkward little boy turned murderous man.”

This kind of reporting is not bad; it is crucial that we explore the psychological development of human beings who turn violent, as well as those who are felled by and affected by violence. The urge to tell their stories, to try to make sense of their paths is natural.

What’s wrong is our failure to give equal time, energy, emotional and narrative consideration to the experiences of those figures who are not white and male. Why might Dajerria Becton not have listened to the cop? What had her morning been like? Besides being the son of an illiterate heroin addict, who was Freddie Gray? A CNN story attempting to answer that question made sure to note his long rap sheet before getting to a few confirming details about a brother lost to street violence and the lead poisoning he and his siblings suffered as children. It did not address the possibilities that Gray might have felt alienated, adrift, that he might have been gentle, stressed, or hungry.

Race, in combination with class, is especially powerful at removing certain kinds of people from the scope of our empathy and interest, but gender can perform the same trick. Recall the time that the New York Times covered the gang rape of an 11-year-old Texas girl by a group of teenaged boys, and reflected the wonder of residents at how “their young men [could] have been drawn into such an act,” also taking care to quote some neighbors fretting about how the accused boys would “have to live with this for the rest of their lives.” The 11-year-old girl was depicted as having invited these young men to go astray: She wore makeup and dressed older than her age. “Where was her mother?” some local residents wondered about another subsidiary female, whose indirect actions surely also got these boys into trouble.

In the abortion debate, too, women are simply not central to some American estimations of humanity, so much so that feminists have long posed the rhetorical question: Are Women Human? Take Marco Rubio speaking about how “you’ll recognize [a fetus] as a human being” at five months gestation, while not recognizing women who have been raped or experienced incest as human enough to be allowed to access abortion services. At least he hasn’t gone as far as some of his Republican colleagues, who have shown little shame in recent years about comparing women to cows, pigs, and chickens or to caterpillars.

It’s not that white men themselves are always the ones placing higher value on the white-male experience. It’s that all of us — women and people of color and every sort of non-white-male variant — work and read and think and talk within a system that measures worth on a white-male scale. This is how, as of this summer, more than a third of 2015’s top-grossing films had not managed to pass the Bechdel test, which means that they did not include more than two female characters with names, talking to each other about something other than men. It’s actually a pretty low bar for acknowledging humanity in female characters, and more than a third of this year’s hit movies did not clear it.

This is what writer Claire Vaye Watkins was getting at in her recent, widely read essay in the literary magazine Tin House. In it, she writes about writer and Rumpus editor Stephen Elliott, whom she hosted when she was an MFA student. She describes her horror at discovering that after his visit, Elliott had publicly described one of her male peers by his full name, acknowledging his writing, his forthcoming book, his teaching career, and his children, all while referring to Watkins — also a writer, with an agent and book in the works — only by her first name, as a student with “a big, comfortable bed” who had turned down his advances.

As Watkins notes in her essay, “professional sexism via artistic infantalization is a bummer … distinct and apart from those violent expressions of misogyny widely agreed upon as horrific: domestic violence, sex slavery, rape.” But, she went on, “sexist negation, a refusal to acknowledge a female writer as a writer, as a peer, as a person, is of a piece with sexual entitlement … more than of a piece, it is practically a prerequisite … You cannot beat the mother of your children, or rape your childhood friend while she’s unconscious, or walk up to a sorority outside Santa Barbara and start shooting without first convincing yourself and allowing our culture to convince you that those women are less than human.”

This point, made so sharply by Watkins, is a serious argument for why — even in this season of gibbering about over-the-top political correctness — we must acknowledge the real costs of small injuries perpetrated by institutions and pop culture, simply by continuing to put white men at life’s fulcrum. This is why even the stuff that feels worlds away from police violence and abortion-clinic shootings matters. It’s why it matters when a white male actor talks over a successful black female filmmaker, explaining diversity to her. It’s why it matters when a newspaper prints an obituary of a pioneering female rocket scientist that kicks off with the fact that she made a “mean beef stroganoff,” followed her husband, and was a great mom to her son, all before mentioning that she had also “invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.”

It matters because it shows us all the ways in which we live in a world made for and shaped around white men. And in aggregate, when the statues are of white men, the buildings and cities and bridges and schools are named after white men, the companies are run by white men and the movie stars are white men and the television shows are about white men and the celebrated authors are white men, the only humanity that is presented as comprehensible — the kind that succeeds and fails, that comprises strength and weakness, that feels love and anger and alienation and fear, that embodies nuance and contradiction, that can be heroic and villainous, abusive and gentle — is the humanity of white men. The repercussions of this kind of thinking? Well, maybe they explain some of what we see on the evening news.

 

By: Rebecca Traister, New York Magazine, December 2, 2015

December 10, 2015 Posted by | Black Men, Law Enforcement, Police Shootings, White Men | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Every Candidate Should Have A Plan”: Structural Racism Needs To Be A Presidential Campaign Issue

This year, as with every other year, nearly every presidential candidate is white, with the only exceptions being long shots in the mushrooming Republican field. Most candidates are making at least rhetorical efforts to present themselves as allies in the increasingly amplified struggle for black liberation. Hillary Clinton has spoken forcefully of a universal voter registration plan, and her husband told the NAACP this week that the 1994 crime law he signed in his first term as president “made the problem worse,” jailing too many for too long. Rand Paul, an advocate of prison sentencing reform, has embraced Martin Luther King, Jr.’s frame of “two Americas.” Last month, Ben Carson, the only black candidate, published an op-ed after the Charleston church murders, writing, “Not everything is about race in this country. But when it is about race, then it just is.” On July 2, Rick Perry made a speech that is as close to an apology to black voters for ignoring them as a Republican may deliver this entire election season.

Republicans aren’t stopping there. They announced a “Committed to Community” initiative earlier this week, a partnership with black broadcasting giant Radio One to make a direct appeal to African American voters, who turned out at a higher percentage than white voters in 2012. They may very well be doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, but you’ll forgive me if I have my doubts that they suddenly realize, after generations of the “Southern Strategy,” that black voters matter.

I suspect it isn’t the party’s sudden rediscovery of a conscience that’s behind this. I think it’s this past year. Friday marks one year since NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner on a Staten Island sidewalk. The death of the 43-year-old father of six from a supposedly prohibited chokehold was captured on oft-played video, and his pleading— “I can’t breathe!” over and over, until he suffocated—became a mantra that energized a movement. #BlackLivesMatter dates back to the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012, but Garner’s death last July began a year in which Americans unaware of how fragile and frightening living a black life can be could no longer ignore reality. And it set a template for how we would come to digest all of the violence and injustices done in silent service of structural racism, which continues to survive as the deaths mount.

Sandra Bland took a road trip to Texas last week to take a job, and instead became a hashtag. It happened over the course of a weekend. This is a process we’re terribly familiar with: A black person finds her or himself in an encounter with police that proves injurious, harassing, or, all too often, fatal—and if we’re lucky, someone has a camera on it. It has become formulaic.

A bystander took video of the 28-year-old Chicago native’s Friday arrest for allegedly not signaling before making a lane change. Bland, who reportedly had just landed a new job as a college outreach officer at her alma mater, is heard questioning their rough treatment, which went unreported by the arresting officers. “You just slammed my head into the ground,” she tells an officer. “Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear!”

Police found Bland dead in her jail cell on Monday morning, allegedly suffocated by a garbage bag. There are a lot of practical reasons to question the law enforcement narrative on this, but a year of seeing what we’ve seen is more than enough to make anyone suspicious not only of what the cops say, but about whether any of them will ever suffer any consequences for it.

We’ve become familiar with this pattern because abuse and death resonates, first across social media and then ricocheting through traditional media with an urgency that can feel discombobulating to those unaccustomed to seeing black lives mattering to people who aren’t living them. Increased media attention means people remember names. Before they would have forgotten them or not even bothered to learn. Justice is sought where shoulders once simply shrugged. Media organizations like the Guardian and the Washington Post count those killed by police, doing the job a government should.

We haven’t gotten the candidate statements on Bland’s case yet, but they’ll come. The remarks will be taciturn and consoling, and will call vaguely for change. But we need to demand more from each and every presidential candidate, and they will need to offer more than rhetoric. The violence has not slowed. The inequity has not lessened. It’s just lain bare with each new death, with every numbing video. We’ll never end racism and racial discrimination. But we can make policies to end the ways racism infects the very structure of American life. Those policies need to be on the platform of every presidential candidate.

If you look at a typical presidential campaign site under a heading like “Issues,” you’ll see that there isn’t a bullet point that lists a candidate’s plans to attack the complicated issue of structural racism with specific steps. This should change. And in this, candidates can take a lesson from President Obama.

His administration, even as it nears its end, recently offered an example of how a politician can chalk up wins against structural racism. Two weeks ago, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced that previously unenforced Fair Housing Act rules would now become requirements. As the Los Angeles Times reported, HUD will now require towns and cities to study patterns of segregation and how they are linked to access to jobs, high-quality schools, and public transportation—then submit specific goals for improving fair access to these resources. This is a policy, not a speech.

It is not an empty appeal to voters. It is not telling them, as Perry did, that the poor, brutalized, and marginalized amongst us are that way because they had faulty political leadership. That is avoidance, perpetrated by people who would have us mistake political courage for actual courage.

Structural racism needs to be a campaign issue. It needs to be something every 2016 candidate is asked about on the trail, in debates, in town halls, and hell, even at the local ice cream shop. Even if they can’t offer firm plans this summer, someone running to be the de facto leader of her or his party should at lease seize the opportunity to shape the Democratic or Republican agenda on this issue.

If ending structural racism is a priority for either party, there is no need to dance around the issue. Because right now, the most a lot of families can hope for their loved ones is that they manage to navigate a country that clearly doesn’t care much for their bodies or their lives. If they can’t, the only kind of justice they’ll see is financial. (On Monday, Garner’s family reached a settlement with New York City for $5.9 million.)

A year after Eric Garner’s death and mere days after Sandra Bland’s, our presidential candidates cannot deny America’s racial realities. If you’re running for president, you can no longer plead ignorance. You’ll have to confront it.

 

By: Jamil Smith, Senior Editor, The New Republic, July 17, 2015

July 19, 2015 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Election 2016, Racism | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Without A True Count, There’s Even Less Accountability”: How Many People Are Killed By Police? We’re Only Beginning To Find Out

Amazingly, although people are killed by police virtually every day in the United States, there is no government agency, no bureaucracy, and no database that counts them all. Nor is there any national prayer wall or shrine where images of the dead and their stories are collected in an effort to portray them as individuals.

Last week, almost simultaneously, The Washington Post and The Guardian US unveiled large-scale journalistic projects that tried to supply a comprehensive, independent accounting of citizens killed by police since the beginning of this year. Same story, similar journalistic standards. So far, The Guardian story, with its interactive database linking to photos and stories of the dead, has come closest to filling the shameful gap.

In what Lee Glendinning, the new editor of The Guardian US, called “the most comprehensive public accounting of deadly force in the US,” the site launched “The Counted,” an interactive database of those killed by police since January 1 that includes the names, locations, background, race, means of death—along with, when possible, photos and stories of the dead.

Combining traditional reporting and “verified crowd sourcing,” Glendinning said the idea was to “build on the work on databases already out there,” most of which, she said, “are largely numbers and statistics. We wanted to build on these by telling the stories of these people’s lives, over a whole year, every day, and update them every day.”

Most Americans probably assume that some agency keeps track of the people who have been killed by police, but no such authoritative clearinghouse exists. There are partial counts by various bureaucracies, as well as by organizations like KilledByPolice.net and FatalEncounters.org, but none are complete.

“You could tell me how many people, the absolute number, bought a book on Amazon,” FBI director James Comey himself complained in a speech last month. “It’s ridiculous, I can’t tell you how many people were shot by police in this country last week, last year, the last decade.”

Some of the difficulties in keeping count are due to the reluctance of local police departments to file reports when they kill someone. But, as Tom McCarthy wrote at The Guardian, “The structural and technical challenges to compiling uniform data from the 18,000-plus local law enforcement agencies in the US far exceeds the reporting problem, in some cases.”

Without a true count, there is even less accountability. “A counting is a prerequisite,” Glendinning said, for any kind of “informed public debate about the severity of the problem.”

The Guardian didn’t attempt to determine whether the deaths were justified or unjustified. But they did find some disturbing trends and alarming sloppiness:

  • In the first five months of 2015, 464 people were killed by law enforcement—that’s twice as many as calculated by the US government’s official public records. (The FBI “counted 461 ‘justifiable homicides’ by law enforcement in all of 2013, the latest year for which official data is available.”)
  • Of those 464 killed, 102 people were unarmed.
  • Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people: “32% of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25% of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15% of white people killed.”
  • Fourteen of the fatalities occurred while the victim was in custody, including the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
  • The analysis revealed five people killed by police whose names have not been publicly released before.

A day before the Guardian story broke, The Washington Post came out with similar trends and numbers based on its own in-depth investigation of police-caused fatalities. (“We knew they were working on something, and they knew we were,” Glendinning said, but she believes the timing is coincidence.) One big difference between the two projects is that the Post limits its data to death by police shootings, which, it found, have amounted to 385 so far this year. The Guardian’s 464 police-caused deaths in the same period, however, also include those by Taser (27), vehicle, and other means. Hence, Eric Garner’s death while the NYPD held him in a chokehold wouldn’t be included in the Post tally. (Mother Jones compares some of the two publications’ findings here.)

It was probably the one-two punch of the Post and Guardian investigations that led to an uncharacteristically quick political response. Within 48 hours after the pieces appeared, senators Cory Booker and Barbara Boxer proposed a plan to “force all American law enforcement agencies to report killings by their officers” to the Department of Justice.

Another difference between the two projects is that, while both will collect data through the end of the year, the Post’s database—and any photos, stories and interactive bells and whistles that might accompany it—won’t go public, it said, until “a future date.”

And so in terms of emotional impact, The Guardian has the jump. In fact, “The Counted” reminds me of the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times project, “Portraits of Grief,” which ran more than 1,800 capsule biographies, with photos when possible, of those killed on 9/11. “Portraits” was a daily feature, filling one full page, sometimes two, and ran through New Year’s Eve 2001. Like today’s police killings projects, “Portraits” began, the Times wrote, “as an imperfect answer to a journalistic problem, the absence of a definitive list of the dead…”

The portraits, now archived online, were based on a phalanx of reporters’ interviews with families and friends of the dead, and gave more personal snapshots (like “Taking Care of Mozard: Maria Isabel Ramirez”) than either the Post or Guardian have the resources to muster today.

The Guardian stories are presented almost Facebook-style in a photo mosaic of faces. You could find yourself, as I did, clicking on faces to see whether they fit or explode the stereotypes you might have of someone who would be killed by the cops, all the time overwhelmed at the scale of the problem.

Beyond the database, The Guardian is running almost-daily features on how police violence affects various communities, including deaths of the mentally ill, women, Latinos, and the elderly (“about six elderly people a month,” it finds).

By the way, that figure of 464 people killed by police in the first five months of 2015 has climbed, as of today, to 489.

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, June 8, 2015

June 14, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Shootings, Police Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Hideous Indifference To Lives Wrongly Taken”: Cops Who Let Their Unarmed Victims Die Should Be Punished, Too

The police killing of Eric Courtney Harris, who was shot to death in Tulsa by a 73-year-old “reserve deputy” who had meant to tase him, raises several baffling questions. Why was Robert Bates, an elderly insurance executive who served one year as a police officer back in the 1960s, involved in a dangerous sting operation? Why are amateurs apparently allowed to buy their way into the Tulsa force? Why was this pseudo-deputy allowed to carry a gun? And how could he confuse it with a Taser?

To be sure, these questions require answers. But the video of the killing, which was recorded by an officer’s body camera, raises an equally important question that applies to a number of high-profile police killings of late: Why didn’t the cops help Harris after he was shot?

In the video, Harris is shown talking to police about the gun sale they’ve arranged. When he realizes that he’s being ambushed, Harris runs, and from the officer’s body-cam we see him taken to the ground. Bates announces he is going to tase Harris. We hear a gunshot, and then Bates, realizing that he has just executed an unarmed man, apologizes: “Oh, I shot him. I’m sorry.”

Harris is incredulous. “He shot me!” he says. “Oh my God!” But the officers, instead of suddenly springing into action to help the dying man, begin to swear at him. “You fucking ran!” shouts a cop. “Shut the fuck up!” Harris moans that he is losing his breath, to which an officer replies: “Fuck your breath.”

“Fuck your breath” is a telling reply to the “I Can’t Breathe” slogan adopted in the wake of Eric Garner’s chokehold killing by a New York cop. It reflects a hideous indifference to lives wrongly taken, and it’s not just a lone officer in Tulsa: after the Garner protests, NYPD officers counter-protested with “I can breathe” hoodies.

That indifference is reflected not just in their words, but their actions. In several recent videos of police killings, officers fail to provide medical attention to the victims they’ve wounded. Instead of switching from crime-stoppers to caregivers the moment a suspect is injured and harmless, as any compassionate human being would do, officers often either berate the suspect or stand idly by as the victim dies.

After Cleveland police officers shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, they spent their time handcuffing his terrified sister. (This type of neglect is apparently not uncommon for Cleveland police; they have been the subject of dozens of civilian complaints for instances in which they made injuries worse or refused to let the injured go to hospitals.) The Garner video drags on for minutes after his final “I can’t breathe,” the officers standing around while Garner lies motionless on the ground. And Michael Slager, the South Carolina officer who shot Walter Scott in the back, handcuffs the dying man instead of trying to help him.

There may be a temptation to blame these incidents on rogue or incompetent police officers. After Slager was charged with murder, the North Charleston police union said it wouldn’t tolerate officers who “tarnish the badge,” and Mayor Keith Summey said, “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. And if you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”

But the more of these videos that emerge, the less believable the rogue theory becomes. After all, consider the behavior of the actual cops surrounding Robert Bates, the Tulsa reserve deputy, after his fatal mistake. He’s facing a manslaughter charge, and surely he deserves to be punished. What his colleagues did, though, was far more cold and intentional. Those who shoot the unarmed may be negligent killers or murderers, but those who stand idly by while the victims die might as well be accessories after the fact.

 

By: Nathan J. Robinson, a PhD Student in Social Policy & Sociology at Harvard University: The New Republic, April 15, 2015

April 17, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Shootings, Police Violence | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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