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“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

“How Long Can This Go On?”: There’s No Such Crime As ‘Driving While White’

The shooting of Walter L. Scott in South Carolina prompts the question:

When is the last time you heard of a white man in a Mercedes-Benz being pulled over for driving with a broken taillight?

It has probably happened somewhere, sometime, but there’s a better chance of your car being hit by a meteor.

Getting shot dead during a minor traffic stop also isn’t a prevailing fear among white males in America, no matter what type of vehicle they own.

Scott himself didn’t imagine he was going to die when he was pulled over. Unfortunately, he happened to be a black man driving a Mercedes, which is what got him noticed. He was behind on child-support payments and probably didn’t want to go to jail.

Something happened at the scene, Scott got Tased and then tried to run away. Officer Michael Slager fired eight times, hitting the unarmed 50-year-old in the back. The killing was caught on cellphone video by a bystander.

Slager told the dispatcher that Scott had snatched his Taser, but the video shows the officer dropping an object that looks just like a Taser near Scott’s handcuffed body. Slager has been charged with murder and fired from his job.

The shooting was shocking to watch, as the whole world has, yet the sequence of events leading up to it is sadly familiar to black men in this country. They can’t afford to drive around as carefree as us white guys.

In September, a South Carolina state trooper shot and wounded another unarmed black motorist after pulling him over because he allegedly wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.

I’ve got white friends who rarely buckle up, yet I don’t know of one who has been ticketed for it, or even stopped and warned. Maybe they’re just lucky.

The black comedian Chris Rock uses his Twitter account to record his traffic-stop encounters. In a recent seven-week period, he was pulled over three times (once as a passenger).

It’s possible he and his friends aren’t very good drivers. It’s also possible they’ve been targeted merely for “Driving While Black,” an unwritten offense that still exists in many regions of the country, not just the Deep South — and not just in high-crime areas.

The odds would be fairly slim for a black man driving a luxury car not to be pulled over at least once on a road trip between, say, Utah and North Dakota. Even in a ’98 Taurus he’d need to be watching the rear-view mirror for blue lights.

Generalizing about traffic stops can be problematic. The numbers often spike in certain neighborhoods at certain times of day, and a small number of officers can account for many incidents of racial profiling.

Still, the evidence that it exists is more than anecdotal.

Using a “Police-Public Contact Survey,” the U.S. Justice Department analyzed traffic stops of drivers aged 16 or older nationwide during 2011, comparing by race and weighting by population.

To the astonishment of hardly anyone, black drivers were about 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, and approximately 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than Hispanic motorists.

A series published by the Washington Post in September reported that minority drivers had their cars searched (and cash seized) at a higher rate than white drivers. That jibed with the Justice Department’s conclusion that vehicle searches occurred substantially more often when the driver wasn’t white.

Another unsurprising fact: Compared to other races, white drivers were most likely to get pulled over for speeding. Black drivers were statistically more likely to be stopped for vehicle defects or record checks.

Which is what happened to Walter L. Scott in North Charleston.

Never in almost five decades of driving have I been pulled over for a busted brake light or a burned-out headlight, even though I’ve had a few.

It didn’t matter whether I was in a Dodge, Oldsmobile, Jeep, Ford, Chevy or even, for a while, a Mercedes SUV.

The only thing I’ve ever been stopped for is, like many impatient white people, driving too fast.

And every time a police officer walked up to my car, I knew exactly why he or she wanted to chat with me. It was no mystery whatsoever.

That’s not always the case for a black man behind the wheel of a car in this country. This is not just a perception; it’s a depressing reality.

If it had been me or Matt Lauer or even faux Hispanic Jeb Bush driving that Mercedes-Benz in South Carolina, Officer Slager wouldn’t have stopped the car. Not for a busted taillight, no way.

Which prompts another question: How long can this go on?

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 14, 2015

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Police Shootings, Police Violence, White Privilege | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It Might Be Fox-Proof But It’s Not Foolproof”: The Video Of The Walter Scott Killing Has Silenced Fox Critics

The video that Feidin Santana took of Michael Slager, a white North Charleston, South Carolina police officer, allegedly shooting and killing Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man, is Fox-proof.

The three-minute-plus video shut up the inevitable police apologists who’d always find a way to blame the black guy for his own death by saying he acted in a threatening manner. But now, even Fox News folks are saying it’s right and just that Slager has been charged with murder.

“This is not Ferguson,” Andrew Napolitano said on Fox & Friends on Wednesday. “In Ferguson, there was a bona fide fight over the officer’s gun and the officer won the fight. This is [sic] two disparate cases. This is a victim running away from the police, shot in the back. This is what some people said Ferguson was, but it turned out it wasn’t.”

Dr. Ben Carson, Fox’s favorite black GOP presidential candidate, called it “an execution.”

(UPDATE: You might think that the dash-cam video released last night showing the traffic stop and Scott running away would trigger a Fox instinct to reverse course and blame the victim. But, so far, that hasn’t happened. Sean Hannity said last night that Scott “was not a threat to anybody” and that it’s “irrelevant what happened leading up to” Slager shooting him. And this morning on Fox, conservative radio host Lars Larson said he still believes “the officer committed murder.”)

No, the Fox line seems to be that now that Slager is sitting in jail without bail, justice has been served, the system works. So let’s move on, folks. And, oh yeah, it’s not a race thing. Greg Gutfeld on Fox’s The Five claimed, as if channeling the “color-blind” Stephen Colbert, “I didn’t see a black man killed by a white cop. I saw a man shoot another man in the back.”

That’s funny, because the video is incredibly detailed and definitive. Arguably more definitive than the videos showing the death-by-chokehold of Eric Garner in New York, or the death of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy in Cleveland shot by police for playing with what turned out to be a toy gun, or the unprovoked shooting of an unarmed man, Levar Jones, by a South Carolina state trooper, or the brutal beating of Rodney King that set off the Los Angeles riots in 1991 after the officers were acquitted. They are all shocking videos, and they led to various degrees of punishment—or not—for the police involved. But the Walter Scott video is the most overwhelmingly convincing of them all.

While it’s always possible for video to be misleading or confusing, Santana’s isn’t. We don’t have to wonder what’s not in the picture.

First of all, it’s long. It’s true, the video doesn’t show the very beginning, when Slager stops Scott for a broken tail-light and Scott reportedly runs into a nearby grassy field. That’s where Slager used a taser on Scott and claims that the motorist tried to wrestle it from him; the officer told authorities he “feared for his life.”

It’s at that point that Feidin Santana, a young man walking his regular route to his job at a barbershop, began recording the incident on his cell phone. As Scott runs away from him, Slager is seen firing at Scott’s back eight times until he falls to the ground. After cuffing Scott, who is possibly dead at this point, Slager goes back to pick up what appears to be the stun gun and drops it near Scott’s body, as if to frame Scott as a very dangerous man. (The video also appears to show that none of the police who soon arrived administered any life-saving measures.)

Secondly, the video is shot in the middle distance—not so far that people look like blurry dots, nor so close or narrowly framed that vital information is missing. (The too-close classic: footage of people tearing down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad after the American invasion. They looked like a passionate, American-welcoming mob—until later footage zoomed out to reveal they were a small group of people who needed help from an American military vehicle to actually take the statue down.)

Santana’s video is choppy and shaky, surely because he was nervous, but also because he was moving with the action. “I witnessed it with my eyes and let the video do the recording,” he said in one of his several MSNBC and NBC interviews. Toward the end of the video, Santana still more bravely walks closer to the officer and Scott’s body. Widely called a hero, Santana said that early on he considered erasing the video because he feared for his life. But after reading the police report that made it seem that Scott was the aggressor, Santana gave the video to the Scott family.

The worst thing about the video is that it surfaced by pure chance. “A gift from god,” the Scott family lawyer, Chris Stewart, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid. “A person happened to be in the right spot at the right time to see this incident, and be quick enough to pull out that phone and record it. And not only that, that probably happens all the time. Right now somebody is probably filming an incident that if they stepped forward it would help that person, but they’re going to keep driving or keep walking or say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to get involved,’ or feel threatened or scared.”

Walter Scott’s younger brother, Anthony, put it best. “I hate that it had to be a video to prove to take it to this level. Because we have fallen brothers all the time, and they just fall for different reasons in different parts of the country, and they’re just not investigated or taken to this level. And I think it should be looked in deeper.” He’s hoping for justice, he said, but “I won’t be satisfied till I hear a guilty verdict.”

Indeed, this video might be Fox-proof but it’s not foolproof. Nor are the increasing number of body cams and dashboard cams used by police departments throughout the country. They can absolutely help—North Charleston has them on order, and if Slager had been using one, it’s reasonable to wager that Scott would still be alive.

Cameras, however, whether wielded by bystanders or police (or with the help of apps that film and upload to YouTube with one push of a button), don’t get to the root of police corruption and systemic racism.

But video is now a matter of life and death, crime and punishment, and all too often it’s the only way that white people and white media will believe what black people have to say.

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, April 10, 2015

April 14, 2015 Posted by | Fox News, Police Violence, Walter Scott | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is What White Supremacy Looks Like”: A Party At The Bundy Ranch, A Funeral In North Charleston

This weekend, the Bundy ranch in Nevada will host a reunion to celebrate owner Cliven Bundy’s continued lawlessness. Bundy became a hero of the far-right a year ago when his refusal to pay 20 years’ worth of federal grazing fees for his cattle—totalling $1.1 million—brought federal agents to collect, which Bundy and several hundred armed right-wing militia members repelled with a show of force. Fox News and other right-wing news outlets raced to the ranch to report on what Bundy supporters called the “Second American Revolution” and the “American Spring,” the moment when the rhetoric of “tyranny” and “totalitarianism” under President Obama would materialize into actual armed conflict against the loathsome federal government.

For anyone confused about whether a political movement which celebrates the Second Amendment and rallies around an iconography of war and rebellion is interested in actual combat against the “liberal” federal government, the Bundy affair answered any remaining questions: Yes, the prospect excites many far right-wing conservatives like nothing else. Fox News’ Sean Hannity was giddy in his initial introduction of Bundy as someone threatening a “range war” against the federal government. Fox News covered the ranch saga daily, with Bundy presented as a hero, and Hannity alone would feature Bundy on his show numerous times over the several weeks of the standoff, at times giving the rebel rancher a primetime microphone multiple times a week to rally right wingers to his cause.

Two extremists, Jerad and Amanda Miller, who traveled to Bundy’s ranch, only to be turned out, would go on to execute two Nevada police officers in June, draping the familiar Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag over the corpses and pinning a note to their government victims saying, “This is the start of the revolution.” Jerad and Amanda heard the call for a “range war” and took it upon themselves to be the vanguard of the Bundy rebellion.

In the end, the two officers were the only casualties and Bundy’s boys went home with not so much as a band-aid, as federal agents were backed down by a veritable army of militiamen. The government blinked, and Bundy was allowed to continue to flout a law he’d decided didn’t apply to him.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is white power.

And this is black vulnerability: In the intervening year since the Nevada showdown, much of America has become outraged by a series of cases of unarmed black men killed by police. The epidemic of police violence against black men has been ongoing for decades, of course, but a confluence of a new public attentiveness and video evidence in some cases has pushed the crisis into the mainstream discourse.

The latest case, the shocking murder of Walter Scott in North Charleston, SC, should be held up for comparison with the Bundy standoff. Before the video surfaced and contradicted his report, Scott’s killer, Officer Michael Slager, justified his use of deadly force by claiming that Scott gained control of Slager’s taser, thus making him a threat worthy of fatal elimination.

So the threat of a 50-year-old black man with a taser is so great that 8 shots into the back can be justified — but line up hundreds of white men on horseback and armed to the hilt with military-grade weapons, and agents of the government are powerless.

A single unarmed black man in Staten Island selling loosies is considered enough of a threat to be choked to death in broad daylight. Yet armed ex-military men protecting a criminal with high-powered rifles trained on federal agents are not enough of a threat to law and order to similarly merit the use of force.

Is that what we learn when we look at the cases? Does the specter of some imagined violent nature of black men exceed the fear stoked by white men with actual guns, actually pointed at state agents, fingers on triggers?

Or is it that the Bundy army was too much of a threat? The simmering anger on the American right since President Obama’s election has seethed just at the precipice of violence, and for Obama’s troops — as they would be viewed — to rightly fire on white people angry about taxes would have no doubt enraged extremists to a degree unseen since perhaps the 19th century. These weren’t the creepy cultists of the Waco standoff; Bundy was a hero headlining Fox News, the Drudge Report, and the other leading conservative news outlets. He would have been a martyr to Tea Partiers and the far right.

The militia and “Patriot” movements have seen “stunning growth” during the Obama years, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks violent extremism. Bloodshed at the Bundy ranch could have very well sparked violence elsewhere, just as the federal sieges at Ruby Ridge and Waco during the 1990s animated the nascent militia and Patriot movements.

What lesson then have we learned from Cliven Bundy? What lesson do we learn from Walter Scott? Or Eric Garner. Or Michael Brown? Sean Bell?Oscar Grant? Amadou Diallo? Ramarley Graham? Maybe the Huey P. Newton Gun Club in Texas has the right idea. Named after Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton, the group takes advantage of open carry laws in the Lone Star State to patrol their neighborhoods in squads of men and women armed with assault rifles, what Newton and the Panthers did in Oakland in 1966.

But while Panther-style armed resistance might protect some victims from police violence, it’s hard to imagine it remedying the underlying problem: white supremacy and the assumption of black men as almost supernaturally dangerous. That’s why Slager’s initial story about Walter Scott would have probably sufficed, were it not for the video; the perceived threat posed by black men is that great. And it’s why Bundy’s men were permitted to point sniper rifles at state officials and still not be considered a threat worthy of elimination.

Saturday will be a day of celebration in Nevada; the day brings a funeral to North Charleston.

 

By: Matthew Pulver, Salon, April 10, 2015

April 14, 2015 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Walter Scott, White Supremacy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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