How can anyone ever explain this to Mason?
He’s only 4 months old, so that moment still lies years in the future. Still, at some point, too soon, he will ask the inevitable questions, and someone will have to tell him how his dad was shot to death for being a police officer in Baton Rouge.
Montrell Jackson was not the only cop killed Sunday, nor the only one who left a child behind. Officer Matthew Gerald and Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafolo also had kids. And it’s likely that in killing five police officers earlier this month, a sniper in Dallas robbed multiple children of their fathers, too.
So there are a lot of people having painful discussions with a lot of kids just now. But Mason’s father was the only one of these eight dead cops with the maddening and paradoxical distinction of being an African-American man killed in protest of police violence against African-American people. He left a Facebook post that gave a glimpse into how frustrating it was, living on both sides of that line — being both black and a cop and therefore, doubly distrusted.
“I swear to God,” he wrote, “I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.”
“Please,” he pleaded, “don’t let hate infect your heart.”
Nine days later, he was dead.
Counting two New York City policemen murdered in 2014, this makes at least 10 cops randomly killed in the last two years by people ostensibly fighting police brutality. But those madmen could hardly be bigger traitors to that cause.
One is reminded of something Martin Luther King said the night before his assassination, when he explained “the problem with a little violence.” Namely, it changes the discussion, makes itself the focus. King had been protesting on behalf of striking sanitation workers in Memphis when unruly young people turned his march into a riot. “Now … we’ve got to march again,” he said, “in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be.”
These cop killers leave us a similar dilemma. Instead of discussing the violence of police, we are now required to discuss violence against police and to say the obvious: These killers serve no cause, nor does any cause justify what they did. They are just punk cowards with guns who have changed the subject, thereby giving aid and comfort to those who’d rather not confront the issue in the first place.
But if we don’t, then what? One often hears men like Rudy Giuliani and Bill O’Reilly express contempt for the Black Lives Matter movement of protest and civil disobedience; one is less likely to hear either of them specify what other means of protest they would suggest for people whose concerns about racially biased and extralegal policing have been otherwise ignored for decades by government and media. If not Black Lives Matter, then what? Patient silence? Acceptance of the status quo?
That isn’t going to happen, and the sooner the nation understands this, the sooner it moves forward. Sadly, that move, whenever it comes, will be too late for Mason and dozens of others left newly fatherless, sonless, brotherless, husbandless and bereft. Still, we have to move. The alternative is to remain stuck in this place of incoherence, fear, racial resentment … and rage. Always rage.
But rage doesn’t think, rage doesn’t love, rage doesn’t build, rage doesn’t care. Rage only rends and destroys.
We have to be better than that. We have no choice but to be better than that. We owe it to Mason to be better than that. He deserves a country better than this mad one in which his father died, and life is poured out like water.
Jocelyn Jackson, Montrell’s sister, put it best in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s getting to the point where no lives matter,” she said.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 21, 2016
“Bill Cosby, Tamir Rice, And The Power Of Prosecutors”: The Discretion Of A Single Unaccountable Prosecutor
What do Bill Cosby and Tamir Rice’s have in common? Their cases reveal the immense power of prosecutors.
Consider the fact that in 2005, Andrea Constand told police that Bill Cosby gave her drugs and sexually assaulted her. Why wasn’t he charged? The prosecutor didn’t think there was enough evidence.
Ten years later, Cosby is charged. Why? Partly because of new bits of evidence—Cosby’s admission that he sometimes gave women drugs in order to have sex with them, and at least 50 other accusations against him. But mostly, because now there’s a different prosecutor, Kevin Steele.
These are judgment calls, in 2005 and 2015.
Now consider the cases of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. None of the police officers responsible for their deaths were ever charged—not convicted—charged. In all three cases, prosecutors practically told grand juries not to indict.
In Ferguson, Robert McCulloch decided to simply present all the evidence to the grand jury, rather than make a case against Officer Darren Wilson. In Staten Island, Darren Donovan, a Republican with extensive ties to the police department, failed to secure an indictment against Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death. And most recently, in Cleveland, Tim McGinty stated openly that he didn’t believe anyone should be charged in the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
Set aside, for the moment, the facts of these cases. What’s striking in all of them is that county prosecutors and district attorneys, singlehandedly and without oversight, decide the fates of the accused. More judgment calls, unreviewed and unreviewable.
True, there is some oversight: most of these prosecutors are elected. If voters don’t like how they’re doing (or not doing) their jobs, they can vote them out of office. Indeed, in the case of Bill Cosby, then-D.A. Bruce Castor’s decision not to indict in 2005 became an issue in his election battle with Kevin Steele this year.
But is this really “oversight”? As The Daily Beast reported last September, voters often know next to nothing about the candidates running for positions as prosecutors or judges. Turnout is extremely low, especially in off years. And when voters are paying attention, they are bamboozled by the only campaign message that seems to work: “tough on crime.”
This year, for example, Steele ran on his “98 percent conviction rate” and “tough sentences for sexual predators.”
That’s what people want, right? They see prosecutors as agents of the criminal justice system, and everyone wants less crime.
This leads to two perverse incentives for prosecutors. First, they have an incentive to over-charge criminal defendants and secure convictions more than justice. Second, they have an incentive not to charge police officers, who after all are fighting crime every day, and with whom they work closely on a daily basis.
In principle, if Officers Pantaleo, Wilson, and Loehmann violated the law, then they are criminals. But in practice, they are policemen, and perceived as the opposite of criminals. Voters who want to get tough on crime do not want to get tough on cops.
So not only is there no meaningful oversight of prosecutors, but the oversight that does exist is skewed to specific outcomes and behaviors, not impartiality and performance.
Now back to Cosby. If you pay close attention to what Steele said this week, you’ll notice that he went out of his way to mention the new evidence that has come to light in the last twelve months. “A prosecutor’s job is to follow the evidence wherever it leads and whenever it comes to light,” he said, announcing the arrest.
In part, this was to explain the nearly twelve-year gap between the crime and the charge. But in large part, it was to explain why Cosby is being charged in 2015, but wasn’t in 2005.
And what is that new evidence? Only what is known as “habit evidence”: that Cosby admitted to drugging and having sex with other women. But not Constand—however ludicrous it may seem, Cosby’s position is that she consented.
Is habit evidence really enough to reopen a closed case and file charges? Again, that’s another judgment call. Like Judge Robreno’s decision to unseal the damning deposition records, Steele’s decision was basically up to him.
Of course, Steele chose to make it an election issue as well. He’d look foolish if, having just accused Bruce Castor of doing nothing, he did nothing too. But again, that was Steele’s decision. Just as prosecuting “America’s Dad” in 2005 might have made Castor look bad, prosecuting America’s Rapist in 2015 makes Steele look good.
We imagine that district attorneys and other prosecutors are motivated by truth, justice, and the American way. But in fact, they are elected officials who paint in broad strokes for a mostly-ignorant public; who, unlike judges, cannot be held accountable for their misconduct by oversight boards; and who exercise discretion so broad that the disposition of justice often lies entirely within their judgment.
Finally, of course, Tamir Rice and Bill Cosby have more in common than under-zealous prosecutors: both African American males, one quite young and one quite old, operating in a system in which 95 percent of prosecutors are white and local police forces are 88 percent white.
For decades, Cosby was protected by his wealth, celebrity, class, and connections, particularly at Temple University. But he is the exception, not the rule. Black men comprise 6 percent of the U.S. population, but 35 percent of the prison population. They receive sentences roughly 10 percent more severe than white defendants convicted of identical crimes. And when they are perceived to be older than they are, bigger than they are, more dangerous than they are, or more violent than they are, their 88 percent-white police officers and 95 percent-white-prosecutors exercise “discretion” in remarkably similar ways.
The United States is the only country in the world that elects prosecutors based on sloganeering and then holds them to no standard other than majority whim. After nearly 12 years, Bill Cosby has indeed been charged with a crime. But only because a prosecutor decided to do so—this time.
By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, January 1, 2016
What can I do?
Not quite six months ago, a reader named Tracy posed that question to me and I, in turn, posed it to you. Tracy, a 55-year-old white woman from Austin, said she was sick of hearing about unarmed African-American men being injured or killed by police. “What can be done?” she asked. “What can I do? I’m sincere in this question. I want to DO something. What can that be?”
Well, Bob has some ideas. In an email, he describes himself as a “retired professional firefighter from a metropolitan area” whose 20 years as a paramedic often required him to work closely with police.
“I witnessed many cases of police brutality,” he writes. “A stressed patient or family member would call 911 for medical assistance. We would respond as well as the PD. A situation that required a calm and caring presence and an ambulance ride to a care center or psych ward would end up in a physical altercation with mace and cuffs.”
Bob says he and his partner would talk about what they had seen on the way back to the station, “but knew better than to alert our superiors or file complaints because we did not dare open a rift with the local PD. We (and paramedics on other shifts) needed PD backup on potentially dangerous calls. So we all kept quiet.”
Based on that experience, Bob has two suggestions. One is that we should push for more thorough screening of police applicants. “We need cops to DEFUSE situations,” he writes, “not escalate. We need cops with people skills. No more bullies. Very intense psych examinations should be part of police applicant training.”
Bob’s other suggestion? Require that non-sworn civilians be part of any investigation of police brutality. Just as you would never assign a 7-year-old to solve the mystery of the broken cookie jar, he thinks it makes little sense to ask police to investigate their own.
“Do we really think cops will give an unbiased and honest effort when investigating other cops? NO! It is always the same old game. Make the investigation last for months until it is back-page news. Discount or do not document damaging statements. Intimidate convincing witnesses. Conveniently forget to note damaging facts. When all else fails, lie or plant evidence to close cases.”
From where I sit, both of Bob’s suggestions have merit, but as we approach the first anniversary of the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice with no one yet held accountable, his second carries particular resonance. Even granting the need for thoroughness, it strains credulity to believe it takes the better part of a year — and counting — to decide whether to prosecute Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, especially given the surveillance video that shows Loehmann shooting the boy, who had been holding a realistic-looking toy gun, within two seconds after the patrol car skids to a stop in front of him.
Would the decision on prosecution proceed at such a leisurely pace had it been Loehmann who was shot? Would the prosecutor be agonizing like Hamlet almost a year later?
You know the answer as well as I do.
The impulse to cut cops some slack — “Hey, he was only doing his job” — is understandable. It is also wrong and, more to the point, shortsighted.
One of the most important weapons in a cop’s arsenal is his authority. But authority presupposes legitimacy and trust. How much of either can a police officer — or a police force or the institution of policing itself — command when they operate under such a blatantly different set of rules? A requirement that outside eyes be involved in investigations of serious allegations of police misconduct would go a long way toward rectifying that.
At the very least, it’s a conversation we are long overdue to have.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 5, 2015
Are the increases in murders in major cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York City indicative of a broader trend in American cities? That’s the conclusion encouraged by a front-page New York Times article, Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities. It’s a scary story, conjuring images of the high-crime 1990s and fueling speculation about an ostensible “Ferguson Effect” — the unsubstantiated notion that, as The Times put it, “less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals.” This is badly misleading and, at a time when criminal justice reform is making notable bipartisan advances, it’s also dangerous.
Of course, The Times isn’t an academic journal, and its story wasn’t meant to be a rigorous analysis of a big database; it was a glimpse into a current conversation with some new numbers. Still, it’s worth taking a closer look at those numbers.
My own analysis of publically available homicide statistics for a broader selection of cities yields conclusions that are rather different from those stated or implied in the Times article. The differences are related to how cities were selected and the way the data were interpreted.
It is not clear how the cities examined by the Times were chosen. The article included ten cities with populations ranging from over 8 million (New York) to just over 317,000 (St. Louis). But there are 60 U.S. cities with estimated 2014 populations in that range. The Times included only four of the 20 most populous U.S. cities. The authors do not explain how those cities were chosen, leaving readers to assume that the findings presented are representative of a broader increase in homicides across U.S. cities. That does not appear to be the case.
In just a few hours, I was able to locate publically available data to support similar analyses for 16 of the 20 most populous cities, and the results, summarized below, suggest a much less pervasive increase than one might infer from the Times analysis.
Interpretation of Statistics
First, not all of the increases cited by the Times are statistically reliable; that is, some of them are small increases, or are based on small numbers of cases, such that the observed increases could have occurred by chance alone. Among the 16 top-20 cities for which I found publically available data, only three experienced statistically reliable increases. Only one of the top-20 cities included in the Times’ sample, Chicago, experienced an increase that was statistically significant. Five of the smaller cities included by the Times did experience statistically reliable increases, but what of the other 35 cities with populations in that range?
Even where a statistically reliable increase has been experienced, a single year-to-year increase does not necessarily imply a meaningful trend. Often, such changes fall within the range of normal year-to-year fluctuations. For example, I was able to obtain historical data on year-to-year changes in homicide counts for Chicago, the only top-20 city in the Times analysis that had a statistically significant increase from 2014 to 2015. From 2009 to 2010, homicides increased 5.1 percent. The next year, however, there was a 13.1 percent decrease. The year after that, a 28.5 percent increase, and then decreases of 16.4 and 3.4 percent in 2013 and 2014, before homicides climbed back up 11.3 percent in 2015. Looked at over a longer time period, the numbers do not demonstrate a stable trend.
Thus, neither the Times analysis nor my own yields compelling evidence that there has been a pervasive increase in homicides that is substantively meaningful. It seems premature to be discussing broad explanations and long-term solutions for what may not be a broad or long-term phenomenon. And yet the spike in a few cities has already prompted speculation that the numbers reflect the increased availability of guns, or the demoralization of police.
Of course, the lack of compelling evidence of a broad-based increase does not prove that no such increase is occurring. Trends in homicide rates (and crime rates generally) are extremely important topics that warrant further investigation. But before we begin to speculate about causes and potential remedies, we need a more comprehensive understanding of the prevalence and location of increases in homicide rates that actually depart from normal fluctuations. This suggests a need for analyses that span several years, for as many medium- and large-sized jurisdictions as possible. It would also be useful to undertake such analyses for related crimes, such as non-fatal shootings, non-fatal stabbings, and aggravated assaults, since the difference between those and homicides may often be a matter of random luck, the type of weapon readily available, or the distance to the nearest emergency room.
Only then will we be in a position to undertake rigorous efforts to explain the problem and explore potential remedies.
By: Bruce Frederick, Senior Research Fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice, The Marshall Project, Brennan Center for Justice, September 4, 2015
We have a choice to make.
We can look at violence and racism as scourges that all of us must join together to fight. Or we can turn the issues of crime and policing into fodder for racial and political division.
In principle, it shouldn’t be hard to recognize two truths.
Too many young African Americans have been killed in confrontations with police when lethal force should not have been used. We should mourn their deaths and demand justice. Black Lives Matter turned into a social movement because there is legitimate anger over the reality that — to be very personal about it — I do not have to worry about my son being shot by the police in the way an African American parent does.
At the same time, too many of our police officers are killed while doing their jobs. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 1,466 men and women in law enforcement died in the line of duty over the past decade. We should mourn their deaths, appreciate the dangers they face and honor their courage.
Now I’ll admit: It’s easy for me to type these words on a computer screen. Circumstances are more complicated for those on either side of confrontations over the obligations of our police officers. Things get said (or, often, shouted) that call forth a reaction from the other side. A few demonstrators can scream vile slogans that can be used to taint a whole movement. Rage escalates.
Moreover, there are substantive disagreements over what needs to be done. Those trying to stop unjust police killings want to establish new rules and practices that many rank-and-file officers resist, arguing that the various measures could prevent them from doing their jobs. This resistance, in turn, only heightens mistrust of the police among their critics.
But politicians and, yes, even political commentators have an obligation: to try to make things better, not worse. There is always a choice between the politics of resentment and the politics of remedy. Resentment is easier.
And so it was this week that the murder of Texas Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth inspired Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to say on Monday: “Whether it’s in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials of the president, of the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement. That is fundamentally wrong, and it is endangering the safety and security of us all.” For good measure, the next day, Cruz condemned President Obama’s “silence” on Goforth’s murder.
The problem? For starters, Obama was not silent. He called the slain officer’s widow on Monday and issued a statement saying he had told Kathleen Goforth “that Michelle and I would keep her and her family in our prayers. I also promised that I would continue to highlight the uncommon bravery that the police show in our communities every single day. They put their lives on the line for our safety.” Obama has made statements of this sort over and over. Vilification this is not.
Over at Fox News, the campaign against Black Lives Matter has become fierce. Bill O’Reilly called the organization a “hate group” and declared: “I’m going to put them out of business.”
Let’s take five steps back. The movement for police reform was not the invention of some leftist claque. It was a response to real and genuinely tragic events. Silencing protesters won’t make anything better.
And some potential solutions don’t even make the political agenda. The easy availability of guns on U.S. streets is a threat to the police and to African Americans in our most violent neighborhoods. Why are those who seek reasonable gun regulations regularly blocked by interests far more powerful than those who demonstrate in our streets?
On April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy — who himself would be fatally shot exactly two months later — said this to the Cleveland City Club:
“Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, whenever we do this, then the whole nation is degraded.”
How much more pain must we endure before we recognize that these words are still true?
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 2, 2015