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“Violent Crime Is Largely Intra-Racial”: Black-On-Black Violence Demands Our Attention

Black lives matter.

That’s the powerful and relevant message that a loosely organized group of young activists have used as a clarion call to bring attention to the crisis of police violence against black citizens, usually unarmed black men. And its mere utterance is a scathing commentary on the current state of race in America, a reminder that it must be said. Shouldn’t it be obvious that black lives matter as much as white ones?

That’s true, by the way, no matter how those black lives are snuffed out, whether by powerful figures acting under the color of law, or by other black men who are angry, violent and unrestrained. The senseless loss of black life demands a response.

So let’s talk, too, about the surging rate of homicides in certain big cities around the country, including Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, and New Orleans. The crimes are occurring mostly in poor neighborhoods, and the victims — and perpetrators — are overwhelmingly black.This is a sensitive subject, a topic rarely broached in public by prominent black political and civic figures. Perhaps that’s because ultraconservatives, especially the racial provocateurs among them, use the numbers as a bludgeon, hammering away in order to muddy the debate about police violence. They try to excuse police brutality by evoking black criminals — as if law enforcement officials should not be held to a very different standard.

Moreover, they fail to note that violent crime is largely intra-racial — that is, committed by people against their own ethnic group. In other words, whites tend to assault and kill whites, while blacks tend to assault and kill blacks. “From 1980 to 2008, 84 percent of white victims were killed by whites and 93 percent of black victims were killed by blacks,” says PolitiFact, the fact-checking organization.

In any event, the ranting of right-wing rabble-rousers is no reason to shield our eyes from the worrisome incidence of black homicides and their debilitating effect on black families and neighborhoods. In 2013, the last year for which figures were available, homicide was the leading cause of death for young black men between the ages of 15 and 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a special 2014 report, “Black Homicide Victimization in the United States,” the Violence Policy Center wrote: “Blacks in the United States are disproportionately affected by homicide. For the year 2011, blacks represented 13 percent of the nation’s population, yet accounted for 50 percent of all homicide victims.” As stunning as that statistic is, it doesn’t adequately convey the shattered lives, the broken families, the decimated neighborhoods it represents.

If homicide were a disease wiping out black people at this alarming rate, we’d be demanding research, solutions, a cure. If a foreign enemy had laid siege to poor black neighborhoods in the same way, we’d send in massive manpower to root them out. But we’ve been peculiarly passive in response to black-on-black homicides, as if there is nothing we can do, as if it’s too difficult and too controversial to tackle.

Certainly, there is controversy aplenty, starting with legitimate differences among law enforcement experts about how to tackle the problem. Indeed, there are those among law enforcement officials who insist that heavy-handed police tactics, such as New York’s “stop and frisk” policy of random searches, are a useful tool in curbing criminal activity.

That seems unlikely. If oppressive policing were the solution, a city such as Cleveland ought to be one of the safest, given its documented history of out-of-control cops. Instead, it’s one of the most dangerous, according to FBI statistics.

But well-trained and diverse police departments, staffed by officers committed to treating citizens fairly, are certainly one part of the solution. Curbing our cultural obsession with guns would help. And, undoubtedly, so would ameliorating the root causes of the frustration that breeds violent crime, including joblessness, poor educational opportunity and inadequate housing.

None of those fixes will come quickly or easily, but they won’t come at all unless we find the will to acknowledge the problem. Publicly.

Black lives, including those lost to black violence, matter.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, 2007; The National Memo, September 5, 2015

September 7, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Violence, Violent Crimes | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“People Have Told Me About Stops!”: The Chief Justice Has Never Been Pulled Over In His Life

In a little-noticed hearing last month, the Supreme Court considered Rodriguez v. United States, a case involving the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The core issue the justices confronted was how long a police officer could extend a routine traffic stop for purposes of calling in the dogs—drug-sniffing dogs.

At first blush, the question seems uncomplicated and slightly mundane. Who cares about police canines? The vast majority of drivers won’t be drug kingpins or carry illegal contraband in their cars. But the Fourth Amendment doesn’t exist to protect drug traffickers; it protects everyone from police overreach. Whatever the court decides on any Fourth Amendment case—the court accepts a number of them every year—should matter to everyone.

And judging from how oral arguments in Rodriguez played out, you have reason to worry about how the justices will rule. Because for an hour, they grappled, interrupted one another, suggested potential rules, posed lengthy hypotheticals, and in the end couldn’t seem to reach any consensus on how to decide the case. Viewed charitably, the hearing was a hot mess.

The apparent confusion in the courtroom was useful in one respect: It illuminated the cluelessness of Chief Justice John Roberts when it comes to traffic stops. Addressing the lawyer who was representing Dennys Rodriguez, the petitioner in the case, Roberts said, “Usually, people have told me, when you’re stopped, the officer says, ‘License and registration.’ ”

There was laughter in the courtroom. And the lawyer, recently retired federal public defender Shannon P. O’Connor, played along and responded with humor: “I’ve had friends that say the same thing, Mr. Chief Justice.”

But to anyone who closely watches the court’s jurisprudence on the Fourth Amendment, there’s nothing funny about Roberts’ naiveté about traffic stops, let alone his ignorance of the real frustration that comes with being kept even a second longer than necessary. The “seizure” of a person, in constitutional lingo, is in fact part and parcel of all of our recent conversations about policing in America. New York’s stop-and-frisk saga, the death of Michael Brown, and incidents involving use of force by police all implicate police departments’ and courts’ interpretation of the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was not amused. Later in the arguments, she turned to Roberts and said, “Chief, I’ve been stopped … [and] keeping me past giving me the ticket is annoying as heck, whether it’s five minutes, 10 minutes, [or] 45.” She placed a lot of emphasis on the word heck.

Sotomayor knows a little something about stops, and no, it has nothing to do with her upbringing in the Bronx or the fact that she has been pulled over before. She is the only sitting justice who actually has criminal trial experience—first as a prosecutor, and later as a district judge in Manhattan. She has presided over hearings calling for the suppression of illegal evidence, over criminal trials where that evidence was later at play, in civil cases against prison officials and police officers accused of false imprisonment or the use of excessive bodily force. She has seen how the Fourth Amendment plays out in real life.

This first-hand experience may explain why she was the lone dissenter in another case involving brushes with law enforcement. In December, she and Roberts were on opposite ends in Heien v. North Carolina, a case that green-lighted reasonable “mistakes of law” as the basis for a traffic stop. Though ignorance of the law is no excuse for an average citizen under any circumstance, the Supreme Court decided that it is a valid excuse for an officer who suspects you may be committing some offense, even if the offense is not on the books.

“To be reasonable is not to be perfect,” Roberts wrote, “and so the Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials, giving them fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community’s protection.”

Roberts’ phraseology about “fair leeway” is lofty, but it turned the meaning of the Fourth Amendment on its head, confounding its role as community protection by the government rather than from the government. And “reasonableness,” at least in the context of policing, has taken on a life of its own at the Supreme Court—leading one scholar to note that its invocation is merely a cover for the court’s “own values regarding the need for the particular police practice at issue.”

Though Roberts’ deference towards police ignorance won the day in Heien, Sotomayor did take an opportunity to remind her colleagues that the ruling will have real-life effects on those most likely to endure uncomfortable encounters with the police: minorities and communities of color. She wrote that the court’s decision has the potential of “further eroding the … protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.” She called these the “human consequences” of the court’s rulings on the Fourth Amendment and wondered “how a citizen seeking to be law-abiding and to structure his or her behavior to avoid these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters could do so.”

Roberts, for all his intelligence, is ill-equipped to wrap his brain around that scenario; he has never been stopped by the police before. (The Supreme Court press office did not reply to a request for confirmation of Roberts’ lack of experience in this regard.) He did author a landmark ruling last year on the necessity of warrants prior to rummaging through a cellphone, but think of the factual premise: He probably does have a smartphone with extremely personal information.

Not so with close encounters with police. To assume that he and the rest of the court will issue a principled ruling on how many minutes a traffic stop can be extended—the answer, in a perfect world, should be zero—ignores that the court has already ruled constitutional far more invasive government practices, all under the guise of reasonableness, pat-downs and body-cavity searches among them.

America’s attention will turn to Obamacare and same-sex marriage when the Supreme Court entertains them later in the year. It is little cases like Rodriguez—easily lost in the news cycle—that have the greatest potential to undermine further the already-strained relationship between the community and the police.

 

By: Cristin Farias, Slate, February 11, 2015

February 13, 2015 Posted by | 4th Amendment, John Roberts, Rodriguez v United States | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The NYPD Slowdown’s Dirty Little Secret”: Not All Of Them Want The Slowdown To End

The police slowdown in New York, where cops have virtually stopped making certain types of low-level arrests, might be coming to an end soon. For a lot of police officers, it’ll be an unhappy moment, because they never liked making the penny ante collars in the first place.

“We’re coming out of what was a pretty widespread stoppage of certain types of activity, the discretionary type of activity by and large,” police commissioner Bill Bratton told NPR’s Robert Siegel in an interview Friday.

In the rank and file of the police department, there are mixed feelings about the slowdown and a possible return to the status quo.

“I’d break it down like this,” an officer in East Harlem told The Daily Beast. “20 percent of the department is very active, they’d arrest their mothers if they could, and they want to get back to work. Another 20 percent doesn’t want any activity period; they’d be happy to hide and nap all day.”

The officer added, “And then there’s the great middle that thinks things are fine now as far as their concerned and all they want is good arrests.”

The not good arrests, by implication, were all the low level infractions policed as part of the so-called “Broken Windows” approach to law enforcement, defended by both Bratton and Mayor de Blasio. It holds that one of the ways to bust high-level crooks is to crack down on seemingly minor crimes.

Between December 29 2014—January 4 2015, arrests across New York city dropped by 56 percent and summonses were down 92 percent compared to the same time last year.

It’s not novel to point out that the police slowdown, which pitted the police and their unions against city hall, granted one of the central demands of the #blacklivesmatter protestors—an end to Broken Windows policing.

Less noted though, is how many police officers are themselves ambivalent about actively enforcing low level offenses, and how that bodes for the post-slowdown future of policing in New York.

Retired NYPD lieutenant Steve Osborne made the point in an op-ed for the New York Times that was sharply critical of both de Blasio and the protestors.

“More police productivity has meant far less crime, but at a certain point New York began to feel like, yes, a police state, and the police don’t like it any more than you,” Osborne wrote.

“The time has probably come for the Police Department to ease up on the low-level ‘broken-windows’ stuff while re-evaluating the impact it may or may not have on real, serious crime,” he added. “No one will welcome this more than the average cop on the beat, who has been pressed to find crime where so much less of it exists.”

Day to day, no one has been telling police officers in New York how not to do their jobs.

“It sounds very unusual,” the officer in East Harlem said, “but I haven’t seen any coordinated activity besides the union putting the message out and then saying jump.”

It hasn’t taken much effort to coordinate the slowdown because, as Osborne notes, average beat cops were never that excited in the first place with going after public urination and loitering arrests. To them, it was a distraction from stopping more serious crimes.

Broken Windows advocates argue that some cops always resisted more active policing. When Broken Windows was first introduced, they say, police officers had to be pushed, by Bratton among others, to adopt the active policing approach that brought crime down to its current historic lows in new York.

But as New York got safer, the methods rather than the results became the measures of success. More arrests meant better policing as the tail started to wag the dog.

Bratton himself has said nearly as much in criticizing his predecessor Ray Kelly’s overuse of the controversial stop and frisk tactic that overwhelmingly targeted minorities.

“The commissioner and the former mayor did a great job in the sense of keeping the community safe, keeping crime down, but one of the tools used to do that, I believe, was used too extensively,” Bratton said in March 2014.

Stop and Frisks have fallen considerably since their high in 2011 when 685,724 New Yorkers were stopped by police, but some numbers driven approaches remain embedded in the department.

As a detective in the Bronx tells The Daily Beast, “there technically are no quotas” in the police department “but you can call them what you want, “productivity goals,” they are back door quotas.”

And those back door quotas can put pressure on officers.

“I have to suspend my disbelief,” the officer in East Harlem said, “to see how sentencing a guy with an open container is going to really bring crime down.”

“Violent crimes haven’t gotten worse in my little slice of heaven despite the slowdown on summonses and misdemeanors,” the officer added. “We’re still responding to robbery patterns. We haven’t gone down in presence for the more serious offenses.”

He acknowledged that it was too soon to say how such a policing strategy would play out over an extended period. “Whether it works will reveal itself over time. That remains to be seen.”

Once New York is out of the slowdown, it’s not clear what kind of policing the city will see on the other side. Will Bratton push the police to bring arrests back up to levels before they dropped off or will the department test its ability to back off?

Maybe there will be some new middle ground possible despite the bluster and rhetoric. According to The Daily News, the combative president of the police union is pushing for just a slowdown that’s a little bit faster. As one police source told the paper, “He said they should go back to at least 50% of what they used to do.”

 

By: Jacob Siegel, The Daily Beast, January 10, 2015

January 14, 2015 Posted by | Broken Windows Policing, NYPD, Police Abuse | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Support Your Local Police, Or Else”: A Lot Of Cops Don’t Understand That They Owe Respect To The Citizens They Are Sworn To Protect

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chief of Police William Bratton should do the one thing they would never dare do to fix the attitude of their police force. They should fire a thousand cops.

In the midst of their hissy fit over the mayor’s lack of adoration for the men and women in blue, the cops are refusing to enforce the law. Arrests in New York City are down 66 percent and citations for petty offenses and traffic violations are down 94 percent from the same week a year ago.

In short, the reaction of the New York cops to being told they sometimes do a bad job is to do the job worse.

De Blasio’s sin is failing to fully back the police who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man selling cigarettes on a street corner. He had the effrontery to suggest that the people peacefully demonstrating against killing an unarmed man committing a minor crime might have a point. He even said he had to train his own mixed-race son how to deal with police officers so he wouldn’t get killed. He knows his city and his cops.

Even before the assassination of two officers in their car, the police circulated a self-righteous petition saying de Blasio has not given cops the “respect they deserve,” and disinviting the mayor from future police funerals. It says in part that the mayor’s “attendance at the funeral of a fallen New York City police officer is an insult to that officer’s memory and sacrifice.”

The mayor got off wrong with the cops by campaigning for office against the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policy that had the police bracing an inordinate number of young, black, poor and Latino men randomly on the street. Then came the Eric Garner mess.

Now some police officers actually blame de Blasio for creating an anti-police atmosphere in which two officers were randomly assassinated. At least three times now, New York police officers in uniform have engaged in a political demonstration by turning their backs on the mayor; once in person and twice at the funerals of fellow officers. Chief Bratton, revered as the cop who has turned around policing in America, weakly said it was “inappropriate.” Since when is it merely “inappropriate” to conduct politics in uniform?

The people who carry guns and wear uniforms in the name of public service have to respect and obey civilians and civilian authority or else they are an occupying army. And that’s what everyone demonstrating in the streets of America is complaining about. Too often, the cops act like an occupying army.

Cops demand reverence and special treatment because they claim they “lay their lives on the line” every day protecting the public. They do not. Most police work, like any other job, is routine and boring. No doubt, police officers encounter terrible and dangerous situations that most of us never do, but they aren’t laying their lives on the line every day.

And in some places in America, the cops are the biggest danger innocent civilians face.

Several dozen police officers are killed on the job every year. It’s true and it’s terrible. But the most deadly profession in America is being a lumberjack. More fishermen, aircraft pilots and roofers die on the job every year than cops. Police work is not even among the top ten most dangerous professions.

As a journalist, I’ve seen cops on the job for 35 years. I’ve seen them do great and brave things. I’ve also seen them being mean, arrogant and stupid. I’ve seen cops in Boston beat up demonstrators. I saw the Los Angeles police abandon their city in a riot to prove how necessary they are. I’ve seen cops bully black kids and beat up reporters. More than once I’ve had a cop say to me, “I don’t care what the law says.”

Police officers do not “deserve” respect. Like anyone else in this world, they have to earn it. What a lot of cops don’t understand is that they owe respect… to the citizens they are sworn to protect, and to the civilian leaders they work for.

I’d like to see Bill de Blasio and Chief Bratton walk down a row of New York cops refusing to do their job and poke them in the chest saying, “Yo .. turn in your badge; You, you’re a disgrace. Get out.” Then the cops would have every right to turn their backs on the mayor. And get the hell out of the station house.

 

By: Brian Rooney, The Blog, The Huffington Post, January 5, 2015

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Police Abuse | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No One Here Should Be Turning His Back”: Facing Each Other, Those On Each Side Might Be Surprised By What They See

Whom are police officers turning their backs on when they refuse to face Mayor Bill de Blasio, and whom are they protecting? On the night of Saturday, December 20th, after a man named Ismaaiyl Brinsley shot the officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, execution style, outside of a Bedford-Stuyvesant housing project, a line of officers who’d gathered at the Woodhull Medical Center faced away from the Mayor as he walked passed them. They were mourning and distraught; one might wish that they realized more fully that the city and its mayor were mourning with them, but it was the sort of act of shocked grief that can be forgiven the next day. That was more than a week ago, though. Since then, Patrick Lynch, the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a police union, all but called de Blasio the officers’ killer—he had “blood on his hands.” At Ramos’s funeral, held two days after Christmas, the officers in an overflow crowd outside the church turned their backs on the screen showing de Blasio giving his eulogy. Then, on Monday, at the graduation ceremony for the city’s police academy, members of the audience shouted “Traitor!” when de Blasio spoke, and there was scattered back-turning, though not, apparently, among the newest officers. De Blasio, in a speech that was almost abject, said, “You will confront all the problems that plague our society—problems that you didn’t create.” According to the Times, “a heckler yelled out ‘You did!’ and drew applause.”

But what, exactly, did de Blasio do? What was his “betrayal,” to borrow another of Lynch’s bitter phrases? After a grand jury failed to indict anyone in the death of Eric Garner, even though a video showed an officer putting him in what, by the N.Y.P.D.’s own rules, was an impermissible chokehold, de Blasio said that many in the city “did not want” that outcome. But he was less than explicit about what he wished, other than for any protests to be peaceful and, more generally, to not have to worry about how the police might deal with a child like his son Dante. Perhaps a fantasy mayor would have come out smiling following the news of the grand jury and presented it as a vindication. But what or whom would have been defended with a gesture like that? How would the city have been served by what whole communities would have experienced as scorn? (The Mayor may be the target here, but the message that members of the police will turn their backs on those who criticize them, excluding them from a circle of protection, is broad and unhelpful.) De Blasio promised, in his campaign, to do away with the N.Y.P.D.’s stop-and-frisk policies. A court case had already given him and the city good reason. Voters agreed, a source of tense confrontations was removed, and, in the year since, crime has fallen. He reacted defensively to criticism of his wife’s chief of staff, who, among other problems, had a boyfriend with a criminal record. Yet, at the same time, he brought in Bill Bratton, hardly a flaming radical, as his police commissioner.

Creating a space for peaceful, lawful protests is not what killed Ramos and Liu. The murderer was Brinsley, a lifetime petty criminal who didn’t even live in New York. Hours before the killings, he was in an apartment in Baltimore, pointing a gun at his girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson. He shot her in the abdomen; she survived, and he fled to Brooklyn. He posted an Instagram message saying “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours … let’s take 2 of theirs.” At that point, he had already come close to putting “wings on” Shaneka Thompson, and any police officer in the country would have had good reason to arrest him in defense of a young, black woman. Brinsley added a “shootthepolice” hashtag and ones about Garner and Michael Brown; after news of the shooting, those words, his would-be excuses, were seen as explosive. They only are, though, if someone like Brinsley gets to decide what is “ours” and what is “theirs”—and who the us in “let’s” is. And he doesn’t. Ramos and Liu were ours; claiming them has nothing to do with race. Brinsley was nobody’s.

There is clearly anger toward de Blasio within the police force, as well as heartfelt dislike. It may be the legitimate result of a thousand acts of clumsiness and cultural blindness on the Mayor’s part. No matter the statistics, officers like Ramos and Liu, or Russel Timoshenko and Herman Yan, put their lives on the line. De Blasio is the mayor, and it is his job to form connections with people who have one of the hardest, most dangerous jobs in the city. Clearly he can do better, but it is also clear that he is trying. The police may feel left out, or that people don’t understand the hard work they have done—that new residents born in distant, safer places think they are the ones who’ve transformed Bushwick or Bed-Stuy, as if a peaceful city requires only artful curators, not custodians. For members of the police, suddenly places they didn’t want to patrol are places they can hardly afford to live on an officer’s salary. Their dismay may be understandable. But it should not be enraging. New York is a much safer city than it used to be, and that requires an adjustment by police officers, too. This may be where the N.Y.P.D.’s own leadership has failed. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association recently put a message on its Web site saying “Don’t let them insult your sacrifice!” It linked to a document that officers could sign asking de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito not to come to their funerals if they are killed in the line of duty, saying that it would be an “insult” due to their “consistent refusal to show police officers the support and respect they deserve.” The statement is not a request to remove politics from funerals, but rather an effort to politicize them.

De Blasio did go to Ramos’s funeral—the insult would have been if he hadn’t. He spoke about Ramos’s love for his wife, Maritza (“the love of his life and the partner in all things”), and his sons, Justin and Jaden (“they are Mets fans. God bless them. And he loved playing basketball with his sons in Highland Park”). He added a few words in Spanish (“era un padre y esposo amoroso, un hombre de mucha fe”). Officer Ramos was studying to be a pastor, and Vice-President Joseph Biden, who also spoke at the funeral, said that he “didn’t just have a Bible in his locker; he lived it in his heart.” Wenjian Liu will be buried this coming weekend (the services were delayed to allow relatives to get here from China; that these two men are the ones Brinsley found randomly is a reflection of the N.Y.P.D.’s real diversity, as well as the city’s). Many of the officers outside were not New Yorkers; they had come from California, the United Kingdom, and places in between, and so it is hard to say what they knew about de Blasio when they made their act of protest, or what they knew about this city. They might answer that they knew what they needed to about being cops, and, sometimes, about being alone. That would be better expressed by moving toward people—the officers’ families, the communities they live in, even the Mayor—rather than showing their backs. The same could undoubtedly be said of some of those in the crowds that protested the grand jury’s verdict. Facing each other, those on each side might be surprised by what they see. The time for turning away is over.

 

By: Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, December 30, 2014

January 5, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, Law Enforcement, NYPD | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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