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“Emotional Distress And Mental Anguish”: Cleveland Cops Involved In 137-Shot Barrage Claim They’re Victims Of Discrimination

Nine of the 13 Cleveland police officers involved in a 137-shot barrage that left an unarmed black man and woman dead after a high-speed chase in 2012 filed a lawsuit last November claiming that they were treated too harshly and discriminated against by the police department in the aftermath of the shooting.

Michael Brelo, the white officer acquitted on Saturday of manslaughter charges for the shooting, isn’t involved in the lawsuit. The nine other officers, eight of whom are white and one of whom is Hispanic, claim the Cleveland Police Department treats non-black cops more harshly than African-American officers when they use force against black suspects, Cleveland.com’s Cory Shaffer reported.

“The City of Cleveland, through the other named defendants, and the other named defendants in their individual capacities, have a history of treating non-African American officers involved in the shootings of African Americans substantially harsher than African American officers,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit complains that the nine officers have been placed on restricted duty for far longer than the traditional 45 days following a police shooting, preventing them from earning overtime pay and forcing them to conduct “boring, menial tasks.” This, the lawsuit says, has impaired the officers’ pay and reputation and caused “emotional distress and mental anguish.”

The city denied all the allegations of discrimination in a response reported by the Cleveland Scene’s Doug Brown in January. There has been little movement in the case since then.

The lawsuit drew almost immediate criticism when it was filed in November because it felt so tone-deaf to critics of police in Cleveland and across the country.

“Yes, Cleveland police officers involved in killing two unarmed people are saying that extra long ‘gym duty’ because of their roles in a shooting incident resulted in ’emotional distress’ and ‘mental anguish,'” the Cleveland Scene’s Doug Brown wrote at the time. “Not that they killed people, but because of gym duty.”

Over the past year, the Black Lives Matter movement rose to national prominence as several police killings of black men and boys highlighted racial disparities in police use of force, including the deaths of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

But police officers, backed by their powerful unions, have by and large rejected this type of criticism. Not only do many cops and their supporters deny claims of discrimination, but they also worry that the increased scrutiny will make it more difficult to use force in scenarios that call for it, potentially putting officers and others in danger.

The disagreement has led some police officers to lash out. In New York City, after Mayor Bill de Blasio said he taught his biracial son to be careful around police, the city’s officers appeared to protest through weeks of a “work slowdown” in which they purposely reduced their activity and carried out fewer arrests.

The lawsuit from the nine Cleveland officers is another example of cops attempting to turn the criticisms around. Instead of acknowledging the disparities in the criminal justice system and the many contributing factors, these officers are saying that it’s actually they who are the victims of systemic discrimination.

 

By: German Lopez, Vox, May 24, 2015

May 25, 2015 Posted by | Cleveland Police Department, Police Brutality, Police Shootings | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Police Union Throws A Self-Pity Party In Baltimore”: Freddie Gray Protesters Are A “Lynch Mob”

It seemed as though police union leaders had gotten some PR training lately, and moved on from their strategy of pretending they’re the real victims in the awful spate of police killings involving unarmed black men. New York’s Pat Lynch has stopped shrieking that Mayor Bill de Blasio has “blood on his hands” for the time being. We haven’t heard anything lately from loud-mouthed Cleveland police union chief Jeff Follmer, who defended the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by insisting “the nation needs to realize, when [police] tell you to do something, do it.”

Instead, we’ve seen more sensitivity to the outrage of the victim’s family and community in the wake of recent killings. North Charleston officials famously arrested officer Michael Slager for shooting Walter Scott, after it was captured on a chilling video. In Madison, Wisc., the police chief quickly released the name of the officer who killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson last month, expressed sympathy for his family, and the district attorney continues to investigate.

But it seems that in Baltimore, police union leaders didn’t get the PR memo. Wednesday night Gene Ryan, head of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, compared the peaceful protesters who’ve gathered nightly in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray to a “lynch mob.

Gray, 25, died of a severed spinal cord and a crushed larynx he suffered while in police custody, and authorities have given no details about exactly how it happened. But videos of Gray’s arrest, after a foot chase, have surfaced, and they are painful to watch. His mysterious death has understandably touched off a wave of local protest, angry at times but lawful and peaceful. In news coverage we see citizens exercising their right to assemble and to question authorities, legally and non-violently.

That’s not what Gene Ryan sees. “The images seen on television look and sound much like a lynch mob in that they care calling for the immediate imprisonment of these officers without them ever receiving the due process that is the Constitutional right of every citizen, including law enforcement officers,” the union head said in a statement.

A little history note for Ryan: “Lynch mobs” didn’t demand the “immediate imprisonment” of African Americans. They murdered them in cold blood – and those mobs often included police officers. Even when they weren’t aided and abetted – or led – by law enforcement, the mobs only succeeded because law enforcement routinely looked away.

The Gray family’s attorney attempted to educate Ryan. “We’ve been the victims of the lynching and now we’re the lynch mob?” William Murphy asked. “This level of ignorance of history needs to be remedied by an education by the real history of Black America, a history that he has evidently never been exposed to.”

Ryan then tried to walk back his ridiculous comparison. “Maybe I need to reword that,” he said in a press conference Wednesday night. But he continued to make his officers out to be victims in the aftermath of Gray’s killing.

It’s hard to know if this is a strategy, or the inborn reaction of police to any citizen complaints about their behavior: hysteria, combined with attempts to intimidate the public, and elected officials, into silence. There would be no police killings, their mentality holds, if the nation realized, in the illuminating words of Cleveland’s Jeff Follmer, that “when we tell you to do something, do it.”

Sadly, the recent outbreak of calm and clear thinking in North Charleston and Madison, not the outbursts of Lynch, Follmer and Ryan, are probably the aberration here. As U.S Attorney Loretta Lynch stands on the brink of confirmation as attorney general, finally, let us hope the Justice Department continues to school local law enforcement leaders that when their citizen employers tell them to obey the law, they should do it.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, April 23, 2015

April 25, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Police Abuse, Police Unions | , , , , , , , | 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

“The Expansive ‘Warrior’ Mindset”: Police Shouldn’t Ask If A Shooting Is Justified, But If It’s Avoidable

Every time a police shooting gets national attention, the difference in the conflicting attitudes that civilians and law enforcement have toward the use of force is glaring. That conflict drives much of the tension between police agencies and the communities they serve.

When cops evaluate a use-of-force incident, they ask whether it was justified, focusing on the legal rule set by the Supreme Court in the 1989 case Graham v. Connor. The Court held that officers may use force so long as it is “objectively reasonable.” To determine whether a particular action was objectively reasonable, the Court held, judges must view the situation through the deferential lens of “a reasonable officer on the scene.”

When civilians evaluate a use-of-force incident, they ask whether it was avoidable. They want to know whether the officer could have done something—anything—else.

The tragic shooting of Tamir Rice last November puts the difference between “justified” and “avoidable” in stark contrast. Officers responding to call that there was a “man with a gun” in a park drove to within about ten feet of their suspect. One officer jumped out of the car and, within two seconds, fatally shot the 12-year-old. Was it justified? Probably, if one narrowly considers the officers proximity to an apparently armed man. Was it avoidable? Almost certainly, when one acknowledges that the officers could have—and should have—parked at a safe distance and approached cautiously by using cover, concealment, and communication.

Why do most officers, charged with serving and protecting their communities, persist in asking whether a use of force was justified rather than necessary? I put a great deal of blame on the expansive “warrior mindset” that has become so highly esteemed in the law enforcement community. To protect themselves, to even survive, officers are taught to be ever-vigilant. Enemies abound, and the job of the Warrior is to fight and vanquish those enemies.

That’s not the right attitude for police. Our officers should be, must be, guardians, not warriors. The goal of the Guardian isn’t to defeat an enemy, it is to protect the community to the extent possible, including the community member that is resisting the officer’s attempt to arrest them. For the guardian, the use of avoidable violence is a failure, even if it satisfies the legal standard.

Society invests a tremendous amount of trust and responsibility into our police officers. Policing is a difficult job, not least because of the potential for violence that cannot be predicted or, in many cases, prevented.

But in the long run, it would be safer for everyone if officers saw their role as guarding the community, not defeating enemies.

 

By: Seth Stoughton, Professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law affiliated with the Rule of Law Collaborative. He served as a city police officer and state investigator: Opinion Pages, Room for Debate, The New York Times, April 9, 2015

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Justifiable Homicide, Police Shootings, Police Violence | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Privilege Of Arrest Without Incident”: Take A Moment And Consider This, Take A Long Moment

The day after Christmas, a shooter terrorized the streets of a Chattanooga, Tenn., neighborhood. According to the local newspaper, the shooter was “wearing body armor” and “firing multiple shots out her window at people and cars.” One witness told the paper that the shooter was “holding a gun out of the window as if it were a cigarette.”

There’s more:

“Officers found two people who said they were at a stop sign when a woman pulled up in a dark-colored sedan and fired shots into their vehicle, hitting and disabling the radiator. Then more calls reported a woman pointing a firearm at people as she passed them in her car, and that she fired at another vehicle in the same area.”

When police officers came upon the shooter, the shooter led them on a chase. The shooter even pointed the gun at a police officer.

Surely this was not going to end well. We’ve all seen in recent months what came of people who did far less. Surely in this case officers would have been justified in using whatever force they saw fit. Right?

According to the paper, the shooter was “taken into custody without incident or injury.”

Who was this shooter anyway? Julia Shields, a 45-year-old white woman.

Take a moment and consider this. Take a long moment. It is a good thing that officers took her in “without incident or injury,” of course, but can we imagine that result being universally the case if a shooter looks different? Would this episode have ended this way if the shooter had been male, or black, or both?

It’s an unanswerable question, but nevertheless one that deserves pondering. Every case is different. Police officers are human beings making split-second decisions — often informed by fears — about when to use force and the degree of that force.

But that truth is also the trap. How and why are our fears constructed and activated? The American mind has been poisoned, from this country’s birth, against minority populations. People of color, particularly African-American men, have been caught up in a twister of macroaggressions and micro ones. No amount of ignoring can alleviate it; no amount of achieving can ameliorate it.

And in a few seconds, or fractions of a second, before the conscious mind can catch up to the racing heart, decisions are made that can’t be unmade. Dead is forever.

It’s hard to read stories like this and not believe that there is a double standard in the use of force by the police. Everyone needs to be treated as though his or her life matters. More suspected criminals need to be detained and tried in a court of law and not sentenced on the street to a rain of bullets.

It is no wonder that whites and blacks have such divergent views of treatment by the police. As The Washington Post noted recently about a poll it conducted with ABC News, only about two in 10 blacks “say they are confident that the police treat whites and blacks equally, whether or not they have committed a crime.” In contrast, six in 10 whites “have confidence that police treat both equally.”

Michael Brown was unarmed. (Some witnesses in Ferguson, Mo., say he had his hands up. Others say he charged an officer.)

Eric Garner was unarmed on a Staten Island street.

Tamir Rice was 12 years old, walking around a Cleveland park and holding a toy gun that uses nonlethal plastic pellets, but he didn’t shoot at anyone.

John Crawford was in an Ohio Walmart, holding, but not shooting, an air rifle he had picked up from a store shelf.

The police say Antonio Martin had a gun and pointed it at a police officer in Berkeley, Mo., but didn’t fire it.

And last Tuesday, the police say, a handgun was “revealed” during a New Jersey traffic stop of a car Jerame C. Reid was in.

But none had the privilege of being “arrested without incident or injury.” They were all black, all killed by police officers. Brown was shot through the head. Garner was grabbed around the neck in a chokehold, tossed to the ground and held there, even as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe; it was all caught on video. Rice was shot within two seconds of the police officers’ arrival on the scene. Crawford, Martin and Reid were also cut down by police bullets.

In the cases that have been heard so far by grand juries, the grand juries have refused to indict the officers.

Maybe one could argue that in some of those cases the officers were within their rights to respond with lethal force. Maybe. But shouldn’t the use of force have equal application? Shouldn’t it be color- and gender-blind? Shouldn’t more people, in equal measures, be taken in and not taken out?

Why weren’t these black men, any of them, the recipients of the same use of force — or lack thereof — as Julia Shields?

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 4, 2015

January 12, 2015 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Police Abuse, White Privilege | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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