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BLACK LIVES MATTER DOES NOT MEAN OTHER LIVES DON'T MATTER

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH POLICE KILLING BLACK PEOPLE?

Protesters confront police in Charlotte NC | Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Protesters confront police in Charlotte NC | Sean Rayford/Getty Images

DISCLAIMER: Just to be clear, this is not an anti-police article. I will repeat this statement several times throughout this article just to make sure those who read don’t think I’m out to villify police or encourage violence against them. This is, however, a critical look at how some police officers carry out their jobs and attempt to understand why we are seeing more incidents of police killing unarmed African Americans.

Police officers are not drafted, they apply for the job knowing too well the risks involved and they are reasonably compensated. We are thankful for their service as they keep us safe and handle tough situations for all of us. But despite these facts, recent happenings, where officers have been caught on video killing black people for unjustified reasons raise questions about how police interact with African Americans the need for police reforms to facilitate training that would end such occurrences.

There are two implied myths used to justify police lethal action toward black people.

Myth 1: Police are such fearful wrecks that every time they see a black person, they feel threatened and they have to shoot in order to protect themselves. Does anybody believe that? I don’t the answer to that but I doubt even officers who use the excuse believe cops are that cowardly. But that is what some police officers want people to believe. We reject that excuse, it’s an old CYA excuse that is not valid and it’s costing lives. Police need to show better judgment and restraint before using lethal force. Period.

Myth 2: black people and men in particular, are such a threat and criminals that every encounter between police and a black man must be dealt with forcefully or the black man could kill the police. And oh, you should always assume they are carrying a weapon, so if they reach for anything, even the sky, shoot ’em. This one is also very preposterous. You have to be an idiot to believe that. But that is what some police people and their supporters want you to believe. Black people have been killed for selling loose cigarettes— Eric Garner. Walking down the street in a defiant manner— Laquan McDonald, laying down overpowered by two police sitting on top of them– Alton Sterling. Reaching for drivers license in the glove compartment– Philando Castile. Shot in the back while fleeing from the police — Walter Scott. Walking away to his car with hands up in the air after a car breakdown– Terence Crutcher. These are the famous names that made the news and sparked outrage and protests but there are more black people, most other them unarmed killed by police. In 2015 there were 102 reported cases of unarmed black people killed by police. Here are their names and stories.

The truth is police show very little patience or restraint when dealing with black people under the guise of fearing for their lives. Why would police be fearful of black people? The answer sadly is institutional racism.

Institutional racism is defined as those established laws, customs, and practices which systematically reflect and produce racial inequalities in society. If racist consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs or practices, the institution is racist whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have racial intentions. (Source: Race, Racism and the law)

By the above definition, most US police departments are unintentionally prejudiced against black people. It’s time to deal with this head-on by facing the ugly truth creating reforms.

Let’s explore this further with a look at Tulsa Police Department (TPD) as an example. TPD is currently in the news because one of its officers Betty Shelby fatally shot and killed Crutcher claiming she thought he high on PCP and was reaching for a weapon. Crutcher was not armed and was not under investigation or violating any laws. Shelby has been charged with manslaughter and is out on $50,000 bail.

According to 2014 TPD annual report,  Tulsa is a city of approximately 400,000 people, 58 percent white, 16 percent black, and 14 percent Hispanic / Latino, 5 percent Native American. The police department has approximately 1,900 officers with almost 170 unsworn officers. White officers form a huge majority accounting for 77 percent of the force, 9 percent are black, 3 percent are Hispanic and 10 percent are Native American.

Ask yourself, what does it take to become a Tulsa police officer? According to Tulsa Police Academy, it takes approximately 25 weeks to train an officer. After the training, the new officer undergoes a further 16 week training in the field and receive 40 hours of in-service training annually. The training is rigorous. To qualify, one must have a bachelor degree with a minimum grade of C+. The training involves physical fitness including dieting instructions. In the academy, recruits undergo critical thinking, weapons and tactical training among other life and survival skills that very few civilians can match. It is therefore reasonable to believe Tulsa police officers are not your average joe who scare easy.

It is puzzling, therefore, why police, regardless of race, seem to be overcome with fear when dealing with black people and not value black lives. But the most puzzling thing of all, is the lack of empathy shown by police in the shooting scenes. The stalling, lack of providing CPR or emergency medical assistance come across as if they are buying time to let their victim to bleed to death.

Police don’t have a problem restraining themselves from using lethal force when dealing with other really dangerous dudes. Here are just a few recent examples.

The New York bomber and accused terrorist Ahmad Rahami, did not get fatal shots. In fact, police made every effort to arrest him despite knowing he had orchestrated a bombing attempt in New York and New Jersey and shot at a police officer during his arrest. Dylan Roof, the hate-filled Charleston mass murderer was treated to a free Burger King hamburger by the police on his way to jail despite killing nine innocent people in Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. James Holmes, the Aurora movie theater mass murderer is still alive but behind bars, despite slaughtering in cold-blood 12 people and injuring more than 70 others. Jared Lee Loughner, the 2011 Tuscon shooter who killed 6 people and severely injured former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was also arrested and not killed by police despite him attacking people in a gathering attended by a congresswoman.

These guys have one thing on common– you guessed it. They are not black. It appears that if you’re not black, no matter your crime, police will make an effort to arrest and provide you due process.

THIS IS NOW TOO COMMON

We are now used to seeing this. Police shoots a black person. Under public pressure, they give a press conference justifying the killing and most of the time saying the officer responsible feared for their lives. That the black person, the dead victim, was reaching for something or acting in a threatening way. It turns out sometimes the victim was not reaching for anything. In some cases, police even claim the victim, was reaching for their gun. They usually refuse to release the video because “it’s considered evidence in an investigation that is still underway.” You don’t want to taint that evidence you know. That version of the story usually goes well until a video shot by a citizen, emerges and shows a contradicting version of what really happened, like in the case of unarmed motorist Mr. Walter Scott, who was shot in the back eight times by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager.

The citizen video hits the media like a thunderbolt and it’s all over TV. Fox News tries to spin the graphic video in favor of the police, obfuscating facts depicted in the video with alternate explanations false equivalent counter argument peppered with black-on-black crime as a bigger concern, but it doesn’t work. The outrage grows and protest hits the streets.

There is no doubt police work is a dangerous job and an important service to the community. Police officers are also some of the most admired members of our community. In fact, no matter the race, many boys growing up, aspire to be police officers. Cop cars are must have for every self-respecting young boy toy collection and every child knows if trouble calls, the police will be there to the rescue. To most kids, police are real-life superheroes. Police are viewed as fearless, noble, majestic in their badges and uniform and lethal with their guns and all those gadgets they carry around their waist.

But as they grow older, black kids’ views of police officers changes after witnessing black people on TV being killed and in most cases their killers–cops, getting away with it.

LACK OF TRANSPARENCY

After a shooting involving police, it’s very important, for the sake of law and order, for police departments to come clean and explain to the public what happened. This, as demonstrated by TPD, diffuses a lot of tension and brings goodwill to the department. To their credit, TPD moved with extra-ordinary speed to be transparent and even charging Shelby, the officer who fired the shot that killed Mr. Crutcher.

The same did not happen in the other high-profile police shooting of Mr. Keith Lamond Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina. The lack of transparency displayed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg is driving negative narratives in the latest police shooting.

It took 5 days of intense pressure and angry protests including calls from influential people among them Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who tweeted for CMPD to make public the video showing the sequence of events leading to the death of Mr. Lamond Scott. The lack of transparency fueled a perception of cover-up. Mr. Lamond Scott’s family has said he was sitting in his car reading a book in a parking lot but police say he was outside his car and refused to follow orders to drop the gun he was holding. A witness identified as Tahesia Williams said Mr. Lamond Scott regularly sits at the parking lot waiting for the school but to drop off his son. She said after the shooting, the police took the book and replaced it with a gun.

In the end, three videos were released. Rakeiya Scott, wife to Lamond released the first video where she appeared to be instructing him to cooperate with the police without much luck. The police videos do not show Lamond Scott holding or pointing a gun, but a statement posted on CMPD Twitter account states Mr. Lamond Scott had a gun. The statement says police observed Mr. Lamond Scott rolling what appeared to a marijuana “blunt” while on a mission to execute another warrant in the neighborhood. They left after serving the warrant and in the process observed Mr. Lamont Scott holding a gun. In Rakeiya’s video, she tells the police “he has no gun,” in a sarcastic tone that appears to be aimed at easing the police anxiety and she adds that he has TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and he has just taken his medicine. The video does not record any response from the police at receiving the information. Later in the video she released, Rakeiya is heard telling her husband “don’t you do it” multiple times. It is not clear why she is telling him that or what she is referring to.

Mr. Lamont Scott is seen in the police video walking backward toward officers, he is then shot four times and falls to the ground. Officers crowd him on the ground and handcuff him. No first aid is given on video. In the video provided the police, a black object can be seen on the ground, but in another video appearing to be of the same shot, no object can be seen and noted by MSNBC’s Ari Melber.

CMPD released the following statement and evidence on their Twitter account. In the statement, CMPD notes earlier a uniformed police officer came to the scene and attempted to use his baton to break the front passenger window and arrest Mr. Lamond Scott. It is not clear from the statement whether he succeeded, but the next line in the statement states “Mr. Scott then exited the vehicle and backed away from the vehicle while continuing to ignore the officers’ repeated loud verbal commands to drop the gun.”

Just like Mr. Lamond Scott, the officer involved in the shooting, Brentley Vinson and Charlotte Police Chief, Kerr Putney are African Americans a prospect the complicates the perception of the problem African Americans and police. The Charlotte case is a great example that shows police brutality against African Americans is not exclusively a white and black race problem, rather it’s an institutional racial problem that persists within the police that criminalizes African Americans.

THE FREDDIE GRAY CASE: WHAT’S RACE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

There are several examples where African American officers have been involved in unwarranted deaths and cover-ups in the shooting of black people. One recent example is the death of Mr. Freddie Gray in the custody of Baltimore police where three officers involved were black and three were white.  All officers were acquitted of the charges but a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation found a lot of evidence of racism targeting African Americans.

Before delving into Mr. Gray’s case and DOJ findings, it’s important to understand the divide of the city Baltimore is a city of approximately 650,000 people, 28 percent of residents are white and 63 percent are black. In comparison, Baltimore police has approximately 3000 police officers, 48 percent white, 44 percent black and rest are classified as hispanic, asian and other according to a New York Times report that found race gaps in the composition of police departments.

To understand this situation, it’s important to go back to the very beginning and look at how this started. It all started when Mr. Gray upon seeing police decided to run. The fundamental question here is why did Mr. Gray run when he saw the police? And why did they chase him? As far as every reporting goes, he did not have any outstanding warrants of arrest nor was he committing any crimes. But according to and Feb. 25, Baltimore Sun report, Sandtown-Winchester, Mr. Gray’s impoverished neighborhood, led the state of Maryland in the latest census for the number of people incarcerated with unemployment rate double the average of the city of Baltimore.  Was he running away to avoid being arrested like many of his neighbors? We can never know for sure why Mr. Gray ran, but we know his neighborhood was not very well-regarded by police.

The DOJ report sheds some light about the relationship between the police and the residents in Baltimore.

The report found:

“Baltimore Police Department (BPD) makes stops, searches and arrests without the required justification; uses enforcement strategies that unlawfully subject African Americans to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests; uses excessive force; and retaliates against individuals for their constitutionally-protected expression.  The pattern or practice results from systemic deficiencies that have persisted within BPD for many years and has exacerbated community distrust of the police, particularly in the African-American community.”

The investigation described the deficiencies in BPD as lack of sufficient policy guidance and training, failure to collect and analyze data about police activities and failure to hold police accountable for misconduct. The investigation found a stark difference of perceptions of police between white and black Baltimore residents. White residents thought police officers were respectful and responded promptly to their needs while black residents reported police as rude and disrespectful to them and do not respond promptly to calls for service.

According to the DOJ investigation, between 2010 and 2015, BPD reported more than 300,000 pedestrian stops. Roughly 44 percent of the stops occurred in two small predominantly African American districts that contain 11 percent of the city population. This resulted to hundreds of people in the districts experiencing police stops and searches for no reasonable grounds. In fact the investigation found at least 7 African American men who reported to have stopped more than 30 times in the period. The stops were for petty charges. For example standing on sidewalks, led to loitering or trespassing misdemeanor arrests. This created unnecessary arrests and in the period more than 11,000 charges were thrown out for lack of any constitutional merit.

To put this into context, according to DOJ, African Americans, who account for 63 percent of Baltimore residents, formed 86 percent of criminal offenses charges. And out of 1,800 people arrested for discretionary offenses such as “failure to obey” and “trespassing”91 percent of them were African American.

There is a lot to discuss on this topic. And there are no easy answers. But one thing is clear, there is a racially skewed systemic problem that impacts African Americans unfavorable when it comes to law enforcement.

Solutions

There are no easy solutions, but several steps can be taken to start this long journey.

  1. All officers must wear fully functional body cameras and keep them on while on duty or dealing with the public. Failure to keep your camera in working condition or on should be a fireable offense.
  2. Zero tolerance for police who cover-up crimes. Covering up police wrongdoing should be punishable by termination and be considered a violation of the law.
  3. More training on de-escalation techniques for officers is required.
  4. All dash cams must be in working order and officers should be advised to minimize any noise such as radio that would obstruct from the quality of recording sound.
  5. All officers must as a matter of procedure and humanity provide first aid and call for medical back-up immediately whenever they have a shooting victim. Failure to provide first aid or medical assistance should be grounds for termination.
  6. All police-related shooting should be investigated by special prosecutors who have no ties to the police department or the local DA office.
  7. Involve civilian oversight in police activities.
  8. Review permissive gun laws that are putting people at risk and placing police at a disadvantage.

FRONTLINE: POLICING THE POLICE.

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