The Situation with Police Isn’t Changing…

Back in 2014, a young man was shot in the middle of the street in Ferguson, MO, reputedly in cold blood by a renegade cop who shot first and asked questions later. As the investigation played out, however, it was found that the young man, who was black, was possibly a suspect in a convenience store theft and allegedly reached inside the officer’s (who was white) car and wrestled for his weapon. Thus, the proper investigative organizations – including state and federal agencies and a grand jury convened for the case – decided not to press charges against the police officer, who summarily quit his position as a member of the force and disappeared.

Many have called the situation that occurred in Ferguson the spark of what has been an increase in attention to the conduct of police in the United States. While it was wrong in this case – the police officer was well within his authority to use his weapon against a suspect who had previously attacked him – there have now been a litany of other cases that have come up (perhaps thanks to the attention brought regarding police conduct in the Missouri case) that show the situation with police isn’t changing.

The true “spark” might have been the 2014 death of Eric Garner, a 43-year old father who, while allegedly selling loose cigarettes to people, was allegedly choked to death by police. After a great deal of investigation, a Staten Island, NY, grand jury found that the officer in question, Daniel Pantaleo, might have used an illegal move in restraining Garner but he wasn’t responsible for his death. While you might think that police would have gotten a bit smarter about the situation after this, it instead has become obvious that the cases of police misconduct are much more prevalent than we previously thought.

2015 saw the spark turn into a wildfire. In April, the confrontation between Walter Scott and officer Michael Slager in North Charleston rattled the nation. Claiming that Scott had (at the minimum) grabbed at his Taser, Slager said that he “feared for his life” (get ready, you’ll hear this frequently) in shooting Scott to death. This would have probably been the story that was accepted…until video came out that showed Scott, running away from Slager, mercilessly shot several times in the back and, as he lay dying, Slager come up to him and drop the Taser beside his body. That case, in which Slager was charged with murder and dismissed from the police force, is still pending.

Also in April, the death of Freddie Gray in a Baltimore paddy wagon – despite telling officers he needed medical attention and allegedly having his injuries made more severe through a “rough ride” (a jerking and rough treatment in the cage of a paddy wagon of a person under arrest for causing “problems” for officers) – set the Maryland skies ablaze. Rioting in the inner-city Baltimore neighborhoods brought back sad and eerie reminders of the Ferguson rioting a year earlier, but it seemed to calm once the District Attorney in the case indicted six Baltimore police officers on varying charges related to Gray’s death. One of those officers had his case end in a mistrial and will be retried in 2016; the other five are still awaiting trial.

This isn’t even looking at the case earlier in 2015 in Texas. A 17-year old girl, who had walked into a Longview, TX, police station, was gunned down by police. With a knife in her hand and four words – “I have a gun” – written on her hand, Kristiana Coignard was surrounded by three officers, with one of them shooting the teenager, who was obviously mentally off. After investigation by the Texas Rangers (the law enforcement arm, not the baseball team), no charges were brought against the officers involved.

Now, as we approach the end of 2015, one case from 2014 and several others in one major city over the past couple of years are painting law enforcement in an ever-worsening light. The November 2014 shooting of 12-year old Tamir Rice by Cleveland police officers was a tragedy that shouldn’t have occurred. According to testimony, Rice was carrying an air pistol – a BB gun, basically – and menacingly holding it out at passersby and cars. Police were called and, after two seconds of being on the scene, one officer, Timothy Loehmann, pulled his weapon and shot Rice in the torso; Rice would die the next day from the single shot.

From the start, this case has been a clusterfuck. The Cleveland DA, not wanting to taint his relationship with Cleveland police, laid the case at a grand jury’s feet while allegedly trying to ensure that charges wouldn’t be brought against the officers through manipulation of the evidence (such as getting paid experts to side with the police officers’ side of the story, something unheard of unless in a trial, among other things). This is despite evidence that Loehmann had been found to be an “emotionally unstable recruit unfit for duty” by a previous employer in law enforcement. The DA’s work prevailed as it was announced charges would not be brought against the officers on Monday, putting an entire city on the razor’s edge.

Another city that has been walking the tightrope of tension is Chicago. In a police shooting against a man in November 2014, city officials had dragged their feet on the investigation, including not releasing the videotape from the police cruisers at the scene that reportedly showed Officer Jason Van Dyke gunning down 17-year old Laquan McDonald on a Chicago street. After a Freedom of Information Act request from a local blogger wasn’t blocked by the courts, Chicago government authorities released the video to the general public in all of its ugliness and charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder…more than a year following the shooting.

The video showed McDonald, erratically walking down a street and allegedly waving a small pocketknife around (it cannot be seen in the video until it is kicked away from his body at the end), as police attempted to control the situation with their squad cars and their experience. Allegedly Van Dyke showed up to the scene and, within six seconds of arrival, pulled his weapon and pumped a full clip – 15 shots – into McDonald, who was spun around after two shots and laid prone on the ground as more shots entered his body. He laid in the street for several minutes, without any medical attention, while police cordoned off the scene.

Once again, video was the thing that brought out the discrepancies in the story. Van Dyke alleges that he felt “in fear of his life” in shooting McDonald and that McDonald had lunged at him; in fact, McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke when hit with the first shot. After emptying his clip, Van Dyke was reloading his .45 automatic and preparing to shoot some more until a fellow officer issued a “stand down” order. Perhaps more problematic that Van Dyke’s actions, for which he is currently charged with murder (the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with murder since 1968) and will face trial in 2016, other officers AGREED with Van Dyke’s account, stating they immediately went in to provide medical attention to McDonald following the shooting.

Now there is another shooting that is roiling the Chicago landscape. The day after Christmas, 19-year old Quintonio LeGrier, allegedly wielding a baseball bat following a domestic disturbance, was shot to death by Chicago police. LeGrier wasn’t the only fatality, however; a 55-year old neighbor, Bettie Jones, was hit by stray police gunfire and died during the shooting. The investigation is ongoing in this case.

It is painfully obvious that there is a need for seismic change in the way police officers are trained and how they conduct themselves in the “real” world. Although it may be claimed that these are “isolated” incidences, when you add in other situations such as those in Alabama and in Maryland, it is happening far too frequently for it to simply be “rogue” officers (this doesn’t even bring up the embezzlement that the Illinois police officer had done for years before he committed suicide – while trying to make it look like he was killed in action – this summer). Through these simple steps, there might be a change in how officers are hired, trained and kept on the force.

Every two years, a police officer – regardless of position or power – should be subjected to a complete physical, psychological and financial review. These reviews would be withering, looking into social media usage and actions outside of the workday (hey, if we can fire teachers for starring in porn videos outside of school hours, we ought to be able to fire officers for being aligned with the KKK, as some in Missouri have alleged to have been) and into their personal lives. If an officer doesn’t agree to such testing, he should lay his badge and gun down then and there and leave the force.

In an effort to further ensure that the truth is discovered, all patrol cars should have video cameras on them and officers themselves should be wearing personal cameras. The penalties for not operating these devices should be dismissal from the police force and banishment from law enforcement. Through the usage of these devices – and the FULL release of said video on demand of the public (several locales are looking to block the public from seeing these videos, corrupting the system rather than making it more transparent) – the truth, more often than not in the favor of law enforcement, would be demonstrated.

Yes, a job in law enforcement is highly dangerous and can result in a person’s death. This doesn’t give a person the right to be the judge, jury and executioner when it comes to situations on the street. It also doesn’t give them carte blanche to indiscriminately fire weapons, as it appears this latest incident in Chicago was.

It is time there was definitive change in the way police conduct themselves for the constituency they are supposed to serve. The day of being able to “fudge” reports, plant evidence (remember the Charleston case) or skew a case through the appropriate language (“in fear of my life”) being used should be long past over. Stand up and take responsibility for what you are doing, law enforcement, or face even more problems down the road.

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As The Bullets Continue To Fly…

Gunfight

Thanksgiving…a time for all of us to join together with our families and friends and truly demonstrate that we are grateful for the bounty that our lives have provided for us. I was feeling quite heartened by these spirits as Thanksgiving Day elapsed, having a great time preparing (OK, thanks to Harris Teeter, there wasn’t much preparing) our Thanksgiving dinner with my lovely wife as our son bounded about watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (probably the first year he actually paid attention to it). The very next day, the bullets continued to fly as it ruined any amount of goodwill I might have mustered from that one day.

It started on Tuesday and I did try to ignore it but, as the news continued to grow, I grew more irritated at our current condition. Last Tuesday, city officials in Chicago finally got around to releasing the dash cam video of the death of Laquan McDonald, the 17 year old who was allegedly gunned down by police in an attack that dated back MORE THAN A YEAR PREVIOUSLY. The investigation supposedly had been going on that entire time and officials reluctantly (after being forced by an FOIA request from a journalist) released the video to the general public late in the afternoon. They also decided to charge the officer responsible for the shooting, Jason Van Dyke, with first degree murder while releasing the video.

If you haven’t had the chance to watch the dash cam video of that fateful night, it is angering. With no audio from the dash cam (a violation of Chicago videotaping procedures, by the way), we see McDonald (who was found with PCP in his system in the autopsy afterwards) acting erratically as he walks down a city street carrying what would later be learned to be a pocket knife. Several police officers, either in their cars or on foot, are following McDonald from a distance as they try to get the situation under control.

What happens next is outrageous. Van Dyke allegedly pulls up on the scene and steps from his vehicle, drawing his weapon. Within six seconds of Van Dyke’s arrival on the scene, the bullets start to fly from his weapon. In total, McDonald was hit sixteen (16) times, Van Dyke emptying a full magazine into his body. There are even shots hitting McDonald’s body while he is on the ground and no longer moving. The act takes all of 10-15 seconds and no other officer fired a shot that night; in fact, Van Dyke allegedly went to RELOAD and continue firing before an officer called him off. These other officers did add to the egregious nature of the act, however, by not offering any medical assistance to McDonald, even though that is what they wrote in their reports.

Van Dyke surrendered to authorities on Wednesday and it became known that the officer had 18 complaints against him over the 14 years that he had been on the Chicago Police Department rolls, but he had never been reprimanded in any of those cases. These incidences, which ranged from “roughing up” suspects to usage of racist language, are unfortunately common – if someone is getting arrested, it sometimes slows their prosecution process down to accuse the arresting officer of some malfeasance – but perhaps in this instance were indicative of something more.

What finally got me, however, was the support of Van Dyke from his union, the Chicago branch of the Fraternal Order of Police. In a Yahoo! article Saturday, the FOP admitted they were actively trying to raise bail money for Van Dyke (first through a GoFundMe account that was closed soon after launch and then through the chapter’s website) and providing an attorney for him. One of the officers from that chapter of the FOP even stated to Yahoo! “First degree (murder) is a high bar to set and of course it is political (the charges),” indicating some level of support for Van Dyke.

I know it is the job of a union to support its members, but we’ve seen this type of story far too often. Be it in North Charleston, the streets of Staten Island or even on a playground in Cleveland, police officers nowadays are far too often shooting first and asking questions later. I leave out Ferguson because, after all the evidence was in, there were some grounds for the officer’s actions in that situation. It is then followed up by fictionalized police reports – the same documents that are admitted as EVIDENCE in a court of law – and fellow officers who tacitly support ANY officer whose actions are questioned.

The Chicago situation is particularly angering on several fronts. We’ve mentioned the lack of medical attention provided and we’ve talked about the unduly long time it took to even bring charges against the officer, but what hasn’t been mentioned are the supposed “good cops.” Sure, you can write off some of these acts as that of a “bad apple,” but “bad apples” continue to fester when the “good apples” don’t get them removed from the barrel. The continued silence and/or tacit approval (as what the Chicago FOP is doing) of anyone’s actions is wrong, nearly as bad as that of the actual killing.

There was one suggestion that I made in a discussion that, when heard by a former officer, he responded as if I was cutting off one of his limbs. Every two years, an officer should go through a thorough performance, psychiatric and financial background check and review to determine their mindset and stability to remain on the active police force. Enforcing such a program as this would have found the Fox Lake, IL officer who, after a lengthy mourning process for a “hero” that was gunned down by a trio of “bad guys,” was found to have committed suicide because he was embezzling money and threatening public employees; in the Chicago case, there could have been more focus on the complaints against Van Dyke that might have prevented what happened in 2014.

The role of law enforcement officers isn’t an easy one. It also isn’t one where you are given free reign over all who are “beneath you” by your viewpoint, to do whatever you feel is appropriate. The people you are supposed to protect also have to know you’re equipped to handle the job…if not, then you shouldn’t be on the street. Perhaps if the bi-annual reviews were done (and other things more immediate, like video cameras appropriately used), we’d weed out the “bad apples.”

If that wasn’t enough, then Friday came along. Instead of the usual reports of “Black Friday” idiocy such as an old woman having that $99 HDTV “Black Friday deal” snatched from them by an 18-year old (you know, those heartwarming Christmas tales), the attack of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, dominated the news. As we know now, a man who was obviously mentally off somehow penetrated the doors of one of the most secure Planned Parenthood branches in the United States and proceeded to kill three people and injure nine others. If this doesn’t bother you, then the callous response from a particular branch of politicians is probably up your alley.

During the day on Friday and into Saturday, NOT ONE of the GOP candidates for President issued a statement in support of the employees of Planned Parenthood nor those that were injured in the shooting. A few mumbled some support for the officer who was killed in the Colorado Springs shooting, but nothing about the business or the people who were there for the services. As of Monday, these GOP “leaders” are trying to come out with their lame statements even as they try to keep from even being seen as showing any support for Planned Parenthood.

Yes, these are our choices for the Republican nomination of the President of the United States.

When you lead this country, YOU LEAD ALL. If you cannot fashion the words, “The shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic, despite my objection to the clinic’s purposes, is completely wrong. The people killed and injured is a tragedy that shouldn’t occur in the United States. My campaign extends our condolences to all at the clinic and to the state of Colorado” into a cohesive statement within hours of the arrest of the suspect, then you do not have the ability to lead the nation. Just because you have an opposition to an issue is no reason to remove the humanity from it. But, then again, we are also talking about the same party who believes that shutting the door in the face of refugees is the correct course to take.

While the two issues aren’t connected, they do show the continued degradation of our society. Continually allowing the “bad apples” – whether they are politicians or police – to ruin the whole batch can be changed. The question is whether anyone is willing to take on the dirty work to do it or not.

Tough To Get Upset With Ferguson This Time Around

It’s been a year since the stunning shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO, police officer Darren Wilson. A year that has seen not only a grand jury but a federal inquiry decline to indict Brown for the shooting of the young man (who allegedly had stolen cigars from a nearby convenience store, intimidated the owner and then tried to reach in Brown’s patrol car – for what reason nobody seems to know – before the shooting) while riots tore up the city. Since then, we’ve had much more legitimate complaints regarding law enforcement treatment of blacks in areas such as Baltimore and Charleston, which have pushed Brown’s case and its myriad of grey areas into the shadows.

With the anniversary of the shooting, there have come new peaceful protests and calls for changes within the system, not only in Missouri but also in the United States as a whole. For the most part, these have been orderly situations where the protestors have been able to put their message out there for the people to hear and, for the most part, law enforcement has been respectful of these protests. That seemed to change on Monday night, however.

On Monday night, law enforcement contends they were the targets of a shooter/shooters among a crowd of people who were “peacefully” protesting at night, never a good recipe for anything. As you can tell from the video released by the Ferguson Police Department, it does appear that one person may have had a weapon in their hand and may have been trying to blend with the crowd to try to get away from the police.

Then there was this situation, allegedly taped yesterday showing a “peaceful” protest blocking one of the thoroughfares in Ferguson. The protest makes its point – while blocking those that might have to get to jobs or, perhaps worse yet, have an emergency they have to attend to – while the police make their point by telling the protesters they have to move out of the road because they are impeding traffic (a misdemeanor offense). The idiot at the end gets what he deserves for not listening to the officers.

Finally, we have the Oath Keepers, those vaunted individuals who have deemed themselves the righteous protector of all and enforcer of laws where there are none. This gang – and that is what it is, a gang – is being allowed to walk the streets in Missouri armed (as is permissible by law) but the reciprocity isn’t being extended to those that march for the other side. They are still walking the streets of Ferguson today, not doing anything to calm the situation but inflaming it even more.

The problem with these incidences is that they aren’t doing anything to further either the cause of racial equality, equal treatment by police or improving the situation for anyone in such straits. All they seem to be doing is continually pulling the scab off an already sore wound, never letting it heal fully and never providing it the medications that are needed for it to do just that. By continuing to flood the streets, it makes it tough for anyone to get upset with what is going on in Ferguson this time.

The peaceful protests were played out the first time around, soon after Brown was shot and then again after the Grand Jury refused to indict Wilson on any charges. The anniversary does bring a moment to remember the situation, not a weekend of protests that now has dragged on into the following week. For those who protested over the weekend, it seems as if they were organic and looking to effect change in their community; in those that have gone on since then, it seems they have been spearheaded by those looking to commit crime or, in the case of the Oath Keepers, someone looking to do some human target practice.

In the Brown case, it was shown that Brown at least violated Wilson’s police vehicle (sure, Wilson could have planted that evidence, but I don’t think Barney Fife had the ability to think that far ahead in the situation) and, after Wilson pursued him, at least turned around to confront Wilson. This is a fact from the autopsy. While Brown can be mourned for his death, he cannot be celebrated as a martyr for a cause (that should be left to Walter Scott, the man needlessly gunned down in North Charleston). The peaceful protestors should, at the minimum, disavow those causing the problems, which I haven’t heard.

Law enforcement also has their burden to bear in this situation. They can admit to the long line of actions they used to put down certain races in the Ferguson area (and many others) and commit themselves to eradicating the problems from their divisions. They can also order the Oath Keepers to return to whatever militia they scurried out from under as they are simply causing more problems than their presence is worth.

Maybe come next August, the remembrances will be smaller but the message will resonate larger. Maybe next year there won’t be the need for arrests or weapons to be used. Maybe next year the Oath Keepers will keep their asses at home instead of flouting a questionable message and inflaming the tensions in an already boiling cauldron. For this year, however, the message has been bastardized and no one is listening.