Police Shootings

16 Dead: Who’s accountable?

The names of black men and boys killed during encounters with, or in the custody of, police–Earl Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Tamir Rice–are permanently enshrined on tee-shirts, posters, and book covers, but seldom do we remember the names of officers responsible for their deaths.

What happens to these officers, I wondered, once the public outcry and media attention has died down?Do they return to their normal lives? Do their careers survive the glare of public scrutiny? Do they face legal consequences?

To answer these questions, I reviewed media accounts of 16 officer-involved deaths** of black men and boys (and one woman) during the period April 2014 to April 2015 to determine what consequences, if any, police officers faced.

The outcomes are as follows:

  • 37.5 percent (6) faced no charges
  • 25 percent (4) not indicted by a grand jury
  • 12.5 percent (2) are awaiting the outcome of a judicial review or an “ongoing investigation”
  • 18.75 percent (3) were convicted after a jury trial
  • 6.25 percent (1) were acquitted after a jury trial

The 16:

Dontre D. Hamilton, 31, (4/30/14, WI) Shot 14 times by Officer Christopher Mann after he found Hamilton, who had a history of mental illness, sleeping on a park bench and a scuffle ensued/ Result: No charges, but fired.

Eric Garner, 43 (7/14/14, NY) Died as result of chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo while being arrested for selling loose cigarettes outside a Staten Island convenience store/ Result: an administrative judge recommended his dismissal; NYPD commissioner’s decision about his job is pending. Update: On of August 19, the NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill fired Officer Pantaleo.

John Crawford III, 22 (8/5/14, OH) Shot by Officer Sean Williams for holding a BB air rifle in a Walmart store while talking on his girlfriend on his cell phone; Crawford had not pointed the rifle at anyone/ Result: No charges

Ezell Ford, 25, (8/11/14, CA) Shot three times by Officers Sharlton Wamper and Antonio Villegas after “an investigative stop” at 8:20 PM/ Result: No charges

Dante Parker, 36 (8/12/14, CA) Died after being tased 27 times by Sheriff John McMahon and Deputy Sheriff Kristen Irwin who suspected him of breaking into a home; autopsy stated he died of acute PCP intoxication./Results: “Ongoing investigation”

Tanisha Anderson, 37 (11/13/14, OH) Family members say Officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers slammed Anderson, who had mental illness, onto the pavement, left her on the ground in handcuffs for 21 minutes; she was taken to a medical center, and pronounced dead at 12:30 AM/Result: Cleared by grand jury; Aldridge suspended for 10 days without pay, and Myers received a written warning.

Akai Gurley, 28 (11/20/14, NY) Shot in NYC public housing stairwell by Officer Peter Liang who said his gun “just went off.”/Result: Found guilty of criminally negligent homicide; received 5 years probation; 800 hours of community service

Tamir Rice, 12 (11/24/14, OH) Shot by Officers Timothy Loehman and Frank Garmback, within seconds of their patrol car pulling up, for brandishing a toy gun in a park /Result: No charges

Rumain Brisbon, 34 (12/2/14, AZ) Shot in the back 3 times by Officer Mark Rine, who says he thought Brisbon reached for a weapon, that turned out to be a bottle of pills, when told to put his hands on his head/Result: No charges

Jerame Reid, 36 (12/30/14, NJ) Shot 8 times after a traffic stop by Officers Braheme Days and Roger Worley who say they feared he had a handgun/Result: Grand jury did not indict; both officers resigned.

Michael Brown, 18 (8/9/14, MO) Shot by Officer Darren Wilson, who said the teenager the teenager attacked him in his patrol car and tried to take his gun; Dorian Johnson, Brown’s friend counters the officers story, and says the officer reached out of the car and grabbed Brown by the neck and threatened him/Result: Grand jury did not indict; Wilson lives in seclusion Note:

Phillip White, 32 (3/31/15, NJ) Died in custody after a scuffle with Officers Louis Plantania and Richard Janasiak who punched White while a police dog bites down on his arm. 911 caller had said White was acting “strange.” Rushed to the hospital, White later died./Result: Grand did not indict

Tony Terrell Robinson, 19 (3/6/15, WI) Shot 6 times by Officer Matt Kenny when the officer responded to a 911 by Robinson’s friend who said the biracial teenager was behaving “erratically” in the home they shared./Result: No charges

Eric Harris, 43 (4/2/15, OK) Shot by Deputy Robert Bates during an undercover sting; Bates said he mistook his S&W .375 for his taser when he shot Harris, who had been subdued and lay face down on the ground./Result: Convicted of 2nd degree manslaughter; served 16 months of a 4-year sentence

Walter Scott, 50 (4/4/15, SC) Officer Michael Slager shot Scott, who was fleeing after a traffic stop for a broken taillight/Result: Convicted on federal charge of 2nd degree murder; sentenced to 20 years

According to a recent U.S. News article on police violence, “The issue of police-related fatalities overall is so acute…that such encounters (are) a “leading cause of death” among all young men ages 25 to 29…”

” Young men of color face an ‘exceptionally high risk of being killed by police,’ and that risk continues to be greater for black men as they age compared with whites…” according to researchers at Rutgers University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Michigan who conducted the study.

The report validates the belief of African American families that encounters with police (or an armed citizen) can lead to the death of a son or daughter, parent or sibling, friend or relative.

Many of the 16 killed had histories of mental illness, criminal offenses, and/or substance use and lived in low-income neighborhoods. Most of police officers expressed the belief that these factors justified their reactions. On the other hand, community activists and family members say that these same factors call for less aggressive responses and more training for police officers to de-escalate situations when dealing with unarmed or mentally ill individuals.

When a police shooting occurs many complex factors are at play: officers’ fear and distrust of the communities they serve, community mistrust of police, pervasive stereotypes of black males, institutional racism, economic stagnation in low-income communities, and limited services for those with mental illness or substance abuse problems.

Until these issues are seriously addressed by local, state and federal governments, the list of black men, women, and boys killed by police will continue to grow.

**The16 cases reviewed are but a fraction of police shootings that have occurred across the nation through 2019, and they were randomly selected and organized by date of the event..


Trump remarks before law enforcement: dangerous and counterproductive

This post is a revised version of my Commentary on this week’s OneMother’sVoice podcast.

“Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Lord John-Dalberg Acton, 19th century British politician

Before commenting on President Trump’s remarks yesterday to an audience of local, state, and federal law enforcement in Long Island, NY, in the interests of full disclosure, I acknowledge that I come from a family of law enforcement officers–three correctional officers, a NYPD detective, and an NYPD police officer–my father.

So, I respect the difficult job that law enforcement officers do and the dangers that they face every day.

That said, the aforementioned quote by Lord Acton is apropos across the criminal justice spectrum. Police officers, prosecutors, judges, and parole and probation officers have almost absolute power to determine the fates of the individuals they encounter for the good or the bad.

And let’s be clear, under our American legal system, there is (or should be) a presumption of innocence unless and until one is judged by a jury of one’s peers.

For sure, as citizens, we do not want those entrusted with our safety hampered by inadequate training, lack of resources, or public mistrust.

On the other hand, we cannot turn a blind eye to abuses of power. When communities of color view police officers with a wary eye, it creates barriers to effective policing.

So, when President Trump invokes inflammatory rhetoric that pits law enforcement against the public it is sworn to serve, it is dangerous and counterproductive to the goals of keeping communities and police officers safe.

Trumpisms such as these, don’t help:

“When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon (paddy wagon?), …please don’t be too nice.”

“For years and years, (laws have) been made to protect the criminal…Totally protect the criminal, not the officers. You do something wrong, you are in more jeopardy than they are. These laws are stacked against you. We’re changing those laws.”

It is this kind of “get tough” thinking that has fueled mass incarceration over the last two decades.

Perhaps, President Trump needs to read the scorecard vis-a-vis police-involved shootings of black males (and females).

It seems that the laws protecting police officers are doing just fine.