In Brief—Few are the days when the news doesn’t report the deaths of suspects, sometimes innocents, at the hands of police. In a nation bulging at the seams from guns, the deaths of humans, whether the shooters are our neighbors or the officers on the beat, demands a solution. Do we have the will to change this ongoing tragedy?
A License to Kill—
A reliable source who grew up with a police officer step-father who later taught Police Science has said that he was not only an authoritarian who relied on denigration and psychological games, his students were frequently “spooky” types looking for the power to dominate others. It is confirmation of numerous studies showing at least—at least—inadequate psychological screening and a lack of adequate training of potential police officers.
Coast to coast, north to south, we too often see police officers killing unarmed people and justifying the killing by saying that they were in fear for their lives or were defending others. Just one recent example of this is a white Ferguson, Missouri police officer killing an unarmed black 18-year-old who, according to several witnesses, had his hands up and was attempting to surrender.
Although the case is reportedly still under state and federal investigation, it shows a disturbing picture of law enforcement. The Grand Jury, a “secret” and one-sided proceeding, has been presented by a notably police-friendly prosecutor who allowed Officer Wilson to present his version without rebuttal. Furthermore, the Missouri governor refused to appoint an independent prosecutor. A leak says the Grand Jury is alleged to have found that Officer Wilson who killed the youth was “in fear for his life.” Yeah, right. Abundant evidence clearly refutes this interpretation thereby showing that prosecutors can be part of the problem.
There’s no question that being a police officer is one of the most important jobs in America. The police are charged with the responsibility of protecting ALL of the citizens of America’s communities as well as investigating an array of crimes and preserving the peace. In short, they are there to protect and to serve.
Unfortunately, they are underpaid, taken for granted and placed in stressful environments without adequate training or preparation for the job they are expected to perform. It should not surprise you that too many police officers, seeing only the excitement and the power they wield over others, succumb to the temptation to exercise their power in an abusive manner.
On top of this is the racism and nativism, conscious and subconscious, that arises from America’s history of slavery and immigration. It’s to be expected that low pay and inadequate training will combine with societal maladies such as racism to produce the widespread dysfunction that we see today.
Here are some shocking examples illustrating the dysfunction that exists in America.
John Crawford, a black man of Beavercreek, Ohio, was shot in July of 2014 by police officers in a Walmart when he was innocently holding a toy gun he was considering buying. He was unarmed.
Ezell Ford of Los Angeles, California, was shot several times in the back and killed by a police officer who allegedly shot the unarmed black man while he was on the ground and complying with the officer’s demands. The victim was known to have mental problems. This occurred in July of 2014.
Eric Garner of New York was suspected of selling loose cigarettes in July of 2014 when he was killed by a police officer who applied a fatal choke hold to the unarmed black victim who had surrendered and was on the ground.
Sean Bell, a black youth of Queens, New York, was standing with friends outside a strip club on his wedding day in March of 2012 when he was shot and killed by police officers who have since been fired for the unlawful and senseless killing.
Amadou Diallo, a recent West African immigrant without any criminal record and unarmed, was deliberately shot and killed in the doorway of his Bronx, New York apartment in February of 1999.
Akai Gurley, an unarmed man who had just had his hair braided, was shot in the chest and killed Thursday, November 20, 2014, in Brooklyn, New York by Officer Peter Liang, a probationary officer. The New York Police Deprtment claims that Officer Liang’s gun “accidentally” discharged. If there was no threat, then why was the officer’s gun out? This is yet another questionable killing by untrained police officers.
These are just a few of the numerous instances of unarmed innocent black men being killed by police officers. Interestingly, there are no statistics on such killings in the many records on police shootings. Why?
What about unarmed Hispanics?
Rafael Laureano was “accidentally” shot in the back in October of 2014 in Brooklyn, New York, when he came to help police deal with a man who was threatening a former girlfriend. The other man, armed with a knife, was also killed by police.
Manuel Diaz of Anaheim, California, was shot in the back and the head by a police officer as the victim and others ran away from a slow-moving unmarked car that happened to be carrying the police officer. The following day, in July of 2012, police wounded several people, including children, who were angrily protesting the previous day’s killing of the unarmed man.
Israel Hernandez Llach an 18-year-old award-winning Colombian art student who had recently received his approval papers from the Immigration Department was tased to death in August of 2013 by Miami Beach, Florida police officers who found him drawing the letter R on the side of an abandoned McDonald’s. The officer responsible for the youth’s death had several previous complaints of having used excessive force and had been suspended once.
Eli Escobar, age 14, was “accidentally” shot and killed in 2003 by a Houston, Texas rookie police officer who was reported to be inadequately trained. Houston (i.e., the taxpayers) paid a million and a half dollars to the boy’s parents for his unjustified killing.
This is just a tiny fraction of police killings because, as noted earlier, there are no statistics kept on unjustified killings by police officers. Tellingly, the shootings of innocents and suspects—I repeat, SUSPECTS—involve people of color far in excess of their percentages of the overall population. Query: does this reflect inadequate training or racism? There is no excuse for either.
To Protect and to Serve is too often a license to kill. As stated earlier, the causes are there. It is a deep stain on America. Isn’t it past time to do something to remedy this?
Readers are invited to see my piece, “Justice? What Justice?!”