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A major investigative report by the Washington Post tells a chilling story: police killings nationwide are on a pace to eclipse 1,000 by year’s end. That’s more than double the national average in recent years. Even more disturbing is the fact that police shootings are largely underreported. Mind you, these statistics do not include police-inflicted deaths by means other than police bullets, such as stun guns and people in police custody.
The report states: “‘These shootings are grossly underreported,’ said Jim Bueermann, a former police chief and president of the Washington-based Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving law enforcement. ‘We are never going to reduce the number of police shootings if we don’t begin to accurately track this information.’”
“And in a high-rise apartment in Birmingham, Ala., police shot an elderly man after his son asked them to make sure he was okay. Douglas Harris, 77, answered the door with a gun.”
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Mr. Harris is one of nearly 400 people who were shot and killed by police during the first five months of this year. This equates to more than two a day.
Eighty percent of the victims of police shootings were in possession of “potentially lethal objects.” However, this statistic is deceptive, in that it includes people such as Mr. Harris, who was simply armed for his own protection and was shot and killed because he was armed. The remaining victims were completely unarmed; and many were actually running away.
The dead ranged in age from 16 to 83. About half of the calls were in response to some sort of domestic disturbance. Some involved homeless people behaving erratically or someone threatening suicide. Nearly 25% of the victims were identified as being “mentally ill.”
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“In Miami Gardens, Fla., Catherine Daniels called 911 when she couldn’t persuade her son, Lavall Hall, a 25-year-old black man, to come in out of the cold early one morning in February. A diagnosed schizophrenic who stood 5-foot-4 and weighed barely 120 pounds, Hall was wearing boxer shorts and an undershirt and waving a broomstick when police arrived. They tried to stun him with a Taser gun and then shot him.”
Police are only authorized to use deadly force when they fear for their lives or the lives of others and there is an imminent threat to life. This is the same principle of law that governs the conduct of American citizens in general. However, nowadays, running away from a police officer could easily get one shot.
“Running is such a provocative act that police experts say there is a name for the injury officers inflict on suspects afterward: a ‘foot tax.’”
Of the nearly 400 police killings so far this year, only three have resulted in an officer being charged with a crime. That’s less than one percent.
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“The low rate mirrors the findings of a Post investigation in April that found that of thousands of fatal police shootings over the past decade, only 54 had produced criminal charges. Typically, those cases involved layers of damning evidence challenging the officer’s account. Of the cases resolved, most officers were cleared or acquitted.”
According to FBI statistics, over the past several years, police have killed around 400 people each year. But this stat was achieved in just the first five months of this year. To be sure, many of these killings were completely justified–and sometimes even heroic.
The problem is, far too many chiefs of police, sheriffs, county prosecutors, judges, etc., are willing to either 1) not properly and thoroughly investigate police killings, or 2) look the other way at questionable killings, or 3) actually cover-up wrongful deaths committed by police. Regardless, all of the above leads to a breakdown of justice and true law and order–and serious distrust on the part of the American citizenry regarding law enforcement agencies and the court system itself.
Just about everyone is predicting a long, hot summer of anti-police violence this year in many of America’s major cities–especially after the highly controversial episodes involving police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland. But the problem is much deeper than these two events. A recent history of police abuse and killings has produced deep resentment against the police, especially within many minority communities. And it’s time that the American people (and especially America’s police agencies) began realizing that this resentment is not entirely unfounded.
The Post report notes that for most police departments and sheriff’s offices, a fatal shooting is a rare event (as it should be). However, 19 state and local police agencies have had at least three police killings so far this year, including the police departments in Los Angeles, California; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Bakersfield, California.
“The most troubling cases began with a cry for help.
“About half the shootings occurred after family members, neighbors or strangers sought help from police because someone was suicidal, behaving erratically or threatening violence.
“Take Shane Watkins, a 39-year-old white man, who died in his mother’s driveway in Moulton, Ala.
“Watkins had never been violent, and family members were not afraid for their safety when they called Lawrence County sheriff’s deputies in March. But Watkins, who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was off his medication. Days earlier, he had declared himself the ‘god of the fifth element’ and demanded whiskey and beer so he could ‘cleanse the earth with it,’ said his sister, Yvonne Cote.
“Then he started threatening to shoot himself and his dog, Slayer. His mother called Cote, who called 911. Cote got back on the phone with her mother, who watched Watkins walk onto the driveway holding a box cutter to his chest. A patrol car pulled up, and Cote heard her mother yell: ‘Don’t shoot! He doesn’t have a gun!’
“‘Then I heard the gunshots,’ Cote said.
“Lawrence County sheriff’s officials declined to comment and have refused to release documents related to the case.”
“Catherine Daniels called police for the same reason. ‘I wanted to get my son help,’ she said. Instead, officers Peter Ehrlich and Eddo Trimino fired their stun guns after Hall hit them with the metal end of the broomstick, according to investigative documents.
“‘Please don’t hurt my child,’ Daniels pleaded, in a scene captured by a camera mounted on the dash of one of the patrol cars.
“‘Get on the f—ing ground or you’re dead!’ Trimino shouted. Then he fired five shots.
“Police spokesman Mike Wright declined to comment on the case. Daniels said no one from the city has contacted her. ‘I haven’t received anything. No apology, nothing.’
“But hours after her son was killed, Daniels said, officers investigating the shooting dropped off a six-pack of Coca-Cola.
“‘I regret calling them,’ Daniels said. ‘They took my son’s life.’”
See the Washington Post report here:
The Post report seems to suggest that the answer is for the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., to take a more active role in monitoring local and State policing. I strongly disagree!
One of the reasons why so many of our police officers and sheriff’s deputies have become so abusive and trigger-happy is due to the training they are receiving. The “us versus them” mentality is much the result of training indoctrination. And, since 9/11 and the advent of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the federal government is mostly responsible for training policies, procedures, philosophies, etc., within State and local police agencies. In fact, most of our local police SWAT teams are trained by U.S. military Special Forces troops. DHS has turned our State and local police agencies into quasi-military units. And it has turned the U.S. citizenry into enemy combatants. I argue that the problems we are having with our police agencies today is the result of the ubiquitous and draconian influence from Washington, D.C.
Plus, think about the manner in which the federal government “bribes” State and local police agencies with all kinds of funding for everything from personnel to tanks and armored carriers, to sophisticated eavesdropping equipment, to military arms and ammunition, to helicopters, ad infinitum. If anything, the American people should be demanding that their local police departments and sheriff’s offices STOP accepting federal funding OF ANY KIND for their agencies. The way it is now, our State and local law enforcement agencies are more beholden to Uncle Sam than they are to the people whom they are supposed to serve. To ask the federal Justice Department to become more involved in local policing is like asking the proverbial fox to guard the proverbial hen house. Do you really want to turn your local police department over to the people who massacred the Branch Davidians?
Another remedy is the citizens of our respective counties should demand that the State legislatures and/or county commissions establish an independent Citizen Review Committee charged with the task of investigating EVERY incident of alleged police abuse and, especially, EVERY incident involving a police shooting. Quite frankly, we can no longer trust the internal affairs division of our respective police agencies to adequately police their own. This committee should have the financial ability to hire independent private investigators to examine these incidents. And the committee should be given teeth. It should be mandatory that the prosecutor’s office prosecute an officer if the committee investigation finds probable cause–in much the same way that a grand jury’s indictment is binding. It would be even better if an independent prosecutor was assigned to these types of cases. In many counties, blatant cronyism between the prosecutor’s office and the city police departments and county sheriff’s office is way too common. The money should be taken from the annual budget appropriated for the actual police agencies. After all, providing accountability to the public is as much a part of a police department’s responsibility as providing a squad car or K-9 unit to police personnel. Without accountability and the respect of the public, all of the police personnel and equipment in the world is not sufficient to keep the peace.
Thirdly, the American people should demand that appropriate tax-dollars be allotted for the Office of Public Defender (OPD)–even if that means it is taken from funds allotted to police departments. In most states and districts, the OPD is one of the most underfunded entities of all. And the OPD is the one office at the courthouse that is constitutionally-mandated within our U.S. Constitution. Yet, most “law and order” conservatives look at the OPD with disdain–but somehow they still refer to themselves as “constitutionalists.”
Believe me, the last place you want to be forced to defend yourself in a court of law is in a mostly conservative, Christian, FOX News-type-Republican district. To many, if not to most of these good folks, you are guilty simply because you are arrested; and you must PROVE YOURSELF INNOCENT. I know what I’m saying rubs many people the wrong way; but it is an absolute fact.
One of the bedrock principles of American law and justice is that a person is INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty in a court of law. Tragically, this principle has been all but lost in the thinking of many of our citizens today–especially those who watch FOX News too much. It demonstrates a serious lack of understanding and appreciation for liberty itself. For a civil government–any civil government–to take away an individual’s liberty should require the strictest requirements. The old adage is still true: “It is better for ten guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to go to jail.” Americans need to start defaulting to liberty in their thinking once again. This was the Spirit of ’76. For so-called “conservatives” and Christians to demonstrate a “prove your innocence” mentality reveals that they have lost all appreciation and respect for individual liberty and the due process of law.
The county prosecutor’s office has virtually unlimited monies to prosecute people. In fact, the prosecution and imprisonment of the American people has become a HUGELY PROFITABLE BUSINESS. The confiscation of properties and assets of accused (sometimes accusation is all that is required to confiscate a person’s wealth and property) and convicted persons often serves as a significant revenue stream for many cities and counties–as do traffic citations.
Anyone who thinks speed laws are mostly for “safety” is seriously naïve. It’s mostly about generating revenue for the various State and local police agencies, prosecutor’s offices, courts, etc. Most police agencies and prosecutor’s offices directly benefit from speeding tickets and from people being arrested and sent to jail. Not to mention the incentives that come from Washington, D.C.
A properly constituted and funded OPD is the second to last line of peaceful defense against government overreach, abuse, and tyranny. The last line of peaceful defense against government overreach and abuse is the citizen jury. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that a sizeable percentage of people serving time behind bars today are there unjustly. They were convicted by overzealous prosecutors trying to make a name for themselves (not to mention a pile of money), by circumstantial evidence, and by the lack of an adequate defense.
Public defenders are pressured to “go along with the system” and not backlog the court by rendering a thorough and vigorous defense of their clients. The weight of city hall often threatens to come down hard on honest public defenders who won’t roll over for the prosecutor’s office. Judges, likewise, pressure public defenders to “hurry up” with their defense procedures, as all of these myriad laws (especially drug laws) enacted over the years have resulted in most courts being seriously backlogged with cases. And in the minds of most of these “public servants,” the answer is for the public defenders to not bog down the system by being too detailed and thorough in the defense of their clients.
It’s a rigged system, folks! And it’s not rigged in favor of you and me; it’s rigged in favor of the police and prosecutors. This reality makes it far too easy for police to literally “get away with murder.” Fully authorized and functional Citizen Review Committees, and an adequately funded (and appreciated) Office of Public Defender, and police departments and sheriff’s offices that are NOT beholden to the federal government could make a tremendous difference in restoring accountability to our police agencies and public trust in our police departments and prosecutors’ offices.
As police killings rise–and as public distrust and anger rise along with it–a rational and reasoned response becomes obligatory. It begins with people, especially our conservative, Christian, Republican friends, recognizing the current holes in our justice system and returning to common-sense, constitutional principles. If this doesn’t happen soon, political agitators will create a climate of violence and lawlessness that will only produce more of the abuse and misuse of law that is already taking place. And this accomplishes nothing, except making it easier for Big-Government usurpers to justify themselves in their attempt to encroach upon more and more of our liberties.
© Chuck Baldwin
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