Author Topic: Cops Are Still Killing People, But The Nation Has Stopped Paying Attention  (Read 708 times)

Offline imchills

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The call came through Officer Geoffrey Freeman’s radio a few minutes before 10 a.m. on Feb. 8.

“Complaint that somebody jumped a fence and tried to chase a neighbor,” the police dispatcher in Austin, Texas, said. “Black male, tall, thin, wearing jeans, boxers.”

The dispatcher left Freeman with a final detail.

“No weapons,” she can be heard saying just before the call, later released to the public, cuts out.

Freeman headed toward the disturbance, which was taking place in a pocket of suburbia a couple of miles north of the University of Texas at Austin campus.

The last of a series of 911 calls relayed to Freeman reported a “totally nude black male” in the area. Freeman, a 10-year veteran of the force, called for additional units and continued his search.

“Sounds like this guy could either be ... 10-86 [subject with mental illness] and losing it or high or something,” he told dispatch, according to a memo later published by Austin’s Citizen Review Panel.

Within half an hour of arriving, Freeman found what he was looking for. He exited his cruiser and confronted David Joseph, who was completely naked and standing in the middle of the street.

After just seconds of verbal contact, Joseph, a 17-year-old known to his friends as Pronto, lay dying on the asphalt. Freeman had shot him through the heart.

Medical examiners would officially describe Joseph as African-American, 5 feet 7 inches tall and 146 pounds. Freeman, 46 years old and also black, stood at the same height, but was nearly 100 pounds heavier than the teen. A toxicology report later found traces of marijuana, the prescription drug Xanax and an antihistamine in Joseph’s system. It’s still unclear what drove him to strip off his clothes and run around the neighborhood.

Joseph is one of the nearly 300 people police have shot and killed so far this year, according to The Washington Post’s unofficial tally. And like the rest of the names on that list, you’re probably not familiar with Joseph or his story.

There was no mention of Joseph on CNN, Fox News or MSNBC on the day he died, or on any day since, according to a Huffington Post review of programming. Instead, cable news gleefully reported that Donald Trump had called his Republican opponent Texas Sen. Ted Cruz a “pussy.” The schoolyard insult prompted numerous segments, including “experts” speculating on whether the billionaire’s vulgarity would sink his candidacy. (It didn’t.)

There have been at least 20 cases in which cops have shot unarmed civilians to death this year, and a HuffPost examination of cable news transcripts found that the major cable news networks have not covered any of them.

“I have yet to speak with a single person — on 10 college campuses — who has correctly identified” any of the victims, Shaun King, an activist and criminal justice reporter for the New York Daily News, wrote in a column earlier this month. “The hashtags and trending topics of police brutality victims that were once a staple from coast to coast have all but disappeared.”

Although the media’s interest in police shootings may have changed, the broad outlines of many of the cases haven’t. According to Freeman, Joseph didn’t comply with his commands to stop, and instead turned and charged. Freeman claimed he feared for his life and had to resort to lethal force, even though he was also equipped with a Taser, pepper spray and a baton. Joseph’s family said the teen needed help, not a bullet to the chest.

Similar accounts fueled controversy in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as other cities including New York City, Baltimore, Minneapolis and Chicago over the past two years. And like those cases, Joseph’s shooting raises many of the same questions about law enforcement’s use of force, training, racial biases and the ability to hold officers accountable for catastrophic misjudgment or misconduct.

Unlike in those cases, however, Joseph has not become a household name or part of a rallying cry in the fight against police violence.

And he’s not alone in his relative anonymity. Although police reform is still on many people’s minds — including the journalists who continue to cover it — mainstream reporting on the issue seems to have shifted away from telling the stories behind the climbing death toll.

Instead, the media has turned its sights to the heated presidential election, burning through the oxygen that had given life to stories about police brutality and reform.

“The election has distracted people and, even worse, the media has just given in to the lowest common denominator to cover every crazy and outrageous thing Trump says at the expense of actually covering issues and concerns,” Sarah Oates, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, told HuffPost.

It’s not that wall-to-wall coverage of the presidential election has completely undercut the conversation about policing in America. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have both reached out to the families of victims of police violence, even recruiting some of them as surrogates. And they’ve both made sweeping — though perhaps unrealistic — promises to enact police reform if elected president. But in the midst of a contentious primary season, they’ve stopped using new examples to illustrate the critical importance of the issue.

The focus was less abstract last year. Police fatally shot 109 unarmed civilians in 2015, according to The Guardian’s unofficial tally, a steady drumbeat of bloodshed accentuated by higher-profile incidents that dominated headlines for days. National attention helped amplify the existing local activism, and under the klieg lights, city and state officials felt pressure to listen to the demands for accountability, transparency and change.

Video footage played an integral role in building that storyline. Last year, the public had little choice but to watch as bystander video of an officer opening fire on a fleeing 50-year-old Walter Scott was broadcast on repeat around the nation. In the days that passed between the Scott shooting and the release of the footage, law enforcement tried to portray the incident as a reasonable use of force. The four-minute cell phone video unwound that narrative, and eventually led prosecutors to charge the officer with murder.

In the cases from this year that HuffPost analyzed, however, there have so far been no publicly released videos clearly showing the shootings — no visual evidence to further force Americans to take a hard look at police violence and potentially challenge the notion that officers are always right. And considering that police are still killing people frequently — in incidents that often sound troublingly familiar — it’s possible that the public has developed a higher threshold for outrage.

While Clinton and Sanders have been less outspoken about issues of police violence this year, they didn’t hesitate to get involved last year. In fact, both candidates appeared to make a point of saying the names of people killed by police, channeling a cause promoted by activists aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement.

But now that Clinton and Sanders are trying to win over voters and build their national appeal, Oates says they’re taking a more delicate approach.

“It allows them to get some votes hopefully without alienating the white majority,” she said of the candidates’ overtures on police reform. “They’re kind of stuck between people who don’t ever want to hear the police criticized and people who really want to say there’s a real problem with the power that’s given to police versus the rights of the citizens.”

This shift can’t be chalked up entirely to a campaign-obsessed media that thrives on vapid political coverage. If there’s one upside to this trend, it’s that police are so far killing fewer unarmed people this year than they were in 2015. But we’re just months into 2016, and we’ve still seen a number of disturbing incidents that under different circumstances, might have resonated beyond the local level.

Take the case of Antronie Scott, a 36-year-old black man who was shot and killed by San Antonio Police Officer John Lee in February, just days before Joseph’s fatal shooting. Lee found Scott, who was wanted on two felony charges, sitting in the parking lot of his girlfriend’s apartment complex. According to Lee, Scott made a sudden turn after he stepped out of his car. Lee says he thought he saw a gun. 

It was a cell phone.

Activists in San Antonio held rallies calling for justice, but Scott’s story still failed to permeate the national news cycle. Mike Lowe, a local Black Lives Matter activist, attributes part of this to the fact that the demonstrations there were less disruptive than major protests in Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago.

“A lot of individuals may not be rebellious or have that spirit of protest in them to be like, ‘We’re just going to occupy the streets until justice happens,’” he said.

Those more confrontational attitudes have paid dividends in other cities, Lowe said. But he says politicians in San Antonio take pride in the fact that the city isn’t like its peers. After Scott’s shooting, Mayor Ivy Taylor, who is black, said in a statement that it was important for San Antonio to not compare itself — and the killing of Scott — to what has happened elsewhere.

“Every city or town also has its own context,” she said. “I will not allow our city’s story to be that of cities we see on the national news.”

“Politicizing this incident and putting it in the context of what’s happening in other cities is not the solution — just as reverting to 20th-century police techniques or protesting the very meetings that seek to provide the opportunity for constructive dialogue is not the solution,” Taylor added.


Offline Battle

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Friday, 10th July 2o2o
As Mayor of Minneapolis, I Saw How White Liberals Block Change
by Betsy Hodges

Democrats have largely led big and midsize cities for much of the past half-century.

Yet the gaps in socioeconomic outcomes between white people and people of color are by several measures at their worst in the richest, bluest cities of the United States.

How could this be?

Because high-profile cultural conservatives ask this question so disingenuously, white liberals have generally brushed aside this reality rather than grappled with its urgency.

There’s now a danger that this sidestepping will continue, even after a national evaluation of racism since the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

As the mayor of Minneapolis from 2014 to 2018, as a Minneapolis City Council member from 2006 until 2014 and as a white Democrat, I can say this:

White liberals, despite believing we are saying and doing the right things, have resisted the systemic changes our cities have needed for decades.

We have mostly settled for illusions of change, like testing pilot programs and funding volunteer opportunities.

These efforts make us feel better about racism, but fundamentally change little for the communities of color whose disadvantages often come from the hoarding of advantage by mostly white neighborhoods.

In Minneapolis, the white liberals I represented as a Council member and mayor were very supportive of summer jobs programs that benefited young people of color.

I also saw them fight every proposal to fundamentally change how we provide education to those same young people.

They applauded restoring funding for the rental assistance hotline.

They also signed petitions and brought lawsuits against sweeping reform to zoning laws that would promote housing affordability and integration.

Nowhere is this dynamic of preserving white comfort at the expense of others more visible than in policing.

Whether we know it or not, white liberal people in blue cities implicitly ask police officers to politely stand guard in predominantly white parts of town (where the downside of bad policing is usually inconvenience) and to aggressively patrol the parts of town where people of color live — where the consequences of bad policing are fear, violent abuse, mass incarceration and, far too often, death.

Underlying these requests are the flawed beliefs that aggressive patrolling of Black communities provides a wall of protection around white people and our property.

Police officers understand the dynamic well. We give them lethal tools and a lot of leeway to keep our parts of town safe (a mandate implicitly understood to be “safe from people of color.”)

That leeway attracts people who want to misuse it.

Minneapolis historically has some of the worst racial disparities in the country.

When I was mayor, despite changes like instituting body cameras and investing more in training, policing outcomes for people of color never improved as much as I hoped.

The disparities in arrest rates and use of force, for instance, remained glaringly high.

On November 15th, 2015, during my term as mayor, two Minneapolis police officers shot and killed Jamar Clark, an unarmed Black man.

An 18-day encampment set up by protesters surrounding the grounds of the Fourth Police Precinct house followed.

But instead of greatly increasing police presence and needlessly arresting people for blocking the street or for having tents on public property, I decided to let the protests and encampment continue while we negotiated with protesters toward a more peaceful conclusion.

Minneapolis police officers, who were worried about the precinct house’s being taken over and burned down
(as the Third Precinct station was during last month’s uprising), guarded the building and found themselves frustrated by what they saw as conflicting orders.

“They’ve got fires in the street!”

“They’re out there smoking weed. We can smell it in here.”

“They spray-painted the precinct!”

Acts that they would have arrested people for under normal circumstances.

I heard complaints like this at every shift change I attended, shepherded inside by a security vehicle.

Before long, I knew that if I didn’t explain to the officers what exactly I was asking of them, we had little hope of safely and effectively saving the city from widespread unrest.

“Look,” I told them.

“You know what will happen if I let you go out there and just arrest people. There will be riots.”

I told them I wanted them to get home safely at the end of their shifts and to give us time to find a peaceful resolution.

I remember clearly one officer, a middle-aged white man, who is now a sergeant with the department, looking me dead in the eye and cursing me out in front of the entire room.

I needed to take a walk in their shoes, he said, peppering his insults with profanity, so that I could “know what that’s like.”

He complained of protesters’ “calling us names, getting in our faces” and throwing objects at officers. And “you’re letting them,” he said.

The not fully said bottom line of his message was clear:

White liberals like me ask the police to do our dirty work — dealing with the racial and economic inequities our policies create.

Normally, we turn a blind eye to the harsh methods that many of them use to achieve our goal of order, pretend that isn’t what we’ve done and then act surprised when their tough-guy behavior goes viral and gets renewed scrutiny.

Whatever else you want to say about police officers, they know — whether they articulate it neatly or not — that we are asking them to step into a breach left by our bad policies.

The creation of more-just systems won’t guarantee the prevention of atrocities.

But the status quo in cities, created by white liberals, invites brutal policing.

Last month, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council voted to alter the city’s charter to disband the Police Department.

The Council has since heard calls from residents, including many Black residents, to have “broad community input and a deliberate process before the charter change is put to voters.”

Whatever the result, a sustainable transformation of policing will require that white people of means disinvest in the comfort of our status quo.

It will require support of policy changes that cities led by white liberals are currently using the blunt instrument of policing to address.

It will mean organizing for structural changes that wealthy and middle-class whites have long feared — like creating school systems that truly give all children a chance, providing health care for everyone that isn’t tied to employment, reconfiguring police unions and instituting public safety protocols that don’t simply prioritize protecting white property and lives.

On the other side of these different choices is a better world for everyone, including us.

For generations, white people have been trading genuine connectedness in the human family for the poor substitute of property values and perceived superiority.

Some may think we have a lot to lose.

But racial equity wouldn’t be a loss for us.

It would be a reclamation of our humanity.

White people, we are capable of accepting the invitation this moment has given us.

If we find ways to make our actions match our beliefs this time around, the country will be far better off, and so will we.