Today, a Grand Jury in New York declared “No True Bill”, that is, a finding that there is not probable cause for believing a crime was committed by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was filmed choking an unarmed and helpless black man, Eric Garner to death. The coroner declared Garner’s death a homicide, meaning the officer did murder him but despite that and live video evidence of the murder, the grand jury somehow came to this outrageous decision.
Coming on the heels of the grand jury decision in St. Louis refusing to indict Officer Darren Wilson for his killing of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, this is a one-two punch to many Americans’ belief in our policing and justice system…and an implicit threat to black man all over this country.
In the span of nine short days, America has been slapped in the face by the reality that in America, police have the authority to kill poor black men without fear of consequence or retribution.
It is outrageous to have to admit but the evidence is overwhelming. Here’s a thought provoking chart from an article at Daily Kos:
The police keep very accurate records of policemen who are shot but despite being in the business of law enforcement and protecting citizens, they do not keep a record of the citizens they shoot and kill. So, Americans have no clear records of just how many of their fellow citizens, primarily poor black citizens, have been killed by police year in and year out…and how easy it is for them to get away with most of these wrongful killings.
When the protests in Ferguson over the killing of Michael Brown and the shielding of Officer Darren Wilson began, America saw how militarized and brutal the Ferguson Police force was. Thinking back to the days of the Occupy Wall Street protests, we can remember how militarized, coordinated and ruthless many police forces around the nation have become as well.
It is a terrible thing to see our police forces evolve into the militarized and Borg-like troops that they have become, especially when the Constitutional right of citizens to protest is exercised. However, to have police oppression and violence protected by courts that refuse to find nearly any police misconduct against citizens illegal, including murder and especially the murder of black men, is setting up a pressure cooker that will someday explode if the pressure isn’t relieved.
It is one thing to be a black man and fear the police but it is another more intimidating thing to see the justice system protect and insulate the police from any harm when they murder unarmed black men.
What should a young black man in Missouri, New York or a variety of big cities and small towns across America think when they’re walking down the street and see a police car pulling up to them? That there is nothing to worry about? Or that if they say or do anything at all that the police could even interpret in a slight way as being a threat, they could be arrested, beaten or even killed?
Black parents have often explained about “The Talk” they have to have with their young sons along the way, about how they need to act towards policemen to try best to protect themselves from police abuse. It’s awful that parents need to have such a talk with their kids and just as awful that they have to act in such a way when dealing with police to avoid being arrested or harmed.
How’s this for example, video of a black man stopped for questioning by police for the “suspicious” activity of walking with his hands in his pockets on a frigid day:
And let’s not forget what happens if you’re a black woman walking on the shoulder of a Los Angeles freeway:
By the way, the most recent article I could find on this CHP beating said that while a civil settlement had been reached with the victim, no criminal charges had been filed against this officer. And how many black men and women have been victimized like this without having the video to pursue any justice?
To be clear, there are some remarkable, principled and heroic policemen out there. There are also racist and brutal policemen out there. Of course, it is only the latter that citizens, especially African Americans, have to worry about.
Now that there is sufficient evidence to see that our police forces have become too militarized and too capable of using unjustified force against the very people they are sworn to protect…and that D.A.s and Grand Juries will go out of their way (and out of legal bounds) to protect police from paying any price for their crimes, what can we do to change this? Or is it inevitable that the people must either subordinate themselves to the limits of such an unofficial police state or rise up violently against it?
The efforts that Eric Holder and President Obama are taking in light of their meeting with people from Ferguson, Missouri may be the small light at the end of the tunnel. Profound reforms need to be made to our police forces which have grown too independently powerful over the years. The mentality of “us vs. them” is far too prevalent, the abuse of power is far too great and the confidence to act with impunity is far too widespread.
The St. Louis Police have continued to double down on their racism and oppression by insisting that the St. Louis Rams players who demonstrated support for their community before their game last Sunday by giving the “Hands up, don’t shoot” motions should be punished. They are also investigating Michael Brown’s stepfather for inciting a riot due to his furious reaction right after the ruling by saying, “Burn this bitch down! “(I’m sure there wouldn’t have been any rioting if he hadn’t shouted that). They won’t however be investigating the St. Louis D.A. McCulloch who intentionally released the explosive decision at night when rioting was most likely to happen.
Can change really happen? Can there be accountability for police? Can there be an assurance of safety for all citizens and can police carry the integrity and confidence with their communities that is so necessary for them to operate successfully?
And can we fix our broken justice system that provides for D.A.s to manipulate Grand Juries against indicting police officers? That’s an even tougher challenge but that too needs to be addressed.
A social system can’t stand if people have no confidence in it, no matter how many tanks and sets of military assault uniforms you have.