Racism And Unchecked Police Violence: An American Epidemic
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Sid Shniad
2014-10-14 21:57:13 UTC
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*Mint Press News October 14, 2014*
Racism And Unchecked Police Violence: An American Epidemic
* “This situation is out of control and the police are out of control,” the
outreach director of the Southern Poverty Law Center tells MintPress,
adding that communities are uniting in their lack of faith in police and
standing up to law enforcement. *

*By Frederick Reese <http://www.mintpressnews.com/author/frederick-reese/>

*[image: Police Shooting Missouri]*

*FERGUSON, Mo*. — In Ferguson, Missouri, the crisis that was ignited this
summer by the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson
Police officer Darren Wilson continues to burn. Before a Cardinals-Dodgers
game on Oct. 7 in St. Louis, for example, protestors outside of Busch
Stadium rallying for the indictment of Wilson were met with racist and
otherwise offensive remarks from Cardinals fans.

“If they’d be working, we wouldn’t have this problem,” said an older white
man at the opening of the livestream video — provided by Argus Streaming
— of the confrontation. “We’re the ones who fuckin’ gave all y’all the
freedom that you got,” a young white woman yelled later. Other fans yelled
“Africa! Africa!” to the predominantly black group of protesters, while
others called one protester a “crackhead,” told him to visit a dentist and
to remove his hat and pull up his pants.

“I take what is happening in Ferguson and elsewhere as being symptomatic of
implicit racism,” said Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Southern
Poverty Law Center, to MintPress News. “People across the board have these
biases and with law enforcement — with this heightened sense of security
and environmental awareness — are being seen to act on these biases with
the shootings of African-Americans and Latinos.”

This recent situation reflects an evolving issue in which St. Louis — arguably
the most racially segregated metropolitan area in the United States
<http://www.wupr.org/2013/05/16/st-louis-a-segregated-city/> — is being
forced to deal with the realities of race and racism. With the police being
the public-facing presence of most communities, this reality is
increasingly being played out in sometimes fatal, typically avoidable
escalations between local law enforcement and the community of color in
Ferguson and across the nation.
*A national crisis*

[image: Al Sharpton]

In 2013, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement claimed on Democracy Now!
that a black person is shot extrajudicially every 28 hours. Yet no one
truly knows how often black men are shot or killed by police action. The
FBI only collects information on “justifiable homicides,” defined as
police-related shootings in which the firing officer had a clear and
distinct rationale for using deadly force, such as protecting a life.
Non-justified police shootings are classified as accidents or are not
recorded in police statistics at all.

However, based on available data collected by the FBI’s Supplementary
Homicide Report
a white police officer killed a black person — on average — twice a week,
every week for a seven-year period ending in 2012. Among the shootings that
resulted in death, 18 percent of those killed were under the age of 21.
These numbers come from voluntary submissions from just 750 of the nation’s
17,000 law enforcement agencies.

If these numbers were to be taken as an indicator of the state of the
current relationship between the police and the community of color (due to
the limited size of the FBI report’s sampling range, it is understood that
the report does not adequately offer a valid statistical model for
police-related homicides), it would suggest that law enforcement is a
source of grave concern for the nation.

These numbers — taken as they are — also suggest a willingness among the
police to deal with the community of color not from a community-oriented
point of view, but from an absolute “nuisance-remedy” point-of-view. This
change in philosophy has been credited — in part — to the “militarization”
of the police
*Understanding the police today*

On April 30, as reported by Occupy Riverwest
<http://occupyriverwest.com/us/why-was-dontre-killed>, Dontre Hamilton, a
31-year-old black man, was killed by a Milwaukee Police officer in
Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park. Police were responding to a non-emergency call
placed by Starbucks employees concerning a man sleeping near the park’s
arrow statue. According to the Milwaukee chief of police, Hamilton was shot
and killed after he struggled with police reporting on the scene, took an
officer’s batons and struck the officer over the head.

Hamilton had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and failed to take his
medication that day. Police asserted that this may explain Hamilton’s
violent outburst.

However, one of the Starbucks baristas who placed the call to police had a
different take on the incident. According to the barista, the officers who
ultimately killed Hamilton were the third set of officers to report to the
scene; the first two sets allowed Hamilton to continue sleeping,
determining that he raised no public threat. The barista reported not
seeing Hamilton loitering, panhandling or otherwise making himself a
nuisance in any way, and the reporting police officers even spoke to the
baristas, advising them that Hamilton was within his rights to be in the

The third reporting officer, a beat cop identified by the barista as an
officer named “Chris,” who regularly patrolled the park, seemed to have
been acting more out of fear than in accordance with policy.

According to the barista, Hamilton somehow managed to take the officer’s
baton and use it defensively against lunges and dives the officer made to
retrieve the weapon. The barista reported not seeing Hamilton use the
weapon offensively against the officer. After a short pause, the officer
pulled his sidearm and — without calling for Hamilton to disarm or to
surrender — fired multiple shots at Hamilton from 10 feet away.

“I counted the shots as they happened. I guess I expected Chris to just
disable him, so I didn’t know how many shots to expect,” wrote the barista,
Kelly Brandmeyer, for Occupy Riverwest. “I counted 3
then 5
then 7
then 10
all in very quick succession. Surely a trained police officer could have
disabled Dontre without putting 10 bullets into him. With the rapid,
rhythmic fire, there was no way Chris was stopping to check if Dontre was
still alive.”

Situations such as this are part of an increasing rash of incidents in
which police overreactions have had fatal consequences.

Other incidents — for example, the Sept. 4 Richland County, South Carolina,
traffic stop
in which now-fired State Trooper Sean Groubert shot unarmed Levar Jones in
the hip after Jones reached into his car to retrieve the driver’s license
Groubert ordered him to produce, or the Sept. 24 Hammond, Indiana, traffic
stop in which police officers shattered the passenger-side window of the
stopped vehicle with an ax, dragged out the passenger and “Tased” him for
failure to show identification — show an increased insistence on the part
of the police to assume the worst while responding.

This hardened positioning and departure from community-oriented policing
have been linked to the allocation of military equipment and training to
local police departments and to federal authorities passing the
responsibility for fighting the “War on Terror” onto local authorities.

“The famous quote ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’
applies here,” said Dan Johnson, founder of People Against the National
Defense Authorization Act, to MintPress.

Johnson equated the impulse to use the military equipment to the impulse to
race a Ferrari, which would otherwise be sitting in a garage, at dangerous

“This is the same mentality that is going on with the police — they want to
play with their toys. This creates a problem, as this equipment is not made
for police use. The use of this equipment and these tactics make the police
antagonistic, turning the people the police are supposed to protect and
defend enemies to the police’s will. It is safe to say that without the
military equipment, the situation in Ferguson would have been much
*Collateral damage in the “War on Terror”*

[image: Police Shooting Missouri]

Following the Ferguson Police Department’s use of militarized tactics
against protesters during the early days of the Michael Brown rallies, Congress
has proposed
bipartisan-supported legislation calling for restrictions on how the
federal government grants equipment and police funding to local law

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, for example, has sponsored legislation that would
prohibit state and local police from receiving military-grade equipment,
such as M-16 rifles, mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, and
camouflage equipment, as well as require that equipment already received or
purchased be returned to the Department of Defense. This bill was
introduced following hearings led by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill to look
at how the Pentagon and the Justice Department distribute surplus military

This represents a change in attitude in Washington. Ferguson, like many
other communities, received military equipment — including two Humvees —
through the 1033 Program. The 1033 Program — originally created by the 1990
NDAA as the Defense Logistic Agency’s 1208 Program — sought to provide law
enforcement military hardware slated to be retired from active military
use, such as MRAP vehicles and Humvees. According to the program’s website
<http://www.dispositionservices.dla.mil/leso/pages/default.aspx>, since
1997 it has distributed $5.1 billion in military hardware to more than
8,000 law enforcement agencies, including more than 20 school districts

This program was supplemented by federal funding to local law enforcement
agencies, such as the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Edward Byrne Memorial
Grant and anti-terrorism grants from the Department of Homeland Security.
More than $34 billion has been allocated via these types of federal
channels since 2001. These grants help to compensate for local budget and
equipment shortfalls by allocating monies to help develop and improve
policing efforts and strategies. However, the funding formula for these
grants rewards states and territories with large numbers of part 1 violent
crimes, leading many to speculate that the Bureau of Justice Assistance
grants are creating a motive for police departments to seek criminal

While these programs came into fruition during the Clinton administration
and were renewed and expanded during the Obama administration, the seeds of
federal intervention into local law enforcement were first sowed during the
Reagan administration.

A core philosophy of the Reagan White House was to encourage cooperation
between federal agencies and local law enforcement. It was under Reagan,
for example, that the Byrne grant program was established. Much of the
program’s money was earmarked for anti-drug policing and the funding of
multi-jurisdictional anti-narcotics task forces — which were additionally
funded by an increased use of asset forfeiture, a scheme in which the
government seizes assets thought to be materially involved in a criminal
act. While this helped politicians appear “tough on crime,” in reality, the
allocations were poorly supervised, with local police departments free to
use receipts at their discretion.

This has given rise to the current situation, in which these resources are
increasingly being used outside of their intended purposes. As reported by
the American Civil Liberties Union
nearly 80 percent of all SWAT calls are made for non-violent purposes, such
as serving drug-related warrants. This availability of war tactics —
coupled with a high level level of non-accountability among local law
enforcement agencies — has created a perfect storm that allows a wide array
of abuses to proliferate.

“It’s not unreasonable to think that the police have utilized this
equipment and tactics in order to enforce community norms and to act on
their implicit biases and racism,” said Brooks, of the Southern Poverty Law
Center. “We shouldn’t be surprised that this equipment is being used in
these destructive means, as this equipment is not designed for civil use.
This situation with the police reflects other issues in which the nation
has refused to take a direct stance, such as gun control.

“This situation is out of control and the police are out of control. This
leads to the people being out of control, afraid to trust the police and
more willing to act against bringing the community together and toward
standing up to the oppressors the police have made themselves to be.”
*Mapping the future of Ferguson*

In Ferguson, there is no indication that the police situation is anywhere
close to calming down.

On Wednesday, an off-duty white police officer shot and killed Vonderrick
Myers, Jr. — an 18-year-old black man — after Myers allegedly fired three
shots at the officer. The officer responded with 17 shots of his own. Those
familiar with Myers assert that the teenager was holding a sandwich, not a
gun, and a store clerk has confirmed that Myers bought the sandwich he was
allegedly holding just moments before the police encounter.

“They (police) are sparking war. It’s going to be us against them,” said
Stan Taylor
a Ferguson area cellphone sales agent, to USA Today. “Turning the other
cheek is not getting the job done.”

This continuous re-stroking of the same open wounds in Ferguson helps to
explain why this issue continues to resonate in St. Louis County and why —
unlike other areas conflicted with police violence — a resolution is likely
in Ferguson.

“Lasting change can only come locally, from the people demanding their
police to change,” said Johnson, of People Against the National Defense
Authorization Act. “While addressing the questions of why the federal
government was willing to hand out such equipment is important, this will
not answer why the police took the Bearcat when it was offered or why it is
being used to stop protesters. The only way forward is to get the police to
be accountable for their own actions.”

“The beautiful part of this situation is that the community is not letting
this issue go,” concurred Brooks. “They are still seeking out justice for
Michael Brown and they are still seeking an indictment of Darren Wilson.
None of this will be settled until the indictment is settled. This
situation has empowered the people and made them mindful of their ability
to force change; nothing will go back to the way they were in Ferguson. I
can’t speak for what is next for the city, but I am hopeful for the best.”
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