Roger’s note: the Uruguayan journalist and historian, Eduardo Galeano, coined the phrase “upsidedown world” to characterize the reverse moral reality that governs our capitalist world. I find myself constantly outraged by the way in which men (well, almost always men) in high positions gain wealth, fame, and honor, having committed grievous crimes. Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney are surely poster boys for this “charity” in our day. Recently I have posted stories about George Washington, Winston Churchill and General George Patton, men held in high esteem who deserve the opposite. Today I bring you news about the United States’ first Afro American Attorney General, who is about to retire after an apparently illustrious career in law enforcement. This is news you will not find in the main stream media. This is a man who deserves condemnation, not praise, a man who after a life time of work in government retires with a net worth of 11.5 million dollars (I looked it up).
February 23, 2015
Putting Police Above the Law
by JAMES BOVARD
Attorney General Eric Holder is collecting buckets of accolades in his final weeks in office. Newspapers are especially praising Holder’s suggestion that the feds begin keeping tabs on shootings by police across the nation. But Holder’s own career shows his devotion to ignoring or covering up law enforcement killings unless a bonanza of profitable publicity awaited him.
As the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1993 to 1997, Holder was in charge of policing the local police. When police violence spiraled out of control, he did little or nothing to protect D.C. residents from rampaging lawmen.
The number of killings by D.C. police quadrupled between 1989 and 1995, when 16 civilians died owing to police gunfire. D.C. police shot and killed people at a higher rate than any other major city police department, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post investigation revealed in late 1998. But Holder had no problem with D.C.’s quick-trigger force: “I can’t honestly say I saw anything that was excessive.” He never noticed that the D.C. police department failed to count almost half the people killed by its officers between 1994 and 1997.
Even when police-review boards ruled that shootings were unjustified or found contradictions in officers’ testimony, police were not prosecuted. In one case an officer shot a suspect four times in the back when he was unarmed and lying on the ground. But Holder’s office never bothered interviewing the shooter.
Holder is now being portrayed as a champion of minorities victimized by police but he did not play that role in the 1990s. The Post noted that “none of the police shootings of civilians has occurred in the more affluent areas west of Rock Creek Park.” Because most victims of the police were from the lower-income parts of the city, their plight went largely unnoticed.
Holder is now trumpeting the need for openness, but in the 1990s he acceded to pervasive secrecy on lawmen’s killings. The Post noted, “The extent and pattern of police shootings have been obscured from public view. Police officials investigate incidents in secret, producing reports that become public only when a judge intercedes.”
Shortly after Holder became U.S. attorney, a local judge slammed the D.C. government for its “deliberate indifference” to police-brutality complaints. In 1995 the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which supposedly investigated alleged police abuses, was shut down because it was overwhelmed by a backlog of accusations from aggrieved citizens. Despite the collapse of the system’s safeguards, Holder’s office remained asleep at the switch. Even D.C.’s assistant police chief Terrance Gainer admitted, “We shoot too often, and we shoot too much when we do shoot.”
Some of the most abusive cases involved police shooting unarmed drivers — a practice that is severely discouraged because of the high risk of collateral damage. Holder told the Post, “I do kind of remember more than a few in cars. I don’t know if that’s typical of what you find in police shootings outside D.C.” Actually, D.C. police were more than 20 times as likely to shoot at cars as were New York City police and “more than 50 officers over five years had shot at unarmed drivers in cars,” the Post noted.
When he visited Missouri last August, Holder made a heavily trumpeted visit to the parents of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed by a Ferguson policeman. But did Holder ever bother visiting the families of young people unjustifiably slain by the D.C. police? I called the Justice Department press office asking that question but never heard back. Press clips from the 1990s do not include any reports of Holder’s meeting with parents of children unjustifiably slain by the D.C. police.
At 9 a.m. on May 15, 1995, a D.C. policeman pursued a car that he claimed he had seen moving recklessly on Florida Avenue NW. The policeman walked up to the vehicle and shot 16-year-old Kedemah Dorsey in the chest. The car began pulling away, and the policeman hopped alongside and shot the boy again in the back, killing him. Lawyer Doug Sparks, sitting in a nearby car, told the Post, “It was basically at point-blank range. I thought it was some kind of drug shooting.” The policeman claimed that he fired because Dorsey, who was scheduled to start his shift at Burger King later that morning, was trying to run him down. Attorney Michael Morganstern, who sued the District government and collected $150,000 for the family, commented, “It’s somewhat difficult to use the car as a weapon when it is wedged in rush-hour traffic and the officer is standing to the side of it, not in front of it.” A police department investigation concluded that the shooting was unjustified, but Holder’s office refused to file charges against the policeman.
Holder was feckless even when a policeman confessed to lying about killing an unarmed teenager. After Roosevelt Askew killed a 19-year-old motorist during a 1994 traffic stop, he claimed he fired because the driver was trying to run over another policeman. But that story soon collapsed. In early 1995, Askew admitted to Holder’s office that he had lied and then claimed he shot the teenager accidentally. No charges were filed against Askew until a year and a half after his confession. The case lingered on the back burner until after Holder moved on to become deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. The U.S. attorney’s office eventually signed off on a deal that let Askew plead guilty merely to filing a false police report; he received two years probation and a $5,000 fine. Federal judge Harold Greene was appalled at the wrist slap: “This is a bizarre situation. Everybody, including the government and the probation office, suggests that probation is the appropriate remedy. Although I am not entirely satisfied we have the full story, I’m going to go along.”
The Post series sparked an uproar that resulted in the Justice Department Civil Rights Division’s investigating D.C. police shootings from the prior five years. And whom did Attorney General Janet Reno put in charge of that effort? Eric Holder. His office denied that any conflict of interest existed, instead insisting that Holder’s “oversight of the review signifies the importance of this endeavor to the Department of Justice.” But a 1999 Post article observed, “A closer look at the role of Holder and the U.S. attorney’s office shows the difficulty that arises when law enforcement investigates itself.” Holder’s review of D.C. police shootings was careful not to uncover anything that might impede Holder’s political career.
In a speech this past Martin Luther King day, Holder lamented “the troubling reality…that we lack the ability right now to comprehensively track” police shootings across the nation. But there was a law on the books that Congress enacted in 1994 to require the Attorney General to collect and publish annual data on “the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.” Holder, like prior attorney generals, ignored the law. And Holder’s Justice Department continues covering up killings by federal agents, including a rash of fatal shootings by Border Patrol agents and the FBI killing of 27-year-old Ibragim Todashev during questioning at his Florida apartment in 2013 regarding the Boston Marathon bombing.
There is no reason to expect Holder’s closing public relations gestures to diminish government agents’ prerogative to kill other Americans. Nor is there any reason to expect the Justice Department to admit that the Bill of Rights prohibits placing the vast majority of police above the law.
Roger’s note: I have difficulty understanding and appreciating most contemporary poetry. It took a second reading for me to “get” what this poem was all about, and my reaction was, “wow, this is what poetry is meant to be.”
by Jan Steckel
I don’t want to be Joan of the Narrative Arc here,
wielding my flaming sword of story to drive you out
of my personal bleeding-heart-liberal paradise,
but here’s a prompt: write a poem using the words
grant, bell, garner, brown, ford, and rice.
Employ a light touch, no sing-song or doggerel.
No sentimentality, please. No rants.
Attention to form but not formality.
Invoke all the senses. Let me see, hear, feel
what the twelve-year-old saw, heard, felt
waving that BB gun around the park.
The gold and orange leaves of Cleveland.
The smell of them rotting in rainwater.
The black-and-white pulling to the curb.
The crack. The pavement rushing up.
Mom of Cleveland boy shot by police wants accountability
By MARK GILLISPIE 18 hours ago
CLEVELAND (AP) — The mother of a 12-year-old boy fatally shot by a police officer while carrying a pellet gun said Tuesday it doesn’t matter to her who investigates her son’s death as long as the officer who killed the boy is held accountable.
At a news conference, Samaria Rice characterized the death of her son as a murder.
Tamir Rice was shot by a Cleveland police officer on Nov. 22 after police responded to a 911 call about someone with a gun outside a recreation center. The officer, Timothy Loehmann, shot Tamir within two seconds of the patrol car stopping near the boy. Tamir was carrying an airsoft-type gun that shoots nonlethal pellets.
City officials announced last week that police were handing over the investigation of the shooting to the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department in the interest of being impartial and transparent. A previous use-of-force incident in which officers killed two unarmed suspects in 2012 was investigated by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Mayor Frank Jackson said he asked the sheriff’s department to take over the probe because he no longer trusts the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine concluded that a vehicle pursuit involving more than 60 police cars and the 137 rounds fired by officers at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams resulted from a “systemic failure” within the police department. One patrol officer was indicted on two counts of voluntary manslaughter and five supervisors were charged with dereliction of duty.
The completed investigation into Tamir’s shooting is expected to be turned over to county prosecutors, who will present evidence to a grand jury to determine whether charges should be brought against Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, who was driving the patrol car.
Walter Madison, one of the attorneys for the boy’s family, said there are unanswered questions about what Cleveland police investigators have done thus far.
“The family is entitled to an answer,” he said.
Another family attorney, Benjamin Crump, added that there are concerns about the “symbiotic relationship” that exists between Cleveland police and prosecutors because they work closely together.
“They have no relationship with Tamir Rice,” Crump said.
Mourning and outrage are shaking parts of the United States and Mexico. As U.S. families grieve and demonstrators denounce the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and many more at the hands of the police, people are also protesting state violence and police impunity throughout Mexico. Just this past week, the body of Alexander Mora was identified as one of the 43 Mexican students from Ayotzinapa Guerrero who were disappeared after being confronted by police.
In recent interviews, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry critiqued the crimes happening in Mexico as having “no place in civilized society.” They offered U.S. assistance “to get to the bottom of exactly what happened [to the missing students in Mexico].” Such a response is part of a long practice of demonizing Mexico as a corrupt nation in need of the assumed superior support of the U.S.
U.S. officials would do well to heed their own words and get to the root causes of what is happening in both the U.S. and Mexico. These struggles in Ferguson and Ayotzinapa are tied. The state violence against Black and poor indigenous young people must be seen in the context of rabid class inequality and racism where the working poor and people of color are criminalized and treated as disposable.
Corporate-driven economic transformations and policies such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) have ravaged communities in the U.S. and in Mexico. Once industrial hubs, U.S. urban areas have been gutted of industry leaving a crumbling infrastructure and few living-wage jobs in their wake. Many of these neighborhoods are now being “revitalized” by pushing the Black and Brown urban poor out through gentrification. In the Mexican countryside, imports of subsidized U.S. grain, the growth of industrial farms, and the expansion of foreign companies combine to expel families from their livelihoods and communities. As a result, inequality has grown in both countries, and is among the worst of all developed economies.
According to a 2013 study by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, of its 34 member countries the United States has the 4th highest level of income inequality, and Mexico the second. When controlling for inflation, the income of those in U.S. households in the top ten percent of the economic ladder – those making over $150,000 per year – has increased over 30% since the 1970s. In contrast, the income of those in the bottom half of the economy has basically stagnated, or slightly decreased. And, the minimum wage in both countries is far from a livable wage. The working poor often have to work several jobs to try to make ends meet.
Wealth and power disparities are closely correlated with race. Both countries have witnessed a boom in the number of millionaires and billionaires, including producing the two wealthiest people in the world Carlos Slim and Bill Gates who according to Forbes have a combined net worth of over $150 billion. In contrast, researchers with Mexico’s national evaluation agency, find that 46% of the total population lives below the poverty line, and 20% reside in extreme poverty. Throughout the county, the rate of extreme poverty is five times higher for indigenous peoples than for the general population. In the southern states, where the majority of Mexico’s indigenous populations live, poverty rates are between 15 and 30 points higher and in the state of Guerrero (the home of the disappeared students) 70% of the population lives in poverty. In the U.S., the compounding generations of racism and class inequality are such that Latina/o and Black households have a median net worth of less than $7,000 compared to over $110,000 for White households.
Since the 1980s, as a result of neoliberal reforms, both countries have slashed public programs in education, health care, transportation, social security, and public housing. Privatization and the ideology of free trade seeks to eliminate most state social programs leaving the poor to fend for themselves in an economy that looks to bargain down wages to maximize profits. While these support systems were not as strong as they could have been, they were important reforms that were won through popular struggle, and their erosion has hurt the working poor and the historically marginalized most. For the youth of working poor there are diminishing opportunities.
As the U.S. and Mexico disinvest in social programs, they divert funds to police poor communities through the war on drugs and other tough on crime policies. In the U.S., according to a Justice Policy Report, since the early 1980s spending on police protection has skyrocketed over 400% — from about $40 billion to nearly $200 billion. The number of state and local sworn officers has also increased over 50% during this period.
The war on drugs has been a war on poor people of color. Although multiple studies suggest that the majority of drug users are White, Blacks have been the most impacted by drug prosecutions and punitive polices such as mandatory minimums. As Law Professor Michelle Alexander reports, there are more Black men in the prison industrial complex than were enslaved in 1850 – devastating families and fueling the prison industrial complex where private prisons and immigration detention centers are big business.
The power elite in Mexico has increasingly militarized the state in an attempt to maintain order for foreign investors and domestic capitalists to expand their markets. Under the guise of the war on drugs and Plan Mérida, the U.S. has poured billions of dollars into military and police assistance in Mexico. Critics argue that the training and weaponry has been used against social movements and human rights activists. Collusion between criminal operations, military, government, and police officials occurs making it difficult to distinguish who is perpetrating the violence. Over the past decade, approximately 100,000 Mexicans have been killed in the failed “War on Drugs.” According to the UK newspaper The Telegraph, since 2007 nearly 23,000 Mexicans have been disappeared (over 5,000 this year alone!) through cartel and police violence, the two often working together.
The recent killings and grand jury verdicts in communities from Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, and Ayotzinapa must also be placed in the context of a legacy of racism. The roots of racism in both the U.S. and Mexico are as deep as the economic fissures. They are embedded in society’s laws, institutions, and government structures. In the U.S., they are apparent in police profiling and the unequal application of zero tolerance and stop and frisk policies, the mass incarceration of Blacks and Latinos, the deportation and destruction of immigrant families, and the impunity by which members of the police force can kill primarily Black boys and men and have those atrocities supported by state policies — such as the Supreme Court’s 1980s rulings justifying the use of deadly force by officers. In Mexico, similar disregard for the lives of poor and indigenous people is rampant. Mexican journalist Fernando Camacho Servín reporting in La Jornada finds that the “effects of racism include the criminalizing of certain groups by their physical appearance, to blame them for their poverty, to displace them from their lands, or simply depriving them of their basic rights.”
In the wake of massive dissent against state violence, Presidents Barak Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto have suggested new policies. These focus on policing, impunity, and corruption. While they are small step, none of these changes will go very far unless the foundations of such atrocities are addressed head-on.
Enrique C. Ochoa is professor of Latin American Studies and History at California State University, Los Angeles.
Gilda L. Ochoa is professor of Sociology and Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies at Pomona College
Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, lays down in the spot where her father died. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
The daughter of one of the men whose recent death at the hands of police has sparked a growing national movement against police brutality and racism led a small, yet poignant march in Staten Island, New York on Thursday night and then laid down in the spot where her father lost his life after he was violently assaulted by officers earlier this year.
“This is the spot … they let an innocent man die, beg for his life, fight for his last breath, and now I have to come here and be his voice because he cannot speak anymore.”
—Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, named after her father Eric Garner, said she has been holding twice-weekly vigils since her father was killed in July of this year but that last night’s turnout was by far the largest she’s seen.
Before lying down, Erica spoke to the gathered crowd through a megaphone.
“This is the spot,” she said, “that my father screamed out eleven times that he couldn’t breathe. Nobody helped him. Nobody tried to help him. Nobody tried to assist him. This is the spot that EMS workers and police officers failed us New Yorkers, because they let an innocent man die, beg for his life, fight for his last breath, and now I have to come here and be his voice because he cannot speak anymore. He can’t say it: ‘I cant breathe… I can’t breathe.'”
“He couldn’t breathe,” she continued. “This is the spot where my father took his last breath in. And this is where I had to be. There is where I need to be. My father is here with me.”
Following local protests that have emerged in cities across the country and around the world as a result of Garner’s death and the killing of others at the hands of police, a pair of large-scale protests calling for an end to racism and police brutality are scheduled for Saturday in both New York City and Washington, DC.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Roger’s note: this is a video I came across in the Spanish version of RT, the Russian television news channel. The explanation given is that Alejandro Natividad was a passenger in a car that was pulled over in La Quinta, California. As you will see, the driver is order to lie down on the sidewalk. Alejandro, a U.S. Army veteran, refuses, even when he is confronted by two armed police. The story does not tell how the situation resolved, but Alejandro later explained in an interview with Free Thought Radio that at some moment he recalled the famous maxim of Emiliano Zapata, the icon of the Mexican Revolution, “Mejor morir de pie que vivir toda una vida arrodillado”. Better to die on your feet than to live all your life on your knees.
As you will see, Alejandro admits that he is scared shitless as he “stands his ground” against highly irresponsible racist police officers who had their guns pointed at him. He did have the presence of mind to film the encounter with his cell phone as he continually protested his rights and reminded them that they were men behind their badges and should act like it.
Hosted by Mothers Against Police Brutality, CODEPINK, National Congress of Black Women and Hands Up DC Coalition, mothers who have lost their children to police brutality will travel to Washington DC from December 9-11 to call for police accountability, policy reform and justice for victims’ families. Come show support for ten mothers who have lost their children to police brutality. They will be Washington DC this week to call for police accountability, policy reform and justice for victims’ families!
Roger’s note: There would not be hundreds of thousands protesting in cities across America if the recent racist police killings of unarmed Black youth (Ferguson, New York, Cleveland) that go unpunished were isolated events. In reality they are the tip of the iceberg. At the event to take place this week in Washington DC, mothers who have lost loved ones are among the delegates. These are their stories:
VALERIE BELL is the mother of Sean Bell, a 23-year-old unarmed man killed on his wedding day, November 25, 2006, in a barrage of 50 shots fired into his car by New York plainclothes police officers. The officers thought his friend had a gun. The detectives involved in the shooting were eventually acquitted. Valerie Bell is the founder of Mothers of Never Again (MONA), and after 8 years she has finally recorded her thoughts in a book coming out in 2015 called Just 23 (Thoughts from a mother in spoken word by Kisha Walker).
JERALYNN BLUEFORD from Oakland, California started the Justice4AlanBlueford Coalition on May 6, 2012 after her 18 year-old son Alan Blueford was shot and killed by a police officer in East Oakland. From there The Alan Blueford Center 4 Justice was established in Oakland, California, as a place to help heal the community. They offer our resources to help restore the community as they struggle against police brutality. She also organized Helping Heart 2 Heal, a conference to inspire, empower, and restore healing for mothers that are suffering with the pain of losing their children and loved ones.
DARLENE CAIN is a mother from from Baltimore, Maryland. On October 28, 2008, her 29-year-old son Dale Graham was killed by a Baltimore City police officer. Since then she has been dedicated to lifting the voices of those who have had a family member killed by the police but were never given true justice and closure. She is is President and founder of MOTHERS ON THE MOVE.
DANETTE CHAVIS from New York, New York, lost her 19-year-old son in October 2004. After being shot in a gunfire exchange (not with police), Gregory Chavis died just a block from Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx when police prevented him from receiving any medical treatment. Chavis has been active at demonstrations and is the head of National Action Against Police Brutality. She has launched a petition, now with over 18,430 signatures, that demands national action against police brutality and murder, for all families that have been brutalized and lost loved ones at the hands of the police.
COLLETTE FLANAGAN from Dallas, Texas, lost her only son when he was 25 years old on March 10, 2013. Clinton Allen was unarmed and shot 7 times by a Dallas policeman (once in the back), who has since been on administrative leave from the police force, without a gun or badge. Flanagan is founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, which lobbies for change in police enforcement practices and accountability measures.
MARCELLA HOLLOMAN’s son Maurice Donald Johnson was murdered by Baltimore police on May 19, 2012. She called an ambulance when her mentally ill son began to exhibit erratic behavior at a children’s gathering. Since Johnson’s episodic illness was registered in the police data base, Holloman expected they would take him to the hospital for treatment. Instead of waiting for an ambulance, the two responding officers entered Holloman’s home where Johnson was sequestered and shot him three times. Since then, his mother has been active and outspoken against police brutality.
WANDA JOHNSON’s son Oscar Grant was shot in the back and killed by transit Police Officer Johannes Mehserle at a train station in Oakland, California on January 1, 2009. Initially charged with second-degree murder, Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Since the death of her son, Johnson has been active on the Board of Directors of the Oscar Grant Foundation, a resource for at-risk youth of all races who wish to turn their lives around in a positive way. A gospel minister and nation speaker, Johnson has made guest appearances on nationally syndicated television programs, universities and public forums to bring attention to injustices in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
CONSTANCE MALCOLM is the mother of Ramarley Graham, who was 18 years old in 2012 when a New York police officer shot and killed him in his own home. Graham was suspected of carrying a gun in public, but no gun was found on him, in the bathroom he was shot in, or anywhere else in the house. Graham’s 6-year-old brother and his grandmother witnessed the shooting. Constance Malcolm has since been a vocal advocate against police brutality and has been seeking justice for her son.
TRESSA SHERROD is the mother of John Crawford III, a 22 year old who was shot and killed on August 5, 2014 by police in a Walmart in Ohio. A caller phoned police, accusing Crawford of brandishing a gun, when it was really an unloaded BB air rifle on a shelf, an item that is sold in the store. Surveillance footage shows major discrepancies between a 911 caller’s account and what really happened. An Ohio grand jury decided not to indict the officer who was responsible for Crawford’s death, and since then his mother has been pursuing justice.
Tuesday, December 9
Public forum with the mothers at
First Trinity Lutheran Church, 7:30-9pm
309 E Street NW (Judiciary Square Metro)
More information and RSVP on the webpage for the event!
Wednesday, December 10
Congressional briefing from 9:30am-12:30pm: In House Building Rayburn 2226 co-sponsored by Representative Conyers, Ellison, Johnson, Jackson Lee, and Rangel.
Seating is limited and press and Congressional staffers will be given preference – thank you for understanding!
*Candlelight vigil at Justice Department, 5pm. Corner of Pennsylvania and 9th St, NW. followed by a march.
Roger’s note: the United States was founded on the genocide of the First Nations peoples and much of its enormous wealth was derived from the forced labor of African slaves. Racism is as American as apple pie. This is not leftist ranting, it is historical fact. Sadly, under the “leadership” of the country’s first African American president, the situation is only getting worse. Obama’s immigration extradition policies, his orientation towards Wall Street and away from Main Street, the federal government’s militarization of urban police forces — all this contributes to the discrimination and impoverization mostly of peoples of color. The Republican Party may be more overtly racist in its ideological bias, but it is a Democratic president that is implementing racist policies. God help America.
Reuters | By Stephanie Nebehay
Posted: 08/30/2014 8:31 am EDT Updated: 08/30/2014 9:59 am EDT
* Panel issues recommendations after review of U.S. record
* Says killing of Michael Brown “not an isolated event”
* Decries racial bias of police, pervasive discrimination
* ACLU calls for addressing racial inequality in America
GENEVA, Aug 29 (Reuters) – The U.N. racism watchdog urged the United States on Friday to halt the excessive use of force by police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri.
Minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said after examining the U.S. record.
“Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing,” Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman, told a news briefing.
Teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer on Aug. 9, triggering violent protests that rocked Ferguson – a St. Louis suburb – and shone a global spotlight on the state of race relations in America.
“The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown,” said Amir, an expert from Algeria.
“This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.”
The panel of 18 independent experts grilled a senior U.S. delegation on Aug. 13 about what they said was persistent racial discrimination against African-Americans and other minorities, including within the criminal justice system.
U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel that his nation had made “great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination” but conceded that “we have much left to do”.
Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, has been put on paid leave and is in hiding. A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation.
Police have said Brown struggled with Wilson when shot. But some witnesses say Brown held up his hands and was surrendering when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.
“STAND YOUR GROUND” LAWS
In its conclusions issued on Friday, the U.N. panel said “Stand Your Ground” Laws, a controversial self-defense statute in 22 U.S. states, should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense”.
Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the Geneva session. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miami, Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, testified.
The U.N. panel monitors compliance with a treaty ratified by 177 countries including the United States.
“The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police,” it said, urging investigations.
The experts called for addressing obstacles faced by minorities and indigenous peoples to exercise their right to vote effectively. This was due to restrictive voter identification laws, district gerrymandering and state-level laws that disenfranchise people convicted of felonies, it said.
Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the U.N. recommendations highlighted “shortcomings on racial equality that we are seeing play out today on our streets, at our borders and in the voting booth.
“When it comes to human rights, the United States must practice at home what it preaches abroad,” he said.
Roger’s note: I find myself using this phrase too often nowadays: This is truly frightening. I read that residents of Gaza have sent messages to the protesters in Ferguson with advice on how to deal with tear gas. The chickens have truly come home to roost.
Army fatigues, armored vehicles, tear gas, AR-15s — it’s the war-ready imagery not just of Gaza and Iraq but Ferguson, Missouri, a town of 21,000 with zero murders on the books in 2014. Unless, of course, you count 18-year-old Michael Brown.
The response to protests against the teen’s death at the hands of police turned even more authoritarian when darkness fell on Wednesday, asjournalist and citizens alike were targeted with undue force. In night vision, tanks rolling through smoky suburban streets recalled an occupation. But however misguided the show of brute force against the mostly peaceful demonstrators was, it’s a chest-out, guns-up posturing small-time police departments across the country have been preparing for.
What transpired in the streets appeared to be a kind a municipal version of shock and awe; the first wave of flash grenades and tear gas had played as a prelude to the appearance of an unusually large armored vehicle, carrying a military-style rifle mounted on a tripod. The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation.
Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.
These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.
The trend only increased as a response to terror after September 11, and more so as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down. From Adam Serwer at MSNBC:
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Defense has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to local and state police through the 1033 program, first enacted in 1996 at the height of the so-called War on Drugs. The Department of Justice, according to the ACLU, “plays an important role in the militarization of the police” through its grant programs. It’s not that individual police officers are bad people – it’s that shifts in the American culture of policing encourages officers to ”think of the people they serve as enemies.” […]
Training materials obtained by the ACLU encourage departments to “build the right mind-set in your troops” in order to thwart “terrorist plans to massacre our schoolchildren.” It is possible that, since 9/11, police militarization has massacred more American schoolchildren than any al-Qaida terrorist.
Ferguson specifically was a part of such a program, USA Today reports, having “received advanced rifle sights and night vision equipment between 2012 and 2014”:
Michelle McCaskill, media relations chief at the Defense Logistics Agency, confirms that the Ferguson Police Department is part of a federal program called 1033 that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment to civilian police forces across the United States. The materials range from small items, such as pistols and automatic rifles, to heavy armored vehicles such as the MRAPs used in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“In 2013 alone, $449,309,003.71 worth of property was transferred to law enforcement,” the agency’s website states.
Between 2011 and 2012, sixty-three agencies polled by the A.C.L.U. reported that they had received “a total of 15,054 items of battle uniforms or personal protective equipment”; some five hundred agencies had received “vehicles built to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs.” In many instances, the receipt of these military-grade weapons is contingent on their use within a calendar year.
How necessary is any of this? Well, in February, local Sergeant Matthew Pleviak of St. Louis County’s Tactical Operations Unit SWAT team told theRiver Front Times, “If you go to any subdivison, there’s grass and trees and bushes.”
But writing for the Daily Beast, a military veteran argued, “The net effect is a Ferguson police department in name only. In terms of its equipment, organization, and deployment methods, the Ferguson force looks more like an infantry or military police company in Iraq … this military gear transforms the police department into an occupying army, and enables the police to act with such speed and violence so as to destroy any meaningful right to peaceably assemble or address grievances towards government.”
Balkey put it this way in a Reddit AMA before Ferguson: “I think that as bad as the weapons and tactics are, the uniforms might be more pernicious, at least in terms of fostering a militaristic mindset.”
“When you dress like a soldier,” he wrote, “you’re predisposing yourself to start thinking like one. And of course, there’s really no strategic value, unless you’re raiding a forest.”
Roger’s note: I am reminded of the infamous remark made by Malcolm X when President Kennedy was assassinated: “The chickens have come home to roost.” Local police departments with armored vehicles, machine guns, planes and helicopters, grenade launchers, etc. I wonder what they can be used for. Protecting your home from a burglary? Fraud investigations? Bank hold ups? It seems to me that these weapons are geared towards dealing with large numbers, let’s say perhaps, citizen protests? Please excuse my cynicism, I happen at the moment to be reading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” and it somehow has a contemporary feel to it.
By MATT APUZZO, JUNE 8, 2014, New York Times
NEENAH, Wis. — Inside the municipal garage of this small lakefront city, parked next to the hefty orange snowplow, sits an even larger truck, this one painted in desert khaki. Weighing 30 tons and built to withstand land mines, the armored combat vehicle is one of hundreds showing up across the country, in police departments big and small.
The 9-foot-tall armored truck was intended for an overseas battlefield. But as President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.
During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.
The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units. Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of “barbering without a license.”
“It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don’t have,” said Shay Korittnig, a father of two who spoke against getting the armored truck at a recent public meeting in Neenah. “This is not what I was looking for when I moved here, that my children would view their local police officer as an M-16-toting, SWAT-apparel-wearing officer.”
A quiet city of about 25,000 people, Neenah has a violent crime rate that is far below the national average. Neenah has not had a homicide in more than five years.
“Somebody has to be the first person to say ‘Why are we doing this?’ ” said William Pollnow Jr., a Neenah city councilman who opposed getting the new police truck.
Neenah’s police chief, Kevin E. Wilkinson, said he understood the concern. At first, he thought the anti-mine truck was too big. But the department’s old armored car could not withstand high-powered gunfire, he said.
“I don’t like it. I wish it were the way it was when I was a kid,” he said. But he said the possibility of violence, however remote, required taking precautions. “We’re not going to go out there as Officer Friendly with no body armor and just a handgun and say ‘Good enough.’ ”
Congress created the military-transfer program in the early 1990s, when violent crime plagued America’s cities and the police felt outgunned by drug gangs. Today, crime has fallen to its lowest levels in a generation, the wars have wound down, and despite current fears, the number of domestic terrorist attacks has declined sharply from the 1960s and 1970s.
Police departments, though, are adding more firepower and military gear than ever. Some, especially in larger cities, have used federal grant money to buy armored cars and other tactical gear. And the free surplus program remains a favorite of many police chiefs who say they could otherwise not afford such equipment. Chief Wilkinson said he expects the police to use the new truck rarely, when the department’s SWAT team faces an armed standoff or serves a warrant on someone believed to be dangerous.
Today, Chief Wilkinson said, the police are trained to move in and save lives during a shooting or standoff, in contrast to a generation ago — before the Columbine High School massacre and others that followed it — when they responded by setting up a perimeter and either negotiating with, or waiting out, the suspect.
The number of SWAT teams has skyrocketed since the 1980s, according to studies by Peter B. Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University professor who has been researching the issue for decades.
In South Carolina, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s website features its SWAT team, dressed in black with guns drawn, flanking an armored vehicle that looks like a tank and has a mounted .50-caliber gun. Capt. Chris Cowan, a department spokesman, said the vehicle “allows the department to stay in step with the criminals who are arming themselves more heavily every day.” He said police officers had taken it to schools and community events, where it was a conversation starter.
“All of a sudden, we start relationships with people,” he said.
Not everyone agrees that there is a need for such vehicles. Ronald E. Teachman, the police chief in South Bend, Ind., said he decided not to request a mine-resistant vehicle for his city. “I go to schools,” he said. “But I bring ‘Green Eggs and Ham.’ ”
The Pentagon program does not push equipment onto local departments. The pace of transfers depends on how much unneeded equipment the military has, and how much the police request. Equipment that goes unclaimed typically is destroyed. So police chiefs say their choice is often easy: Ask for free equipment that would otherwise be scrapped, or look for money in their budgets to prepare for an unlikely scenario. Most people understand, police officers say.
“When you explain that you’re preparing for something that may never happen, they get it,” said Capt. Tiger Parsons of the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office in northwest Missouri, which recently received a mine-resistant truck.
In the Indianapolis suburbs, officers said they needed a mine-resistant vehicle to protect against a possible attack by veterans returning from war.
“You have a lot of people who are coming out of the military that have the ability and knowledge to build I.E.D.’s and to defeat law enforcement techniques,” Sgt. Dan Downing of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department told the local Fox affiliate, referring to improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs. Sergeant Downing did not return a message seeking comment.
The police in 38 states have received silencers, which soldiers use to muffle gunfire during raids and sniper attacks. Lauren Wild, the sheriff in rural Walsh County, N.D., said he saw no need for silencers. When told he had 40 of them for his county of 11,000 people, Sheriff Wild confirmed it with a colleague and said he would look into it. “I don’t recall approving them,” he said.
Some officials are reconsidering their eagerness to take the gear. Last year, the sheriff’s office in Oxford County, Maine, told county officials that it wanted a mine-resistant vehicle because Maine’s western foothills “face a previously unimaginable threat from terrorist activities.”
County commissioners approved the request, but recently rescinded it at the sheriff’s request. Scott Cole, the county administrator, said some people expressed concerns about the truck, and the police were comfortable that a neighboring community could offer its vehicle in an emergency.
At the Neenah City Council, Mr. Pollnow is pushing for a requirement that the council vote on all equipment transfers. When he asks about the need for military equipment, he said the answer is always the same: It protects police officers.
“Who’s going to be against that? You’re against the police coming home safe at night?” he said. “But you can always present a worst-case scenario. You can use that as a framework to get anything.”
Chief Wilkinson said he was not interested in militarizing Neenah. But officers are shot, even in small towns. If there were an affordable way to protect his people without the new truck, he would do it.
“I hate having our community divided over a law enforcement issue like this. But we are,” he said. “It drives me to my knees in prayer for the safety of this community every day. And it convinced me that this was the right thing for our community.”