Over the weekend there was a wave of police violence directed at citizens all over the country with devastating and fatal results. From New York City to North Carolina to Texas, innocent people found themselves on the receiving end of police brutality and as a result lots of questions are being raised.
There is tendency when looking at police violence to isolate each incident and treat them as an aberration when in fact they are long-standing and systemic. Case in point is New York City where we find the NYPD who has been praised for receiving state of the art, top shelf training that is model for other agencies all over the world to emulate. Well over the weekend, two women who were innocent bystanders in heavily populated, tourist laden Times Square were shot by officers in what was described as an over reaction to a chaotic scene.
Apparently a man who was high on something was running in between cars and got hit 3 times. Police who routinely patrol times square and are more often than not heavily armed, were called to the scene where the surrounded the man then gave chase. At one point more than a dozen officers were involved in the pursuit. The man was surrounded and according to police, he pulled his hands from his pocket and pointed his fingers like he had a gun..Officers panicked and shot 3 times, missing him and hitting two women standing nearby..People could be heard in the back ground of the video shouting to police ‘don’t shoot no more.’
Now on the surface some might say; ‘well this is just an unfortunate accident, we should all be understanding and note that police officers are under stressful conditions and need more training’. That may be true, but unfortunately one would think such training would’ve taken place last year after two questionable shootings that took place in August 2012.
One of these shootings occurred near the Empire State building which is also heavily populated. In that incident NYPD officers were pursuing Jeffrey Johnson who had shot and killed a former coworker Steve Ercolino at the height of morning rush hour. Police who were supposed to be trained to deal with terrorist situations which they thought this shooting was, came on the scene and shot 16 rounds when Johnson aimed his gun at them. Johnson was killed instantly, but the 9 other innocent bystanders were shot by the two officers.
At the time of the Empire State shooting an enraged public questioned the training of NYPD officers because just two weeks prior there was a feeling that police over reacted when they shot a man who they confronted for smoking weed. In that incident the man pulled out a knife as officers gave chase. The man was surrounded in the middle of the street near Times Square and shot 12 times. Many felt the police overreacted and that they could’ve subdued the suspect in other ways. They also felt the lives of innocent people were potentially put in jeopardy with them firing shots in such a crowded area.
Are these ‘over reactions‘ isolated incidents? Not when you take into account that NYPD’s history with other high profile situations. One of the most notable took place in November 2006 when undercover officers shot and killed an unarmed Sean Bell outside a strip club in Queens, NY.
According to the reports, undercover cops feared that Bell and his friends had a gun and was going to shoot up the establishment. They approached the group as they were driving away but never identified themselves as officers. Fearing they were being robbed Bell tried to drive off at which point officers fired 50 rounds into the car, killing Bell and hitting one of his friends 19 times. It was later discovered that one officer shot 31 times stopping to reload his weapon twice.
Another high-profile incident occurres in February 1999, when plain clothes NYPD officers in the Bronx approached Amadou Diallo, a 23 year old African immigrant as he stood on the staircase to his home. Diallo had no criminal record but according to the police fit the description of a rape suspect. As police approached they saw what they thought was a gun and shot Diallo 41 times. That ‘gun’ wound up being a wallet. It was later discovered one of the officers, Kenneth Boss who shot Diallo had previously shot an unarmed man named Patrick Bailey..
Nationwide protests erupted over the Diallo and Bell incidents.. The police in both cases were acquitted, but promises to better train officers were put forth as solutions. Obviously with these most recent incidents of innocent bystanders being shot, one wonders how much training was given and how effective was it.
It’s hard not to look at this excessive gun play with NYPD and not look at similar incidents around the country. One that immediately comes to mind, took place earlier this year in April when plain clothes LAPD officers were assigned to protect the home of a high-ranking police official from rogue cop Christopher Dorner who threatened to kill him.
In the early morning hours two women driving a light blue pick up truck were fired upon more than 100 times by six officers feared the two petite Latina women Margie Carranza and her 71-year-old mother Emma Hernandez who were delivering newspapers was the 6′ 4″ Christopher Dorner.
The women had no idea they had no idea they were in harm’s way. Officers who were looking for a dark grey truck, gave no warning when they opened fire on the women. Luckily they survived. To this day the names of the officers who shot the pair have not been revealed. As was the cases in NY, LAPD deemed this an ‘accident’ and the solution to this would be ‘more training’.
Another incident in this long sordid list of overacting police occurred in 2010 in when the life Danroy DJ Henry was lost. The star football player who played for Pace University in Westchester County, New York was an innocent bystander who drove to a bar in nearby Pleasantville just as a fight was unfolding inside.
An agitated police officer, who was on the scene named Aaron Hess banged on Henry’s car and demanded he move the vehicle. Henry unaware of what was going on drove away as instructed at which point the officer fired into the windshield killing Henry. He claimed Henry had tried to run him over. It was a claim vehemently refuted by his friends and witnesses who were besides themselves as he lay on the ground bleeding and they were preventing from helping him. You can read about that HERE.
The case of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr a 68-year-old former Marine and a 20 year department of corrections officer was shot and killed by fellow officers in November 2011 inside his White Plains, NY Home. Chamberlain wore a Life Alert bracelet which accidentally went off. Police arrived and Chamberlain explained he did not call them nor did he have a medical emergency. Police refused to leave and kicked down the door. They shot Chamberlain claiming he tried to kill them with a butcher knife.
It was later discovered the officer who shot him Anthony Carelli had a violent past of racially charge incidents including beating two Arab men inside a precinct calling them ‘ragheads‘. His partner Steven Hart also had an unsavory past and had called Chamberlain a ‘nigger’. This incident raised the question about what type of people are being allowed on police forces and what type of training are they getting and how effective are they? You can read about that HERE.
These incidents are not limited to civilians. Chamberlain was a former corrections officer. Earlier this year an office duty San Francisco cop Lorenzo Adamson, was driving around his neighborhood, the predominantly Black Bayview District, when 3 white officers stopped him and asked if he was on parole. The 15 year veteran and former football player reacted to the harsh questioning and told the officers “That’s not the question you should ask.. You should ask for my driver’s license, my registration, my insurance.”.
The white officers took exception to Adamson’s response and words were exchange. Adamson was asked to get out of his car at which point officers put him in choke hold and charged him with resisting arrest. It was during the arrest that they discovered Adamson was a fellow police officer. You can read about that HERE.
That’s a bit of history that leaves lots of questions to be answered. With respect to the array of incidents that took place over the weekend, we have the tragedy that took place in the wee hours of the morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. A 24-year-old college football player named Jonathan Ferrell got into a serious car accident. He survived the crash and crawled out of the back window of that car and went to a nearby home seeking help. A woman answered the door thinking it was her husband..Saw Ferrell, slammed it shut, hit her panic button and called police.
According to police who had quickly arrived on the scene, the unarmed former football player charged at them..Officer Randall Kerrick shot and killed him..He was charged with voluntary manslaughter as it was determined that Ferrell was most likely running toward police seeking help not charging them to attack, as they initially suggested.
This tragic incident raises the question as to why was there this over reaction by police? What were they seeing in Jonathan? A menacing criminal or a victim of an accident? What was informing their perception? Why did Officer Kerrick shoot when he had two other officers alongside him? Couldn’t three officers handle one unarmed man if Kerrick was out of control as suggested? Couldn’t the three officer size things up and see someone in need of help vs being someone who needed to be shot?
While questions are being raised about the conduct of the officers, one might also ask what was communicated to the 9-11 operator by the woman who Ferrell sought help from. Did she express fear for her life? According to reports Ferell knocked on her door after she slammed it shut on him.. Did he cry out for help and explain he had been in an accident? Did the woman hear that and not belief him?
It’s hard not to see Jonathan Ferell seeking help and being denied and not think of the tragedy that took place during Hurricane Sandy on Staten Island. During the November 2012 storm as flood waters rose a panicked Glenda Moore sought refuge. She knocked on the door of 63-year-old George Calve who refused to help her, thinking Moore was a man trying to rob him.
Moore went to other homes banging on doors, neighbors refused to help, as her two kids Brendon 2 and Connor 4 who she held were swept from her arms and drowned. You can read that HERE.
In the case of Moore there wasn’t police brutality involved but there was, fear, distrust and suspicion. Fear of someone Black who is out to rob or do harm. One might ask what was fueling these fears? TV? Fear mongering politicians? Over zealous police? Real life scenarios? Whatever the case, the end result were two people in dire need of help not getting it. Couple that fear and suspicion with police who are already on edge who see Blacks as criminals vs contributing citizens and you wind up with harsh overreactions resulting in fatalities.
Over this past weekend, in Harris County just outside of Houston a man was followed home by a deputy with a reputation for beating people. The man he followed was not evading the officer, but was eventually stopped and then roughed up by Officer Drummond.. The family approached after the man’s ribs were broken. The officer than beat down the father and beat up the mother.. None were armed, high or drunk.
In Tallahassee, Florida a white woman named Christina West was arrested for DUI.. She is shown in the video complying with police orders, although its clear she is intoxicated.. Police without provocation drag her from the back of their squad car and beat her to a pulp.. All the while they are laughing.. You can see that here..http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
The incidents described are occurring with alarming frequency so much so that not only do we need to question training and procedure, but we are at a point now where we can not and should not discount the possibility that there are organized gangs of rouge officers within these departments who are acting with impunity..The expulsion of seven officers in the LA sheriff department earlier this years who called themselves ‘Jump Out Boys‘ and were known to brag about brutalizing Black and Brown people may just be the tip of the iceberg.. Read about that HERE.
It’s hard to say if there is a simple solution to this onslaught of police brutality sure what the simple solution is but at this point in time hearings b4 Congress need to be pushed while simultaneously we develop ways to safeguard ourselves. Cameras are good, but they are not making a difference in terms of prosecutions and convictions.. That means we need to find new DAs or new systems that bypass the normal scenarios where those wearing badges who violate the laws are aggressively prosecuted