Saturday, May 30, 2020

To 'Protect and Serve', But Whom? The Decline of Trust in America's Police

I am not sure what to make of the death of George Floyd. As you probably know, Floyd was the man killed by Minneapolis Police Officer, Derek Chauvin, who, after handcuffing Floyd, kneeled on his neck with his full weight which, despite pleas from Floyd that he couldn't breathe, caused him to eventually passed out and die. Chauvin and the other officers who neither said or did anything, were fired the next day. While trial will no doubt be forthcoming, the central question is whether the officers will be held to the same standards as everyone else.

We all remember Eric Garner who was choked to death by one of New York's "finest", Officers Daniel Pantaleo, with assistance from Officer Justin D'Amico, despite pleading eleven times to the officers that he couldn't breathe (they insisted that Garner was continuing to "resist". Witnesses testified that he was only trying to get air and with every attempt, the officer's grip only tightened. Ultimately, the officers were acquitted of all charges. Even the Department of Justice refused to press charges.

In 2014, a 21 year old college student named James King was misidentified in connection with a non-violent petty crime. However, that didn't stop three members of a joint federal/state police task force of beating him into unconsciousness. These undercover officers, who did not identify themselves as such, were looking for someone wanted for stealing empty aluminum cans and a box of liquor. They pinned King against a van and while yelling at him, began looting his pockets. King, who thought he was being robbed, broke and ran only to be tackled by the officers and subsequently beaten to a pulp. He was ultimately hospitalized.

Passersbyers heard King's screams for help and called 911 while others began recording the assault. Eventually uniformed officers showed up. After discovering their mistake, the undercover officers demanded that all recordings be deleted. Still, King, who wasn't wanted for anything, was still charged with felony crimes. The matter eventually went to court, where, not unexpectedly, none of the officers would testify against the three undercover officers. While the case was eventually dismissed, none of the officers were held accountable. In fact, attorneys for the state argued that the officers were "exempt" from having violated King's constitutional rights!

On June 6, 2019, in another case of mistaken identity, Los Angeles sheriff deputies shot 24 year old Ryan Twyman 34 times as he sat, unarmed, in his car with another individual. Just a few hours later, a 27 year black male was shot and killed by officers as he walked down the street. The officers maintained that the individual was "acting suspiciously". When officers approached he started to run. The officers gave chase and eventually shot and killed the unarmed man. In fact, on that day, there was a total of five shootings by officers, resulting in the deaths of all but one of the suspects. Of those four, none were directly involved in any crimes. None of the officers involved were charged. Unfortunately, this has become the norm and not the exception.

I know that's a terrible thing to say. But it's also true. In 2018, around 1000 individuals were killed by police (and about the same amount in 2017). Of that, 98 non-federal officers were accused of murder and arrested. Out of these 98 individuals, only 35 were convicted; typically of a lesser crime such as involuntary manslaughter or negligent murder. 22 were acquitted while ten were dismissed by the judge (one by a grand jury). 21 cases remain pending, and just three were ultimately found guilty.

As an aside, a study from 2016 conducted by the American Journal on Public Health reported that black males were nearly three times more likely to be killed by police officers in general compared to white males (in terms of raw numbers, there were more white male deaths than any other race. However, that's because white males made up a larger share of the total population). "Death by cop" is the seventh highest cause of death among black men under 30.

Native Americans were also three times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than whites males while Hispanics were twice as likely. Asians had the lowest percentage, but also the smallest population sample. Regardless, remember that taxpayers are the ones picking up the tab in each one of these cases, including settlements, which are often in the millions of dollars.

On March 13, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky, undercover officers with Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) broke into an apartment using a "no knock" warrant with guns blazing. The officers claimed they were being shot at, and thus were responding with what they believed to be appropriate force. In the end, one individual, a male, was arrested and charged with attempted murder of a police officer and first degree assault, while another individual, a female, lay dead.

The officers were there to make a narcotics bust. They didn't identify themselves since this was an undercover operation. The problem, however, was that the officers had the wrong address. The man arrested by officers, Kenneth Walker, thought that their apartment was being broke into. The individual they shot and killed was a EMT employee who had been asleep in her bed. Her name was Breonna Taylor. She was just 26. She had been shot at least eight times. The officers had fired a total of approximately 25 rounds blindly into the house. Walker fired only a single round.

After realizing their mistake, the police clammed up, not releasing any information about the shooting to Ms. Taylor's family. It was a deliberate "tried and true" attempt to stall for as long as possible while trying to concoct a cover story to fed the victim's family and the media. Fortunately for the police, there were no body cameras or recordings since this was an undercover operation. As for the real suspect, he was found some ten miles away. At this juncture, the police have been slowly releasing information, albeit with contradictory statements. Certainly there will be an internal investigation, which is usually an effort to justify the action of officers and create a credible sounding scenario of events.

The matter will likely go to trial where, if it follows the usual pattern, every effort to shift the blame will be made. If past cases are any indication, the officers involved will get off with little more than a reprimand or they'll be "encouraged" to resign from the force with full benefits. Meanwhile, any settlements will be paid for by the residents of Jefferson County. It will likely include a non-disclosure agreement, which is a shame. Why? Well, if we are the ones paying for these screw-up's, then we deserve to know the full details wouldn't you agree?

The only upside of this tragedy is that the long embattled police chief, Steve Conrad, finally agreed to step down. However, rather than being fired as many throughout the community (including the FOP) had been demanding for years, he is retiring, which means he'll get full benefits courtesy of Louisville taxpayers. Conrad has a long track record of controversy. He mismanaged $6.2 million dollars in emergency funding (it was suppose to last six months. It lasted barely six weeks). There was the Explorer Scout sexual molestation debacle by police officers which he tried to sweep under the rug.

There has been numerous instances of police abuse or inattention which were covered up or excused, not to mention misuse of overtime, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years among many other incidents. He long ago lost the respect of the community, his fellow officers as well as the FOP, which in 2016 gave a 98% "no confidence" vote in Conrad's leadership, followed by a "no confidence" vote by the Metro Council in 2017.

Conrad failed repeatedly in creating a transparent police department or rebuilding public trust after his predecessor, Robert White left the LMPD in shambles. In short, Steve Conrad has been an embarrassment to Louisville along with his boss, Mayor Greg Fischer, who has done nothing but cover for him at our expense. Was it worth it to Breonna Taylor, the Explorer Scouts, and all the others?

There's no question that crime is on the rise. "No knock" warrants have their place. Originally, they were intended for those rare and exceptional cases where the lives of officers would be put in extraordinary danger and there was no other way to safely execute a search. Nowadays, "no knock" warrants are almost routinely issued; an average of approximately 20,000 a year. Also, there are no provisions to record what happens during these type of raids, and there should be. If, for no other reason, than to safe guard the rights of every citizen in this country whether they are accused of a crime or not.

Secondly, we see too many cases where the police engage in a "shoot first lawyer up later" mentality. Part of this is the pressure police officers are under. It's a dangerous world out there and respect for the law or law enforcement is in short supply. The "bad guys" are often better armed and more willing to shoot cops than ever before. Gang members from south of the border face far worse conditions in their prisons than ours, which are seen as "resorts" and the death penalty is rare, so they have little to fear.

Another part of the problem is police militarization. They're dressed equipped like the military. They are frequently trained like the military. Their thinking is geared along military lines as are their operations. Is it any wonder they are acting like the military? Their motto, "protect and serve" is now "control and maintain". The public is viewed as criminals who haven't been caught...yet. When those you're suppose to serve are seen as part of the problem, it's not long before trust on both sides vanishes.

We also have to add a failure of leadership to lead; a failure to take responsibility. They should openly invite the public spotlight, not hide from it. Officers should be trained to use deadly force last, not first. That includes not just in the use of weapons, but also physically. Once they undertake any step to detain or arrest someone, they are by definition taking charge of that person which includes insuring their safety. It's also imperative that everyone understands that running from cops or assaulting one is a bad idea. It's not a game. Regardless of what you did or didn't do, you must follow the officer's instructions and don't mouth off. It's better to speak up in court than having someone speak at your funeral.

While there's a natural bond between law enforcement and the judicial system, a conspiracy, implied or not, to obscure or distort the facts cannot be allowed to exist. When police officers or judges mess up (and they do just like anyone else), they must be fully held responsible for their actions in the most transparent way possible. Because they are held to a higher standard, there cannot be the slightest hint of impropriety else the whole social system, which is ultimately based on faith and trust, collapses.

That is what we're seeing right now. The American People have lost faith in their institutions. They no longer trust the politicians, the media, the school system, corporations, or even in religious institutions. Nevertheless, we are first and foremost a nation of laws, which are applicable to everyone equally without regard to race, class, religion, or any other criteria. When we cease having faith in those laws and how they are applied, then there is nothing left to hold us together. When that happens, we lose not just our nation, but our identity as Americans as well. For more information, be sure to check out our links below.

Mayor: Officer who put knee on man's neck should be charged

Police officer convicted of fatal shootings are the exception, not the rule

Black men nearly 3 times as likely to die from police use of force, study says

After Police Brutally Beat And Hospitalized James King, The Government Closed Ranks And Is Using A Legal Shell Game To Avoid Accountability

Los Angeles officers shot at Ryan Twyman 34 times. He was one of four killed that day

Louisville police conducting a drug bust charged into Breonna Taylor's house and shot her eight times. Her family says they were at the wrong address

Getting killed by police is a leading cause of death for young black men in America

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