- Police kill unarmed Black man, injure two others (FCN, 05-28-2008)
- New Yorkers vow justice fight for father killed in hail of 50 bullets (FCN, 05-06-2008)
LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – A surge in officer-involved shootings and misconduct has reignited community concerns over why law enforcement officials and city, state and federal governments cannot or will not hold police accountable for misconduct and acts of brutality.
“Police accountability is absent because it’s been a part of a historical context in terms of how police deal with the Black, Brown and poor communities, and there’s no deterrent, but if officers did this and they faced swift judgment, lost jobs and went to prison, you would see a tapering off but they know they will get off,” Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association, told the Final Call.
Eyewitness accounts say 46-year-old Roketi Su’e was unarmed and lying face down when a Long Beach Police Department officer fatally shot him in his back. Police say the mentally ill Samoan native was acting violently and charged them May 17 before they could request a police Mental Evaluation Team that specializes in such incidents.
About two weeks before, two Inglewood Police officers killed 19-year-old Michael Byoune, claiming they were being shot at from the car carrying him and two other men, but a preliminary investigation found that the victims were unarmed. Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks has apologized for the shooting. The city of Inglewood paid for Mr. Byoune’s funeral services and investigations are still underway.
“This demands one thing. The feds must step in and the Justice Department should take a long and hard look at are these shootings in violation of civil rights and civil liberties and is there an over use of excessive force?” said Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a L.A.-based syndicated columnist.
This month, William Ferguson, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer, was sentenced to 102 years in federal prison as part of a drug raid ring that robbed drug dealers, among other crimes. Former LAPD Officer Ruben Palomares was sentenced to 13 years in prison and Mr. Ferguson’s brother, Joseph, a Long Beach officer, was sentenced to 8 years in prison for their roles in the criminal endeavors.
In Atlanta, a police officer was convicted for lying to investigators about the evening officers burst into the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during a “no knock” raid, fired 39 bullets at her, striking her some five times and killing her with a shot to the chest.
Video cameras captured about 18 predominantly White officers in Philadelphia punching, kicking and hitting three Black men with batons after a car pursuit. The city vowed to fire four of the officers, discipline four more, demote one sergeant, and retrain the department on the use of force.
And several weeks ago, a jury acquitted all three officers who shot and killed New Yorker Sean Bell in a hail of 50 bullets. The judge said that the police were more credible witnesses and prosecutors failed to prove their case.
Root causes and solutions
Police brutality activists insist racial profiling starts the cycle of misconduct and cite the harassment of the New York Police Department’s head of the Community Affairs Bureau to prove their point.
Chief Douglas Zeigler was sitting in his department-issued SUV when the two White officers confronted him. Chief Zeigler identified himself, but one of the cops still tried to force his door open.
Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, believes a proper response to police brutality and misconduct is civilian review boards that are out of the mayoral control, adequately staffed and possess prosecutorial power.
In some cases, he said, the federal government can take police departments on if they can prove a pattern and practice of abuse and misconduct, but the problem is a conservative, right wing Justice Department that will not vigorously pursue the problem, Dr. Daniels said. He believes efforts by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to pass legislation that would provide or cut funding based on the prevalence or absence of abuses and misconduct is a step in the right direction.
The LAPD Commission ruled Officer Stephen Garcia acted out of policy when he fatally shot 13-year-old Devin Brown a couple of years ago, and recommended disciplinary action, but a policeman’s Board of Rights (two high-ranking police officials and one civilian) said he acted appropriately and freed him to police again. And on rare occasions when police officers are suspended without pay, according to recent reports, the Police Protective League pays the denied salaries.
“Not only do police unions pay them off but you don’t even get discipline from police departments. Funds are sometimes held up even if the city is sued on civil suits. The idea of holding the police department accountable is saying we will cut your budget if you keep allowing these practices, which city councils are not willing to do, primarily in part because of the powers of police unions,” Dr. Daniels told The Final Call.
“Historically, at the heart of it is the longstanding refusal to equitably include Blacks in American society. What happens is policing is used as a substitute for social, economic and racial justice so that after the Civil War, for example, and we were emancipated and they passed all of these laws, and we were criminalized and hired out for cheap labor to all kinds of companies,” Dr. Daniels said. Another barrier is the cozy relationship between prosecutors and police and the “blue wall of silence” among officers, he added.
“Retaliation is real and the institutionalization that takes place when you’re speaking out against misconduct isn’t acceptable to the institution or the people that work there. Sometimes police brutality doesn’t have a color to it and people in the Black community will tell you that Blacks are worse than Whites, and the same for Hispanics, but you never hear the White community say they are worse or bad,” Mr. Hampton noted.
“You see less of them (Black officers) speaking out today because of retaliation and the high salaries allow them to make more money than they could imagine. That makes it hard for them to speak out, but until they get beat up or stopped, they don’t always feel the brunt of it,” Mr. Hampton said.