Comedian Steve Harvey sometimes jokes about hearing certain news stories and automatically knowing the person involved is Black. Pregnant and tased? You know the next adjective in the series is Black, but this isn’t about a joke or a punch line–it’s about the continued disregard for Black life in America.
Chicago resident Tiffany Rent, who is eight-months-pregnant, was tased by police officers after an apparent dispute about a parking ticket. A parking ticket. Not domestic violence, not child abuse, not bank robbery but for parking in a handicapped space outside of a drugstore. The 30-year-old woman, who says she was sitting in her SUV in a near panic after tearing up a ticket, was tased in the chest as her two children in the backseat watched. Her fiancÃ© suffered a dislocated elbow during the June 5 encounter with police.
“I didn’t hit anybody, I didn’t do anything,” the distraught mother told reporters June 6 outside of court where she was to face charges of misdemeanor assault and resisting arrest. The response from Chicago’s top cop was that the incident was under investigation and sometimes you just can’t tell if people are pregnant.
It’s difficult to understand how a simple interaction with police can escalate to such extremes, except when you introduce the issue of race. Once Black is added to the mix, encounters with police can quickly turn disastrous and deadly.
The family of Stephon Watts is still hurting and crying out for justice in his case. The 15-year-old autistic boy was fatally shot by police officers in Calumet City, Ill., earlier this year. The family called police for assistance but the intervention ended with the boy holding a butter knife and officers shooting him to death, according to the family.
The head of the Calumet City police department told media that officers had been called to the home 10 times since 2010. The chief told the media, cops had done everything to keep Stephon from “becoming a victim, as he was an offender. He chose to be an offender.” Police said the boy “slashed” an officer’s arm and the officer had to defend himself.
Danelene Powell-Watts has spoken out against the killing of her son, and the perhaps the most often asked question is why wasn’t a taser used, if the boy had a butter knife and needed to be subdued? The family said a stun gun was used to subdue Stephon in the past.
“They didn’t have to murder him. This is nothing but murder and they shoot to kill,” Ms. Powell-Watts said, according to a Chicago news website.
Police said a stun gun wasn’t used because the lead officer did not have a stun gun. But there were reportedly five officers answering the call and a Chicago CBS 2 online media report said one of two officers confronting Stephon did have a stun gun.
“With everything that they’ve done before, they should have known before going in what they were dealing with. And, you know, the goal really should have been to have gotten this child to a hospital,” Dr. Louis Kraus, professor and section chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center, told Chicago CBS 2. According to an article on the news station’s website, Dr. Kraus noted, “people with autism can frequently become aggressive, but not because they are trying to hurt someone. ‘What we know is that, when they get anxious–probably more commonly than the typical person when they get anxious–they might lash out; not with the intention of doing harm, but simply because of how frightened they are,’ ” the article quoted Dr. Kraus as saying. The same article quoted the police chief saying all officers “went through a three-day autism awareness program to learn how to handle calls involving people with autism.”
What happened to the training?
In White Plains, N.Y., Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. recently led a march calling for justice for the police killing of his father, a former Marine, and others hurt or killed by police.
About 200 people joined the march in honor of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., who died last November, and whose last moments were recorded as police were breaking down his door. The son’s wish for his father: Accountability and justice.
The 68-year-old Chamberlain Sr., was shot by cops who were supposed to be answering a call for help triggered accidentally by a medic alert device. Police said Mr. Chamberlain took a hatchet to his door and charged officers with a butcher knife. He was shot twice in the chest. Authorities say Mr. Chamberlain was legally drunk. The case is under a federal probe.
A different story was told to Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, by the man’s son, who cited a recording that said, “ ‘My name is Kenneth Chamberlain. This is my sworn testimony. White Plains police are going to come in here and kill me.’ And that’s just what they did,” wrote Ms. Goodman in a syndicated column.
“Perhaps unbeknown to the White Plains police who arrived at Chamberlain, Sr.’s door that morning, the LifeAid system includes a box in the home that, when activated, transmits audio to the LifeAid company, where it is recorded. … Chamberlain, Jr. repeated what he heard his father say on the tape: ‘He says, ‘I’m a 68-year-old man with a heart condition. Why are you doing this to me?’ … You also hear him pleading with the officers again, over and over. And at one point, that’s when the expletive is used by one of the police officers.’ … ‘Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. said to the police, ‘I’m a sick old man.’ One of the police officers replied, ‘We don’t give a f_ _k, n_ _ _ _ _r!’ ‘ The recording also includes a taunt from the police … ‘Open the door, Kenny, you’re a grown-ass man!’ It was when Chamberlain, Jr. related how the police mocked his father’s military service that he broke down. ‘He said, ‘Semper fi.’ So they said, ‘Oh, you’re a marine. Hoo-rah. Hoo-rah.’ And this is somebody that served this country. Why would you even say that to him?’ ”
The operator for the medical company, the elderly man’s niece who lived in the same building and the man’s sister all tried to intervene, observed Ms. Goodman. Police rebuffed all of their efforts, she wrote. “The heavily armed police used a special device to take Chamberlain’s door completely off the hinges and, as chillingly captured in the Taser-mounted camera, burst into the apartment. Bartlett recounted seeing Chamberlain, Sr. shirtless in the video, hands at his side, without the knife or hatchet that police claim he wielded, standing in his boxer shorts. ‘The minute they got into the house, they didn’t even give him one command. They never mentioned, ‘put your hands up.’ They never told him to lay down on the bed. They never did any of that. The first thing they did, as soon as that door was finally broken off the hinges, you could see the Taser light up, and it was charged, and you could see it going directly toward him.”
According to Ms. Goodman, the Chamberlain family attorney hears “turn off the tape” and within minutes the fatal shots are fired. Democracy Now reported that a lawyer for the family now says autopsy results contradict the police account of his death. It reports, the “fatal bullet suggests Chamberlain was neither facing the police nor holding up a weapon.”
The sad reality is that preserve, protect and defend often goes out the window when the people who need assistance are Black. The visceral reaction is oppress, victimize and offend the children of America’s once slaves. America, however, should beware of the wrongful taking of Black life. Scripture warns of a day when God Himself will bring justice and call for the blood of the innocent. Every unwarranted killing only hastens the coming of the full wrath of God and the destruction of the powerful.