The list is long, and the stories are alarming, with police shooting, killing or maiming unarmed Black people running away from officers. Though the law says officers are not to simply shoot those who are running away, the interpretation of the law and police and other practices make what is written on the books virtually non-existent.
And, despite promises and an executive order signed by President Biden far, far too little has happened to address this problem under a “friendly” administration and a president who ironically promised to have Black people’s backs.
“I just signed an Executive Order that delivers the most significant police reform in decades. It will increase accountability, ban chokeholds, restrict no-knock entries, and more for federal law enforcement officers—and it incentivizes state and local officers to do the same,” President Biden said in a tweet a couple months ago, after failing to push through Congress the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020.
But the problem is the executive order generally applies to federal officers only. It is not binding on more than 18,000 local police agencies across the country.
Dr. Abdul Haleem Muhammad, Southwest Regional Student Minister based at the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Mosque No. 45 in Houston, said a recent incident highlights the problem of police pursuits for alleged minor violations that end in death.
In early July, Roderick Brooks, who was accused of shoplifting and whose family says had a history of mental illness, was shot to death after fleeing a Harris County, Texas, sheriff and getting into a scuffle. He was unarmed, according to family attorneys, who also reject the sheriff’s department’s claim that the Black 47-year-old man tried to take the officer’s taser.
“A call went out to the Harris County sheriffs that Roderick Brooks was allegedly shoplifting toiletries and, on the way out, they claim that he hit somebody, which according to our attorney was like a Class C misdemeanor which doesn’t even call for tasing, or anything,” Dr. Muhammad said.
“This officer, sergeant, saw Roderick running away from him, and jumped out of his cruiser, and began chasing Roderick on foot, tased him, subdued him face down on the ground, began pummeling him in the back of his head, according to witnesses. Put the discharged taser in front of him and said, ‘don’t touch it or I’ll have to kill you, I’ll have to shoot you.’ And he did, he shot him through the neck at the base of his head. He didn’t handcuff him, he just shot him,” Dr. Muhammad said.
The family and community wanted to see the dash cam and body camera video unedited, Dr. Muhammad said. But, he continued, the version released to the family was edited and a version released to the public was edited even further. It leads to questions of a cover-up, and attempting to justify a homicide in a case of shooting first and asking questions later, said the Nation of Islam student minister.
While Mr. Brooks fled, was chased and had an encounter with an officer, others have been unarmed and flat-out shot. That is supposed to be illegal based on Supreme Court decisions that say running away by itself does not justify an officer using deadly force.
Atty. Ben Crump and the family members of Robert Adams say police fatally shot the 23-year-old Black man as he ran away. They also reject police claims Mr. Adams had a weapon. They say he had a cell phone and had been talking to his mother when police showed up. At a July 20 press conference, his mother described hearing the gunshots that took her son’s life. The evening encounter July 16 was the result of officers called to a San Bernadino, Calif., parking lot responding to a “tip” of a Black male with a gun, according to authorities.
Atty. Benjamin Crump, who is representing the family, called what happened to Mr. Adams “a classic example of ‘shoot first and ask questions later,’ ” according to the Associated Press.
The Eternal Leader of the Nation of Islam, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, called for strong federal oversight of local police departments that abuse and kill Black people or letting Black people go.
“We want an immediate end to the police brutality and mob attacks against the so-called Negro throughout the United States. We believe that the Federal government should intercede to see that black men and women tried in white courts receive justice in accordance with the laws of the land—or allow us to build a new nation for ourselves, dedicated to justice, freedom and liberty,” he wrote under Point Number Six of “What the Muslims Want,” found on the inside back page of every Final Call newspaper.
The ultimate, and divine solution, he has declared is separation from White people given an inability to live with them in peace.
The federal government has failed to protect Black people and the nullification of laws by police and others show the futility of hoping and expecting the U.S. to change. Blacks are shot, injured and killed by police in minor incidents.
“Police officers (are shielded) by ‘qualified immunity,’ which was really brought forth to protect politicians, but it also protects police officers,” said Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack of Grand Rapids, Mich., who aided the family of Congolese immigrant Patrick Lyoya after a city police officer fatally shot him in the back of his head while lying face down on the ground during an April traffic stop. Mr. Lyoya had run away from the officer and was unarmed. There was a scuffle as he tried to escape the officer.
“With that in mind, (police officers) go out into the field believing that they do have a right to kill and not be held accountable, so the litmus test for what the average person would go through in a murder trial is not the same thing as what a police officer goes through, even to get him to trial,” said county commissioner Womack.
Officers are trained in what to say to justify shootings, which generally means stating they feared for their lives. Officers are not charged or held to account for killing an unarmed person, Mr. Womack said. Whether officers are innocent or not, Commissioner Womack said the standards must be raised for taking a life.
“We just had a police chief in Lexington, Miss., get caught on tape bragging about killing Black men,” he continued. “Even though he’s talking to a Black (police officer), he is calling his victims the n-word. He was bragging about putting 119 bullets into an n-word, he was talking about another Black man, who was shot over 300 times by sheriff deputies, and he uses the n-word.
So when they are alone, they talk one way, when they’re in front of the camera, they talk another way. They say, ‘I feared for my life,’ ‘I was so scared,’ ‘It looked like he was going for a gun,’ ” he added. “It’s not all officers, but there’s enough around the country that we’ve got a growing rate of African American males being murdered, and also, a lot of young White males, that have not made the news.”
Cheryl Dorsey is a retired LAPD sergeant, who served from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, and she is the author of “Black and Blue: The Creation of a Social Advocate.”
As a mother of four Black men she is concerned about police-community relations and teaching the public how to properly interact with police.
“Should you encounter the police, obey all directives and orders that you’re given, and figure out how to resolve (injustices) later, but trying to evade police, trying to sometimes reason with them, or trying sometimes to even deescalate a situation can get you hurt and, or killed,” Ms. Dorsey noted. She added, “With police and how they conduct and comport themselves, the onus is on them, the police officers, to follow their training and policies.
“But we see that is not always the case and my belief is when the police kill you, there is only one version as to what happened, and that’s the one they provide. And that’s why it is so important for anyone who’s involved in a police encounter to survive that encounter,” she explained.
Dr. Curtis Kwodwo Williams II, an Akron-based psychologist who specializes in culturally based services, told The Final Call that extreme external stimuli can trump reason, especially when an untrained individual faces life-threatening situations.
The normal human response to danger or fear of death is governed by three basic parts of the brain, he said. Special consideration should be given to how environment, stressors, and past traumas effect the “fight or flee” response, particularly among young people, Dr. Williams explained. Because of how long it takes for brain development, some areas of the brain that impact the fight or flight response are not fully formed until age 25, he said.
Shootings of Black men and boys in the back or from behind by police, given the time in which we are living—and the fact America is now under divine judgement—and the targeting of Black people should not be surprising, Student Minister Ava Muhammad, the National Spokesperson for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, told The Final Call.
“The fact that (police) are getting away with it from a legal standpoint comes from the way their system is structured and it is structured and based on a doctrine of White supremacy,” she explained.
Pointing out the disparities through how armed Whites and unarmed Blacks are handled by police, Student Minister Ava Muhammad said recent events involving White gunmen make it more than plain.
Blacks are not treated like the mass shooter who killed 10 Black people in Buffalo, the killer of school children in Texas, or the killer of people watching a July 4 parade in Highland Park, Ill., she noted.
“These were men armed with military weapons and two of them were taken in without incident,” she said.
The elementary school shooter in Uvalde, Texas, was only killed because he engaged in a shootout with police, said Min. Ava Muhammad, who is also an attorney.
“The way the law is used, to allow police officers to either avoid arrest and prosecution all together or if they are charged, to be able to walk out of the courtroom, is this word ‘reasonableness,’” the student minister explained. “And according to the doctrine of White supremacy, it is reasonable for any Caucasian to believe that any Black person is a threat under any circumstance.
“This is yet another reason, in the multitude of reasons, underlying the absolute divine truth of the words of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, (that) ‘separation is the best and only solution,’ ” she stressed.