Saturday, December 20, 2014

Phrase of the Week: TO PROTECT AND TO SERVE [Part 7 of 7]

Today, I conclude my seven-part series commenting on events in Ferguson, MO, Cleveland, OH, and New York City, N.Y.

All this week, I have been looking at the individual cases in the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner.  All three cases have similarities, the most obvious of which are the officers involved were white and the victims were black.  There are, however, similarities that go deeper than that.  In wrapping up this week-long exploration, I would like to address those deeper similarities.

There has been a pattern emerging across the country, and in some instances around the world, of the nature of what it means to be a police officer going through huge changes.  Likely, the first example in the past five years that I can cite is police departments' reaction to the Occupy movement.  This is not to say that all protests went smoothly and without incident, clearly not, but a dramatic shift took place ... one that is continuing today.

Lest being labeled a generalist, I affirm that the majority of those serving in law enforcement do their jobs and do the right thing day in and day out.  Just as I mentioned yesterday in terms of protestors, I do not say all officers are bad.  They are not.  Period.

One must go beyond that reality, though, and see what that shift is.  More and more, we see police officers using an increasing number of strong arm tactics in their duties.  Many times, the three cases mentioned in this series as examples, the result is fatal.  Many times, we hear higher officials (i.e. Chiefs, Captains, Policemen's Union representatives) say that such tactics are not taught to officers during their training and not encouraging while being on the force.  If that is true, then why do they use those tactics?  Do not misunderstand me, I believe police officers need to be strong individuals who will be forceful if necessary in the doing of their jobs.  The question remains: How do they think these tactics are okay?

How do you not shoot an individual allegedly charging at you with a non-fatal shot?  And (as witnesses have claimed) how do you not stop shooting once that individual is down?  

How do you pull up on someone and fatally shoot them at nearly point blank range, putting yourself also in danger?  How do you not fully disclose to another police department all information about that officer?  

While there are, indeed, many individuals who claim they cannot breathe or that they are being hurt, when such is not true, in order to fight some more or to escape, do we simply chalk one up as nothing more than an exception to the rule ... using a banned move ... and claiming you never used it?

Then the question of the militarization of our police arises.  Why do local police departments need tanks and reinforced vehicles to do their jobs?  How many thieves walk around with grenades?  How many pimps have a flamethrower at their disposal?  How many IED's (Improvised Exploding Devices) have been planted in our streets?  When is the last time you saw a drug dealer hauling around a surface-to-air missile launcher?

The presence of firepower by lawbreakers is real, but the response is hugely out of proportion.  It has become an environment where some law-abiding citizens have to at least be concerned of what might happen to them at the hands of a police officer.  It should not be that way!  Is there some sort of intelligence the government has about the U.S. population it's not telling us?  Perhaps the the U.S. military not being allowed to fight on American soil is the reason.  Would they be used, instead, if it was allowed?

Overzealous bullies and military weaponry have no place in police work.  Period.

Even with the obvious similarities mentioned in the opening paragraph, it would be easy to say this is simply a black vs. white issue and leave it at that.  It is not as simple as that.  It is a part of that, but the state of affairs is not so simplistic.  

I mentioned in the last section about law-abiding citizens being concerned about what might happen to them.  The black community in the U.S. knows that all to well.  Just look at the state of the country and see who is, as a whole, more concerned about the presence of police in their neighborhoods; I would offer blacks are.  Is that because blacks are more likely to commit crimes than whites?  According to 2012 records held by the FBI, which cover a long list of various crimes, whites committed more crimes than blacks ... by a more than a two-to-one margin.  So, where does the feeling that some have that blacks are more likely to commit crimes, if it is not substantiated by facts?  Fear.  Fear that gets bolstered by many means, the media being the leader.

The signs being held up at protests that read BLACK LIVES MATTER are 100% correct.  This is not to say it should be an absolute hands-off policy when it comes to black individuals who are committing crimes simply because they are black.  There have been far too many killings of blacks by police and that confirms the notion of blacks being killed more and more by police.

Another issue that adds to the cloud over all of this is the presentation of statistics.  Yesterday, I presented two videos: one from 'The O'Reilly Report' and one from a piece of coverage by CNN of Ferguson protests.  O'Reilly cites statistics that came from one source.  The two anchors at the center of the CNN clip are diametrically opposed in their perceptions of what happened the night before. 
Two-and-a-half weeks ago, reporter Eric Bradner posted a story on on the reporting of statistics.  It is a fascinating article in which Bradner highlights "[t]wo dramatically different statistics -- and they could both be right".  Light is shed on what could be yet another key problem in all of this -- the manner of reporting police shootings by the police.  It is vitally important to keep in mind that the source of statistics is likely to have an agenda, even if the agenda is literally simply reporting what's there.  In preparing this final installment, I found statistics that say police shootings of blacks are down and up.

Who you ask matters as much, if not more, than what you ask.

The idea that black lives matter is a correct one.  I would further that to say ALL lives matter.  Even some of the deceased's families are saying it was not a race issue.  I still believe there is a level of race perception intertwined, but the valuing of all lives needs to be brought back into police practice.  Not a stereotypical "bleeding heart liberal" concept of leave the minorities alone to the point where only whites are arrested for crimes.  I reject that!  It should be anyone breaking the law should be arrested and treated as fairly as allowed -- the absolute, indisputable necessity of appropriate force still used -- and let justice take its course. 

The militarization of police departments across the country, including Ferguson, MO -- not exactly a major metropolis, now, is it? -- needs to stop.  Tools and weaponry designed for the battlefield have absolutely no place on our streets in the hands of anyone.  They belong on the battlefield, not main street.  The possibility of the presence of war weaponry with police officers who step over the line is a lethal combination ... lethal for every man, woman, and child.  Additionally, fair and thorough reporting of police shootings needs to take place.  

We need not only ask questions about race, police operations, etc. (provided we don't stop there), but we need to ask why the population of the U.S. is being systematically treated as guilty before innocent.  Why are some police officers acting like criminals and, for the most part, getting away with it?  Why are other officers not keeping tabs on their fellow officers and speaking up?  Why is "the code" more important than justice and human lives?  Why are police departments being militarized?  Why should people be concerned when they should not have to, and did not years ago? 

How long do we, both citizens and law enforcement alike, allow this to continue?


Friday, December 19, 2014

Phrase of the Week: TO PROTECT AND TO SERVE [Part 6 of 7]

Today, I continue my seven-part series commenting on events in Ferguson, MO, Cleveland, OH, and New York City, N.Y.   Yesterday, I addressed the public's response to these events.  Today, I continue from yesterday by addressing the response to the response.

The grand jury decisions in both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases and the shooting of  twelve-year-old Tamir Rice have sparked protests all across the country.  They reached far beyond the cities where the shootings took place and included protestors in the tens of thousands.
© WJLA-TV, News Channel 8

In fact, not only had the protests spread across the U.S., but they also spread outside the U.S., including London.

When protests turn violent, as they did more prominently in Ferguson, MO, albeit in other locations as well, the idea of the protest is lost.  The focus of what is specifically being protested is clouded.  I have mentioned the participation of anarchists in these and other protests with the goal of chaos.  The result can be huge misinterpretations of the protestors being all in favor of destruction of property and not really being in favor of a cause.  Those who have protested, including myself, or who have watched protests in the past, know that the actions of a few are not the actions of the many (or all).  Still, that perception exists.

In my mind, Mr. O'Reilly does so in a rather imperfect and incorrect manner, but I think he raises the point that there are those who hold the view that the actions of the minority of people is the same as the actions of everyone in the protest.  My disagreement with that view could not be stronger, but that is the very reason why protests need to be free of violence.  It will lessen, if not completely wash over, your message.

I have known people who have stated that going out and protesting does nothing.  It is just a group of people blowing off steam, affecting no real change.  I have had people laugh at me for my participation in protest marches.  To those people, I offer the following:

You know that document called the U.S. Constitution?  Yeah, you know the one; the one that has been ripped at and torn apart so many times?  In that document, in the very first amendment to it, there is a phrase that states "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  That's right, Americans have the right to assemble in public to protest (petition) an issue in order to bring about a setting right of what they see as wrong (redress of grievances). 

That means shutting down peaceful protests is against the Constitution.  That also means that the protestors need to be peaceful or else they are going against the Constitution, as well as breaking the law.  If any citizen, members of law enforcement, or members of government have trouble seeing that, then there lies a fundamental problem.

Some have said they have no problem with the protests being linked as similar to the civil rights protests of the 1960's; others have said they do.  Whether you see a parallel or not, it is important to keep in mind that it was those very same protests that brought about the changes that were being sought (i.e. Voting Rights bill, Civil Rights bill).  Also, do not forget to include the protests for the Women's Suffrage movement in the early part of the 20th century as another example. 

Were there people in the 60's who thought it was just a blowing off of steam, an opportunity to create violence, a bunch of kids who didn't know any better, etc.?  Undoubtedly so.  And yet, the protests went on undeterred and many changes, big changes, were brought about.

The protests need to continue now in order to bring about the changes that are desperately needed.

I suppose those who say that marching in the streets does little to nothing in the way of change could be seen as correct, if you look at it from an instant gratification standpoint.  Protest on, say, a Saturday and no change comes Saturday, or Sunday, or Monday?  Then what good did that do?  No smart person, let alone one who protests, knows that large changes come quickly or easily.  It is a continuum; it is a progression.  It is done step by step, day by day, year by year, and, if necessary, generation by generation.  Those same naysayers might even agree that large changes never come quickly enough ... or that local politicians and state politicians do not work fast enough ... or that the government couldn't care less, but fail to apply that same understanding of how things work to those who protest.

The denial of Constitutional rights is always wrong; protests must be allowed to continue without the fear of violence from law enforcement.

Violence begets violence, not understanding.  Destruction destroys opportunity.  Both are always received poorly and always create negative perceptions. 



Thursday, December 18, 2014

Phrase of the Week: TO PROTECT AND TO SERVE [Part 5 of 7]

Today, I continue my seven-part series commenting on events in Ferguson, MO, Cleveland, OH, and New York City, N.Y.   The past three days, I addressed procedural and legal issues for the Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner cases.  Today and tomorrow, I will address the public's response to these events...and the response to the response.

The public outcry in response to the events involving Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner has been large.  There is no shortage of outrage resulting from these events.

The initial protests in Ferguson over the killing of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson were boisterous but relatively peaceful, while the anger of those protesting was clearly evident.  The police response was, however, overdone, with militarized police being used to keep order among the protestors.
  Militarized police aiming at unarmed protestors this Summer

Following the no indictment decision from the grand jury, the protests took an unfortunate turn.  Unruly crowds, looting, setting fires, and destruction of property now became part of the upheaval.

It was stated that much of the destruction that took place was due to out-of-town protestors, some referred to as anarchists, taking part in the demonstrations.  We saw some of same outbursts during the Occupy protests a few years ago in many parts of the country.  Their goal is to take advantage of a volatile and emotional situation in order to bring about chaos.  What it does is completely taint the message of protest into one of sheer destruction.

In contrast to the protests in Ferguson, the protests in Cleveland over Tamir Rice being killed by Officer Timothy Loehmann were far more subdued.  Again, the dissatisfaction and disgust with the shooting was clearly evident.

For sheer size in number of protestors in one place, the protests in New York City over the murder of Eric Garner by Officer Daniel Pantaleo and other members of the N.Y.P.D.   The rather mobile protests were well-orchestrated and did not include the police brutality and strong arm tactics that occurred during the Occupy Wall Street protests.  It was a symbol of peaceful protest over a highly-charged event.



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Phrase of the Week: TO PROTECT AND TO SERVE [Part 4 of 7]

Today, I continue my seven-part series commenting on events in Ferguson, MO, Cleveland, OH, and New York City, N.Y.   Yesterday, I addressed procedural and legal issues for the Tamir Rice case.  Today, I will address the Eric Garner case.

It was Thursday, July 17.  On a sidewalk in front of a beauty salon in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island, N.Y., a forty-three year old man, Eric Garner is approached by police officers.  It is their belief that Garner has been selling "loosies", individual cigarettes that have been removed from packs of cigarettes that has not had the state tax stamp affixed to it.

Witnesses have said Garner had just broken up a fight outside the beauty salon, and that the two individuals who were fighting had left the are before police arrived.  One witness, Ramsey Orta, a friend of Garner's, shot cell phone video of the incident.  Here's what took place:

Near the end of this video, at approximately 2:25, a suited police supervisor tells people to move back because it is now a crime scene.  It sure is a crime scene.  The police would have you believe the crime was solely resisting arrest, committed by Garner.  While resisting arrest is a crime, the other, and far more serious, crime here is the unnecessary murder of Garner by the New York Police Department.

The officer who came up from behind on Garner is Daniel Pantaleo, an eight-year veteran of the N.Y.P.D.  His tenure has not been free of controversy, however, as Pantaleo was the subject of two civil rights cases brought just last year.  One lawsuit resulted from two black men who claimed Pantaleo subjected them both to a "humiliating and unlawful" strip search on the street, being ordered to "pull their pants and underwear down, squat and cough", being charged, and being detained overnight.  The other lawsuit alleged that Pantaleo, along with other officers, had misrepresented facts in a police report and related documents in order to substantiate charges against the individual.

In both cases, all charges against the citizens were dropped.

With New Yorkers dealing with high taxes on cigarettes from both the city and the state of New York, the sale of loosies has become much more widespread.  In January of this year, a new law was adopted (Local Law 97, "Sensible Tobacco Enforcement") with the following penalties: 
A first violation resulting in a fine of up to $2,000
A second violation resulting in a fine of up to $5,000
(Local law 97 also includes a revoking of license and a closing down of a store that sells tobacco products illegally.)

We will never know if Eric Garner would have been arrested and assessed a fine for the alleged violation because he was murdered.  In New York, selling loosies is a misdemeanor, which does not include murder as punishment.  Resisting arrest is illegal, but Eric Garner's manner of resisting was not threatening any officer, or anyone else for that matter.  As such, the response of murder was unwarranted.

It has been said by Officer Pantaleo, the N.Y.P.D., and the Policemen's Union that the hold Pantaleo applied to Garner was not a chokehold.
Sorry, but that clearly looks like a chokehold to me.

Add to this that the use of chokeholds by N.Y.P.D. officer has been banned for eleven years.  In November of 1993, then-Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly officially banned their use as a "clarification" of an order eight years earlier.  In 1985, chokeholds, which were described in the '85 order as "potentially lethal and unnecessary", were not to be "routinely used", with the only exceptions being an officer's life is in danger or the maneuver was deemed the "least dangerous alternative method of restraint" in a situation.  Commissioner Kelly's policy, still on the books today, allows no exceptions.  To clarify, banned means illegal.

Even if Commissioner Kelly's still-standing policy was not in effect, how did Eric Garner pose a threat to the officers' lives?  How was the use of a chokehold, including holding Garner down in the prone position, the least dangerous method of restraint in this situation?

Its use was flatly unwarranted, and Garner's death was undeniably unnecessary.

The grand jury was instructed to apply New York Penal Code section 35.30, which addresses the use of  physical force by a police officer:
The officer must "reasonably [believe it] to be necessary to effect the arrest, or to prevent the escape from custody, or in self-defense or to defend a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of physical force".
What was reasonable about thinking that putting a chokehold on an unarmed and non-threatening individual was necessary?

Within that belief, the officer must know or believe at least one of the following:
That the offense is "a felony or an attempt to commit a felony involving the use or attempted use or threatened imminent use of physical force against a person; or
kidnapping, arson, escape in the first degree, burglary in the first degree or any attempt to commit such a crime"
There was no felony committed or attempted -- again, selling loosies is a misdemeanor -- and there was no use, or threat of use, of physical force by Garner.  Additionally, there was no kidnapping, no arson, no escape, and no burglary committed or attempted.
"The offense committed or attempted by such person was a felony and that, in the course of resisting arrest therefor or attempting to escape from custody, such person is armed with a firearm or deadly weapon"
Again, no felony, or attempt of a felony, occurred and Eric Garner was unarmed.
"Regardless of the particular offense which is the subject of the arrest or attempted escape, the use of deadly physical force is necessary to defend the police officer or peace officer or another person from what the officer reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force"
If Officer Pantaleo believed that Garner was using, or was about to use, deadly physical force, I am unconvinced that such a belief was reasonable.

And yet, a grand jury that had convened for more than two months going over all the evidence, including the cell phone video (above), came back on December 3 with a no indictment decision against Officer Pantaleo.  Later that same day, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the U.S. Justice Department will conduct its own investigation into the matter.



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Phrase of the Week: TO PROTECT AND TO SERVE [Part 3 of 7]

Today, I continue my seven-part series commenting on events in Ferguson, MO, Cleveland, OH, and New York City, N.Y.   Yesterday, I addressed procedural and legal issues for the Michael Brown case.  Today, I will address the Tamir Rice case.  Tomorrow, I will address the Eric Garner case.

Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old Cleveland, Ohio, youth was playing with a toy gun in a public park.  When a man called 911 to report this, he stated that the gun was likely fake and the individual was a juvenile:

However, the caller's belief the gun was likely fake and that the person in question was a juvenile was never conveyed by the dispatcher to units in the area:

When the police cruiser with officers Frank Garmback (driving) and Timothy Loehmann pulled up, Officer Loehmann fatally shot Tamir Rice in less than two seconds.
© The David Pakman Show
** Note: This episode was released just five days after the video was released - Public outrage has increased

Shouting "Put your hands up!" just once would take about one-and-a-half to two seconds.  From where were the commands given, up the block before pulling up to the gazebo?

Earlier in the surveillance video, not shown above, it is visible that Rice is talking on a cell phone.  Why is it impossible that it was his cell phone he was reaching for?  Why is it impossible that he is putting the gun in his back pocket to hide it from the officers, thinking he would get into trouble?  Perhaps more importantly, why is it impossible that, if he was reaching for the air gun, that he was doing so to show the officers that the gun was fake? 

It is a well-known fact that police officers, when faced with a dangerous situation, sometimes have mere seconds to choose an action.  What thought was put into this?

Before I get into police procedure, two questions related to Tamir Rice need to be answered as well.  First, how did the youth get the idea that taking an air gun out in public was acceptable.  No, he did not deserve to die -- absolutely not! -- but he had to have the idea that doing so was okay.  That should have not been the case.  Second, why was the orange ring that was on the tip of the gun removed?  Maybe it makes the gun look cool without it, but the ring is on there for a reason ... to show it is fake.  Again, this is a should-not-have-happened situation, one that needed to be clarified beforehand.  To repeat, Rice did not deserve to die, but if the above questions had been answered differently, there is a chance Officer Loehmann's response may have been different.and Rice would still be alive.  It's a question of being responsible.

With regard to the police, too many questions arise.  The dispatcher should have stated the 911 caller's belief that the gun was fake and that the person was a juvenile.  Was that careless or intentional?  We might never know, but they were important pieces of information and they should have been relayed to the officers. 

The shooting itself is questionable, but is it standard procedure, at least in Cleveland, to pull up so close to a suspect?  Why would keeping some distance, if the officers believed Rice was armed with a real firearm, be improper procedure?  At the very least, it would have been for the officers' safety while handling the situation.  It is doubtful giving three commands to put his hands up, let alone one command, took place.  Again, pulling up with some distance would have allowed for that.  This was nothing more than justice, wild west style.

An investigation of both officers Loehmann and Garmback is currently underway.  It has come to light, however, that Officer Loehmann gained employment with the Cleveland Police Department when he clearly should not have been able to do so.  Two years earlier, in late 2012, Loehmann applied to be an officer in Independence, Ohio, a town approximately twelve miles south of Cleveland.  During his brief time there, one of his supervisors described him as "distracted and weepy" and "emotionally immature", also citing Loehmann as having an "inability to manage personal stress", and displaying a "pattern of lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions".  His training on the live firing range was no better, as he was described as showing a "dangerous loss of composure" while there.  Independence Deputy Chief Jim Polak summarized Loehmann with the following statement:
"I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies."

After all of these negative assessments, which resulted in a "process of separation" being initiated, Loehmann resigned from the Independence Police Department, citing personal reasons.

How then, you may ask, was Timothy Loehmann brought on board with the Cleveland Police Department in March of this year?  Just as the dispatcher's failure to be as clear as possible played a part in Tamir Rice's death, the same kind of failure resulted in Loehmann's hiring in Cleveland.

During his background check, Loehmann had been asked about his no longer being with the Independence Police Department, to which he answered he had resigned for personal reasons.  When checking with the Independence PD, they confirmed his resigning for personal reason, but failed to reveal to the Cleveland PD any disciplinary actions and unfavorable reviews of Loehmann.  Yet another failure to fully inform that contributed to Rice's death.

On December 12, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner ruled Tamir Rice's was a homicide.

It is yet to been seen what will result from the investigation. 



Monday, December 15, 2014

Phrase of the Week: TO PROTECT AND TO SERVE [Part 2 of 7]

Today, I continue my seven-part series commenting on events in Ferguson, MO, Cleveland, OH, and New York City, N.Y.   In today's and the next two days' posts, I will be addressing procedural and legal issues for one individual case at a time.  Today I will address the Michael Brown case ... tomorrow, the Tamir Rice case ... Wednesday, the Eric Garner case.

Yesterday, I recapped the events that led up to, and included, the senseless murders of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner.  This posting is about police procedure and the legal elements and ramifications of the events that unfolded.

While there were rampant rumors after his death about Michael Brown having a criminal record, the truth is that he had no criminal record.  Those rumors were clear attempts to smear the character of Michael Brown, so that it looked like he deserved to die.

Let me be clear, Michael Brown did not deserve to die.

Regardless of who used profanity first, Officer Darren Wilson was using standard procedure in terms of wanting Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson to get out of the street.  How he did this -- he asked or he unprofessionally barked a profane command -- is fair game for question, but wanting to people to get out of the middle of the street is fine.  I do not think that the two being close to their home, as Dorian Johnson stated, was germane.

At the height of the confrontation, as Officer Wilson recounted it, he had several options open to him.  He called for backup, but he could have retreated a bit until backup arrived.  He did not.  Yes, sitting in a car, as Officer Wilson was, is a compromised position, one that puts someone at a disadvantage to someone who is standing.  However, when Wilson exited the car, he still had options.  Retreat to behind the car, for one.  If Michael Brown was charging Officer Wilson, and he felt he absolutely had to fire his weapon, he could have shot Brown in the leg.  That would have stopped someone, even if running full charge.  Again, he did not.  Finally, leaving Brown's dead body uncovered in the middle of the street for approximately four-and-a-half hours is unconscionable and hardly procedural.  Dead bodies are covered up at a crime scene, not only out of respect for the deceased, but to protect the body from any tampering and contamination.  The Ferguson Police Department claimed leaving the body uncovered was part of protecting the crime scene.

The number of shots fired is excessive ... unless Officer Wilson was a bad shot.  Six to seven wounds -- one wound may have been a re-entry wound -- in Brown's body and a total of ten bullets fired.  When retreat or a shot in the leg would have ended this confrontation altogether differently, were ten total shots necessary?

Even though Robert McCulloch is the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, the prosecution's case was presented by Prosecuting Attorney Kathi Alizade and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Sheila Whirley instead.  This was likely an attempt to quell the requests for a special prosecutor for this case, all of which were denied and McCulloch having stated he would stay on.

Several issues have risen as serious concerns in the prosecution's presentation to the grand jury.  One is what has been called a"data dump".  That is an instance where all of the evidence possessed by one side is presented en masse to the jury, or dumped on the jury.  It is a jury's job to look at all evidence presented to them, and not to decide that the prosecutor has dumped too much on you and so you will vote against what the prosecutor wants as a form of payback.

What the prosecutor wanted in this case is part of the second issue.  It was never stated by the prosecution that it sought a decision to indict Officer Wilson, which is typically presented to the jury.  How prosecutors Alizade and Whirley presented in the courtroom is also a problem.  Just three days before the grand jury would render its decision, prosecutor Alizade said this the to the jurors:
          "Previously in the very beginning of this process I printed out a statute for you that 
          was, the statute in Missouri for the use of force to affect an arrest.  So if you all 
          want to get those out.  What we have discovered and we have been going along 
          with this, doing our research, is that the statute in the state of Missouri does not 
          comply with the case law.  This doesn’t sound probably unfamiliar with you that the 
          law is codified in the written form in the books and they’re called statutes, but 
          courts interpret those statutes.
          And so the statute for the use of force to affect an arrest in the state of Missouri 
          does not comply with Missouri supreme, I’m sorry, United States supreme court 
          cases.  So the statue I gave you, if you want to fold that in half just so that you know 
          don’t necessarily rely on that because there is a portion of that that doesn’t comply 
          with the law."
Alizade then handed copies of a new explanation regarding laws about deadly force to the jury.  After doing so, she continues:
          "[This new document] does correctly state what the law is on when an officer can 
          use force and when he can use Deadly Force in affecting an arrest, okay.  I don’t 
          want you to get confused and don’t rely on that copy or that print-out of the statute 
          that I’ve given you a long time ago.
          It is not entirely incorrect or inaccurate, but there is something in it that’s not correct, 
          ignore it totally..."
Her handout included a old statute which was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court nearly thirty years ago.  (In short, the old statute: Officer's belief of threat to life; the 1985 Supreme Court ruling result: Must be both officer's belief AND probable cause.)  Alizade did not want the jurors to be confused?  She chose a rather peculiar way of showing it.

Part of the confusion I would suspect felt by at least some of jurors, if not all, came forth when a juror asked if Federal court supersedes Missouri state statutes.  Alizade replied,
          "As far as you need to know, just don’t worry about that."
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Sheila Whirley added,
          "We don't want to get into a law class."
Alizade and Whirley used a total of twenty-one words when only one word was necessary to answer the juror's question ... yes.

Part of the prosecution's presentation included witnesses who clearly had not seen the entire incident or whose testimony was deemed irrelevant to the case before the case went to the grand jury.  Why present those witnesses if you know they will be unhelpful or possibly cloud the issue for jurors?  Why indeed!

Included in Officer Wilson's testimony to the grand jury was a recounting of the size of Michael Brown and how he feared not just for his safety, but for his life.  Officer Wilson is no small man and even though Michael Brown was bigger than him, his claim that he had taken two punches and was afraid a third one could have been fatal is not backed up by photos of him taken at the hospital after the incident.  He was diagnosed with a facial contusion, which is simply a bruise, and nothing more than minor scratches on the back of his neck.  Either those punches were not as life-threatening as Office Wilson described or they never took place.  From the photos, if what Office Wilson said was true, he looks as though he was clearly holding his own.

The announcement that the grand jury had reached its decision was made the day of the jury's decision, not before.  In what would be a full week before any decision had been reached, let alone an announcement of the decision, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed a state of emergency declaration, which allowed him to deploy the National Guard to Ferguson.  The already militarily-equipped police, which were clearly seen during protests that followed the shooting of Brown, would now be joined by Missouri's National Guard.
Militarily-equipped police aiming at protestors of the Brown shooting

The November 24 news conference to be held by Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announcing the grand jury's decision on whether or not to indict Officer Wilson was inexplicably delayed.  The grand jury finished its deliberations and had come to a decision around lunch time.  Roughly an hour or so later, it was announced that a decision had been reached.  MuCulloch's news conference did not take place until some seven hours later ... at 8:00 p.m. local time ... well after night had fallen.  The contentious nature of the case and what would be the grand jury's decision makes announcing at night time all the more dangerous for protestors and police alike.  Knowing the contentious nature of this case makes McCulloch's choice of time to announce the decision strategically careless.

In his press conference announcing the grand jury's decision, Prosecutor Robert McCulloch gives a long, at times rambling, defense of the decision.  Rather lengthy for announcing a grand jury decision.  Here is the full press conference held by McCulloch:

It is my firm belief that, unless the Ferguson Police Department encourages rash behavior, Officer Wilson poorly followed standard police procedure, and that the grand jury process was handled improperly, skewing the jury's decision in favor of no indictment. 



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Phrase of the Week: TO PROTECT AND TO SERVE [Part 1 of 7]

Today, I begin a seven-part series commenting on events in Ferguson, MO, Cleveland, OH, and New York City, N.Y.

The title of this series is "To Protect and to Serve", which is recognized as the de facto motto of police departments across the country.  The phrase first came into use in 1955 by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), following a contest in Beat Magazine, an LAPD newsletter which is still produced today.  The winning entry was "To protect and to serve", which became the motto of the police academy.  You may have seen it on the side of police cars, which began in Los Angeles in 1963.
The motto appears as above or in reverse ("to serve and to protect") on police cars in various municipalities across the country.

Three recent events will be highlighted here, but I wish to make it clear that this is not an exhaustive list.  These are three of the most current and most notable examples of senseless murder by police.

On Saturday, August 9, Michael Brown allegedly stole some Cigarellos from a local convenience store, minutes before his fateful encounter with Officer Darren Wilson.  The surveillance video is claimed by police to show Michael Brown committing the crime.

While walking with his friend Dorian Johnson (who was standing behind the man in the video) in the street, Office Darren Wilson pulls up to them. How events then unfolded are recounted differently between witnesses and police.

Some said that Officer Wilson used profanity to tell Brown and Johnson out of the middle of the street; others said Brown was the one who used profanity in response to Officer Wilson.  Whether or not Officer Wilson saw the Cigarellos in Brown's hand and whether or not he knew about the robbery is unclear.  (By "unclear", I mean testimony that is unverifiable.)  Whether the tussle in the police car between Brown and Wilson was Wilson pulling Brown into the car or Brown going for Officer Wilson's gun is unclear.  Brown's final move (after running away from Wilson and then turning around to face Wilson again) was either a walking back toward Wilson with his hands up or running "full charge" toward Wilson; that, too, is unclear.  (CNN posted a synopsis of events early last month.)  At no point was Brown armed ... unless you consider Cigarellos to be lethal weapons.

The result was eighteen-year-old Michael Brown shot dead in the street from multiple gunshots.  His body was left in the street, uncovered, for approximately four-and-a-half hours.  The police claimed it was because they didn't want to disturb the body and crime scene.

Following an initial investigation, a grand jury was formed.  The grand jury proceedings began on August 20, eleven days after the shooting.

In a public playground, twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was taking in and out of his pocket an Airsoft brand pellet gun, one that resembled a real handgun.  It was later revealed that a ring on the end of the gun's nozzle (pictured below) which marks the gun as not real had been removed, rendering it, indistinguishable from a real weapon.

A local resident, seeing this, called 911.  It was an adult male stating that he was scared at the sight, but that he (a citizen, not an officer) believed the gun was probably fake.  He stated twice in the call that he believed the gun was likely fake, as well as the individual was "likely a juvenile".  Howevere, the dispatcher makes no mention to police of the likelihood of the gun being fake or of the individual's age.  Within eight minutes of the initial dispatch call, the first police car is calling for EMF assistance. 

In under two seconds after pulling up to Rice, Officer Timothy Loehmann fatally shoots Rice.  UNDER TWO SECONDS.

An investigation is under way, including one by the U.S. Justice Department.

On July 17, Eric Garner was approached by police regarding his allegedly selling "loosies", individual cigarettes taken out of cigarette packs without tax stamps on them.  It is unclear whether or not Garner was, or had been, selling them.  Witnesses, however, said that Garner had just broken up a fight between two people.  The two people who were fighting had left the area when the police approached Garner.

As another NYPD officer is explaining to Garner why he's going to be arrested, Officer Daniel Pantaleo comes up on Garner from behind and puts him, and keeps him, in a blatant chokehold. 
[** Note: These videos may be difficult to watch.]

Eric Garner, 43, was murdered by police.  His final, haunting words were "I can't breathe" repeated over and over -- anywhere from nine to eleven times -- until he could say them no more.

After an initial investigation, a grand jury was convened and began hearing evidence in September.

These are the events that unfolded in Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York City that led to the senseless murder of three individuals.  Tomorrow, I will look at some of the mechanics behind these events as well as the grand jury trials (in two of the cases) that followed.