We Have A Problem

I have been working on this email about the ‘epidemic’ of police shootings of mostly unarmed black men and boys for two weeks. Every time I get ready to finish, another horrible tragedy happens, the most recent being the death of Freddy Gray in Baltimore, MD. I do not believe this is a recent phenomenon; it has come to light because of the ubiquity of smart phones and people recording these incidents. The sad truth is black people have been marginalized and exhorted by police departments for decades and it is only recently that we have become aware of these travesties.

Statement of the Problem

The real problem is white people are blissfully unaware of “White Privilege” and the social luxury it affords. Some folks tie themselves in knots trying to define or explain ‘White Privilege”, I remember Jon Stewart attempting to explain it to Bill O’Reilly on his show. Simply, if you go through your day; working, shopping, going out to eat, etc. and never think about your skin color….that is White Privilege. People of color go through their days very mindful of their skin color. When white people go out to eat, they do first think; “will I be the only white person in the restaurant’? When white people go shopping at a department store they are rarely followed by a security employee, when white people hail a cab, they get one…this is not the experience of people of color, especially black people. White people can jog or run to a movie in the night and not be stopped by the police: this happened to now former Attorney General Eric Holder; he was running to catch a movie when stopped by police.  There is no ‘driving while white’ but there sure is a ‘driving while black’ where folks are pulled over for no reason. In Ferguson, MO black people where ticketed for ‘manner of walking on the roadway’.

Images of rioting in Baltimore and the destruction of property in predominately black communities leaves white people scratching their heads, why tear up your own neighborhood they ask. This too is a social construct called ‘horizontal violence’ as explicated by Frantz Fanon.

Fanon was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique, which was then a French colony and is now a French département. His father was a descendant of enslaved Africans; his mother was said to be an “illegitimate” child of African, Indian and European descent. Fanon became a psychologist and spent time in Algeria. He counseled the native victims of torture and the French soldiers who tortured. Interestingly, those who were tortured suffered far less mental problems than those who did the torturing.

In The Wretched of the Earth, published shortly before Fanon’s death in 1961, Fanon describes the cultural situation in Algeria; two population groups existed at the time:  the Dominant Group (white, French soldiers and those with governmental authority) and Oppressed group (native Algerians). The Oppressed group did not look like the Dominant group nor did they have any opportunity of being a member of the Dominant group. The Oppressed groups’ collective anger, fear, resentment, and despair had no outlet. The simmering tensions could not be expressed against the Dominant group and so native turned against native in what Fanon described as “horizontal violence.” I have witnessed ‘horizontal violence’ among predominately-white well-educated women, Registered Dental Hygienists, while I was employed by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association:  dentists are the Dominant group who control hygienists’ education, licensure, and employment. Consistently stymied in achieving their professional goals, some hygienists turned on each other…and wound up “eating their young”. My Master’s thesis was on the subject of horizontal violence among healthcare practitioners and included nurses, dental hygienists, and other predominately-female professions.

The Facts

Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI. On average, there were 96 such incidents among at least 400 police killings each year that were reported to the FBI by local police.

For example:

  • The shooting Death of Unarmed John Crawford
  • Police Shooting Death of Unarmed Michael Brown
  • The shooting Death of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles
  • The Choke-Hold Death of Eric Garner in New York
  • The shooting deaths of unarmed Sean Bell and Amadour Diallo in New York
  • The Shooting Death of Unarmed and Hand-cuffed, Face Down Oscar Grant in Oakland
  • The shooting death of unarmed Kendrec McDade in Pasadena
  • The asphyxiation of unarmed Johnny Gammage in Pittsburgh
  • The choke-hold police Murder cover-up of Ron Settles in Signal Hill
  • The Police shooting of Eula Love over a $22 water bill payment

A small sample of fatal Police shootings of black men since the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO:

Feb. 23, 2015 March 9, 2015
A police officer shot and killed a naked, unarmed man who was knocking on doors and running and crawling through an apartment complex. The officer, Robert Olson of the DeKalb County Police, is white; the dead man, Anthony Hill, who was mentally ill, was black.

Madison, Wis., and Aurora, Colo. March 6, 2015
In Madison, an officer shot and killed an unarmed man after responding to a report that the man, Tony Robinson, 19, had assaulted two people, and had been jumping in front of moving cars. The police said Mr. Robinson, who was black, fought with and injured the police officer, Matthew Kenny, who is white.

Los Angeles March 1, 2015
Police officers shot and killed an unarmed homeless man who, the police said, had attempted to take an officer’s gun during a scuffle. Multiple videos of the incident on Skid Row show the man, Charly Leundeu Keunang, 43, who had a history of mental illness, fighting with a group of Los Angeles officers.

Omaha, Neb. Feb. 23, 2015
An unarmed man suspected of having just robbed a store was shot twice in the back and killed by an Omaha police officer

We are told these are isolated incidents.  We are told that they are simply the Officers procuring their own safety and if only the “suspects” had surrendered or obeyed they would still be alive today.

Every time.  In each case.  Police never get it wrong.  They never make a mistake, are never in a bad mood, have a short temper, may have been overly fearful and may have overreacted.  Because in nearly all these cases that is what we are initially told by Police sources and their supporters.

“It was a good shoot”.

It’s a familiar broken record

How often does that record get put on in the iPad when Police want to drown out the cries of an outraged public, until they forced to find out what really happened and it’s not anything like the Police initially claimed? How often do Police shoot and kill unarmed suspects who pose no real threat to them?  How often does this happen to Black People?  How often does it happen to White People? Or anyone?

The truly frightening thing is that we apparently don’t know.  We have no idea.  Not even a clue.  We’ve been tracking the statistics about Crime for decades at individual police agencies and in the FBI Uniform Crime Report, But those reports don’t document exactly when Cops become Murdering Criminals.  This fact – which has sparked police riots and racial unrest going all the way back to the 1960’s – is still a mystery.

According to Fivethrityeight.com – no one tracks this

Efforts to keep track of “justifiable police homicides” are beset by systemic problems. “Nobody that knows anything about the SHR puts credence in the numbers that they call ‘justifiable homicides,’” when used as a proxy for police killings, said David Klinger, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri who specializes in policing and the use of deadly force. And there’s no governmental effort at all to record the number of unjustifiable homicides by police. If Brown’s homicide is found to be unjustifiable, it won’t show up in these statistics.

If we want to know how many Justifiable Homicides occur by Police or Private Citizens we can get those number easily.

Justifiable Homicides:

Year     Police      Citizen
2007    398            252
2008    378            265
2009    414            266
2010    397            285
2011    393            260
2012    409            330

But if we want to know how many Law Enforcement Shootings are “Unjustified” – we get no answer from the FBI. None.
One source, in a report called “Operation Ghetto Storm” says that in 2012 that of the 739 “Justified” shootings shown above from 2012, 313 of them were Black.  44% of them or 136, were unarmed. 27% of them (83) were claimed by Law Enforcement to have Gun at the time of the shooting, but that could not be later confirmed or the “gun” was in fact, a toy or other non-lethal object. 20% of them (62) were confirmed to have been armed with a gun, knife or cutting tool.

This report, which was gathered by searching media reports, obituaries and even Facebook pages of deceased persons includes the following table as an example.

91% of the people killed by Police in Chicago in 2012 were Black? 87% in New York? 100% in Saginaw and Rockford?  I gotta admit even after focusing on this subject for over 30 years, since Ron Settles was killed, I find that kind of shocking.

The report goes on to say that 47% of these killings (146 cases) occurred not because of the person brandishing a weapon (as noted above less than 30% of them HAD a weapon, or were even thought to have a weapon), it’s because the Officer or Citizen – “felt threatened” and were in “fear”.  In only 8% (25 cases) did the suspect fire or discharge a weapon that wounded or killed Police or others while Officers were on the scene

Only eight (8) Officers were Charged with Murder, Manslaughter or use of excessive force in these case.

Is this report comprehensive? Is it fully accurate? I don’t know, it’s gone through several revisions and updates as none of the data is being officially compiled anywhere and some things can be missed that way.

And it’s not like some in the media haven’t attempted to divine the answer on their own, they have. http://www.colorlines.com/

This summer ColorLines and The Chicago Reporter conducted a joint national investigation of fatal police shootings in America’s 10 largest cities, each of which had more than 1 million people in 2000. Several striking findings emerged

To begin, African Americans were overrepresented among police shooting victims in every city the publications investigated.

The contrast was particularly noticeable in New York, San Diego and Las Vegas. In each of these cities, the percentage of black people killed by police was at least double that of their share of the city’s total population.

They analyzed the data from the Ten Largest Cities and in Every City – every single one – had double the number of black shooting victims than their proportion in the population.

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-many-americans-the-police-kill-each-year/

Police Shooting Investigations

Almost all police involved shootings, while investigated by special units, prosecutor’s offices, or an outside police agency, were investigated by governmental law enforcement personnel. It is perhaps not surprising that more than 95 percent of all police involved shootings were ruled administratively and legally justified. A handful of cases led to wrongful death lawsuits. Even fewer will result in the criminal prosecution of officers. Critics of the system have called for the establishment of completely independent investigative agencies in cases of police involved shootings.

Where People Were Shot
Most Deadly States
California 183 total (102 fatal)
Florida 96 (49)
Illinois 64 (26)
Texas 58 (26)
New York 49 (23)
Pennsylvania 49 (23)
Ohio 45 (28)
Arizona 45 (27)
Maryland 41 (16)
Washington 39 (29)

Least Deadly States
Delaware 0
Vermont 0
North Dakota 1
Wyoming 2 (1)
Alaska 2 (2)
Montana 3 (2)
South Dakota 3 (3)
Hawaii 4 (3)
Connecticut 6 (1)
West Virginia 6 (5)
New Hampshire 6 (5)
Idaho 7 (2)
Kansas 7 (5)

Most Deadly Cities
Chicago 46 total (10 fatal)
Los Angeles 22 (14)
Philadelphia 17 (7)
Las Vegas 17 (15)
New York City 16 (6)
Phoenix 15 (10)
Baltimore 15 (5)
Columbus, OH 14 (8)
Atlanta 12 (4)
St. Louis 11 (3)
Cleveland 10 (7)
Miami 10 (6)
Houston 10 (3)

Least Deadly Cities
Boston 1
New Orleans 1 (1)
Portland, ME 1
Buffalo 2
Detroit 2 (1)
Seattle 2 (1)
Denver 2 (2)
Pittsburgh 3 (1)

Cities with High Per Capita Shooting Rates
Fresno, CA 9 total (4 fatal)
Tucson, AZ 8 (6)
Aurora, CO 7 (6)
Oakland, CA 7 (6)
San Jose, CA 7 (3)
Albuquerque, NM 6 (5)
Mesa, AZ 6 (2)
Jacksonville, FL 5 (4)
Syracuse, NY 5 (3)
Orlando, FL 5 (2)
Miami Beach, FL 5 (2)
Little Rock, Ark. 5 (1)
Yakima, WA 4 (1)
Bakersfield, CA 4 (3)
Long Beach, CA 4 (2)
Garden Grove, CA 4 (3)
Redding, CA 4 (2)

Missing Black Men

Sometimes a report is released that defies imagination. The worst thing about the report in the New York Times this morning may be how unsurprising it is, despite how heart-wrenching it is.

They [black men] are missing, largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars. Remarkably, black women who are 25 to 54 and not in jail outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million, according to an Upshot analysis. For every 100 black women in this age group living outside of jail, there are only 83 black men. Among whites, the equivalent number is 99, nearly parity.

African-American men have long been more likely to be locked up and more likely to die young, but the scale of the combined toll is nonetheless jarring. It is a measure of the deep disparities that continue to afflict black men — disparities being debated after a recent spate of killings by the police — and the gender gap is itself a further cause of social ills, leaving many communities without enough men to be fathers and husbands.

Perhaps the starkest description of the situation is this: More than one out of every six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years old have disappeared from daily life.

A snapshot in time that shows that 17% of black men have been disappeared from the population compared to 1% of white men is jarring, scandalous. Benghazi is a scandal? Complete bullshit. This is scandalous. Of course, because we’re not racist here in America, we don’t have to — and mostly won’t — do anything about it. One city among the worst in America for this “missing” effect? Ferguson, MO, which now has at least one more missing, Michael Brown. It doesn’t matter whether his hands were up before he was shot. What matters is he lived in a world where he was likely to be disappeared. And he was. Policy note. If you think that Democrats are more likely to do something about this — however slight the difference — than Republicans are, then this is a reason to support the Democrats. Just saying.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/04/26/1379598/-1-5-million-black-men-are-missing-from-local-communities-many-because-of-prison#

The Criminal-Legal System

The facts about the criminal-legal system in America are sobering: The United States accounts for only 5 percent of the globe’s population, but for 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

We lead the world not in science and math education, college graduation or childhood health — but in the total number of people we incarcerate. We imprison more people than China, Russia, and India.

The United States not only has the highest incarceration rate in the world, but our prison populations are disproportionately comprised of Americans of color.

Despite African Americans and Latinos committing drug offenses at a rate no different than whites, African Americans are incarcerated at a rate six times greater than whites, and Latinos are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of whites for the same offenses.

In my home state of New Jersey, African Americans comprise 13.7 percent of the total population, but 62 percent of the state’s prison population.

In the United States, African Americans are far more likely to be arrested for selling or possessing drugs, even though studies have shown that African Americans and whites use drugs at the same rate, and whites are actually more likely to sell drugs.

Similarly, Latinos and whites use drugs at equal rates proportionate to their populations, but Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be admitted to state prison for drug use.

Even once released from prison, formerly incarcerated people are often denied the right to vote, to go back to school, and to get a job.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/americas/23iht-23prison.12253738.html?pagewanted=all

Additional Reading

Killing the Future: The Theft of Black Life

Nicholas Powers, Truthout: “To be Black in America is to be evidence of a theft… When cops bully them, scare them, f*** with them, it’s because our children aren’t seen as part of the future. Our children are disposable.”

Read the Article

The Collateral Damage of Mass Incarceration

Bryan Stevenson, Spiegel & Grau: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in the US. We have created a new caste system that forces thousands into homelessness, bans them from living with their families and in their communities and renders them virtually unemployable.

Read the Excerpt

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” Martin Luther King 

“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” Martin Luther King

“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.” Martin Luther King

*The information compiled in this article is from multiple sources; references available upon request.

Linda K. Armacost, Ed.D
President LMFDC

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