My interest is spurred in part by the simple call to justice. But there's more. My sister died as a result of injuries she sustained in the take down of a mentally ill prisoner she was working with at a California state prison (euphemistically called a "State Hospital.") She'd called for back up by the guards when the prisoner became agitated. All she said she wanted was for the guards to stand by as the prisoner wasn't threatening her, but they decided on a take down then and there. She was caught in the middle, shattering both of her knees against a table, and she died from a blood clot the day after surgery to repair the damage.
Her son, my nephew, was held in solitary in a Marine brig for four years for a crime he didn't commit, or at least did not knowingly commit. He was asked to pick up a package off base by his commanding officer. When he returned to the base, the package was inspected and he was arrested for transport and possession of marijuana. He was court-martialed, convicted and sentenced. He believed he was set up due to base politics, a belief I tend to share. At any rate, he spent his sentence in solitary confinement except for the few times he was taken to the hospital to treat the broken bones he sustained from guards beating the shit out of him -- because they could. I believe he was hospitalized twice.
Brutality, violence, stupidity, and political jockeying seemed to be the hallmarks of policing -- even in, or perhaps especially in, the military -- in those days as they are today. My nephew was in the brig in the '70s and my sister died in 1994.
In 1996, I became involved with the Sacramento NAACP branches efforts to curb police brutality in that city, and I spent a good deal of time compiling information and writing the report which became the basis for reforms to the Sacramento Police Department, including an accountability monitor (not the civilian review board we were advocating, but it was something.) The report and other documentation is available online. (PDF from Google-search, may not open properly.)
When I look back on that effort especially, it seems that the police/public situation, bad as it seemed to be at the time, was far milder than it is today. Killings by police were rare, at least they were in Sacramento, and the issues we were dealing with were primarily ones of harrassment, disrespect, and physical coercion.
Yesterday, I opened one of the cases listed by "Killed by Police" at random and was shocked and horrified all over again. The case was that of Keith Koster, 54, of Indianapolis who was shot and killed by police in January in response to an emergency services (911) call for medical attention. Koster was having difficulty breathing, and family called for assistance.
When EMTs arrived, they saw a gun and withdrew. Police were summoned to "secure" the situation. Koster was incoherent by this time, clearly quite ill, and he was unable to follow police "commands". He apparently picked up the gun, and as he did, officers said he "waved it" at them. They opened fire and shot him dead in the hallway of his apartment house.
So it goes. His family, some of whom were witness, were appalled.
The story is actually somewhat confused, as the claim is made that the police "negotiated" with Koster "for an hour," though the report of the killing seems to indicate it happened within minutes of the arrival of police when Koster did not follow "commands." The police claim to have fired bean bag rounds at Koster before using lethal force, but they were not effective.
What was wrong with Koster is not specified, but it may have been that he was having a heart attack, had advanced pneumonia or was in a state of diabetic ketosis or something else. At any rate, his family was quite sure that he was not a threat to anyone, as he was very ill on the one hand, and he was not a violent person in any way. This is the confused story as it was relayed to the Indianapolis Star:
Tuesday’s incident began when paramedics responding to a call of a person having trouble breathing noticed a firearm in the apartment and left the building, police said.
An officer who had accompanied the medics approached the apartment and talked to Koster through the door. The officer called for backup when the man exhibited “strange” behavior, police said. Koster picked up the handgun paramedics had seen in his apartment and waved it toward officers, police said.
Police at least once tried to bring him down by firing bean bag rounds at him, but Koster continued to ignore officers’ commands to drop his weapon, said Officer Christopher Wilburn, spokesman for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
The shooting occurred in a narrow hallway in the apartment building where SWAT officers had been negotiating with Koster for an hour. Koster was not holding a hostage, and there was no indication that Koster fired his gun, police said.
Police reports on Tuesday indicated that Koster stepped into the hallway outside his apartment several times before the shooting. Today, however, an Bailey said that was not the case. Koster stayed inside his apartment.Note all the times that "police said" this or that? Well, later in the story we read:
Initial reports came amid the frenzy following Tuesday’s police-action shooting, Bailey said, and investigators more carefully pieced together details in the following hours.
“There were officers on each side of his door, and negotiators were across the hall in another apartment speaking to him,” Bailey said. “It was close quarters.”
The SWAT team member who shot Koster is on administrative leave while simultaneous investigations are being conducted into the shooting, police said. They did not identify the SWAT officer.Yes, well. Clearly this was a case of compliance overriding common sense. The need for compliance was the ultimate cause of my sister's death. Demands for compliance were the ostensible cause of my nephew's injuries in custody.
The Cult of Compliance, above every other concern, has led to innumerable deaths and injuries by police, and the Cult of Compliance is the chief cause of much of the police slaughter now being compiled by various sites on the internet if not by officials and authorities themselves. The record is clear and appalling.
There's also the issue of "force protection." In this case, the EMTs who arrived to treat Koster saw a gun and withdrew, as they are instructed to do whenever they perceive a threat or see a gun. Police are then dispatched (unless they are dispatched first, which has been the source of many deaths after calling 911) to "secure" the situation before EMTs return. Force protection -- as in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan -- is the primary objective, not protection or service to the public. In the case of Keith Koster, not only were police dispatched, but so was a SWAT team, and the SWAT team is said to have "negotiated" with the man.
If those "negotiations" were anything like reports of the SWAT "negotiations" with Armand Martin in Albuquerque the term is meaningless. There were no "negotiations." There were repeated commands, demands, and use of munitions including flash-bang grenades until such time as Martin came out of his house, at which point he was shot dead by a sniper. Claims were made that Martin fired at police, but witnesses dispute that. As is so often the case, whether the dead man did what the police say he did is a matter of dispute. So often the police claims are false.
Keith Koster didn't have to die, nor did Armand Martin (one day the full story of what was going on during that "standoff" will be known...) But the twin evils of the Cult of Compliance and Force Protection protocols ensured they would die, no matter.
This is the problem Americans face in attempting to deal with the apparent epidemic of police violence and killings. I say "apparent" because it's not entirely clear that the death and injury rate from police violence is worse now than in the past. What is clear is that since Ferguson, especially, many Americans are no longer willing to remain passive in the face of this violence.
What will have to be done to change the policing culture in this country still needs to be worked out, but many more are committed to seeing that change take place than there once were. And that's a good thing.
Keith Koster's Obituary, for reference.
WSWS account of the Armand Martin and other police shootings in Albuquerque.
The US ruling class is well aware of the seething anger among the working class population over its policies of austerity, inequality and imperialist war and is prepared for inevitable resistance. It has given the green light—as well as increased funding and equipment—to police departments nationwide to escalate their attacks on the working class to preemptively instill fear of retaliation for that resistance.