Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Every Eight Hours"

The killing and violence by police continues.

Every eight hours, three a day, day in and day out, someone is killed by police. From my own analysis of figures compiled last year by "Killed by Police," a third of those killed by police are unarmed, a third are black or brown, a third are mentally ill or suicidal, a third are involved in domestic disputes.

Very, very few are engaged in active criminality when they are killed. Sometimes the excuse for killing is that the victim had a rap sheet. The pattern is repeated over and over: someone calls police for assistance, the police arrive with guns drawn, the soon-to-be victim fails to comply immediately with often unheard or uncomprehended police orders. Or the victim runs. The victim is killed.

Until recently, almost every one of these killings was officially deemed to be "justified." Someone did a statistical study recently and found that only 1 out of 1000 police killings resulted in the prosecution of the officer. One out of a thousand. That sounds about right.

And yet I've long contended that 90% or more of police killings are not necessary. Too often, police kill their victims because they believe that's what they are expected and are supposed to do with people who don't follow their orders or who don't fit certain rigid guidelines of appearance and behavior.

They believe that because that's what they've been told by those in charge of police forces. "You have a gun; you have training; use it at your discretion." So they do.

And they are protected by law when they do.

Laws and court decisions over many years say that police have qualified immunity from prosecution, and that they can kill blamelessly -- even when they kill the innocent.

But it's not the law that enables police killings. The law protects police who kill. It is instead the policies of police departments that enable the constant rat-tat-tat of police killings, the year in and year out "every eight hours, three a day" killing spree the police have been on for decades. Those policies can change.

Many people argue that the drug war is the main cause of so much police violence and murder these days, and they have a point. Others argue that the level of police violence and murder was greater in generations past than it is now, and they have a point, too.

The idea that the police can kill or torture/beat down suspects with impunity is woven deep in the DNA of most police forces in the country. Violence and murder is part of what they were organized to do -- whether it was as slave patrols in the South, Wild West marshals, county sheriffs patrols or civil police forces in the big cities of the 19th century.

Their violence was intended to "protect" white women from negro rape, to suppress slave uprisings, to control immigrant populations, to keep the wild Indians at bay, to maintain a rough and ready order among contending white men -- by killing those who got out of bounds or out of line.

This is who our police forces are and have always been.

When the police killing spree was well under way in Albuquerque, last year for example, it was often pointed out that police shootings and killings had a strongly 'Wild West' quality to them. I don't doubt it's true. And you still see elements of Wild West shoot-em-ups in police behavior in many cities in the West, particularly in Texas, in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and even supposed Progressive bastions as Portland and Seattle.

It happens in the country, too.

Not long ago, for example, a dude was shot and killed by a state police sniper in a little town not far from us in New Mexico. The incident was eerily similar to a state police killing last year even closer to us. In both cases, a relatively young armed (white) man had an "episode" during which he became enraged and seemed to pose a threat to others. Negotiators were sent to obtain his surrender, but he would not surrender as ordered. He insisted he be left alone. In the recent case, apparently the man wanted only to go home. In the earlier case, the man was in his own home.

In addition to negotiators, a sniper was deployed by the state police -- I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same one in both cases. When the opportunity presented itself -- in the earlier case, when the victim appeared in a window, in the recent case, when the victim got out of his truck -- the sniper shot and killed the victim.

Episode concluded.

This is not unlike what happened to James Boyd in the Sandia foothills last March. After hours of negotiation, snipers were sent, and Boyd was killed. Apparently the decision was made to kill him rather than continue negotiating or allow him to surrender. There's apparently an unstated time limit on negotiations between someone having an "episode" and police before snipers are deployed and the victim is shot and killed, regardless of whether the victim chooses to surrender.

Albert Redwine, for example, was killed by a police sniper in Albuquerque as he was surrendering shortly after James Boyd was killed as he was surrendering as well. Both were aware of the jeopardy they were in -- whether or not they surrendered. They knew the police were out to kill them no matter what they did.

Redwine was Native American, Boyd was white and mentally ill. Both of the (white) men killed by state police snipers out in the country where we live were having episodes of rage, whether fueled by drugs or alcohol, I don't know. But both of them had had previous encounters with police, and I think they both had fairly long rap sheets.

Many people think that most of those killed by police are black, typically young black men. It's not true. In fact, the majority of those killed by police are white men. It seems that mostly black men are killed because those killings are the ones most widely publicized. The reason for it is clear enough: police killings of black men are a form of terrorism long used against the black community to keep them in fear of what could/would happen if they got out of line, above themselves, or made trouble. This has been going on since Slavery Time, and it hasn't substantively changed. There is a fear among white folk that if the blacks aren't kept in a state of perpetual terror, they would run wild and rape all the white women after they killed all the white men.

Publicizing the police killings of blacks while barely acknowledging the more frequent police killings of whites is one way to maintain the terror so often deemed necessary to control the black population.

The resistance through "Black Lives Matter" and other movements is growing, though, and the terror that police killings of black men is meant to inspire is fading. "We are not afraid" is part of the protest movement philosophy. Until police killings stop, people will continue to die, of course. But the movements are losing their fear. The terror no longer is as effective as it once was. Soon enough, it may not be effective at all.

When police terror is no longer effective, sometimes the terror tactics are increased, but sometimes the terrorist police or occupation forces withdraw. That's eventually what happened in Iraq. After causing as much mayhem and misery as possible and triggering a civil war, and after their own terror tactics ceased causing more than momentary fear among the Iraqi people, American ("Coalition") forces withdrew, first to bases, then out of  the country altogether, leaving only a remnant force to protect the Fortress America Embassy. Something similar was happening in Afghanistan but has recently stalled.

The use of police as domestic terror-squads to control the population is nearly at the point of diminishing returns. Payouts and settlements for police murder and misconduct are probably reaching into the billions annually, at least into the hundreds of millions, and crime, such as it is, even with many, many more activities criminalized, is at the lowest rate in generations. The purpose of police killing, brutality and terror may have been to control those deemed to be criminals, but compared to the past, there are so few such people on the streets, police aren't even considered necessary in some communities. They cause more trouble than then solve.

For the first time in anyone's memory, police are being indicted and may even go to trial for the killings and brutalizations of civilians. Police misconduct is being acknowledged by segments of the powerful -- the very powerful whom the police serve.

This startling development wouldn't have happened were it not for the sustained pressure of the nationwide movements and protests against police violence and murder that were triggered by the brave people of Albuquerque who stood in surprising solidarity against continued police violence and impunity last year following the outrageous killing of James Boyd.

Protests continue, but so does the killing.

The locus shifts. I did a quick analysis of where civilians were being killed by police most often as of February, according to data compiled by "Killed by Police," and I was startled to find that the majority of the killings were in Texas, followed closely by California, and then, with far, far fewer killings, but still at a high rate considering the smaller population, by Arizona. Florida -- with a much larger population than Arizona -- had the next highest number of police killings.

Most states had very few or none, notably New York, with only 2 at the time.

While we may think that police killing are random-universal throughout the country, they're really not. They're concentrated in certain states and certain cities of those states. One of them was once Albuquerque, and another was Oakland, CA. Both cities have reduced their police kill-rate to practically none over the last few months or a year. Many other states and cities never had a significant police kill-rate.

The strong message is that police don't have to kill, and further, that police killings can be significantly reduced without leading to collapse and chaos.

This lesson has yet to be learned in places like Texas and California where it seems that the killing has intensified since February. But there are other places where it hasn't, and some places where police killings are almost completely absent.

A key factor in police training that seems to be a cause of so much police killing is the "active shooter" scenario. Active shooter situations are very, very rare but some police forces train as if all encounters with the public were potentially active shooter scenarios -- with predictably tragic results. Hundreds of innocent and/or unarmed individuals are killed every year by police who seem to think they are defending against an active shooter -- that doesn't exist. Black and brown men are stigmatized and shot way out of proportion to their numbers in the population in part because for some unfathomable reason they are considered existential threats by police who are playing out "active shooter" scenarios or something similar in their minds eye. That's how John Crawford III and Tamir Rice -- among many others -- were summarily executed by police officers who thought that both were armed and prepared to engage in an active shooter situation. No, the only ones who were actually armed and who shot and killed were the police.

Another factor is the constant -- and inappropriate -- deployment of SWAT teams to serve warrants. Doing such is a recipe for tragedy. SWAT was never intended for routine warrant service, but since it is deployed for these actions, many individuals who have done nothing wrong have been killed -- along with their pets and children -- and lives and homes have been destroyed all to violently serve a routine warrant that could be handled much more peacefully.

These deployments must end, the active shooter scenario brainwashing must be curtailed.

Doing those two things alone would probably reduce police killings by 50% right off the bat.

The killing must stop.

Violent policing must stop as well.

Wendy Davis over at her own site clued me to one means of curbing police violence, the substitution of police forces with a model based on threat management rather than threat neutralization. It's explained in this video by Dave Brown in Detroit:

Brown makes clear in this video something I've been saying for a long time: Violent policing, let alone police killing, is almost never necessary. There is another way that works as well or better to control crime/criminals, and that is what he calls "threat management." All it takes is the will to do it and the skill to do it -- which many police forces today lack.

But that can -- and must -- change.


  1. I saw this over at KOS ..... thought you would want to read it.

    1. Thanks for the link. The statistics regarding police violence and killing in this country compared to practically anyplace else in the world are truly shocking.

      Yet even so, some older observers say "it's not as bad now as it used to be." I remember, for example, when "running Negro" routinely meant that officers in pursuit shot to kill, and that scenario is slightly less common than it once was (Walter Scott or Mike Brown notwithstanding.)

      The use of SWAT teams to serve routine warrants is insane -- and too often deadly.

      When I did some genealogical research on my ancestry, I found a newspaper report about my mother's father. He was chased through the streets of downtown Indianapolis in 1912 by a "merchant policeman" -- a private security guard -- who was shooting at him. Didn't hit him, but bullets were flying all over, hitting buildings, breaking windows, it was madness.

      The crime? The guard thought he had seen my mother's father crawling over the transom of a drugstore and thus believed that he had burglarized the drugstore.

      The pursuit and the gunfire ended when (actual) police intervened. They knew my mother's father -- more importantly, he knew them -- and he submitted to arrest by the police on information from the guard.

      My mother's father stated that he was waiting for a streetcar when he was approached by a man with a gun drawn. He said he was scared for his life and he ran -- he thought he was going to be robbed and killed. He had a $20 gold piece on him as apparently he'd just been paid from his job.

      Rough times. I add this story because it's one I didn't know before, and it helps me to understand just how commonplace pursuit and gunfire at fleeing suspects have been for a very long time in these United States.

      On the other hand, as bad as it is and long has been in the United States, there are some places in this country where police violence, gunfire and murder have never taken root, or if they did, they have been reduced or eliminated.

      In other words, it looks like the problem is long-standing but not universal....