Time for Police Accountability

It is time for the federal government to deal with cases of police brutality nationwide. The executive branch of the federal government through the Department of Justice has that authority. I don’t mean to investigate police officers or police departments after the fact, but to provide a reasonable protection of rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, before the fact.

Disclosure through body cameras, local training, and accountability, the latter through totally independent authorities is a start. There is no way that our-do-nothing Congress or even a majority of the states will deal with the problem. Truly accountable cops might be more circumspect about killing the unarmed if their recklessness carries some personal risk.

I don’t know where the brutality of police officers is coming from, why it seems so rampant lately in our society, but I for one want to see it STOP. Every 36 hours a black man is shot by a police officer. According to an investigation last month by ProPublica, the independent non-profit news organization, a young black male is 21 times more likely to be killed by the police than a young white male.

One of the latest killings occurred in Phoenix, Arizona a few days ago. Rumain Brisbon was shot by a 30-year-old white police officer. Rumain was unarmed and on his way to drop off lunch for his daughters. He lies dead a few days before Christmas. The following account includes a happy Christmas-that-never-will-be picture with his daughters: Cop-takes-away-Christmas.

Why did the cop have his gun drawn? Do you shoot only black men who move quickly or do you shoot everyone who moves quickly? Does a cop’s see-a-black-fear-center dictate a cowboy quick draw and shoot only for blacks? Bullets are a terminal solution too often used to diminish a cop’s inborn fear of black menace, often not real. But it’s too often a death sentence for the young black man. That is the only way to assess the growing number of black men who have been erased by cops. One can imagine bias or an acquired stereotypical fear of a black face, but not threat to the point of killing a fellow human being.

Stereotypes are in play with blacks. Our culture often depicts them generally as lazy, ignorant, primitive, simple-minded, and welfare queens, but more specifically young black men as menacing, well-endowed, vulgar, profane and uncontrolled. For example, even recent films depict profanity and vulgarity for blacks as 87% vs. 11% whites; physically violent at 56% to 11%; lacking self control, 55% to 6% (Wikipedia). There is even a “magical negro” stereotype used to describe President Obama early in his first term. This image often mutates to something more sinister.

Darrel Wilson shot Michael Brown, reportedly because Brown was young, large and black. With such a figure near him, Wilson’s inborn perverse image created a demon. Did he describe a “demon” to help justify such a craven action or was he inexplicably fearful. At the time he fatally shot Michael Brown in the top of his head, Brown reportedly wasn’t that close to him. We are asked to believe that Brown would be foolhardy enough to rush a man pointing a gun at him, a man who already shot at him twice, wounding him in the arm. Unfortunately Brown couldn’t know that Wilson was seeing him as an inhuman fiend.

If we walk too aggressively in the dark in a black neighborhood while encountering a white police officer and are large, should we make ourselves small, hold our hands up and announce that we are older and white? This might sound ludicrous to some but the pandemic of killing unarmed blacks does warrant a step back, followed by a narrative that pairs the bitter tragedy, reckless police reactions, and, in effect, apparent lack of concern for a black human life.

Consider that Michael Brown’s body lay on the street for over four hours before dealt with. In Staten Island, an officer blithely commented that Eric Garner’s condition did not warrant CPR before paramedics carted him away. Arriving Cleveland officers gave the 12 year old child with an air gun a few seconds before they brought him down with gunfire, thinking he was a menacing 20-year-old (purported 20-yr-old). Not until an FBI agent happened on the scene was Tamir, struggling for life, even attended to. Meanwhile his sister and mother were forcibly turned away.

Eric Garner, at some 350 pounds, might be considered a big docile teddy bear, if white. But black was a different story. Even though he might have been peddling loose cigarettes, a misdemeanor, his real crime was being black and being large. He outweighed the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who apparently thought he needed lethal force. He choked him to death with an illegal chokehold. His weight and asthma was a suggested cause by some media sources. Garner’s plea that he couldn’t breathe some 11 times was lost in a crowd of hard-hearted policemen in attendance, policemen who routinely encounter brown and black men, some with attitude. Reportedly, the attitude was that of Darrell Wilson in the Ferguson encounter.

The stereotype is often communicated in high circles in America. The Fox News channel does it to demonize President Obama, but of course not to the extent of a Darrell Wilson seeing Michael Brown as a demon. But O’Reilly, Karl Rove, Hannity – they all narrate their stereotypes with words, Rove categorizing even Obama as lazy and trash-talking; the Tea Party portraying him as somewhat of a demon – Hitler; Joe Wilson calling Obama a liar in front of network cameras; Ted Nugent, who pals around with the Texas governor-to-be, portraying him as subhuman; O’Reilly often surprised if blacks show intelligence.

When even the President of the United States is the butt of racism, and the Attorney General speaks of being stopped for running in Georgetown as a US Attorney, and the Mayor of NYC mentions telling his bi-racial son to step lightly in any police interrelations, you know we have a problem, America.

The truth is that young black men, even black children, are shot by police too often because of racism, armed police who carry stereotypes that continue to live in blighted images in their minds. Like any injustice, it has to be addressed in avenues that will assure equal treatment by police officers with guns.

In the 1960s it was through the federal government that civil rights were slowly sustained, something not done locally. Local and state officials, namely local and state prosecutors, will not cross police officers they must work with on a daily basis, regardless of the injustice to the victims – and they haven’t in almost all cases.

That is why we need federal intervention. It is a national problem, big cities and large: LA, New Orleans, Dallas, Chicago, Cleveland, NYC, Newark – cities and burghs in between.

Reported shooting incidents have covered the whole map. Every week that we wait, 4-5 more black men will be shot by police throughout the country. Maybe one of those 5 will be unarmed.

James Hoover is a recently retired systems engineer. He has advanced degrees in Economics and English. Prior to his aerospace career, he taught high school, and he has also taught college courses. He recently published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes political columns on several websites. Read other articles by James.