Thursday, August 14, 2014

Government Killings: What Defines An Epidemic?

Supposedly one is an accident, two a coincidence, and three a pattern. Stories about uniformed government peace officers killing Americans without trial raise concerns not only about the safety of life under its rule but the endurance of the rights with which the government has been entrusted – the rights that are, in fact, the government's purpose for existence.  How iffy must those rights become before something must be done?  When is it an epidemic?

In Oklahoma City, two police officers murdered the man dating their daughter. (The man was black.)

In Cincinnati, a man was shot dead by police in the store where he sought to purchase a BB-gun. (The BB-gun buyer was also black.)

An unarmed teen walking with a friend in the street was killed after a police car approached, and its uniformed officer told the boy to get on the sidewalk.  Despite that the boy had no weapon and raised his hands in surrender, the just-graduated teen was shot dead in Missouri.  (Other versions of this story point out the killed man was black.)

Before then, New York City police killed a man they found standing unarmed at the scene of a reported disturbance (which the shooting victim had broken up before officers arrived).  This incident got more profile because it was filmed by bystanders, and because police reports purporting to describe the scene – made before police knew film existed – shows the police acted deliberately to conceal from the public the truth about the killing.  Although the incident has been described as illustrating a plague of brutality against black men, one wonders how anyone could feel "protected" by armed men who go unprosecuted despite doing this to other humans.  The police response?  Eric Garner wasn't killed by armed men employing a choke hold after their victim begged for air and warned them he couldn't breathe, he was killed for failure to respect the officers of the NYPD.  To make sure the news on the NYPD is appropriately respectful, the NYPD has begun writing its news itself.  Like Cesar trying to sound like a historian by writing about himself in the third person, the NYPD offers feels-like-news stories purporting to celebrate successes like recovering a single .22 handgun. On the bright side, the officer who arrested the .22's owner managed to do it without killing anyone. Yay?

In Houston, police killed a mentally ill double-amputee who was confined to a wheelchair.  According to police, the man attempted to stab an officer with a pen.  Lemme give you a hint, for the next time a schizophrenic bipolar patient who's confined to a wheelchair gives you palpitations over the risk he's unwilling to surrender his felt-tipped pen, consider fleeing for the high ground of the nearby bed, which the wheelchair will not surmount.  Just a thought.  In a metropolitan area exceeding five million souls, there's bound to be someone who's very ill and poorly medicated  – someplace – pretty much incessantly.  From the incident's description, two officers were in the room and neither bothered to attempt any kind of restraint – they just brandished weapons and issued commands to a man whose psychiatric disorder could very well have been causing him to hear things they never spoke.  It wasn't the first time the officer who pulled the trigger decided that the answer to his daily problem was to shoot a civilian.  The prior incident involved a man who'd attacked others with a knife.  The photo doesn't suggest the killed double-amputee belonged to a minority race, but he was mentally ill and had been a ward of Harris County since 2003.  Way to take care of your sick, Harris County.  Bullets are, what? About a buck apiece?

In Dallas, police who were dispatched to the home of a paranoid schizophrenic man based on a report that he had threatened suicide decided to yell at him, predictably escalating his fragile mental state, until after tazing him they chose to shoot him eleven times (including after he was already on the ground).  A home surveillance camera provides video.  Neighbors reported that they never felt threatened by Michael Blair, despite his odd behavior.  The 26-year-old was black.

The Dallas video contains something that appears in an account by a Washington Post reporter [*] regarding his own arrest: loud self-serving statements by police for the benefit of cameras and witnesses, intended to create some basis on which to find the officers' conduct justified.  There's nothing to the statements; they're just there to prejudice onlookers.  The golden example is this:
“My hands are behind my back,” I said. “I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting.” At which point one officer said: “You’re resisting. Stop resisting.”
Turn off the audio on the Dallas shooting and look for indications the officers attempted to subdue the mentally ill man using any means besides appealing to the rational fear we expect people to have when confronted with force (including fore like electric shocks or the threats of gunfire).  Once you know the civilian is mentally ill, and contemplating suicide, why on Earth would you expect a threat to kill him to represent a plausible strategy to de-escalate him so he could get treatment?

I don't know if there's a formal field of study for this kind of government/citizen interaction, but I wonder if some threshold exists for determining that an issue has progressed from a shocking aberration to an epidemic that demands prompt action.

Anyone know?

Anyone care?

[*] The Washingon Post reporter arrested covering a protest over a police shooting of a civilian wasn't the only one.  Another reporter (white) covering the same protest was not only arrested, but suffered having his face bashed into a fixed object by an armed police officer in riot armor, who sarcastically apologized afterward – another incident of abusive police employing language to create cover for inappropriate conduct.  If called on his assault, the response will surely be to claim the whole thing was an accident, as evidenced by his prompt 'apology'.  The result?
Ryan Grim, The Huffington Post's Washington bureau chief, noted in a statement that Reilly "has reported multiple times from Guantanamo Bay." According to Grim, Reilly "said that the police resembled soldiers more than officers, and treated those inside the McDonald's as 'enemy combatants.'"
So at home, we're treated as 'enemy combatants.'  So, it's true: freedom isn't free.  And bogus oversight isn't oversight at all. Public attention must be directed to the problem of reviving the dying rule of law if we are, in fact, to have "rights" as our predecessors understood the term.

In the interest of plotting the data points, I've also noticed ...

... Miami SWAT executing a narcotics warrant, and their behavior toward the 13-year-old boy in the raises house and their treatment of the glass picture frames through out the house; should it matter that conduct like this was committed in a house two blocks from the one specified in the warrant – or is there really anyone who seriously believes such conduct is appropriate even there?

... A multi-jurisdictional SWAT team in Georgia threw a stun grenade into a crib, putting a 19-month-old without health insurance in the hospital in a coma with burns that exposed his ribs. Does it matter the adult sought in their warrant didn't live there and wasn't present?

Giving armed organizations immunity to prosecution seems to invite poor behavior, including extreme reactions to attempted oversight, even abroad.  Yet, proven misconduct doesn't seem to prevent our government from funding known killers.

1 comment:

David Lam said...

Well said, and a good compilation. Hopefully having police forces use mandatory body cameras and having the video evidence available to the public, unaltered, would change the behaviour.