Feature: Racism and Unchecked Police Violence, An American Epidemic
The following piece is from Mint Press News. It was written by Frederick Reese.
By: Frederick Reese
In Ferguson, Missouri, the crisis that was ignited this summer by the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson continues to burn. Before a Cardinals-Dodgers game on Oct. 7 in St. Louis, for example, protestors outside of Busch Stadium rallying for the indictment of Wilson were met with racist and otherwise offensive remarks from Cardinals fans.
“If they’d be working, we wouldn’t have this problem,” said an older white man at the opening of the livestream video — provided by Argus Streaming News — of the confrontation. “We’re the ones who fuckin’ gave all y’all the freedom that you got,” a young white woman yelled later. Other fans yelled “Africa! Africa!” to the predominantly black group of protesters, while others called one protester a “crackhead,” told him to visit a dentist and to remove his hat and pull up his pants.
“I take what is happening in Ferguson and elsewhere as being symptomatic of implicit racism,” said Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, to MintPress News. “People across the board have these biases and with law enforcement — with this heightened sense of security and environmental awareness — are being seen to act on these biases with the shootings of African-Americans and Latinos.”
This recent situation reflects an evolving issue in which St. Louis — arguably the most racially segregated metropolitan area in the United States — is being forced to deal with the realities of race and racism. With the police being the public-facing presence of most communities, this reality is increasingly being played out in sometimes fatal, typically avoidable escalations between local law enforcement and the community of color in Ferguson and across the nation.
In 2013, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement claimed on Democracy Now! that a black person is shot extrajudicially every 28 hours. Yet no one truly knows how often black men are shot or killed by police action. The FBI only collects information on “justifiable homicides,” defined as police-related shootings in which the firing officer had a clear and distinct rationale for using deadly force, such as protecting a life. Non-justified police shootings are classified as accidents or are not recorded in police statistics at all.
However, based on available data collected by the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report, a white police officer killed a black person — on average — twice a week, every week for a seven-year period ending in 2012. Among the shootings that resulted in death, 18 percent of those killed were under the age of 21. These numbers come from voluntary submissions from just 750 of the nation’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies.
If these numbers were to be taken as an indicator of the state of the current relationship between the police and the community of color (due to the limited size of the FBI report’s sampling range, it is understood that the report does not adequately offer a valid statistical model for police-related homicides), it would suggest that law enforcement is a source of grave concern for the nation.
These numbers — taken as they are — also suggest a willingness among the police to deal with the community of color not from a community-oriented point of view, but from an absolute “nuisance-remedy” point-of-view. This change in philosophy has been credited — in part — to the “militarization” of the police.
On April 30, as reported by Occupy Riverwest, Dontre Hamilton, a 31-year-old black man, was killed by a Milwaukee Police officer in Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park. Police were responding to a non-emergency call placed by Starbucks employees concerning a man sleeping near the park’s arrow statue. According to the Milwaukee chief of police, Hamilton was shot and killed after he struggled with police reporting on the scene, took an officer’s batons and struck the officer over the head.
Hamilton had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and failed to take his medication that day. Police asserted that this may explain Hamilton’s violent outburst.
However, one of the Starbucks baristas who placed the call to police had a different take on the incident. According to the barista, the officers who ultimately killed Hamilton were the third set of officers to report to the scene; the first two sets allowed Hamilton to continue sleeping, determining that he raised no public threat. The barista reported not seeing Hamilton loitering, panhandling or otherwise making himself a nuisance in any way, and the reporting police officers even spoke to the baristas, advising them that Hamilton was within his rights to be in the park.
The third reporting officer, a beat cop identified by the barista as an officer named “Chris,” who regularly patrolled the park, seemed to have been acting more out of fear than in accordance with policy.
According to the barista, Hamilton somehow managed to take the officer’s baton and use it defensively against lunges and dives the officer made to retrieve the weapon. The barista reported not seeing Hamilton use the weapon offensively against the officer. After a short pause, the officer pulled his sidearm and — without calling for Hamilton to disarm or to surrender — fired multiple shots at Hamilton from 10 feet away.
“I counted the shots as they happened. I guess I expected Chris to just disable him, so I didn’t know how many shots to expect,” wrote the barista, Kelly Brandmeyer, for Occupy Riverwest. “I counted 3…then 5…then 7…then 10 all in very quick succession. Surely a trained police officer could have disabled Dontre without putting 10 bullets into him. With the rapid, rhythmic fire, there was no way Chris was stopping to check if Dontre was still alive.”
Situations such as this are part of an increasing rash of incidents in which police overreactions have had fatal consequences.
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