Ferguson, Staten Island, Jasper

I don’t really know how to describe it other than an epidemic. In two high profile incidents, white Police Officers have shot and killed unarmed African-American men. In Ferguson, in the case of Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson, Brown was shot six times by Wilson after the two got into some type of altercation. Wilson claimed that he fired in self defense against the allegedly aggressive Brown, and he had to use lethal force since Brown was apparently “charging” at him. The majority of witnesses claim that Brown had his hands up, was not resisting or some variation thereof. As I explained earlier in The Daily Texan, I think the evidence was insufficient for a conviction, but the very low bar to an indictment should have easily been cleared.

Then, there is the case of Eric Garner in Staten Island. Approached by NYPD on suspicion of selling individual cigarettes, a rather low-level citation offense, Garner began arguing with officers. After repeatedly, calmly and peacefully attempting to argue with the officers, he was placed in a chokehold and tackled to the ground, where he was quite literally strangled to death. This, despite the fact that NYPD has prohibited chokeholds for about 20 years. The entire sickening incident was caught on video. Still, a grand jury this past evening no-billed Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who killed lynched Garner.

Additionally, as the Texas Observer fills us in on (c/o the Beaumont Enterprise), a grand jury in Jasper County has opted to no-bill a white Police Officer who brutally beat up an unarmed African-American woman on video at the police station. Thankfully, unlike the other two incidents, this woman — who was accused of petty shoplifting — survived the encounter. Jasper, of course, has its own terrifying history of racism.

All this is to say there is, in fact, an epidemic of police brutality in this country. The vast majority of Police Officers are honest, hardworking people who put their lives on the line for the safety of the community; but some harbor prejudicial tendencies and must be dealt with appropriately. For some time now, I have endorsed body cameras for officers. Generally speaking, they have been supported in a bipartisan manner.

President Barack Obama has requested about $263 Million from congress to dole out these devices — which record officers’ interactions with the general public — to local departments. Similarly, District Attorney-elect Susan Hawk in Dallas County, a Republican, has announced a plan to use surplus funds to equip Dallas PD and other departments with the devices.

KHOU has even reported, just a few hours ago, that Mayor Annise Parker plans on buying body cameras for local police with or without federal funds. I’m still a rather vehement supporter of this technology, as it minimizes he said/cop said situations. However, the Garner case still proves that a video is not enough to ensure justice is carried out. The good news, however, is that it removes the ambiguity and doubt that surrounds these cases. For example, in the Michael Brown case, I am not sure if Wilson was justified in his response or not, so I think there should have been a trial but — given the evidence known for certain — I don’t know if I would have voted for a conviction. In Garner’s case, however, there is almost no doubt in my mind that the Officer committed cold-blooded second degree murder.

However, in order to truly fix the problem, the grand jury system needs to be reformed. State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County) has a long overdue idea in eliminating the venal key-man grand jury system, though it is worth noting that both the Ferguson and Staten Island no-billing occurred through random selection. I think the only way to solve this is to convert grand juries into far more temporary entities, operating on summons like petit juries, which may not be totally representative of the community but are still better than grand juries.

Additionally, I think states should change pertinent laws regarding the burden of proof for police officers accused of such crimes, clarifying that it is rather low. The reason we have such easy indictments in this country is that convictions are unusually hard — compared to the rest of the world — to achieve.

I realize these tweaks to state laws are quixotic, especially in Texas, but they appear to be the most effective way to resurrect some modicum of justice to our twisted world.

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2 thoughts on “Ferguson, Staten Island, Jasper

  1. I kept up with the Ferguson matter since it hit the media. Contrary to some of your comments, other than pure media accounts, the evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of the version the officer told investigators, both federal investigators that we all know were tasked with finding ANYTHING to use against him and the county department tasked with figuring out what happened with the city encounter. Typically, when a witness gives an account that is totally contradicted by the physical evidence, grand juries tend to dismiss those versions as biased just as they did in Mo.

    That several of the media darling “witnesses” were later admitting they were not at the location, did not see anything of substance, and outright lied seems to be conveniently forgotten but frankly, this attack on grand juries is weird considering the same people vilifying them now are the same ones complaining that the process is too quick to indict most of the time. This grand jury was used in case people did not want to testify or wanted to corrupt the process so it started far earlier than usual but given the political hot potato cases like this are under the best of circumstances, can you blame the county DA from presenting ALL the evidence available from federal and county investigators? You can read all the pertinent evidence as it has been released in a manner not typical for grand juries too.

    As far as Johnny Whitmire’s political stunt regarding such grand juries, keep in mind that like it or not, the majority of people that show up for grand juries will end up getting picked to serve no matter what process is used to notify potential jurors. They tend to be older, more conservative, and yes, a bit more appreciative of the totality of circumstances modern police are put under. By all means address the truly corrupt cops out there, there just aren’t that many no matter what imagined “epidemic of police brutality” some of you see. The FBI reports there are over 40 million official police contacts with people each year in this country and about 400 times when the police kill a person. In almost ALL cases, the deceased was posing an immediate threat to the public or officer and engaging in a felony for those 400 shootings.

    It’s convenient to forget the robbery video showing 300 pound Michael Brown throwing around the much smaller clerk and it’s convenient to forget that all the witnesses stated Brown was indeed walking in the middle of a public street, certainly not the behavior of someone trying to avoid police immediately after committing a robbery. It’s also convenient to rely so heavily on sworn testimony stating that the officer shot Brown in the back repeatedly when the multiple autopsies, including one commissioned by Brown’s family, show that just did not happen. Common sense tells us that if we have a disagreement with a cop, we follow their orders and handle it in court or otherwise in the right place/time. This process is ingrained in most cultures and the results are that they fare just fine in virtually all cases.

  2. As far as the body cameras are concerned, most officers I know welcome them with open arms. The reason why complaints go down is usually tied to the fact that when confronted with a starkly different version of events sworn to while filing a complaint, the video evidence overwhelmingly supports the officer’s version per departments that use such equipment already. When some money grubbing shyster takes a case to make a name for himself and make a quick settlement buck finds out his client lied through his teeth about being abused, maybe he’ll be less likely to chase the ambulance as often. The traffic cops found that out over the last 10-15 years; their cameras proving them in the clear almost every time.

    Remember, the officers are going to know they are being recorded. They will act accordingly while those who “know” the media will jump on any case where a cop is involved are going to use the “guilty while cop” set of lies. The media has proven resistant to waiting for the facts because they might lose their scoop over other media, something placing integrity over ratings would stop. Then the complaint will be that the mean old officer refused to stop violating personal privacy by turning off the camera, the alternative being “he hit me as soon as he turned it off” regardless of the truth. And as far as those bad apples departments find from time to time, throw the book at them. Cops are their own biggest critics for those who steal, rape, or otherwise break the law.

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