A+ R A-

More Commentary

Will Video Cameras Reduce Police Brutality?

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) “I can’t believe that in the 21st century in the United States of America, we can’t get a simple indictment for a murder of a man that was caught on videotape,” said New York Congresswoman Yvette Clarke hours after the news of a Staten Island grand jury failing to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Pantaleo, a New York City cop, has two lawsuits against him. One was settled by the city of New York.  The other is still pending.  Pantaleo strangled 48-year-old Eric Garner to death on July 17, 2014, less than a month before a White Ferguson Police Officer shot teenager Michael Brown to death.

But in Garner’s case it was all on video.

On Dec.1, President Obama asked Congress to approve $263 million for police body cameras and training. The $75 million for 50,000 body cameras for police has been a primary focus of what many hope is a solution to police brutality – or at least a tool that will make it easier to prosecute police involved in misconduct.

But with a partisan fight under way over the president’s immigration executive order, there’s a real question about whether Congress will take action on the his proposal.  But the bigger question is: Will video matter? If a cop can’t be indicted for choking a man to death on a city street, then under what circumstances can a cop be indicted?

Garner was begging for his life and said 11 times, “I can’t breathe” when Pantaleo held him in a choke hold that even New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton called “disturbing” and a violation of police procedure. And even with all of it caught on video, there was no indictment.

Several elected officials are focusing on the question of whether cameras are the solution.

“What good is a body camera? A body camera is supposed to be utilized so you can see what facts took place. So in effect we had a body camera here; we see it all,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).

“It brings into question whether body cameras will make any difference. The whole incident was on camera, but if prosecutors mishandled the presentation of the charges to the grand jury, you come up with no indictment,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). “Given what’s happened in Ferguson and the tenor of where I see a lot of people in this country, I’m not surprised” at the outcome.

“When you have an apparent felonious action on videotape, someone engaging in an illegal choke hold that causes someone’s death, it’s very difficult to understand how there’s not an indictment, and not at least probable cause,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

The timing of the grand jury non-indictment and the body-camera issue could not be more relevant. Not only did President Obama focus on the issue on December 1, but body cameras will soon be in widespread use by the largest police department in the country. Starting over the weekend, 50 NYPD officers began wearing body cameras. The program is then expected to expand to 35,000 officers after a three-month trial period.

Body cameras for the New York City Police Department came as the result of a judicial mandate stemming from a lawsuit over the city’s massive stop-and-frisk program targeting young African-American and Latino men for more than a decade. This follows trial programs in several police departments that have instituted the use of body cameras, with some positive results.

One of the ironies of the Eric Garner case is that he was killed by a New York City Police Officer during a time of historically low crime in New York City.  After a decade of listening to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly drone on about how stop-and-frisk lowered crime,  recent crime stats showed anther decrease in crime in 2014.   Even with almost no stop-and-frisk after Mayor Bill De Blasio became mayor, crime in New York continued to go down.

Even though technology and the prevalence of mobile phones have opened a window on day-to-day police activity, another piece of the puzzle that leads to cops’ actually being held accountable for their actions is missing. Because of the often close relationships between prosecutors and police, indictments are hard to get, even with video evidence.

“Local prosecutors should not be presenting in police-related deaths. Prosecutors and police are bedfellows, they’re buddies,” said attorney Midwin Charles on “NewsOne Now with Roland Martin” on December 4.

America leads industrialized nations in police killings. An average of more than 400 people a year are killed at the hands of police.

Right now members of Congress, specifically members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are strategizing in an effort to figure out what to do next after two weeks of frustrating news in Garner’s case and the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Mo. Many are angry.

“I’m struggling because I’m also the father of two African-American boys, and I don’t know what to say to them about what’s happening in this country right now,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

Lauren Victoria Burke is freelance writer and creator of the blog Crewof42.com, which covers African American members of Congress. She Burke appears regularly on “NewsOneNow with Roland Martin” and on WHUR FM, 900 AM WURD. She worked previously at USA Today and ABC News. She can be reached through her website, laurenvictoriaburke.com, or Twitter @Crewof42 or by e-mail at LBurke007@gmail.com.

A License to Kill Black Men

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) From nearly the moment he was attacked by a New York City police officer July 18, the world has, via that chilling video, watched Eric Garner die.

Are we now about to see the “traditions” that led to his death and – thus far – have enabled his killer to escape justice die, too?

Moments after the news broke Dec. 3 that a New York City grand jury had voted not to indict the White police officer whom video showed had jumped Eric Garner from behind, ridden him to the sidewalk pavement and lain on his back while Garner, breathing heavily, frantically uttered “I can’t breathe!” nearly a dozen times, Garner’s stepfather spoke these bitter words:  “It’s just a license to kill a Black man!”

Yes. That’s what such decisions in the past meant – the reaffirmation of the longstanding ‘tradition’ that police officers, especially White ones, who kill unarmed Black men, or women or children in questionable circumstances do not get indicted. Or, if indicted, they do not get convicted. That’s because the ‘traditional’ stance American police departments, North as well as South, have taken toward Black Americans has always been to control them, not protect them.

The issue that Eric Garner’s death – and all the police killings of Black Americans in questionable circumstances – has now made unavoidable is how to eliminate these two “traditions” from the practice of policing.

Daniel M. Donovan, Jr., the District Attorney of Staten Island, the city borough where Garner lived and was killed (Staten Island is the most conservative and least diverse borough of the city’s five boroughs; separated from the mainland by water, accessible only by ferry and bridges), couldn’t afford to allow the grand jury (grand juries are under the complete control of prosecutors) to indict the officer – and thus send the case to a jury trial – because the video of Eric Garner’s death is so damning. So he engaged the old tradition to produce a grand jury decision that showed the jurors had literally refused to act on what their eyes and common sense made plain.

Even some conservatives denounced the grand jury decision as a gross miscarriage of justice. Other conservatives, of course, stuck to the old tattered script that Blacks must always be blamed for their oppression. Among them was Charles Barkley, who’s become embarrassingly eager to use his basketball fame to become conservatives’ latest “Magic Negro.”

But the shock and anger that the decision immediately provoked may yet lead to undermining the tradition that lets cops who kill unjustifiably escape responsibility for their actions.

One reason for this hope is the recent tragic and infuriating series of police killing, wounding or accosting unarmed Black Americans in questionable circumstances. Those tragedies were shockingly underscored by two police killings that bracketed the decision of the Ferguson, Mo. grand jury not to indict the police officer who killed Michael Brown.

The first was the killing of Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old New Yorker, who, leaving a friend’s apartment in a New York City housing project, happened to step into its unlit stairway at the moment a rookie New York City cop was was standing 14 steps above him – with, police officials have said, his gun drawn for no apparent reason. As soon as Gurley opened the door to the stairway, the cop fired, killing him.

The second incident was a Cleveland police officer’s shooting to death 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing in his neighborhood’s playground while waving a realistic-looking toy gun. The cop, whom official police records show shot the boy two seconds after arriving at the park, was later found to have compiled a record of serious emotional instability at his previous police-force job that should have disqualified him for police work anywhere.

That the Cleveland police force has a host of problems that reach far beyond this one officer was the subject of a scathing study of its practices the federal Department of Justice released last week as well. It declared that the department’s effectiveness and reputation were undermined by a pattern of “excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons” and the “employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable.”

There’s been significant recent evidence that whites and Latinos, too, don’t completely escape being physically brutalized by individual cops, either, while their superiors look the other way. But now the greater visibility of incidents of unjustifiable police violence against blacks and of reports which find it’s driven by an institutional culture as well as individuals’ pathologies should make one thing obvious: it’s time for the “two traditions” to end.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

AIDS Stigma Killed My Uncle – Not the Disease

E-mail Print PDF

There are moments when an assignment becomes more than just a body of interviews and research. For me, these moments are quite rare. As a journalist, depending on where you sit, when a feature story stirs emotions and elicits a newfound outlook on your personal life, it can be either a blessing or a curse. I choose to view my recent HIV/AIDS project as a blessing in disguise.

This week’s HIV/AIDS story fell in my lap. Our publisher Paulette Brown-Hinds, PhD, received information about Foothill AIDS Project (FAP) and asked if there was a story to cover. It wasn’t long before I was on the phone with FAP, requesting clients I could contact. One of those clients was Jonia Williamson, who has exemplified the type of unwitting bravery that astounds you. Over the Summer, Jonia shared with me her story of finding out she was HIV positive, how her friends and church family shunned her, and the thoughtless rumors made about her, resulting from the stigma of HIV. All of the strife she endured that pushed her to California, where she turned her life around.

Perhaps that should have been “a wrap” as they say. It’s an original story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but Jonia’s story – and the experiences shared by other HIV/AIDS activists – was already hitting home ... and I had no idea. In fact, until last week, Jonia’s story was still helping me contextualize the loss of my uncle. My uncle was more than just an uncle, he helped raise my younger brother and I when I was 13, after our father suddenly died. My uncle stepped in and did what he could to watch out for us. My grandmother probably played a role in this, but every Summer, from 13 to 18, I was with family, not just learning about our history and creating new memories, but understanding the purpose of family ... something I previously never understood.

My uncle was unmarried all of his life. He was a handsome, physically-fit, well-spoken man with southern sensibilities – not the type of man who stays on the market unless there’s a distinct reason, I suppose now that I am older. I never really questioned why he was single. I didn’t assume that made me naïve, I thought it made me as ignorant and unassuming as most people should be about why people make personal choices about their love lives. But apparently, people were assuming a lot of things.

I got word in late August my uncle was terminally ill. It seemed out of nowhere. Just the year before, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but he was in good spirits. He had a reason to be. Prostate cancer is usually one of the less-aggressive forms of cancer. But within an instant, it seemed he was losing his life. There was a moment when I thought he would bounce back, just as my uncle convinced me he would a year ago. I made plans to see him in the morning, but the moment I opened my eyes, my cellphone rang – and I knew it wasn’t good. He was gone. I lamented not seeing him, wondering if he asked where I was, curious if he was upset I wasn’t there, but my aunt assured me “it’s best I remember him the way he was.” My uncle had whittled down to about 100 pounds, had skin lesions, and couldn’t speak. He suffered until the very end.

Nothing added up for me: his swift death, his symptoms, and bed-ridden condition. Later that morning, I was told my uncle was living with AIDS and it compounded the issues with his prostate cancer. My uncle, for years, had been buried underneath the type of shame that drives men to kill themselves. He didn’t want anyone to know – and I certainly was not to know his condition.

My uncle needed every service organizations like FAP provide. He needed a support group, he needed therapy, he needed a referral to a specialist – he epitomized why organization’s like FAP exist. Unfortunately, he didn’t know they existed, and maybe didn’t want to know. His fears of judgment were sadly warranted. As with most family secrets, word spread. Petty fodder ensued, like “Well, you know he lived in San Francisco before...”

To call these suggestions silly and destructive would be an understatement. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Does living in San Francisco give you AIDS? Does being gay imply you should have AIDS? As I strung together a mental timeline, I realized that the period he contracted HIV was likely when he lived in San Bernardino. There goes that “San Francisco” theory! However, no one will ever know for certain where and when it happened.

Jonia’s advice was very sound: the stigmas have to stop. Too often they have no basis, and more importantly, they are never justified. They don’t help the black community cultivate a better understanding of HIV/AIDS, they hurt us because we assume what HIV/AIDS looks like and assume what makes us “safe” from the disease. And we pass these stigmas down to our children, creating a new generation of cultural ignorance. Everyone should get tested and everyone deserves access to treatment.

Last week, I tweeted that #WorldAIDSDay is every day. It couldn’t be more true. Every day someone is suffering from HIV or AIDS. Someone is choosing not to seek treatment, afraid to share their status and feels hopeless. There is a deep, profound sadness over the loss of my uncle that I don’t believe I will ever be able to shake, knowing that the ignorance of others influenced him to not seek help.

No one should die senselessly. Unfortunately, my uncle did. While I will hold loving memories of my uncle close, I will always remember his death, like countless people before him, as an unnecessary loss.

Corey Arvin is a Contributing Editor for Black Voice News and a winner of the national Scripps Howard Award for Web Reporting. His column is published every week on blackvoicenews.com. He can be reached at Corey@Blackvoicenews.com and followed on Twitter @coreyarvin.

Looming Ferguson Grand Jury Decision Makes Emmett Till Tree Planting Ceremony a Bitter Sweet Reminder

E-mail Print PDF

The word conundrum should probably never apply to a historic day like Monday, Nov. 17 when a Sycamore tree was planted at the Capitol, dedicated to the memory of Emmett Till. Till is remembered as the young black teenager from Chicago who was brutally murdered by a group of white men in 1955 while visiting relatives in Mississippi. The racially-tinged circumstances surrounding his death are a permanent scar in America’s history of civil rights – and unfortunately, more of these racially-divisive moments are taking place 60 years later.

Under gray skies, outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder braved rain at the ceremony to share a few words about what Till’s death represented in the fight for civil rights and equality. The same day Holder was reminding America of Till’s tragedy, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon delivered his own speech, in which he called a state of emergency for Missouri in anticipation of a grand jury decision that would either indict or acquit Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown in August, allegedly in self-defense, which has left many protestors in Missouri skeptical.

I have no doubt that Gov. Nixon’s state of emergency was intended to protect the people of Missouri, but it’s remiss to not emphasize that the protestors, peaceful or violent, are citizens of Missouri themselves. It’s arguably more disconcerting to not look at the overwhelming displays of flagrant disrespect and tension sparked by officers who are meant to protect all Missourians since demonstrations began in August. And most importantly, let's not forget the simple and central issue behind this disruption: another young black man lost his life in a town that has a history of strife with law enforcement. The people most vulnerable to this issue are upset. The bedrock of leadership should be equality and justice for all, and ensuring that the well being and interests of all people are considered, including protestors.

Till and Brown’s individual deaths have important differences, this cannot be denied, but the question of whether justice will be served had too many African-Americans pessimistic of the outcome before a grand jury trial ever began. The timing of Till’s tree planting ceremony is a stark reminder that “the struggle” is real and that the shadow of Till’s death continues to follow young black men like Brown every day.

Corey Arvin is a Contributing Editor for Black Voice News and a winner of the national Scripps Howard Award for Web Reporting. His column is published every week on blackvoicenews.com. He can be reached at Corey@Blackvoicenews.com and followed on Twitter @coreyarvin.

The Question Black Conservatives Always Avoid

E-mail Print PDF

(NNPA) Like everyone else, I am processing the November election results.  I will write more about that later, but there was a radio exchange that I heard the night prior to the election that really got me thinking.

On my way home from Baltimore, where I had been doing some electoral work, I found myself listening to a radio program that was addressing the upcoming election.  The focus of the program was the Maryland governor’s race, which pitted African American, Democrat Lt. Gov.  Anthony Brown against Larry Hogan, a White Republican who eventually won  the race.

This program appeared to be oriented towards African Americans.  A good deal of the air time was consumed with criticisms of the Brown campaign; mainly correct criticisms I might add.  Yet, on the program there was an African American who had served in the administration of former Maryland Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich.  She was making the case for voting for Hogan and dismissing anything positive that had taken place under current Gov. Martin  O’Malley and his Lt. Gov. Brown.

At one point in the discussion, this Hogan supporter did something very interesting.  She quickly made reference to mistakes that Republicans had committed around the country (she did not say what mistakes); made reference to racism existing in both parties (of course!); and then went on to say that all politics is local and that people should give Hogan a look.

I was amazed that no one else on this radio program, at least while I was listening, pursued this issue.  No one asked the obvious question:  “Why should African Americans support someone from a political party that has carried out an orchestrated strategy to deny African Americans the vote?”

I have yet to hear a Black conservative address this and I ask myself, “Why?”  How can someone who is Black ignore the fact that race is central in the Republican Party’s messages?  How can someone ignore the fact that in Republican dominated state legislatures, statutes have been advanced that make it more difficult rather than less difficult for minorities, youth and senior citizens to vote?

No one asked this sister anything like that.  They acted as if now governor-elect Hogan exists in some sort of bubble and does not have to address the well-planned, and orchestrated efforts to narrow the electorate rather than expand it.

So, to my Black conservative friends, would you please take a moment and respond to this simple question:  How can you remain silent on voter suppression and, worse, endorse a party that has made that part of their strategy?

Thanks in advance.

Bill Fletcher. Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English.  He is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer.  Follow him on Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com.

Page 8 of 99

BVN National News Wire