A tale of two cities: Ferguson and San Francisco
As the people, events and photos from Ferguson, Missouri, audition for textbooks, more and more critics are focusing on our violent and undertrained police as the problem. If you have been a victim of police misconduct, you probably understand this. If you haven’t, you might not.
Regardless, we don’t even know exactly how many of us are killed annually by our police, since our Department of Justice does not require 17,000 law enforcement agencies to report that data.
Instead, 750 “self-reporting” agencies set the number of police “justifiable” homicides annually at around 400, a dubious Department of Justice (DOJ) statistic, one that prompted University of Missouri-St. Louis criminal justice professor and former LA police officer David A. Klinger to say, “What’s there is crappy data.”
This crappy data has led other independent trackers to estimate that police-involved homicides are upwards of 1,000 a year. According to a story in The Daily Beast, for example, 14 other teens have been killed since the Ferguson shooting death of Michael Brown on August 9. Or, if you trust the independent record keeping of Nevada newspaper editor D. Brian Burghart, who launched his Fatal Encounters Project in 2012 to document when and how often police use deadly force in America, 83 other Americans of all ages were killed by police between Brown’s death to September 1, 2014.
The lack of a national database is bad enough, but excessive police brutality is so egregious that last week, the United Nations urged a U.S. crackdown on police brutality citing, “a deep and festering lack of confidence in the fairness of the justice and law enforcement systems.”
Indeed, anyone with a computer can “fester” after identifying endless examples of police brutality in less time than the 90 seconds it took former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to finalize his fatal encounter with an unarmed teen.
If you can watch it (and it is difficult), every disturbing civil rights violation you could ever imagine flashes by as the backdrop in artist Rob Hustle’s video, Call the Cops. “This is what happens when you call the cops,” Hustle raps, his message rising in synchronization to the beat – “No one makes money when the violence stops.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlY9C6pzxKc)
“No one” means lawyers. Bad police are their cash cows. Police misconduct in America is big business, the specialized area of goliath law firms, dedicated to routinely deflecting police accountability. We have reached the point where it is actually someone’s regular job to protect bad police. Unequivocally.
We already know that police are protected by special “immunities” denied to the rest of us. We also know that police violence is definitely meted out – disproportionally and unjustly – along the lines of race. Police routinely also brutalize, however, all vulnerable groups, including the homeless and mentally ill.
In San Francisco, for example, a recent KQED News study found that 58 percent of those killed by the San Francisco police were mentally ill. Similarly, police can also shoot schizophrenics at point blank range in Laredo, LA, Milwaukee, or in North Carolina where they “don’t have time for that,” apparently fearing for their lives in a 70 second lethal encounter with a 90 pound teen who would not put down a screwdriver.
If police say they “fear for their lives,” they can beat and club our mentally ill to death in Fullerton or shoot them as the sit in their wheelchairs in Houston, San Antonio, or San Francisco. They can gun down 12-year-olds brandishing toy guns and then deny them immediate first aid in Cleveland.
Not only can Americans who “fail to follow orders” be killed, so can our very most vulnerable die at their untrained hands. The police can kill our children as they sleep in their beds in a no-knock raid at the wrong house address in Detroit. A SWAT team can throw a grenade into a baby’s crib in Georgia and suffer no lasting consequences after condemning another to a lifetime of pain and disfigurement.
In Ferguson, a 6’2″ 210 pound police officer can actually peer into the lens of history and deadpan about the “demon” coming at him: “I felt like a 5 year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” his ridiculous statement used to ignite the resulting firestorm.
From the famous victims – Oscar Grant, Alex Nieto, Eric Garner, Kajieme Powell, James Boyd, Rodney King, Kelly Thomas, Keith Vidal – to the countless thousands who have been kicked, stomped, punched, clubbed, shot in the back or while they were handcuffed, slammed into brick walls, pepper sprayed, beaten or tazed into comas, the awful truth is finally resonating. We need a database for this information – now – because when we have ordinary citizens trying to police these jack booted thugs, all hell can break lose and does.
Chanting Broken Culture‘s lyrics – “No justice, no peace, f**k the police” as we try to burn down our cities will not save us. Felony rioting is felony rioting whether the “cause” has been the San Francisco Giants’ World Series win every two years or the failure to indict a bad cop.
We cannot say on one hand that we refuse to tolerate outrageous or racist cops if we expect the cops to tolerate our retaliatory lawlessness on the other.
At the same time, we should not pretend we do not understand such outrage. The deaths of our children make us furious warriors, and those who have been left behind in the wake of such unreasonable violence are victimized, too. We can rant and protest – peacefully – but ultimately we will have to fight police misconduct inside our courts.
It takes courage. I have felt the same moral outrage for the past 57 months since the suicide baiting death of my only child Dylan Yount in Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, on February 16, 2010, when 24 SFPD officers stood by and watched a felony happen – CA Penal Code 401 – without ever intervening to stop it. If I could have burned down Powell and Market Streets singlehandedly that night, I might have.
Today, I stand in solidarity with the parents of Mike Brown. They have lost their son who is “gone too soon.” And they have lost Round One for justice. I hope they will take their text for action from the case of the late Rodney King. While the LA police who nearly beat King to death were exonerated in the criminal trial, they were found guilty in civil proceedings. King had been thrust violently into history and his questions – “Can we all get along? Can we stop making this horrible?” – will always remain for us to answer. For those of us who keep fighting legally, both answers are yes.