Stuff White People Say

June 4, 2009

Justifiable Homicide

Filed under: Uncategorized — jwbe @ 5:59 pm

On Racismreview is a post about the tragic shooting of Omar Edwards. There it reads:

“Edwards had seen someone – an actual criminal – breaking into a car and decided to pursue him, even though he was off duty.  The suspect breaking into the car started to run away and Edward chased him with his gun drawn. It was at this point that a white cop, later identified as Andrew Dutton, saw Edwards, yelled “Police! Stop!” and when Edwards turned with his gun still drawn, Dutton shot and killed him.
Why did Dutton assume that Edwards was a suspect? The plain fact of it is because Edwards was a black man and that Dutton interpreted that to mean that Edwards was, therfore, a suspect. 

The other somehow ignored fact in this case is nonetheless, that Edwards was armed. Which doesn’t automatically make him a suspect, but it raised for me the question, how cops make sure/should make sure, that an armed person in plainclothes is not a suspect but a cop. In addition the quote means to me the assumption that in general there is nothing wrong with the police forces, means, police would act always decent towards non-Black people.

I searched for more information how cops can realize cops without uniform and found this:

Off-Duty and Plainclothes Police Encounters

The burden on proving identity in any confrontation should rest on the confronted officer whether on or off duty

A challenging officer should use sound tactics and judgment in approaching the situation

This puts, from my understanding, the confronting officer in a privileged position, where he can get too easily the benefit of the doubt. Which raises another question for me: How should Edwards know that the person confronting him in plainclothes with allegedly shouting ‘Police! Stop!’ is actually a cop?

In the comments section of Racismreview Mordy told me:
“Here, i’ll make it easier for you, find us the time (or 2, or 3 or 10) that a white cop was accidently killed by a group of cops of any race? You will be looking for a very long time. These shootings simply can not be labeled as mistakes for this very reason. If they were truly random mistakes, every 3 or 4 times there’d be a white cop accidently killed. History simply does not bear this out.

and No1Kstate wrote on his/her blog:
“Yeah. I got two stories. One is here from Basically, an off-duty black cop was killed by a white cop basically because he’s black. Yeah . . . I guess someone could argue the same thing would’ve or could’ve happened had the off-duty cop been white. But then, of course, I must ask – why doesn’t it happen that a plain clothed white officer is killed by mistake by fellow officers?

later adding the information:
Update: h/t to commenter jwbe for bringing this to my attention. Apparently, there have been white officers accidently killed by other officers. Though it does seem rare.”

Via the website I found white officers, male and female, being shot by other officers because of mistaken for a suspect. This doesn’t deny the existence of racism as a main-problem in using deadly force, but it raises the question – why do such mistakes happen and are they really always mistakes or are they abuse of power with the most stigmatized group (Black people)the most affected. Why is police even allowed to have a quite immune position when it comes to police brutality and shootings, too much of this considered “justifiable”.

I think that the racism of society contributes to this. Based on my assumption that police brutality or “justifiable homicides” aren’t so widely reported, people can get the impression that there are a) only a few victims and b) only or almost only Black victims. A racist society doesn’t feel inclined to challenge police and their actions when negative police actions allegedly impacts only “the other”. This is the way how a white supremacist nation produces silent by-standers, even if they themselves could become victims, although in lower numbers (rate), of the system they support. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that many of those also white victims shot by police are poor.

I was also looking for police using deadly force towards civilians, called ‘justifiable homicides’
according statistics by the FBI:

Justifiable homicide by police 1976-98
In this report, killings by police are
referred to as “justifiable homicides,”
and the persons that police kill are
referred to as “felons.” These terms
reflect the view of the police agencies
that provide the data used in this report.

Of the 183 million whites in 1998,
police killed 225; of the 27 million
blacks, police killed 127. While the rate
(per million population) at which blacks
were killed by police in 1998 was about
4 times that of whites

According to FBI national data on justifiable
homicides by police from 1976 to
1998 —
8,578 felons were justifiably killed
by police in the United States.

• The largest number of recorded justifiable
homicides in a single year was 459
(in 1994), and the smallest number was
296 (in 1987) .
• On average 373 felons were lawfully
killed by police each year.

• 98% of persons justifiably killed
by police were males
• Males were slain by police in justifiable
homicides at a rate almost 40 times that
of females (39 deaths of males per
10 million male residents versus 1
death per 10 million female residents)
(figure 3).

• According to latest statistics (1998),
the average age of felons killed by
police is 32, and half are age 30 or

• Of all felons justifiably killed by police
from 1976 to 1998, the majority were
young white males under age 25 (16%),
young black males under age 25 (16%),
white males age 25 or older (39%), and
black males age 25 or older (25%).

The officer in a justifiable homicide
case is almost always a male (98%)

• From 1976 to 1998 the officer in 84%
of justifiable homicides by police was
white, and the officer in 15% was black

• In most years officers ages 25 to 29
accounted for more justifiable
homicides than any other age category

another source writes
The problem of fatal police shootings in America goes beyond a few bad apples. It points to persistent and systemic problems that lead to ongoing tragedies for communities of color. Between 1980 and 2005, close to 9,600 people were killed by police in America — an average of about one fatal shooting every day. However, the real number may be higher due to underreporting by some departments to the federal government. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by claiming there were 79 fatal police shootings from 2000 to 2005. Yet only 38 fatal shootings were reported to the federal government for the same period. […]

African Americans are particularly at risk of being killed by police. Black people were overrepresented among victims in each of America’s 10 largest cities. This contrast was particularly glaring in New York, Las Vegas and San Diego, where the percentage of black people killed was at least double their share of the general population. “There is a crisis of perception where African American males and females take their lives in their hands just walking out the door,” said Delores Jones-Brown, interim director of the Center on Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College in New York. “There is a notion they will be perceived as armed and dangerous. It’s clear that it’s not a local problem.”

The shootings may be explained in part by implicit bias on the part of police officers, according to research by University of Chicago Professor Joshua Correll. In New York, connecting negative stereotypes with racial identity was considered as a factor in the 1999 fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo and the 2006 shooting of Sean Bell — both of which involved black male victims being killed by more than 40 shots fired by officers.

Another key part of the equation: a disturbing lack of internal accountability from local police departments.
Yet little seems to happen to these and other officers accused of killing residents. Chicago’s initial “roundtable” investigations of 85 officers cleared all but one of them — and that officer got a promotion two years later.
A similar situation exists in Phoenix, which had the highest rate of fatal police shootings among the nation’s 10 largest cities. Although there were more than 100 incidents of officer-involved shootings in the city during the past five years, and numerous shootings in neighboring jurisdictions, only one shooting in the county has resulted in criminal charges being filed against the officer who fired — and that was for the fatal shooting of a white woman.
According an article there can be additional problems within the police force that can lead to using deadly force:

In early 1990, Cain shot and killed a man on 12th Avenue in San Diego. Seven months later he killed again, in Ocean Beach. He fired shots at a man in 1993, but missed. […] John Cain was a San Diego police officer. […]
He was among 29 city cops involved in more than one shooting between 1990 and 2001. Those officers were responsible for almost one-third of the 151 officer-involved shootings during those years, according to an analysis by The San Diego Union-Tribune. […]
The Christopher Commission, created in Los Angeles after Rodney King’s beating provoked race riots in 1992, found that 183 officers out of a force of more than 9,000 had four or more complaints against them for shootings or other allegations of excessive force. […]
A 1998 study by Human Rights Watch found that most police departments nationwide do not take sufficient action against officers repeatedly accused of excessive force. […] The state penal code shields an officer’s disciplinary record from public view. However, court files show that at least 10 of the department’s multiple shooters have been sued, some over allegations of brutality and racism.

For me the conclusion is that racism is an additional factor to already disturbing problems within police forces. Facing ‘death penalty’ for being at the wrong time at the wrong place and as an additional high risk factor being a Black male.
Add to this the fact that the US has the highest incarceration rate of the world, that the US still has a corrupt death penalty system with the belief it could be an appropriate way to punish, with life without parole for juvenile offenders, boot camps etc, it becomes quite clear (at least to me) that the executive, judges and juries have too much power without any serious counter-power to challenge them and hold them accountable for their actions and mis-judgements.

The “justice” system in the US represents itself as a very violent one and the question should be asked, of how much worth is human life in a system like this? Not so much, when even innocent people can be legally sentenced to death without a national up-rising and when police gets the immunity of playing judges over death and life without facing serious consequences for their mis-judgements.

1 Comment »

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    Comment by — April 10, 2013 @ 3:30 am | Reply

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