The Beginnings of Civil Rights Movement Against Police Criminality And Brutality


Taking it to the next level …

This time it could be different.

The Michael Brown and Eric Garner travesties could be the sparks to ignite a Civil Rights Movement against police criminality and brutality.

And the political establishment has noted the intensity of the protests and the qualitative escalation.

Immediately after the Eric Garner charade the Department of Justice announced a civil rights investigation that could result in action against his killer, officer Daniel Pantaleo; in St. Louis, the DOJ already had been investigating the killing of Brown by Darren Wilson.

In a new development here in New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has asked governor Andrew Cuomo for power that would allow him to prosecute officers who kill unarmed civilians. Meanwhile the state legislature will also review the grand jury process in general. In Washington, members of the Congressional Black Caucus have announced that they will seek a hearing over police brutality and also focus on the St. Louis and New York cases.

Yes there have been huge protests in the past, following outrageous killings, including: the shooting down of Amadou Diallo by New York Police Department (N.Y.P.D.) officers as he stood on the porch of the house where he lived; and, the mowing down of Sean Bell on the morning when he was supposed to be married while seated with friends inside a car after his bachelor party.

There have been many other other outrageous killings that led to massive protests.

But we get the sense that the ongoing protests are bringing in the most diverse groups so far.

People took the streets to reject the proceedings in St. Louis and New York, where first a grand jury failed to find probable cause that Darren Wilson committed a crime when on August 9 he chased down and shot the unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.; and then after a grand jury on Staten Island also failed to allow a criminal case to be initiated against Daniel Pantaleo who on July 17 strangled Eric Garner.

We’re seeing young folk, including students, at the forefront of the protests, closing down bridges, shutting off sections of highways, and staging “die ins” and staging marches.  But we also see that they’re joined by middle-aged people, the elderly, elected officials, and members of the clergy.

The protestors, males and females, are multi ethnic, multi racial, multi national, and multi religious.

And these aren’t just the traditional folk who consistently come out to protest against police brutality and the systemic failure of the political establishment and the so-called criminal justice system to prosecute officers who commit crimes against unarmed Black folk, primarily Black males.

We also see folk who have now started to realize how oppressive the economic system is; as well as those who oppose the states militarized response to legitimate public protests as a way to quash dissent in other future arenas.

After the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown the police department in St. Louis and Ferguson added insult to injury, or fuel to fire, by unleashing the full force of a militarized force on the protesting people of Ferguson; the police deployed armored vehicles with mounted machine guns and officers dressed up and combat fatigues and used teargas.

The police probably calculated that they could get away with it. After all, the White majority in St. Louis and around the country would understand the need to contain the Black underclass.  If allowed to cause mayhem in Ferguson and St. Louis, they would be able to do the same thing elsewhere in the United States; in “everybody’s” backyard.

The move backfired.

What people saw was abuse of power –domestic militarism– that would affect Black folk, White folk, and all other Americans.

If this kind of wrong, overwhelming, disproportionate, show of military power was allowed to be used against people — Black and White by the way — who were protesting the egregious killing of an unarmed Black man, who is to say the same military approach won’t be used in other protests that may not be confined to the shooting of a Black person by police?

This was an important awakening. It means there are many White Americans who reject attempts by the political establishment –which includes the police forces  to justify domestic militarism by playing the race card; “us”, meaning Whites, against “them”, meaning Black folk.

This is why the multi racial component of the demonstrators is also important. It means finally a large segment of the populace now accepts that African Americans have not been making outlandish claims against the police departments and that police in fact commit criminal killings against Black folk and get to walk.  Nothing could have highlighted that better than the video showing that Daniel Pantaleo could have arrested Eric Garner by simply coming in front of him, drawing his service weapon and ordering him under arrest; instead he chose to jump him from behind and strangle him. And then not even have to face a criminal trial.

The Garner killing also highlights the economic inequities in this country.  In a country of billionaires and multi millionaires, where wealth is increasingly concentrated in a narrowing segment, we have the Eric Garners who can barely scratch enough to make a living. He had been out there allegedly selling loose cigarettes to support himself and his family. And how much can someone really make from selling loose cigarettes and is that something that anyone should be strangled to death for?

And how many more Eric Garners are out there struggling to support families?  And what are the economic conditions in many Black communities when the focus is always on “crime rates” as if they have no correlation to unemployment rates and poverty.

In 1964 when the Civil Rights laws were introduced the national Black unemployment rate was 10% which was double the 5% rate for Whites. In November 2014, unemployment rate for Black was 11.1% more than double White unemployment at 4.9%; in St. Louis the rate for Blacks is almost 18% while for Whites 5.7%.

In Ferguson, Brown’s murder also exposed the ugly underbelly of the economy there as a result of the apartheid-like structure of the police department. There are only three Black officers in a force of 50 officers when in fact there should be at least 35.   The average salary for officers in St. Louis is $66,000 which means Ferguson is being deprived of about $2.1 million in annual possible purchasing and spending power if indeed there were 32 more officers from within the community.

So in addition to the people who are outraged by historical police brutality we now have showing up: those who oppose U.S. spending priorities disproportionately favoring the military over spending on social, educational, and economic growth-oriented programs; we have war resisters; and we have those who generally oppose U.S. militarism domestically and overseas.

The protests have now built beyond outrage over the unjust and criminal killings of two unarmed Black males, Brown and Garner.

These are the possible beginnings of something much bigger and sustainable.

These are some TEN DEMANDS we suggest that the demonstrators make or incorporate into their own:

1. Police must reflect the community that they police given the current circumstances. The Michael Brown tragedy exposed Ferguson’s ugly apartheid-like police structure.

2. Any police officer involved in any major encounter with a member of the public, leading to the serious injury or death of the civilian, must all be tested at the scene for drugs and alcohol.

3. Following every major incident between a police officer and member of the public that leads to the death of a civilian the police officer must be interviewed immediately by an independent investigator who reports to the scene with other officers responding to the incident. The officer’s union representative can be present but the first interview must be conducted by independent investigators before the accounts are possibly later embellished. If the interview is conducted by an Internal Affairs officer an officer from the civilian complaint review board must also be present.

4. Independent Prosecutors must handle all criminal proceedings against police officers charged with shooting unarmed civilians or killing them in some other manner including chokeholds.

5. Police officers must all wear body cameras to document their interaction with members of the public — this would protect both the officers and civilians they interact with.

6. Prejudicial policies that promote racial profiling such as biased and/or selective policing, including stop-and-frisk even when the individual is not engaged in any suspicious activity or “broken windows” must be abandoned.

7. Police officers who are convicted of wrongful killing of civilians in a trial or who are fired after department proceedings should forfeit their pensions, or portions of it if the abuse does not result in death.

8. Officers must be able to anonymously and safely expose police misconduct and police brutality to an independent body without fear of being retaliated against.

9. Banning police departments from deploying military equipment including armored vehicles when confronting peaceful demonstrators.

10. Having an elected chief of a civilian complaint review board –not one appointed by a mayor– whose office reviews every precinct and issues a semi-annual and annual report on precincts and officers; the position is as important as that of a district attorney.



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