What a mess America is in right now. Between Covid-19, the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others, high unemployment and whatever Trump and the Democrats are fighting about this week it’s as if the whole country is upside down. One blog post obviously can’t cover it all. But there are a few things I’d like to address. We The People are getting kicked around pretty badly, and sadly a lot of it isn’t Us vs Them. It’s Us vs Us. But that is something we can fix.
Much of what enrages us nowadays is the abuse of authority by law enforcement. Say what you will, but minorities are bearing the brunt of most of it. Not all, but most. George Floyd, Phillip Castile, and Ahmaud Arbery should all be alive right now. True enough, George Floyd was no angel. But there are far-worse people wandering around free. And Floyd presented no threat to the arresting officers. He was outnumbered 4 to 1. He was handcuffed. He was on the ground. The cops should have gotten him up, loaded him in the car and took him to town. He deserved his day in court. He absolutely did not deserve to die.
Castile was cooperating with police. But a cop fired seven rounds through his windshield. Ahmaud Arbery wasn’t killed by police. He died at the hands of two knuckle-dragging rednecks. Had Arbery trespassed? Perhaps. Had he stolen anything? No. Was he breaking the law when he was murdered? No.
At the risk of sounding racist to those who look for any excuse to use the word, please allow me to point out the simple fact that it isn’t just blacks and other minorities who are being abused and/or murdered by law enforcement. Consider the following…
|James King (2014)
Two undercover cops (a Grand Rapids, MI police detective and an FBI agent) mistook King for a fugitive. When they took his wallet he thought he was being mugged and tried to flee. The cops did not identify themselves as such. He was tackled, choked and beaten senseless, and even though he wasn’t the fugitive in question he was still charged with multiple felonies. He was finally cleared, but as of this writing has yet to receive any compensation for his injuries. A civil case is ongoing.
|Justine Diamond (2017)
Justine moved from Australia to the US to marry her fiance, Don Diamond. One evening she thought she heard screaming outside her home and called 9-1-1. When police arrived she walked out (unarmed) to meet them and explain what she’d heard. One of the officers, a Somali immigrant named Mohamed Noor fired across his partner, striking Diamond in the abdomen. He initially claimed it was self-defense. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
|Jeremy Mardis (2016)
Six year-old Jeremy was riding with his father. Police pulled him over following a complaint against him. Accounts of what followed vary, but evidence shows that his father, Christopher Few, was sitting in the car with his hands up. Cops fired into the car and several of the rounds hit Jeremy, a little autistic boy. He died at the scene.
|Air Force Capt. Nicolas Aquino (2013)
Aquino was at home when a cop showed up investigating a “suspicious, hoodie-wearing Hispanic man walking around the property.” A neighbor, who apparently didn’t know Aquino had made the call. Aquino produced his USAF ID. The cop said that wasn’t enough. So Aquino said he’d get his driver’s license. As he turned to go get it, the cop grabbed him and threw him down. He was handcuffed and put in the patrol car, then later released. Amazingly, he was charged a couple of weeks later with resisting an officer. These charges were dropped, but that was the end of his Air Force career. In 2018 he finally got a $200,000 settlement from the county.
|Tony Timpa (2016)
Timpa called 911 on Aug. 10, 2016, from the parking lot of a Dallas, TX porn shop, saying he was afraid and needed help. He told a dispatcher he suffered from schizophrenia and depression and was off his prescription medication. Like Justine Diamond above, Tony called 9-1-1 for help and somehow ended up dead. Officers claimed Timpa was aggressive and combative. Recently released video evidence shows otherwise. His hands were cuffed behind his back, his legs were zip-tied together and he was held face-down in the dirt for a quarter-hour. He suffocated. Sound familiar?
|Daniel Shaver (2016)
Daniel was an exterminator. He used a pellet gun to bring down birds inside retail outlets with high ceilings. He and some friends were at a hotel in Arizona and they were on the balcony checking out Tony’s new pellet gun. Someone saw the gun and called the police. Tony exited the room into the hallway unarmed. The cop had him crawling to him on his hands and knees. Tony was intoxicated, and his pants were slipping down as he crawled. He reached down to grab his waistband and the cop shot him five times with an AR-15. The cop was acquitted on all charges.
How Do Cops and Government Agents Get Away With Abuse?
That’s just six incidents, but there are many more. Percentage-wise, blacks are far more at risk of getting shot by a cop. In terms of raw numbers, cops shoot a lot more whites than blacks. And certainly they’re not all victims of police misconduct. Most people regardless of race who get shot by a cop did something to deserve it. From the stats I’ve seen, Asians run the lowest risk of being gunned down by a police officer in America. Lucky them.
All that said, why are so many people of all colors wrongfully shot, beaten and otherwise mistreated by cops, and how do the cops so often get acquitted or just get a comparative slap on the wrist? I see two reasons. First, it seems that just about any asshole can get a badge these days. There are some truly despicable people working in law enforcement. And as a long-haul trucker I see more than my share of them. Second, back in the 60s the US Supreme Court came up with a legal doctrine called “Qualified Immunity.”
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine in United States federal law that shields government officials from being sued for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity, unless their actions violated “clearly established” federal law or constitutional rights. It is intended to protect officials who “make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions”, extending to “all [officials] but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law”. Qualified immunity applies only to government officials, and does not protect the government itself from suits arising from officials’ actions.
The U.S. Supreme Court first introduced the qualified immunity doctrine in 1967, originally with the rationale of protecting law enforcement officials from frivolous lawsuits and financial liability in cases where they acted in good faith in unclear legal situations. Starting around 2005, courts increasingly applied the doctrine to cases involving the use of excessive or deadly force by police, leading to widespread criticism that it, in the words of a 2020 Reuters report, “has become a nearly failsafe tool to let police brutality go unpunished and deny victims their constitutional rights”
In other words, if a cop thinks you’re the guy who mugged his brother in-law he can beat your brains out and claim you resisted arrest. But later, when it’s proven you weren’t the assailant the cop can just say he made an honest mistake and you get nothing. Ain’t it great to be an American!
There are several legal actions taking place at present to challenge the abuse of Qualified Immunity. And it has to change. It is grossly unfair that a cop can commit a crime against a law-abiding citizen and then hide behind his/her badge to avoid responsibility for it. Some states truly take a dim view of police misconduct and discipline unruly cops appropriately. But most do not. And the police unions are also a problem. They’ll stick up for a “brother officer” regardless of what he’s done. More than ever before, there is a gang mentality within law enforcement.
Consider the recent incident involving Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young in Atlanta, GA. Now first, let’s be aware of the fact that Messiah Young (driving the car) tried to drive away from the cops. That was a mistake. If the cop says STOP, you stop. It really is just that simple. He wasn’t being violent by any stretch of the imagination, but he blatantly tried to get away. But what about his passenger, Taniyah Pilgrim? She was guilty of nothing but being in the car. A very small young woman who was scared half out of her mind. Was it necessary to yank her from the vehicle, slam her to the ground and rough her up? I can see no justification for it. Apparently Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms didn’t see the need either. She fired two of the cops involved. The others are on desk duty pending an investigation.
The DA immediately filed charges against the two cops, but Mayor Bottoms vocally disagreed, as did the police union. Apparently slamming an innocent young woman to the pavement, then yanking her around the street doesn’t qualify as assault in her eyes or those of the union.
But here’s another example that while it ended in tragedy, cannot be blamed on the officer…
Ciara Meyer (2016)
Twelve year-old Ciara Meyer was accidentally killed in her home after Constable Clarke Steele fired a single shot at her father Donald Meyer, who was armed with a rifle. Steele was there to serve an eviction notice. But Ciara’s father pointed a .223 rifle at the constable, who drew his weapon and fired. The bullet hit Donald Meyer in the arm, passed completely through and struck Ciara in the chest. She died at the scene.
Manslaughter charges were brought against Donald Meyer but not Constable Steele and I agree. Had Meyer not threatened Steele with a gun, Steele would have had no reason to draw his service weapon and fire. A pretty little girl, well-loved by friends and family, gone in an instant. She probably felt safe hiding behind her dad. Too bad her dad is an idiot.
One of the most infamous acts of violence against civilians occurred in May of 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio. President Nixon had campaigned on ending the Vietnam War, but had instead escalated it by sending troops into Cambodia. Anti-war protests became violent and they even burned down the ROTC building on campus. Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom declared a state of emergency and called the office of Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes to seek assistance. This led to the Ohio National Guard being called in to assist.
On May 4th, 1970 Companies A and C, 1/145th Infantry and Troop G of the 2/107th Armored Cavalry, Ohio National Guard (ARNG), the units on the campus grounds, attempted to disperse the students as another protest was beginning. Efforts to disperse the crowd failed and some of the protestors began throwing rocks at the troops. Eventually the students began to retreat, albeit grudgingly, over an area known as Blanket Hill. One could make the case that had the guardsmen not followed them, they might have dispersed on their own at this point. Sadly, that isn’t what happened. Four students wound up dead and twelve more were injured.
While on the practice field, the guardsmen generally faced the parking lot, which was about 100 yards (91 m) away. At one point, some of them knelt and aimed their weapons toward the parking lot, then stood up again. At one point the guardsmen formed a loose huddle and appeared to be talking to one another. They had cleared the protesters from the Commons area, and many students had left, but some stayed and were still angrily confronting the soldiers, some throwing rocks and tear gas canisters. About 10 minutes later, the guardsmen began to retrace their steps back up the hill toward the Commons area. Some of the students on the Taylor Hall veranda began to move slowly toward the soldiers as they passed over the top of the hill and headed back into the Commons.
During their climb back to Blanket Hill, several guardsmen stopped and half-turned to keep their eyes on the students in the Prentice Hall parking lot. At 12:24 p.m., according to eyewitnesses, a sergeant named Myron Pryor turned and began firing at the crowd of students with his .45 pistol. A number of guardsmen nearest the students also turned and fired their rifles at the students. In all, at least 29 of the 77 guardsmen claimed to have fired their weapons, using an estimate of 67 rounds of ammunition. The shooting was determined to have lasted 13 seconds, although John Kifner reported in The New York Times that “it appeared to go on, as a solid volley, for perhaps a full minute or a little longer.” The question of why the shots were fired remains widely debated.
The adjutant general of the Ohio National Guard told reporters that a sniper had fired on the guardsmen, which remains a debated allegation. Many guardsmen later testified that they were in fear for their lives, which was questioned partly because of the distance between them and the students killed or wounded. Time magazine later concluded that “triggers were not pulled accidentally at Kent State.” The President’s Commission on Campus Unrest avoided probing the question of why the shootings happened. Instead, it harshly criticized both the protesters and the Guardsmen, but it concluded that “the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”
Less than two weeks after the Kent State shootings another incident occurred at Jackson State University in Jackson, MS. Two protestors were killed by police shotgun fire and twelve more were wounded.
A group of around 100 black students had gathered on Lynch Street (named after black Reconstruction Era congressman John R. Lynch), which bisected the campus, on the evening of Thursday, May 14. The group “were reportedly pelting rocks at white motorists driving down the main road through campus — frequently the site of confrontations between white and black Jackson residents.” By 9:30 p.m. the students had started fires, thrown rocks at motorists, and overturned vehicles including a large truck, after a false rumor spread of the death of Charles Evers. Firefighters dispatched to the scene quickly requested police support.
The police responded in force. At least 75 Jackson police units from the city of Jackson and the Mississippi Highway Patrol attempted to control the crowd while the firemen extinguished the fires. After the firefighters had left the scene shortly before midnight, the police moved to disperse the crowd that had gathered in front of Alexander Hall, a women’s dormitory.
Advancing to within 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 m) of the crowd, at roughly 12:05 a.m., officers opened fire on the dormitory. The exact cause of the shooting and the moments leading up to it are unclear. Authorities say they saw a sniper on one of the building’s upper floors and were being sniped in all directions. Later two city policemen and one state patrolman reported minor injuries from flying glass, and an FBI search for evidence of sniper fire was negative. The students say they did not provoke the officers. The gunfire lasted for 30 seconds, and more than 460 shots were fired by a reported 40 state highway patrolmen using shotguns from 30 to 50 feet. Every window on the narrow side of the building facing Lynch Street was shattered.
The crowd scattered and a number of people were trampled or cut by falling glass. Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, a junior, and James Earl Green, 17, a senior and miler at nearby Jim Hill High School, were killed; twelve others were wounded. Gibbs was killed near Alexander Hall by buckshot, while Green was killed behind the police line in front of B. F. Roberts Hall, also with a shotgun.
Okay hold on. These were not peaceful protests. In both cases protestors were threatening others and were destroying property. It’s one thing to get out in the street and speak your mind. Marching in peaceful protest is as American as apple pie. We have the right to peaceably assemble and to petition government for redress of grievances. But we do not have the right to wreak havoc upon our fellow Americans. It’s deeply regrettable that these young people died, but they had stepped far outside the bounds peaceful protest. Violence was answered with violence.
America has a violent and bloody history. I could keep going back in time here. Maybe talk about “how the West was won” and the royal screwing the natives got. Or maybe how many of our Founding Fathers were slave owners. Or how settlers wrecked Native American culture by bringing war, disease and Christianity to their shores. But no. This little rant is about current events. It’s not a history lesson.
The abuse of citizens by authorities is a symptom of a larger problem. And from where I’m sitting I can see only one cure. It’s time to stop keeping score. We can’t end the fight if everyone is determined to get the last punch. Cops need to learn that humility and kindness often serve better than this bad boy shit they’re playing nowadays. Civilians of all colors need to knock the chips off their own shoulders and learn to get along with each other and the cops. I’m about as white as white can get, and I could not care less what color you are, where you came from or who you married. I’ve got mixed-race grandchildren. Do I love them less than my white grandchildren? Ask them. They’ll look at you like you’re stupid and ask, “Pawpaw? Seriously?”
We have to stop all the whataboutism and concern ourselves with making our nation great for all of us. Stop the abuse. Stop the looting. Get over your ill-informed preconceptions about others, whether it’s race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs (or the lack thereof) and whatever else you choose to employ to make yourself feel like you’re “better” than your neighbor. We have one nation and one life to live in it. What sort of nation shall we leave behind for future generations? I’d prefer my aforementioned grandchildren to live without fearing for their lives when they walk down the street. That’s not too much to ask.
Sources and Related Reading
- Qualified Immunity
- James King
- Capt. Nicolás Aquino
- Jeremy Mardis
- Justine Diamond
- Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young
- Shootings At Kent State and Jackson State Universities
- Ciara Meyer
- Ahmaud Arbery
- Tony Timpa
- Daniel Shaver