Featured Post

Police Keep On Policing Different People Differently

Antwon Rose was 17-years-old when police shot and killed him. He was riding in a car suspected to have been involved in an earlier shooting, and when police pulled the car and its driver over, Rose tried to flee. Is it tempting to wonder what he might have answered if asked, “Why did you run?” Of course, but thinking of such things is a waste of time. There is no undoing what is done.

Michael Rosfeld, who had literally been sworn in just hours before killing Rose, shot the teenager three times. Rose was guilty of running. Running is not enough to justify a shooting though, so Rosfeld has waffled as to whether or not he thought Rose had a gun; Rose, of course, did not actually have a gun but suspecting a gun is more than enough for most police, prosecuting attorneys, and juries. Witnesses reported that Rose was simply running from the police, an entirely understandable human response given the very reasonable fear that some communities necessarily have of armed officers, but Rosfeld denied Rose his humanity.

Rosfeld has been charged with criminal homicide, a wide-ranging crime that allows a jury to consider the possibilities of murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter. This is progress, as charges so rarely accompany killings, although it remains to be seen whether a jury will actually convict. American juries, on the rare occasions that killings actually reach them, have tended to give police incredible leeway when it comes to executing those that they are ostensibly there to police.

Rosfeld’s defenders will, inevitably, point to the perceived gun as the justification for Rose’s killing. They will insist that officers merely need to believe that there is a threat – regardless if such a threat actually exists – to make Rosfeld’s decision to shoot at a fleeing teenager tolerable. They will insist that any attempt to account for the fact that Rose was actually unarmed is Monday morning quarterbacking. They will insist that police are doing a thankless, dangerous job. They will insist that those questioning police tactics do not understand the realities of policing. They will insist that officers are engaged in one of the most dangerous jobs in American society. And, finally, they will insist that although there are occasional examples of police overreach, this is not one of them, and that attempts to litigate this one shift attention from all of the more serious examples.

Will the execution of Jason Erik Washington count as one of those more serious examples? Probably not. Washington was killed by Portland State University officers Shawn McKenzie and James Dewey. Washington’s gun – that he had a permit to concealed carry, which itself is supposed to be some sort of protection against the state (although it rarely is for some credentialed carriers) – fell from its holster after he intervened in a dispute at a local bar; one patron had called another patron a racial slur and Washington was seeking to defuse the situation. Officers arrived on the scene, spotted Washington trying to retrieve the fallen weapon, and shot at Washington ten times, hitting him multiple times. He died on the scene. Bystanders reported that Washington was simply trying to break up a fight between other people; the police managed to avoid hitting either of them.

Washington was a Navy veteran, a father of three, a grandfather of one, and permitted to have the gun that he had. None of it apparently mattered to the police who killed him.

It is tempting to believe that some people are getting policed very differently than other people. Rose and Washington are both dead, both having been shot multiple times by officers who thought they perceived significant danger. They join a long list of minorities gunned down by police who perceived their existence as threatening.  John Crawford had a BB gun in an Ohio Walmart, which is not actually illegal; Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun in a park, which is not actually illegal; Stephon Clark did not have anything at all, which is not actually illegal.

But what happens when officers encounter actual danger? We can ask Shane Ryan Sealy, an Alabama man who decided to troll public protests against Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown, trolling that first included cantankerous screaming, and then included pointing a pistol at various protestors who tried to interact with him. We can ask Sealy because he is still alive. After attempting to flee, he encountered police officers who arrested him and charged him with misdemeanor menacing and reckless endangerment.

Sealy is still alive. Despite being armed and presumably dangerous, given his quick willingness to threaten the lives of those around him, Sealy was not shot multiple times, he was not shot once, nor was he even shot at. He was apprehended and charged with misdemeanors and, unlike Rose and Washington (and Castile and Crawford and Rice and Clark), is still alive.

Those who defend the police will dispute this comparison too. They will insist that these are different situations with different officers; they will insist that each of these incidents needs to be understood independently of one another; they will insist that the perceived threat posted by both Rose (fleeing) and Washington (reaching for a weapon) both trump Sealy’s actual threats, and they will insist that these perceptions are what really matters.

To their credit, they will be right about that.

 


Senior Editor
Twitter Instagram 

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

22 thoughts on “Police Keep On Policing Different People Differently

  1. And the desperate silence of the NRA with regard to cases like Washington continues.

    Not sure why they don’t just give up and merge with the various Fraternal Order of Police, or what ever the national Police Protection Racket is called?

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • So guys like Washington deserve to be shot to death for no reason as collective punishment?

      No?

      Then maybe lay some cards on the table instead of making gnomic allusions to dubiously relevant statistics.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • I don’t want to come off as attacking anyone here, but it seems to me that Sam is implicitly lining up those dubious gnomes himself. I assume that you’d agree with me that this article alludes to a notion that blacks and whites get treated differently. If that is what Sam is saying, then it seems meaningful to question the validity of his implicit generalization. I don’t believe he is listing specific cases without an eye toward making a general claim, so I don’t think I’m overstepping by addressing that general claim.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • Well yes, because there’s substantial evidence that whites and blacks do get treated differently, and given that in both these specific cases the black people being shot had done nothing to warrant being shot means it’s hard to see what possible relevance the crime rates have to do with anything.

          It can’t possibly excuse or even mitigate such shootings.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Not to mention of course some amount of the higher “crime rate” among black people is a direct result of being overpoliced relative to white people.

            White people are probably more likely to be in possession of drugs – as evidence, the percentage of police searches of white people that find drugs is higher.

            But black people are more likely to be found in possession of drugs – because the higher rates at which they get searched by police, and the lower rates at which they get away with a warning when found in possession, are more than enough to offset their lower rates of actual possession – for an overall higher rate of possession arrests, and therefore a higher recorded rate of the crime of drug possession.

              Quote  Link

            Report

              • There is probably much less of an overpolicing factor there.

                Overconvicting (relative to white people) might have a bit to do with it though. For example, white defendants tend to get self-defence arguments recognized in cases where black defendants wouldn’t. Partly that’s likely because white people tend to be richer and so have better lawyers, but partly also because juries are just harder on black defendants.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

  2. The Jason Erik Washington situation and response, or more to the point lack there of, is so similar to Philando Castile (at least insofar as what is known at this time) in the silence from a majority of 2A orgs and groups as it has to be taken as a pattern. A maddeningly, unforgivable pattern.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. As I mentioned to Dark Matter on the other threads, statistics don’t help us here since the story is captured in testimony and witness.

    We have millions of black and brown people describing mistreatment and abuse, of being treated with disdain and disrespect.

    Not one or two, millions. Not one group of black people, but all groups; rich black people, poor black people; black people from every single state, from all different walks of life, from all age groups;

    They all are telling the same story, and have for decades, since longer than any of us have been alive.The stories all vary in particulars but all follow the same arc.

    The counter narrative, that racism isn’t a problem requires us to believe a preposterous idea, that somehow millions of people colluded on a false story, and are lying, all the same lie.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • I don’t hear all black people saying the same thing. I’d suggest that any time you think you hear everyone saying the same thing, you should broaden the number of people you’re listening to. But I’ll grant that the complaint is common. Now, if a complaint is common, and it’s not supported by evidence, that could indicate a widespread lie, but it could also indicate a widespread mistaken belief. If the complaint is common within a culture, it could indicate a flawed belief system within that culture.

        Quote  Link

      Report

    • Messing around a little more for fleeing the scene and unarmed:

      White guys: 2 killed
      Black guys: 6 killed

      This looks like there may be an issue, but this does not take into account the number of times these males fled and were not killed. If it was equal, then this is a problem. If black guys fled 3 times or more than the white guys in 2017, then there may be a problem, but it may be about the larger numbers of fleeing black guys or about the larger number of stops police make on them, than the shooting itself.

      It is easy to point to bad cases like the ones in the article and say there is a problem (and there is for the specific cop involved), but to say there is an over all problem in the police, it will then depend more on the percentages of these killing compared to the cases were the cops did not shoot to see if there is a higher likelihood of police shooting black guys over white guys.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • “or about the larger number of stops police make on them”

        That is the biggest problem right there.

        Even the Harvard study of police shootings that many like to tout as “proving” the police shootings aren’t racist (it didn’t, and its author did not claim such), also established that cops make many more nuisance stops per capita on black people. That is where the higher percentages come from.

        Racist cops (including systematically racist cop departments) stop many more black people that white people for no good reason. (Eg, Philando Castile was pulled over somewhere where ‘driving while black’ is a really huge cop problem.) Then said cops are also more likely to pull out a gun and shoot said black people, than other cops are to shoot anybody. Which leads to the statistical pattern shown.

        As far as I can tell, that’s the explanation that fits all the various studies, statistics, etc.

        It’s why they stopped stop and frisk in NY.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  4. Pinky: Black people are about 1/8 of the US population.They commit about 1/3 of the violent crime.They account for about 1/4 of the total police killings.

    So they really deserve to be shot, when you think about it.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *