Friday, December 26, 2014

"Why Did You Shoot Me?"

Dec 24th - Toni Martin reacts to her son being shot and killed in St. Louis 
I sincerely hope you had, and are having, a pleasant holiday season.

For many in this nation, it's one clouded by the funeral of an NYPD officer shot and killed by a deranged lone gunman who was allegedly seeking some sort of sick retribution for police having killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

The season is also clouded by the death of yet another young African-American man at the hands of a police officer.
By the time you read this you've likely heard the news that around 11:15pm on Tuesday December 23rd an 18 year-old man named Antonio Martin was shot and killed by a white police officer - near St. Louis, Missouri of all places.

Remarkably, the shooting took place at a gas station in Berkeley, Missouri less than two miles from Ferguson where the repercussions of the shooting death of 18 year-old Michael Brown are still being felt around the world.

The death of Antonio Martin marks the second time a white police officer has shot and killed a black suspect in St. Louis since Michael Brown was killed.

The St. Louis police department has been quick to release details about Antonio Martin's past in an effort to back up the officer's claim that he "felt threatened" in order to show that the shooting was justified.

It may well have been. It's clear Martin was by no means perfect. If the accounts of the officer involved in the shooting and videotape are to be believed, he pulled a handgun and had a record that included armed robbery and assault, but he was still somebody's son.

According to an article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the as yet-unnamed officer was doing a routine patrol in front of a Mobile gas station when he saw two people in the parking lot and stopped to talk with, or question them about some kind of shoplifting incident.

At some point, he claims Martin came around the driver's side of the police car and "produced" a handgun which he allegedly pointed at the officer. The details of the incident get a bit fuzzy from there, but a videotape shows the officer backing away from Martin with his police revolver drawn apparently firing at Martin as he was falling to the ground.

Was Martin trying to shoot the officer? His mother (pictured above) claims her son was at the gas station with his girlfriend; but as yet there's no way to validate that - and to be fair his mother wasn't at the gas station when the incident happened.

Police risk their lives for others and have a right to defend themselves and use deadly force when necessary; it goes without saying that no one should ever produce a weapon in front of, or near a member of law enforcement and expect not to face serious consequences.

But why do those consequences so often turn deadly so quickly for people with dark skin in this country?

We often see incidents where police must respond to white suspects who could potentially be just as dangerous, and it's much more rare that those encounters turn deadly.

Consider for a moment the case of 63 year-old Joseph Houseman. If you haven't heard about this, check out this article about the incident from

Back on May 4th of this year, someone called 911 to report an intoxicated older white man walking down the street in front of a Dairy Queen in Kalamazoo, Michigan with what appeared to be an AK-47 assault rifle.

When police arrived quickly and confronted Houseman, he refused to identify himself, grabbed his crotch, flipped the police off and cursed at them. Watch the video of the incident for yourself.

The police then spent 40 minutes talking the man into relinquishing his weapon; Houseman was detained but got his weapon back the next day.

Let's be honest. Had Houseman been black or Latino, and walking down the street brandishing an assault rifle, the police would have pulled up and shot him; so is it fair to say that police officers in this nation have a totally different mental and emotional reaction to suspects with darker skin?

Let's briefly look back at what happened back in September of this year when a 31 year-old white South Carolina state trooper named Sean Groubert stopped a black driver named Levar Edwards in front of a gas station outside of Columbia, SC for driving without a seat belt.

It was broad daylight around 5pm (click the link above to see for yourself) when dashboard video from trooper Groubert's police cruiser shows Groubert with his gun drawn asking Edwards to show him his identification.

When Edwards complies with the officer's request and slowly turns to reach into his vehicle to get his ID, Groubert just begins yelling hysterically and fires four shots at Edwards; striking him once in the hip. Remember, Edwards was stopped for driving without a seat belt.

Edwards, who had his hands raised as he was being shot, can be heard asking the trooper;  
"Why did you shoot me?"  

Why did you shoot me?

That's a question members of law enforcement around this country really need to start examining, because we've clearly got a problem in America that has reached epidemic proportions.

We as a nation need to start acknowledging that something subconscious is happening in the minds of some police officers when they see someone with dark skin, and it's imperative that we start looking more deeply into the psychological reason of why that's happening and what is happening in terms of their thought process.

In the wake of the tragic deaths of two NYPD officers, I've heard comments from pro-law enforcement pundits like the reactionary head of the New York Patrolman's Benevolent Association Patrick Lynch; who had the gall to accuse New York Mayor DeBlasio of inciting anti-cop fervor after he spoke candidly about facing his own fears of what might possibly happen to his own mixed race son should he find himself in some kind of confused encounter with police officers. 

Former NYPD officer Eugene O'Donnell, a lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who was just interviewed on NPR's "Here and Now" a few nights ago, repeatedly spoke adamantly about civilians not understanding the extreme kinds of dangerous situations many police face on the job.

I've heard both Lynch and O'Donnell simplistically try and link ongoing peaceful protests across the nation against excessive police violence against minorities, to the violent act of the mentally-disturbed murderer who shot two NYPD officers sitting in their car.

As advocates for the police, Lynch and O'Donnell seem oblivious to the extensive organized movements across the nation mobilizing to confront a growing list of deadly cop shootings and demand accountability for those officers involved.  

If we take Lynch and O'Donnell as examples of virulently pro-police advocates, they seem to have an entrenched blind spot where the lives of minority victims of excessive police force are concerned.

From the quotes and comments I've heard, they adhere to a strange logic that suggests "it's tough out there, cops have a really tough job, the victims of gun violence had bad records and their actions made the officers involved feel threatened." And it stops there.

So here we are, a day after Christmas, talking about Antonio Martin's death in Missouri.

Here we are reading the disturbing reports of an LAPD investigation into a recent party at a retired LAPD officer's home (which current police officers attended) where a leaked videotape shows members of law enforcement listening to a crude cover of the song  "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown" with the lyrics changed to mock the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

How does attending a party where people laugh at an unarmed 18 year-old who was shot and killed by a member of law enforcement affect the cop who has to go out on patrol the next day in a neighborhood or community that's majority African-American or Latino?

I believe in free speech, any of us should be able to talk about what we want to at a private party.

But police are not like the rest of us. Sure, they're human, but they're also required to carry their weapons on them at all times - and as as we know they're authorized to use deadly force if they feel threatened.

So is it a smart thing for them to laugh at a victim of excessive use of police force during their recreational time?

Am I wrong, or is that further dehumanizing a segment of the American populace who already suffer disproportionately from excessive use of police force? 

As I've said on this blog many times, I support police 100% and I know and have known, police officers personally.

Maybe if we as a nation start paying closer attention to what's really going on inside the mind of police officers in situations involving people of color, we might be able to find ways to help police officers find other ways to resolve tense encounters that don't involve pumping bullets into someone's body.

We can't just accept that as the default reaction for an armed police officer who feels "threatened" because if nothing else, we should be a better nation than that and our law enforcement professionals should be better than that.

No American should ever have to look up at a police officer and ask, "Why did you shoot me?"

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