Monday, August 17, 2015

19-Year Old Zachary Hammond: Unarmed Teen Killed By Police On A First Date

Zachary Hammond - another U.S. teenager killed by police
Zachary Hammond was just 19-years old when he was fatally shot by police Lt. Mark Tiller in the parking lot of a Hardee's restaurant in Seneca, South Carolina back on Sunday July 26th.

His parents are making national headlines because they're suggesting the media doesn't seem to be paying much attention to their son's death because he was white.

As an amateur citizen-journalist, I blog under the proverbial radar of mass media so I certainly can't speak for the mainstream media, but I do consume quite a bit of it so I wanted to share a couple thoughts.

First off, the media IS paying attention to this story.

And not just here in America where The Washington Past and The New York Times are both on this story, but over in the UK where the Independent is just one of the British media outlets covering it, to as far away as Russia where has been covering the story as well.

While I absolutely agree with the teenage victim's parent's Paul and Angie Hammond that their son's story didn't morph into a major story in the week after the incident occurred, I don't view it as a case of the media (or the public) not caring about the story at all.

Ten-year Seneca PD Lt. Mark Tiller and his K-9 dog
The Media has been proactive in trying to uncover and share more information about Lt. Mark Tiller (pictured left) and his record as a police officer, as in this article posted on on August 10th.

But in terms of the amount of media coverage, and how quickly it materialized, it's true it didn't immediately blow up into a front-page national story in the days immediately following the incident, but I think that was more of a case of really bad timing.

Zachary Hammond was shot and killed on the evening of Sunday July 26th, just seven days after African-American motorist Samuel Dubose was shot in the head at point blank range by former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing.

The media headlines that week were totally focused on the body-cam footage of the incident that had been released at the behest of the prosecutor, who was so shocked at Tensing's actions that he insisted the body-cam footage be released publicly - in no small part to make clear that these were the actions of an individual campus cop and not the Cincinnati Police Department.

By Thursday July 30th when I posted a blog about the Dubose incident, that was THE focus on social and mainstream media that week as the clip of his death was viewed millions of times on Youtube and was being mentioned in national, local and global media day and night.

It's also important to note that two weekends before Hammond was killed in South Carolina, the death of Sandra Bland took place in Texas on Friday July 10th.

By the time I blogged about that story a week later on July 17th, again, video footage taken from the dash-cam of Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia's cruiser revealing both video and audio of what led to the confrontation and Bland's arrest was THE story of the moment - millions of people around the globe were watching, sharing and commenting on the video which clearly showed trooper Encinia's demeanor and actions.

That's one of the major differences in these three cases.

Police tape surrounds the scene in SC where Hammond died.
It's not like people aren't shocked and saddened to see yet another American teenager gunned down and killed by a member of the law enforcement community.

But the night Zachary Hammond was killed in the parking lot of that Hardee's (pictured left), America was already riveted by two different cases of police misconduct in which innocent, unarmed motorists had lost their lives.

Given the fact they have insisted that he was out on a first date and was unarmed, it's completely understandable that Hammond's poor parents would be upset that the death of their son didn't garner the kind of attention Sandra Bland's death received.

But remember, no video of any part of this incident has been released as of yet. No security camera footage from the Hardee's that might have shown what happened in the parking lot.

Nor has the public yet had a chance to see police dash-cam or body-cam footage from Seneca police officer Mark Tiller either.

That footage might shed some insight and perspective into what happened between the time that Toni Morton (the 23-year-old girl Hammond was with at the time of the shooting) tried to sell the small amount of marijuana she had in her possession to undercover agent of the Seneca PD - and the time that the officer approached the car and shot Hammond twice.

As I write this, there's been no definitive comprehensive statement from the officer who shot Hammond about what happened and the sequence of events that led to his killing the unarmed teenager.

Was he "threatened" by a 19-year old teenager sitting in a car where a tiny amount of weed had just been sold by a 23-year old girl?

Did it really make sense for Seneca PD to have some kind of undercover "sting operation" set up for under 10 grams of weed that could easily fit in your pocket?

Regardless, Tiller is claiming self-defense.

Seneca police claim Hammond tried to run Tiller down with his car as the officer approached the vehicle, but the results from a private autopsy requested by Hammond's parents show that the teenager was shot in the side and in the back - so how could he have been driving towards officer Mark Tiller when he was shot?

Remember, Ray Tensing said nearly the same thing about Samuel Dubose - claiming Dubose was dragging him along as he tried to escape; until the body-cam showed Dubose had his hands up when he was shot and the car only moved after Tensing shot him in the head.

When 50-year old Walter Scott was shot in the back multiple times by South Carolina police officer Michael Slager back in April, his initial claims of feeling "threatened" were quickly exposed as lies when not only dashboard video of the incident showing the initial traffic stop was released - a bystander happened to be nearby filming the pursuit and caught the image of Slager shooting a man in the back as he ran away.

So while Hammond's grieving parents want answers, I respectfully think it would be far more productive for them to devote their energy and actions towards demanding the release of any dash-cam or body-cam video from the Seneca Police Department; or any parking lot video taken by a security camera at the Hardee's.

I just don't think it's fair for them to "expect" some kind of public reaction when the public hasn't seen what happened; or make the kind of judgment that the public or the media doesn't care because Zachary Hammond wasn't African-America - we care and we want to know the facts.

Public outrage and civic action needs to start at the local community level, and the Hammonds have expressed disappointment that they haven't seen more from people in their local community or local politicians weigh in; a rally for justice for Zachary Hammond scheduled for August 15th was being organized by a group called Put Down The Guns Now Young People - so there are people standing up.

Like so many other teens whose lives have been cut short by the actions of police officers in recent months, Zachary Hammond was unarmed when he was shot twice and killed.

And like so many other cases that have garnered national attention, the only reason the Seneca police even encountered Hammond in the first place was because of a relatively minor completely non-violent violation.

To me this incident is not only highlights the need for national reforms of use-of-force procedures and the mandatory use of body-cams for all police officers, it also bolsters the argument for legalization of marijuana in this country.

Do we really want police shooting people for under 10 grams of weed in this country?

The world hasn't yet been able to see video of the incident, but the world is getting tired of seeing American police officers fatally shooting unarmed suspects for things that shouldn't even warrant a ticket.

We'll know more when video of the incident is released to the public, but regardless of skin color, no unarmed American teenager out on a first date on a warm July evening with a girl who has a little bit of pot on her should end up dead; let alone at the hands of an officer of the law.

That's not protecting and serving anyone.


David said...

Yeah, this shooting of a white person is an exception. I said so on my own blog earlier this month. Usually, the media give no national or international coverage to the killing of white people, but this time they did. I don't know why they did, but that they did is a fact. Maybe if the killer cop had been black they wouldn't have done the same thing, and it's only the chance to show how bad the white cop is that made the media flag newsing the Seneca SC shooting as kosher.

Revue said...

This raises a very good question, "Where are the people who spent so much time yelling "ALL LIVES MATTER!" ? If they truly mattered, then they would be rallying around this situation.

I agree, the parents need to have the dash cam video released. There should be many protests, they should contact the local media outlets, they should have used social media.

But yes, the local media paid attention, and they didn't get many people in their neighborhood to attend their rally. But that in itself raises a lot of questions. How many of them said "All Lives Matter?" Something tells me that those yelling "all lives matter" were the ones who were just trying to tell Black people to shut up, while saying "But White people get killed all the time too. Where's the outrage?" Well, that's the question we should be asking them because it isn't Black people's job to be outraged whenever they die.
It seems to me that they may not really care whenever one of their own dies by the hands of police regardless of the race of the officer. They only prop up dead White people whenever a minority group raises hell about one of their own getting killed by police, which is very telling.

culturegeist said...

I'm not sure I'd agree that police killing of white Americans is an "exception". According to a May 30th Washington Post analysis of the approximately 385 police killings that had been reported at that point, 180 were white, 108 were black, 57 were Hispanic, 6 were Asian, 3 were "others" and 31 were "unknown". So statistics suggest more white people are actually killed by police.

But, it's important to remember that African-Americans only make up about 12% of the U.S. population; so blacks are three times more likely to be killed by police than whites are.

The UK's Guardian newspaper is doing extensive analysis of police killings in America (their stats are actually more comprehensive than those of the Department of Justice) and their analysis of public records as of June 1st of this year showed that 32% of black people killed by police were unarmed compared with 25% of Hispanic / Latinos and 15% of white people.

So I can understand your sense of frustration at the media devoting more national coverage to the killing of black Americans, but remember there's a reason for that; blacks are far more likely to be killed by police and more likely to be unarmed when it happens.

I don't think the media is trying to portray white cops as "bad", I think they're trying to focus on cops who are making bad tactical decisions and trying to understand why it's far more likely to result in the death of a black person when they do - and the vast majority of cops in this nation are white. There are black and Hispanic cops who make bad decisions too.

But if you check out my blog, you know that I do highlight cases of whites (like Deven Guilford), blacks and Hispanics who are victims of police violence too.


culturegeist said...

I was also quite puzzled about the absence of the "All Lives Matter" folks in the wake of Zachary Hammond's death too. With all due respect to white Americans, I think part of the problem is that many (not all by any means) white people simply tended to ignore the high rate of police use of deadly force prior to the explosion of the Internet and social media and the expanded availability of hand-held video which made the capturing if deadly police interactions more prevalent.

Many police officers simply got used to the fact that the killing of a minority, whether innocent or not, would never get them fired let alone charged or prosecuted as long as they were able to plant evidence, alter the crimes scene or concoct a bogus story to cover up their actions - as Michael Slager did in South Carolina after he shot Walter Scott in the back ande Ray Tensing tried to do with Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati after shooting the man in the head at point blank range inside his Honda.

Personally, I think there are many white Americans who are frankly surprised to see that cops are killing innocent unarmed white boys and girls too. But that's the inherent danger of ignoring a problem like that; you pretend it only affects "them" until you look up and law enforcement has grown so accustomed to using deadly force and saying "Oh, I felt threatened" that many cops don't think twice about pulling the trigger on anyone; regardless of race.

Remember the when crack was an "epidemic" in the 80's when it was confined to the cities? When images of white suburban mothers and white suburban teens using crack became more prevalent, it became an "addiction" problem" in the eyes of mainstream media.