Thursday, September 10, 2015

Waiting While Black & The Cost of Police Misconduct

Ex-tennis pro James Blake
It's only Thursday but I'm just going to go ahead and award this week's George Lincoln Rockwell Award to the as-yet unnamed member of the NYPD who ran up and tackled former American professional tennis player James Blake (pictured left), violently slammed him to the ground, handcuffed him and arrested him yesterday.

Blake wasn't committing a crime or anything, dude was just standing outside his hotel waiting for a car to pick him up and take him to the US Open in Flushing Meadows, Queens - where the main tennis stadium is named after Arthur Ashe. 

According to the typically dry and evasive statement from the NYPD, five white undercover officers mistakenly identified Blake as a member of an ID theft ring.

Or, put simply, he was Waiting While Black.
This latest incident is yet another in a long series of flagrantly ignorant racist-Keystone Cop moments for the NYPD that not only makes them look like reactionary moronic bigots, it also plainly demonstrates the extent to which racial bias (on the part of some officers) affects excessively violent treatment of black citizens; even innocent people who are aren't criminals, aren't running and haven't done anything wrong.

Remember, Blake is a world famous athlete with GQ model-looks; so imagine what happens to the unfortunate average-Joe black guy who's just standing on a street in the Bronx or Brooklyn minding his own business when five members of the NYPD roll up and "mistakenly" tackle him, slam him to the ground and arrest him - that guy is probably still in Rikers Island awaiting trial.

Blake was quickly released when the brains of the five-person NYPD posse realized who he was.

As The Guardian reported yesterday (his mom is British so the story has reached England) Blake was quite eloquent and thoughtful about his reaction to being physically assaulted by a plain clothes NYPD cop on a busy street. 

“I don’t know if it’s as simple as [racial profiling]. To me it’s as simple as unnecessary police force, no matter what my race is. In my mind there’s probably a race factor involved, but no matter what there’s no reason for anybody to do that to anybody. You’d think they could say, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you. We are looking into something. I was just standing there. I wasn’t running. It’s not even close [to appropriate]. It’s blatantly unnecessary. You would think at some point they would get the memo that this isn’t OK, but it seems that there’s no stopping it.”

No, those guys definitely did NOT get the memo.

Finding Forrester actor Rob Brown
Reminds me of when Treme actor Rob Brown (pictured left) was falsely arrested and detained by Macy's security in mid-town Manhattan back in the summer of 2013 after he used his credit card to buy a $1,300 watch for his mom; as I recall at least one of the Macy's security who illegally detained him for at least 45 minutes (and mocked him) was off-duty NYPD.

Remember folks, being arrested by police while simply standing on a busy public street waiting for transportation like Blake isn't unheard of for young men of color in this nation.

Remember back in early December, 2013 when three black high school students were arrested by a police officer in Rochester, NY while waiting for a school bus to pick them up and take them to a basketball scrimmage?

Yesterday's incident with James Blake puts the ongoing conservative media onslaught against the Black Lives Matter protest movement in a different context; revealing that the Fox News - Tea Party conservatives literally do not (or choose not to) see the stark reality of the way black people are treated by some members of the law enforcement community.

The terrible human cost of the systematic police misconduct in this nation that's been thrust into the forefront of the media spotlight so often lately comes at such a high price.

Charleston cop Mike Slager shoots unarmed Walter Scott
It degrades the humanity of both the abuser and the abused, and shatters an already fragile trust between civilians and the members of the law enforcement community that's sworn to protect them.

The many good cops, who's positive deeds too often go unseen and unreported, find their reputations unfairly tarnished by the rampant misconduct (and abuse) committed by their fellow officers as well.

Today's incident in New York is just one indicator that this nation has a long way to go; but progress is being made.

Increased demands for reforms in police tactics and procedures, along with growing public awareness and grass roots activism targeting police misconduct, are some of the factors bringing incidents of abuse of civilians by public servants into the spotlight.

But the widespread availability of personal cell phone video coupled with an array of social media platforms that streamline the ability to document and share information on cases of police abuse, is one of the most important reasons that at no other time in this country's history have Americans been confronted so directly with the incredible human toll of institutionalized racism.

The growing importance of technology in holding police officers accountable for their actions is backed up by the release of the New York Civilian Complaint Review Board's 2015 semi-annual report earlier this week.

New York CCRB head Richard Emery
Yesterday morning, Richard Emery (pictured left), the head of the CCRB was interviewed on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC - very informative, give it a listen if you've got a few minutes.

The CCRB is the primary agency in New York responsible for investigating all civilian complaints filed against NYPD officers; their report reveals some interesting trends.

Civilians complaints against the NYPD are down 22% from this point in 2014 and a remarkable 45% of all the substantiated excessive force complaints were accompanied by video footage evidence taken from either cell phones or CCTV cameras.

The data in the report also shows that most cops are good cops. Over an 18 month period, 14% of all NYPD officers are responsible for all civilian complaints received; for repeat offenders the percentage is even smaller.

But even bearing in mind that there's no way to know how many victims of police misconduct at the hands of the NYPD don't report incidents to the CCRB because they're intimidated, don't know the procedure to do so, or are incarcerated indefinitely in some place like Rikers Island while waiting for a court date, the CCRB's 2015 semi-annual report is showing progress is being made.

Maybe things have to get worse before they get better, but the toll it's taking on America is dividing us as a nation.

In the wake of the highly publicized killings of members of law enforcement, efforts by Fox News and other right-wing media talking heads to vilify the Black Lives Matter movement by falsely characterizing the organization as anti-cop or promoting violence were a cornerstone of the conservative media narrative last week.

Yesterday The Baltimore Sun reported that the five-member spending panel of the city of Baltimore has agreed to pay a $6.4 million settlement to the family of Freddie Gray in two separate payments of $3.2 million that will paid over the course of two years.

As reporters Yvonne Wenger and Mark Puente reported, this is one of the largest settlements paid to victims of police abuse in the history of Baltimore; one paid for by the tax payers.

Some of the same residents of Baltimore whose lives are negatively impacted by the lack of city services or failing urban infrastructure are seeing their tax dollars cover the costs of compensation for cases of misconduct by members of the BPD.  

As essayist Chauncey Devega recently observed during an interview with Farron Cousins on the
September 3rd edition of 'Ring of Fire' on Free Speech TV, some large metropolitan police departments actually put aside amounts of up to $50 million in order to settle injury claims or wrongful death suits filed against individual cops.

An Associated Press report revealed that between 2000 - 2010 the NYPD paid out a staggering $964 million in compensation to settle claims of misconduct against NYPD officers - all of it paid for by the tax payers. Almost $100 million a year.

So as the 2015 CCRB report shows, under 14% of the approximately 34,450 NYPD officers are responsible for the most serious cases of police misconduct, but the cost for their actions are paid for the millions of tax paying New Yorkers - and as we know, it's rare to see a police officer face significant consequences for serious cases of misconduct against civilians.

Remember Daniel Pantaleo was caught on camera choking an unarmed man pleading for his life and he was never even indicted; he's back on the job earning a salary, benefits and pension right now as you read these words.

The real cost of police misconduct is paid by the family members, friends and co-workers of those injured, maimed or killed by police indifference to human life and dignity - and to a lesser extent, the smaller indignities and humiliations suffered by guys like James Blake who happen to be black in the wrong place at the wrong time when the bias behind the badge shows itself.

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