Sunday, April 03, 2016

In the Name of the Law?

NYPD Lt. Luis D. Machado
Based on some of the headlines in the media over the past couple weeks, if there were a single publicist responsible for the image and brand of American law enforcement, he or she would would likely be sitting in an office scratching their head.

Particularly after lieutenant Luis D. Machado (pictured left) and three other members of the NYPD's 71st precinct's Conditions Unit arrested black postal worker Glen Grays in broad daylight on a busy street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn back on March 17th.

As a guy who personally knows current and former police officers from at least five different police departments in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, I realize that there are literally thousands of men and women in blue around the nation who are dedicated law enforcement professionals going out of their way to be "good police".

Doing their jobs the right way, treating people with respect and trying to have a positive impact on the communities they serve.

They'll do a thousand positive things that won't get reported by the media, so I have to wonder what goes through the minds of those police officers when they read about the actions of someone like Luis D. Machado and the three other NYPD officers involved in the incident; Lazo Lluka, Miguel I Rodriguez and David G. Savella.

The cynic in me, the one who's seen so many instances of excessive use of police force used against unarmed and innocent people in this nation, looked with a suspicion at the timing of the NYPD's recent trumpeting of the warnings they sent to Belgian authorities a week before the bombing attacks in the Brussels airport and train station.

It's certainly admirable that the department passed on critical intelligence on terrorists to a foreign city, but it struck me as a bit self-congratulatory given that the bombers killed over thirty innocent civilians.

Frankly the timing of the announcement seemed like an emergency PR move given that it came on the heels of millions of people around the world having watched the cell phone video recording of those four NYPD officers in plain clothes confronting and arresting Glen Grays because he yelled at them after they almost side-swiped him with their car while he was exiting his truck with some packages to deliver.
Glen Grays being arrested by NYPD on March 17th 
The wisdom of four cops confronting a federal employee wearing a postal uniform who'd just exited a clearly-marked USPS truck in broad daylight is perhaps best left to the experts at the NYPD whose job it is to investigate such matters.

As has since been reported, Grays has never been arrested in his life and has no police record.

During a recent segment of the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (himself a former NYPD officer)  and Grays were both interviewed.

They talked about the fact that Gray used to get up at 3am and take multiple busses and subways to travel almost two hours to be on time for a morning shift working in a low-paying warehouse position up in the Bronx before he got his current job with the USPS.

If Machado and the other four members of the Conditions Unit stopped, harassed a hard-working guy like Grays, (a uniformed federal employee doing his job), think about how they treat other young men of color in Crown Heights who might've been doing nothing illegal or inappropriate - other than having dark skin.

The absurd litany of other shaky excuses that some police officers around this nation use to arrest people of color now includes virtually anything, walking, driving, running, sitting, waiting, biking, shopping, speaking, refusing to we now add "Working While Black" to the list?

Eric Adams (center) with Glen Grays & Grays mom to his left
During the interview with Brian Lehrer, Adams discussed the importance of the postman as a symbol of local community stability and the numerous witnesses who were on the street watching the undercover NYPD officers surround and arrest Grays.

As a former NYPD officer, he talked about the kind of damage seeing cops treat someone seen as a respected civil servant does to the psyche of the community.

After personally viewing the footage and other video of the incident, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton expressed "serious concerns" about the incident.

All four members of the NYPD who arrested Grays have been relegated back to patrol duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

By no means would it be fair to judge the conduct and character of the 50,000 NYPD officers based on a remarkably arrogant and stupid decision by four undercover guys with really crappy driving skills, but the incident that took place on March 17th offers a revealing glimpse of the extent of racial bias embedded within the ranks of the New York Police Department.

According to an article on the incident by Ginia Bellafante in the New York Times, Grays returned to the same precinct station where he had been held for several hours after being detained in order to retrieve a copy of the accident report that was filed by the four officers after their four-door unmarked cruiser struck another vehicle from behind.

NYPD officer Lazo Lluka
Bellafante's NY Times article reports that three of the four officers including Lazo Lluka (pictured left) have been the subject of federal civil rights suits before.

Charges which include false arrest and the unjustified use of excessive physical force.

The Grays incident is one of many in recent weeks that reveal the extent of racial bias within the ranks of law enforcement around the nation.

As Conor Friedersdorf reported in an article for The Atlantic on Friday, the San Francisco Police Department is currently investigating the recent discovery of hundreds of virulently racist and homophobic text messages being shared amongst at least 14 members of the SFPD.

This comes after five veteran SFPD cops were discovered to have been exchanging overtly racist, sexist and homophobic text messages back in 2015.

To me this isn't about free speech or political correctness, these aren't guys working in some factory somewhere - it's about the level of bigotry ingrained in the minds of members of law enforcement who carry guns and badges (and who are held to  much higher standard of personal conduct) who are tasked with policing one of the most diverse urban populations in America.

The San Francisco DA's office is now having to spend the time and resources of taxpayers to go back and re-examine dozens of cases in which these officers who were found to have been exchanging these text messages were involved in to see if bias based on race, sex, sexual preference or ethnicity played a role in arrests.

The thing is, this behavior isn't simply related to false arrests, violation of individuals rights or officers openly sharing text messages which reveal internal bias against members of the populations they're sworn to serve and protect.

It's about unchecked police behavior that can also lead to people being killed - and not just people of color either.

Ex-Mesa PD officer Philip Brailsford
Last Wednesday blogger The Field Negro wrote a piece about a Mesa, Arizona police officer who shot an unarmed white Texas man named Daniel Shavers at a Mesa LaQuinta Inn & Suites hotel back on January 18th.

Police, including Philip "Mitch" Brailsford (pictured left) a two and a half year veteran of the Mesa PD, were originally called to the scene in response to an apparent call of a man waving a gun out of a 5th floor hotel window.

It's not really clear if Shavers, a father of two young daughters, was actually doing that or not.

As an employee of a pest control company who was traveling on business, he was supposedly carrying at least one pellet rifle which he used for his job.

The police arrived at the hotel and demanded that he and his wife crawl toward them, which his wife did.

According to an article on AZ about the investigation into the killing, a transcript of police video taken at the scene revealed Shavers begging for his life moments before Mesa police officer Philip "Mitch" Brailsford shot and killed him.

The 26-year-old Shavers was on his stomach crawling towards the police in the hallway in front of his hotel room, complying with their orders to do so.

A judge recently blocked a request to release the video on the grounds that it would harm the "integrity" of the case.

Mesa PD shooting victim Daniel Shavers & his two daughters 
On the audio taken from the police body-cam footage, Shavers can be heard crying and pleading, "Please don't shoot me! Please don't shoot!" before Brailsford shoots him.

In a police report filed after the shooting, Brailsford made the claim so often used by American police officers who shoot and kill unarmed people.

Brailsford claimed he saw Shavers hand moving towards his waistband and felt an "immediate threat".

Despite the fact that Shavers was on his stomach at the time and pleading for his life, Brailsford claims that Shavers reached for his waistband?

It doesn't add up and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said an extensive review of the officer's body camera showed "the shooting was the result of unjustified deadly force" and Brailsford was charged with second-degree murder on March 4th and fired from the Mesa PD.

It's not easy to imagine the thoughts going through the minds of police officers in certain situations.

But based on some of the actions of Luis D. Macahdo and the three members of the Conditions Unit who arrested mailman Glen Grays in Brooklyn, or ex-Mesa PD officer Philip Brailsford killing an unarmed father of two - you have to wonder if they're really doing it in the name of the law.

Based on data on killings of civilians tracked by The Guardian, Wikipedia is reporting Daniel Shavers is one of approximately 38 people killed by members of American law enforcement in 2016.

That number will surely be revised upward by the time you read this.

And so the list of The Counted continues to grow.

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