Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bias and Brutality In Bakersfield

19-year-old Tatyana Hargrove: Misidentified, 
beaten & bitten by Bakersfield PD
The reluctance of the mayor of Minnesota, the Minnesota PD and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to release more details about the killing of 40-year-old Justine Damond by MPD officer Mohamed Noor on Saturday night has drawn even more global media scrutiny on the epidemic of American law enforcement killing innocent civilians.

The officer is now claiming he was "startled by a loud sound" before shooting and killing Damond.

While we wait for more concrete details to emerge from the city of Minnesota (including why both officer's body cameras were conveniently turned off at the time of the shooting), let's turn our focus west to the city of Bakersfield, California and the disturbing case of a 19-year-old girl named Tatyana Hargrove.

Another case of egregious and unnecessary police violence committed upon an unarmed woman that happened five weeks ago, but only began receiving national media attention after the Bakersfield chapter of the NAACP posted a video of Hargrove describing the incident (including being punched by at least one cop and bitten by a police K-9 dog), in detail on the group's Facebook page.

This is another case of social media driving a story that flew under the radar of mainstream media.

Granted it happened on a Sunday during a summer Father's Day weekend in which the horrific news about the Grenfell Apartment fire in London, a brutal heat wave in the Southwest U.S. and the latest news about Trump's ties to Russia were dominating the headlines here in America.

As CNN reported last Friday, the story really didn't start gaining serious media traction until early last week as the NAACP's Facebook video started racking up millions of views and people began to learn her horrifying account of the encounter that Bakersfield PD officials initially tried to dismiss.

Bakersfield PD officer Chris Moore and Hamer, the
K-9 police dog he unleashed to bite Hargrove
By the time you're reading this, you've likely heard about, read or seen something about Hargrove's story, and the specifics once again shine a spotlight on the reality of racially-biased policing in America.

Part of what's particularly disturbing in this case is that with 3 police cruisers and multiple officers on the scene, Officer Chris Moore instructed his police K-9 dog to attack and bite a lone, unarmed 19-year-old woman on her bike.

A citizen who was not breaking the law at the time she was stopped.

The use of the dog is reminiscent of police sicking dogs on peaceful African-American civil rights protesters in the 1950's and 60's - images which shocked the nation and the world.

Granted, the Bakersfield PD officers were responding to a report of a 5'10" bald black man with a goatee wearing a white shirt who was between 160 - 170 pounds who'd threatened a store employee with a machete.

According to an article published on Tuesday on by Harold Pierce, Moore was the officer who initially questioned and tried to detain Hargrove; who asked him why she was being stopped and justifiably asked if he had a warrant to search her backpack before the situation escalated and got physical - so presumably he was the one pointing a weapon at her.

He later claimed to have mistaken Hargrove for the bald man with the goatee because she was black and wearing a white shirt - but she is 5'2", weighs 120 pounds, has hair, no goatee and, obviously, is not a man.

A photo of the K-9 dog bites on Hargrove's leg 
So why didn't Moore, or Officer G. Vasquez, the man who got into some kind of physical tussle on the ground with Hargrove, bother to ask her name and request some ID?

What confuses me is how this escalated so quickly into this violent physical confrontation.

She'd taken a pause on a really hot day to take a drink from her water bottle when they saw her.

Wasn't it obvious she wasn't wielding a machete?

I mean, not to be flippant, but this was a 19-year-old girl who'd biked to a local store to get a Father's Day present for her dad, found the store was closed, and turned around to bike back home.

On Sunday June 18th the temperature in Bakersfield hit a sizzling 105 degrees, so it was probably at least 100 degrees outside when they stopped her - it's not like she was wearing a bulky overcoat that made it seem like she was hiding a machete.

And it doesn't take extensive police work to see that she could't have grown hair, grown 8 inches, shaved off a goatee, put on 40 to 50 pounds and changed sexes from the time they received the police description of the "transient type" who'd pulled the machete.

Hell, the local store owner who'd reported the apparently elusive, bald, machete-wielding transient ran out and told the cops they had the wrong person, but they told him to go back inside the store and kept right on pummeling Hargrove.

Were the Bakersfield cops just cranky and short-tempered because it was so hot outside?

It just seems like a few questions, a measure of common sense, some patience and a little bit of respect might have solved this in a peaceful manner.

Bakersfield PD Chief Lyle Martin
It was only two weeks before the incident that a Stanford University report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offered clinical evidence showing that American police officers (regardless of race) tend to treat people of color with less respect than whites in identical situations.

Hargrove's treatment certainly bears that out.

But there are some positives to come from this still evolving incident.

In an interview with The Californian Bakersfield PD Chief Lyle Martin did acknowledge some wrongdoing on the part of the officers:

"From the policy and technique standpoint, in my opinion, I think we missed on this one in regards to the use of the K-9," 

And to his credit he did calm some community tensions by having the respect to call Hargrove's parents to personally apologize for the incident:

"I told them that I think we as an organization are better than this, and if we're not better than this, then it's my job to make it better."

Time will tell, as a troubling 2015 report from The Guardian reveals, the Bakersfield PD was considered one of the deadliest in the nation per capita in terms of police killings of civilians.

So in light of that history, it's a positive that Hargrove was not killed - and I know it sucks to say that but it's true given what's taken place in this country between some police and people of color.

The Bakersfield PD have also initiated an internal investigation of the incident, but given their violent history as a police department, it's unlikely anything of consequence is going to come of that.

But you never know.

Minneapolis PD officer Mohamed Noor
Pressure from civilians, legal rights groups and outside organizations including the NAACP for  the officers to be reprimanded and disciplined is growing and a GoFundMe page set up to help Hargrove and her family with legal and hospital costs has already raised over $12,000 in just 7 days from people from around the world.

There's also a petition demanding that the ludicrous charges that the 5'2" Hargrove assaulted the officers be dropped.

Anyway, be sure to keep an eye on this story, particularly in light of developments in the investigation into the shooting death of 40-year-old Justine Damond by Minneapolis PD officer Mohamed Noor on Saturday night.

Based on the many cases of use of deadly force by police that I've read and written about over the years, to me it's a troublesome sign when the very first comment from a police department about a flagrantly unjustified killing by a police officer is something about what the officer's justification was.

In Moore's case, the Minnesota Bureau of Crime Apprehension is now claiming that a loud noise startled him just before Damond, who'd dialed 911 to report a possible assault, approached the police cruiser in her pajamas and was shot and killed;

(The Daily Mail is reporting that Noor is also being sued by a woman named Teresa Graham for false imprisonment, battery and negligence.)

For the sake of justice, many are hoping that such an admission by BCA officials is not the cornerstone of the same kind of "Oops!" defense that allowed former NYPD officer Peter Liang, (who was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide for shooting and killing unarmed Akai Gurley in the stairwell of the Brooklyn housing complex where he lived) to walk away with five year's probation for taking the life of a man who was simply walking with his girlfriend Melissa Butler.

In light of the recent high-profile deadly shootings of innocent people by Minnesota police officers, if Noor is found responsible for wrongfully killing Justine Damond, let's hope the justice system issues more than a dismissed case, hung jury or probation.

The value of a human life merits more than that.

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