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Friday, May 06, 2016

The Most Inappropriate Comment from A Police Union Yet?

I've been writing and thinking a lot over the past year plus about how the criminal justice system reacts to police who are accused (or not) of committing crimes.  Since Michael Brown's death in Ferguson in August 2014, police killings have roiled the public, given birth to new social activism, and reinvigorated a debate about what limits we should place on the police -- legally, politically, and administratively -- in their quest to protect the public.  Many scholars and politicians have begun to ask, at what cost? 

Unless you actively avoid news of police violence, you have seen the videos of Eric Garner's choking death, Walter Scott being shot in the back, and Chicago teenager LaQuan McDonald being shot 16 times, among others.  Among the most disturbing of these incidents, and videos, is the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland in November, 2014.  Take a minute (or seconds as it may be) to watch this video.  Now add in the fact that the person who called 911 specifically told the police he believed the boy was playing with a toy gun -- a fact that the officers who shot Tamir claimed not to have received -- but one which will matter in a paragraph or two.  These officers barely exit their vehicle before they shoot the boy, who was indeed playing with a toy gun.

After local prosecutors commissioned several reports exonerating the police's behavior, a grand jury failed to indict, in a routine that many see as the failing of our criminal justice system to hold police accountable.  I have somewhat idiosyncratic views on the utility of the criminal justice system in general and its operation when police are the object of its gaze, which I've laid out elsewhere and may return to this month.  That's not what this post is about.

This post is about the letter the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association (police union) sent to the media, but really to the parents of Tamir Rice, after they received a $6 million settlement to compensate them for the life of their child.  I've pasted a screen shot of the letter after the jump because there is something about the full effect of the insignia, formality, and seeming professionalism of the letter that make its contents all the more ludicrous.

Screenshot 2016-05-05 17.37.34

To recap: a 12 year old was playing with a toy gun (albeit one that resembled a real one), something that is completely legal and that thousands of children do every day (I would love to poll the Cleveland police union about how many of their children own toy weapons). A 911 caller told the dispatcher that he believed the gun was fake.  Two officers, whether they knew this or not, shot this child within seconds of their arrival on the scene. One did not even get out of the car, the other used his door as a shield and shot immediately.  These officers were not charged with a crime, and remain on the force.  To compensate Tamir's family for an uncoompensatable loss, and to avoid further litigation, which would result in more scrutiny of the department and potentially more damages, the city settles.

 Now, the head of the police union, who, by the way, sits on a committee designed to better relations between police and community after the city reached a consent decree with the US DOJ because of its police departments overuse of excessive force, suggests in a formal letter to the media, that it is the duty of Tamir's family to educate the public about toy guns!?  I haven't been able to digest this letter enough to count the ways it is wrong, and what it says about the way police unions, if not officers themselves, look at the communities they police or if it says anything other than that the head of Cleveland's police union should be removed from his position.  

Am I missing something that makes this letter justifiable? I can't see it but admit I can be myopic about such things. 

 

 

 

Posted by Kate Levine on May 6, 2016 at 10:31 AM | Permalink

Comments

It is not the most sensitive letter ever written, but if one is concerned about the safety of children, then of course the letter is justifiable, because toy gun safety education will probably reduce the number of these incidents. Would the money be better spent on better training for police officers and dispatchers? Sure. But that hardly makes the letter "unjustifiable" and grounds for dismissal.

PS: I'm curious why you say the "officers" shot Tamir Rice, and why you imply that the officer who, as you state, did nothing, should have been charged with a crime. At the very least, you do not make clear why "not even get[ting] out of the car" is some sort of criminal malfeasance.

PPS: I'm also unclear why you say that the police officers "claimed" not to have been told that the 911 caller said that the gun was probably fake - it is my understanding that there is no doubt that they were not so informed.

Posted by: gdanning | May 6, 2016 12:59:47 PM

Not the most sensitive?? Right, gdanning, and should we also ask that compensation funds for rape victims be used in part to help educate young women about the dangers of dressing sexy or drinking in clubs?

Posted by: Anon E. Muss | May 6, 2016 2:26:40 PM

It's a union. They care only about is their members -- right or wrong. If you expect otherwise you are like the frog in the scorpion and the frog. I'm sure it won't hurt them when negotiations come up next. Just look at Chicago, the members there have been on an illegal job action (work slowdown) for months with zero repercussions.

Posted by: John | May 6, 2016 2:43:29 PM

"It's a union. They care only about is their members -- right or wrong."

Sometimes, a group doesn't care a whit about other people, but knows not to say or do something since it will make them look bad. Including to those they need to rely on (including those who pay/fund them) in various ways.

On that level, this letter seems somewhat misguided. Also, think the payout here helps show people on the misuse of real firearms. The police misused them and the city (aka the taxpayers) had to pay.

Posted by: Joe | May 6, 2016 2:54:19 PM

I don't think rehashing the entire episode was the point of the original post. But the reason not getting out of the car is relevant is that the officers claimed to have told Tamir Rice to drop the gun. Both the timing (as indicated on the videotape) and the fact that they didn't get out of the car seem to contradict that claim. So yes, not getting out of a police squad car is not in itself criminal, but it is relevant to understanding the incident.

Posted by: Tom Johnson | May 6, 2016 10:09:53 PM

:/

Posted by: elena | May 8, 2016 4:14:48 PM

Do you tell the family of a woman battered to death by her on-duty police officer husband to donate the proceeds of the settlement to battered women, so that battered women learn not to stay with wife beaters? Can you tell me a context where the family of the deceased is instructed to use the money to educate others, so that those others know better than to be a position to be "accidentally" murdered or hurt?

Black young bodies are so pathologically devalued that people suggest that this letter is appropriate. This letter is completely unacceptable.

Posted by: Truth | May 9, 2016 11:02:50 AM

When this blogger, Kate Levine, asks am I missing something, I have to say yes. What is the use of endless finger pointing? It gets us nowhere. We have police demonizing African Americans. We have liberal white lawyers demonizing the police. The big picture is lost. The big picture is that this country has a gun problem. And what are we going to do about it together? Constantly saying that the police are idiots is not the answer. Looking to frame the police department as simply murderers and African American citizens as purely victims is not the answer. White guilt is not the answer. The answer goes back to MLK. Seeing the humanity in everyone. Not just the dead child, but the police too. Otherwise this country will kill itself.

Posted by: Gerdy | Jun 3, 2016 12:49:44 PM

It was an interesting debate. I'm totally thinking about it . But I have no idea about it ...

Posted by: 1zoj | Jun 17, 2017 1:55:38 PM

It was an interesting debate. I'm totally thinking about it . But I have no idea about it ...

Posted by: 1zoj | Jun 17, 2017 1:55:40 PM

It was an interesting debate. I'm totally thinking about it . But I have no idea about it ...

Posted by: 1zoj | Jun 17, 2017 1:55:42 PM

It was an interesting debate. I'm totally thinking about it . But I have no idea about it ...

Posted by: 1zoj | Jun 17, 2017 1:55:43 PM

It was an interesting debate. I'm totally thinking about it . But I have no idea about it ...

Posted by: 1zoj | Jun 17, 2017 1:55:43 PM

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