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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



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