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Words from Winterbilt

Race and Police

Shannon Bohrer

(9/2016) For several years the issue of how police interact with minorities, specifically black minorities, has been a major topic in our nation. Do the police target black people and do they treat black people differently? Many believe that black people are treated differently and even shot more often. According to others, that is just the perception of a small segment of society. Recently, after the well-publicized reported shootings of two black males, one in the south and one in the north, the press and the public seemed to have had a rush to judgment. If we immediately believe or indicate that the officers are guilty, then we are guilty of pre-judging without an investigation. Pre-judging does not help resolve any problems and can sometime compound the issues.

In response to the numerous reports of black persons being treated differently by the police the "Black Lives Matter" movement was created. At a "Black Lives Matter" rally in Dallas, which was peaceful, an individual shot 12 police officers, of which 5 died. As someone who spend my while career in law enforcement, some of the information from both side is hard to digest.

I have written about these issues before. As I have said, one of the first mistakes we often make is to make judgments on limited information. The problem with these judgments is that rushing to conclusions, even when videos seem to have captured parts of the incident(s), is not a sound investigative technique. Until there is a complete investigation we don’t know what happened. Even then, there will still be different perceptions.

The differences that we have that affect what we see and hear are well known in the law enforcement community. Sitting in a court room and listening to the testimony on both sides one can sometime wonder, if they are describing the same event. What is sometimes unusual is that while this fact of different perceptions is well known in the law enforcement community, there are instances when the law enforcement community does not believe it applies to them.

The Michael Brown case from Ferguson Missouri was a rush to judgment and is often brought up in the news coverage related to this topic. The context is simple; Michael Brown was an unarmed black teenager that was killed by the police. However, there is a problem in using Michael Brown as an example of excessive use of force. The problem is that the Attorney General’s report said that Michael Brown was a justifiable homicide. The report is on line and easy to find, all 86 pages. The physical evidence, which is supported by witnesses, showed that Mr. Brown went into the officer’s car, trying to take his gun. Michael Brown’s DNA was inside the car, on the officer’s uniform and on the officer’s shirt collar. When someone is trying to take an officer’s gun, they are not taking it to take in home, clean it and then return it. If Michael Brown had been successful, then Officer Darren Wilson would probably be dead. The Attorney General, Eric Holder, even said that "Hands up, don’t shoot" never happened. And yet Michael Browns name appears to be used as an example of excessive use of force by the police.

While Michael Brown is not the poster child that he is sometimes portrayed as, the city of Ferguson Missouri, where the incident occurred, is the poster child for bigotry and prejudice behavior by the judicial system. The report of the investigated by the Justice Department was forthright and blunt. Again, you can find the report of line, all 105 pages. A quote from the report, "Ferguson’s approach to

law enforcement both reflects and reinforces racial bias, including stereotyping. The harms of Ferguson’s police and court practices are borne disproportionately by African Americans, and there is evidence that this is due in part to intentional discrimination on the basis of race." The quote does not begin to describe the pattern and practices that I would not have thought existed in our country. I am not talking about a few bad officers’; I am referring to the entire police and criminal justice culture. There are numerous examples that would make one think the citizens of Ferguson lived in a communist country. If you were a black person living in Ferguson, you may not believe the Justice Departments’ report on the investigation of Michael Brown’s shooting - because of your experiences.

On April 7, 2015 a white police officer in South Carolina shot Walter Scott, a black man. The shooting was filmed by a bystander and it showed the officer shooting Mr. Scott in the back as he was running away. The officer, Michael Slager, lied on the police report and was charged with homicide and is awaiting trial. If, the incident was not on film, would officer Slager have been charged? Some say no.

In October 2014, Officer Van Dyke, Chicago Police Department, shot a young black man, Laquan McDonald and it was witnessed by other officers and captured on film from a police car. Officer Van Dyke said that Laquan McDonald had lunged at him with a knife and he shot to protect his own life. Other officers at the scene submitted reports that supported Officer Van Dykes account. While the shooting occurred in October 2014, there was no indication that Officer Van Dyke would be charged with any crime until November 2015, 13 months later. Officer Van Dyke was charged just hours before a court ordered the release of the in car video, which showed Officer Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald.

The film that was released showed Officer Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald, 16 times while he was walking away from him. And most of the shots were fired after Laquan fell to the ground. The police department knew the contents on the film, the officers at the scene that submitted reports either lied, or just wrote what someone told them to write.

From the night that the shooting took place, the police, the investigators and supervisors and the prosecutor’s officer – all knew what happened, at least it appears that way. So, the question is, if the court had not ordered the release of the film, would Officer Van Dyke have been charged? Remember, South Carolina Officer Slager was charged shortly after shooting Walter Scott. Was it because the film was immediately released? So, when people say that black people have been mistreated for a long time, but they were not believed, maybe there is some truth to it? A special prosecutor is being appointed to conduct an investigation of the McDonald case. If I was a minority, I might even question the special prosecutor. Since everyone in authority knew what was in the film, was there a cover up?

Incidents where officers mistreat and/or with no justification shoot someone, of any color, offend me. I do believe that most officers do not or would not engage in this behavior. But I also understand why "Black Lives Matter "exists. Black lives should matter, at least as much as white lives. I do not have an answer that would solve this problem, but I do know where to start. Officers involved in racist behavior need to be held accountable. This accountability includes; investigators, supervisors and prosecutors that ignore and/or cover up those actions. Until there is accountability for the behavior – things will not change.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer