by Paul Street
The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s groundbreaking report on police killings of Blacks is a snapshot of war. “The executions continue nationwide: from north to south, east to west, in rural towns and large metropolitan areas.” The police and other racist pull the triggers, but warfare is a group effort. “Racially biased media coverage is intimately related to the chilling indifference most of the nation shows towards quickly forgotten incidents of unjustified white-on-black police killing.”
Killer-Cops and the War on Black America
by Paul Street
“46% were killed without the police even pretending that the victims were wielding weapons.”
You probably know about Trayvon Martin, the young back man shot dead by the young white neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman last February 26th. Trayvon’s case became a national sensation, sparking large demonstrations across the country
It is possible that you have heard of Ramarley Graham, an 18 year-old black man followed to his home in the Bronx and killed there by police (who falsely claimed that he “ran away”) last February 2nd. Graham’s killing and the subsequent charging of the officer who murdered him with a single shot received coverage in The New York Times.
I doubt, however, that you have heard of Wendell Allen, a black 20 year-old former high school basketball star who was shot in the back while wearing pajamas by New Orleans police who invaded his home on marijuana suspicions. There were four children in the house when Allen was murdered by white officers from the infamous NOPD last March 7th. (Large mobilizations and a Grand Jury investigation followed).
I don’t suppose you’ve heard of a 31 year-old black man named Manuel Loggins, Jr. either. Last February 10th, the former Marine sergeant was shot dead by San Clemente, California police while he was praying and exercising at a local school track. After witnessing the murder of their father, his two daughters, 9 and 14, were detained in isolation for 13 hours.
You didn’t likely hear anything either about Johnnie Warren, a 43-year old black man who used to live in Dothan, Alabama. Last February 15th, Warren was killed by police taser there for the crime of pubic intoxication.
Or Stephon Watts, a black 15 year-old mentally disturbed boy shot to death by Calumet City, Illinois police last February 1st. Cops responding to a 911 call exercised deadly force after finding Watts in possession of a harmless pen knife.
Or Raymond Allen, a 34-year-old black man who was hog-tied and tasered to death after being picked up by Galveston, Texas cops for “suspicion of being under the influence of drugs” last February 29th.
“The list of Black Americans killed by white cops this year goes on and on.”
Or Angelo Clark, a 31 year-old black man, killed by a SWAT team searching for drugs in his home in Little Rock, Arkansas, last January. Clark was accused of pointing an AK-47 at the police but he had no way of knowing that the people who broke into his home were police until after he was shot.
And then there’s Justin Sipp, a 20-year-old black man shot dead by an NOPD officer with a long history of brutality. Sipp died because he argued with the cops after being pulled over for “look[ing] suspicious” as he drove with a broken taillight last March 1st.
And Nehemiah Dillard, a 29 year-old black man tasered to death for “behaving strangely” in Gainesville, Florida last March 5th.
And Dante Price, a 25-year-old black man shot 22 times by White Ranger Security guards at Summer Square apartments in Dayton, Ohio last March 1st. Price was on his way to baby-sit his children. (Significant community protests and a Grand Jury investigation followed)
And Rekia Boyd, 22, an innocent bystander shot to death by an off-duty Chicago cop who was angry over loud noise in a city park last March 27th.
The list of Black Americans killed by white cops this year goes on and on. It’s an epidemic. As researchers Ariene Eisen and Kali Akuno show in a detailed report prepared for the Malcom X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) last month, we know of at least 120 cases of black people being killed by police, security guards, and “self-appointed law-enforcers“ (e.g. George Zimmerman) between January 1 and June 30th, 2012. That’s 1 killing every 36 hours.
MXGM’s Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 120 Black Peoplei provides a chilling anatomy of racist, state-terrorist murder. Of the 120 black lives taken by police, guards, and vigilantes in the first seven months of this year:
46% were killed without the police even pretending that the victims were wielding weapons.
36% were killed with the police claiming that the victims wielded weapons but with the claim challenged by witnesses and/or family members.
Just 18% were incontestably armed.
Just 12.5% actually shot at officers.
69% were ages 13 to 31.
11% were children under 18.
28% suffered from mental health problems that contributed to their deaths.
31% had engaged in no conduct that could have reasonably been called criminal.
40% came into fatal contact with their killers because of police “stop and frisk” interventions conducted on the pretext of “suspicious behavior,” “suspicious appearance” or “traffic violations.”
More than a third were attempting to “run away” when they were killed.
9% were suspected of nothing at all (e.g. Rekia Boyd)
38% were forgotten: “a careful Internet search could not find their names after an initial flurry of news about their killings” (Eisen and Akuno).
Subtracting 15 cases in which victims shot at officers, Eisen and Akuno recovered 105 incidents in which black Americans died in what amounted to “extrajudicial executions.”
In many cases where the victims used or threatened violence they did do so without having any reason to know that the killers who stopped them or entered their homes were police. (the Angelo Clark case is one example).
The killers have faced little in the way of investigation or prosecution. Six security guards and “self-appointed law-enforcers” – the most notable example in the second category is George Zimmerman (jailed only after a remarkable national protest wave) – have been charged. Just 3 police officers have been charged – one for vehicular homicide-DUI and 3 for manslaughter.
“More than a third were attempting to “run away” when they were killed.”
“The executions continue,” Eisen and Akuno note, “nationwide: from north to south, east to west, in rural towns and large metropolitan areas.” It is not a “southern problem,” through some Southern cities (Atlanta, Dallas, Memphis, New Orleans, and Jacksonville) seem to conduct street executions of blacks “in numbers disproportionate to the size of their Black populations.”
It seems likely that the MXGM report is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the extrajudicial killing of American minorities. There is no official database, public or private, that records incidents of excessive police or security guard force against blacks or Latinos (The latter are also frequent police shooting and stop-and-frisk targets, as in Anaheim, California, where repeated cop killings of young Hispanics recently sparked riots). Eisen and Akuno had to compile their list as best they could by spending days combing the Internet for newspaper, television, police, eyewitness and other reports. ii
It should be noted (without disparaging the remarkable MXGM report) that direct police killings contribute a relatively small part of the death count generated by white America’s war on U.S. blacks. The antiwar group Iraq Body Count grossly understated the real number of civilian casualties resulting from the criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq because it restricted its list of victims to those who could be shown in multiple sources to have been directly killed by U.S. bombs, missiles, bullets, or artillery. Many more Iraqis died prematurely because of health and safety issues related to the U.S. invasion’s destruction of civilian and public infrastructure (water treatment, electricity, health services, food supplies, and the like) and the general disruption of daily life.
In a similar vein, millions of blacks die far too soon because of the broad catastrophe that is institutional racism. Racial oppression’s terrible toll has intensified amidst the latest capitalist depression even as it is more cloaked than ever by the existence of a “first black president.” Endemic systemic economic and public disinvestment, persistent savage residential and school segregation, financial starvation of black schools, epic racist mass incarceration and felony marking (what Michelle Alexander rightly calls “The New Jim Crow”), continuing job (hiring and promotion) discrimination, lack of medical access and health coverage, absent green space, the concentration of frustration and weapons – all of this and more create Third World poverty, disease, and mortality rates across much of black America.
“Millions of blacks die far too soon because of the broad catastrophe that is institutional racism.”
Black pain is furthered by a deeply embedded cultural racism that is reflected and reproduced in the dominant mass media. The reigning corporate-Caucasian communications empire presents inner city black males as menacing, drug-addled thugs and black females as lazy, over-sexed “welfare-shoppers.” The metropolitan Ten and Eleven O’clock news stoke white suburban fear and disgust with an endless procession of black gang-bangers and murderers without an iota of context on the policies, practices, and structures of institutional racism that create misery and early death in the nation’s persistently separate and unequal black communities. Racially biased media coverage is intimately related to the chilling indifference most of the nation shows towards quickly forgotten incidents of unjustified white-on-black police killing.
The epidemic of extrajudicial execution continues. On July 29th, a 21 year-old black man named Chavis Carter was shot and killed while handcuffed in a patrol car in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Carter had been pulled over and searched by officers who found a $10 bag of marijuana in his car. The police have absurdly claimed that he committed suicide.
On August 11th, New York City shot to death a 51 year-old black man they had approached for allegedly smoking marijuana in Manhattan’s Times Square. Wielding an 11-inch knife and wearing a bandana, Darrius Kennedy was killed by no less than 12 NYPD bullets in front of hundreds of horrified tourists and city residents. Welcome to the Big Apple!
Why this plague of white police-on-black citizen killings? Along with the recent upsurge of hate groups and “antigovernment patriot organizations,” the police shootings likely reflect (among other things) white fears sparked by the changing racial demographics of the nation. Whites are projected to become a minority by 2050. In the mind of many Caucasians, including some police officers, these changing demographics are personified by the technically nonwhite identity of the nation’s “first black president.”
“Don’t look for a Justice Department investigation of the current killer cop wave anytime soon.”
Never mind that the “post-racial” Barack Obama (who rose to national prominence with a speech proclaiming that there is “no such thing as a black America or a white America” and who saved his presidential candidacy with a speech announcing that racism was a problem located only in the American past, not the present) is on board with dominant white victim-blaming explanations of black poverty. And never mind that he refuses to undertake any policy designed to meaningfully address specific black grievances and issues. (Don’t look for a Justice Department investigation of the current killer cop wave anytime soon). Proto-fascist whites do not make or get distinctions between tepid, system-serving moderates like Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and Booker T. Washington and those who actually fight for social justice like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Just as there’s no number of overseas Muslims that Obama could extra-judicially execute to shake white 21st century Amerikanners of their faith in his Muslim identity and allegiances, there’s no amount of tolerance Obama could show to those who stalk, imprison, and kill black Americans that would disabuse the racists of their belief that he is a threat to white privilege.
Paul Street (www.paulstreet.org) is the author of numerous books, including Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm, 2004), Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (Rowman&Littlefield, 2007), The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010), and (co-authored with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011). Street can be reached at [email protected].
There is,” Eisen and Akuno note, “no national database that tracks these killings. Wikipedia has posted a very incomplete list and detailed the limits of other databases available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_killings_by_law_enforcement_officers_in_the_United_States”