Murderous Recklessness of Our Militarized Police
In “Police Violence and the American gulag” Andre Damon gives a sampling from across the country of recent gratuitously murderous attacks by the police against vulnerable citizens.
* Last week, an Atlanta SWAT team critically wounded a one-year-old toddler by throwing a flash grenade into a house in an early morning no-knock raid to serve an arrest warrant. The toddler remains in a medically induced coma and is fighting for his life. Such no-knock warrants are becoming increasingly common. Police carried out 50,000 such raids in 2005, up from 3,000 in 1981, and the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that between 70,000 and 80,000 no-knock raids occur each year in the US.
* Last Thursday, the Albuquerque Medical Investigator’s office released the autopsy report for James Boyd, the 38-year-old homeless man who was killed by police on March 16, confirming that he was shot in the back. Since that incident, Albuquerque police have carried out two further fatal shootings. The Albuquerque police department has been responsible for 25 deadly shootings since 2010, according to the US Justice Department.
* On May 20, three police officers in Salinas, California fired more than five shots at close range at migrant farm worker Carlos Mejía, killing him as he was backing away from them.
* On May 11, five California Highway Patrol officers in Imperial County, California, beat to death Tommy Yancy, a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, following a routine traffic stop.
* On April 27, Jason Conoscenti, 36 was shot to death in Long Beach, California as he fled from police officers.
* Last Friday, a grand jury indicted a Cleveland police officer on charges of manslaughter for the 2012 execution-style killing of two unarmed occupants of a disabled car following a chase. The officer “Fired at least fifteen shots ... downward through the windshield at close range as he stood on the hood” of the unarmed victims’ car, according to a federal prosecutor.
Muhammad Khan in “Infant still in critical condition after Atlanta police raid” cites recent incidents of Atlanta and Georgia police brutality from a recent article in the Washington Post by Radley Balko, author of “Rise of the Warrior Cop”:
* In 2000, police conducted a no-knock raid on a home in Riverdale, Georgia which resulted in the death of Lynette Gale Jackson. Earlier, Jackson’s home had been broken into while she was inside of it and she procured a handgun for her protection, as a result. When the police conducted the no-knock raid, less than a month later, she pulled her pistol on them thinking that she was being robbed and was gunned down.
* In November 2006, on the basis of a fabricated tip from an informant, Atlanta police initiated a no-knock raid on the home of a 92-year old woman named Kathryn Johnston. Johnston, in a situation similar to Jackson’s, did not realize that the men entering her home were police officers, and she pulled a pistol on them. Johnston was also gunned down.
Johnston’s case gained a fair amount of notoriety at the time because of the illegal practices that the police had engaged in. Atlanta police were found to have lied on the search warrant affidavit, claiming that a crack sale was conducted in the home, in order to get the no-knock warrant. These claims were later found to have been falsified by an informant trying to get the police off of his back. It was also revealed later that police planted marijuana at her home.
* In September 2009, a pastor by the name of Jonathan Ayers was shot dead after trying to flee from armed police who were dressed in street clothes. Ayers had been counseling a young woman whom the police were investigating. She had allegedly sold an undercover cop $50 worth of cocaine. The officer who shot Ayers was found to have failed to take several firearms training classes, required for certification as a police officer, and had received zero training in the use of lethal force.
Balko notes numerous other cases in which police raids were conducted either on the basis of false information, or on the wrong home. Some of those cases ended in deaths. Police recklessness is encouraged through programs like the federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program which rewards police departments for making frequent drug busts on the basis of weak or falsified evidence. Balko also notes that the “reforms” prompted by cases like Johnston’s are either rejected by the politicians outright or are reforms in name only.
Andre Damon, aforementioned, declares that according to federal statistics between one and two so-called “justifiable homicides” by police officers happen every day in the U.S. He goes on to mourn a decision last week upheld by the Supreme Court that provides “qualified immunity” – legal cover – for such homicides by three Arkansas police officers who shot at a fleeing motorist and his passenger fifteen times, killing both.
Muhammad Khan, aforementioned, expands on the very first example of police murderous recklessness cited above, the grave injury to the 19-month old infant by the Atlanta police who threw a stun grenade into the child’s crib during their no-knock raid.
Khan explains that the grenade exploded in the child’s face. The toddler is now in critical condition in a medically induced coma facing multiple surgeries if he survives. His chances of survival are only 50/50. He suffered a collapsed lung along with severe burns on his face. He is unable to breathe on his own. In addition to this tragic plight, the parents do not have health insurance and are dependent on donations coming in for the surgeries the baby requires.
The little family was temporarily staying at the home of their relatives in Atlanta after their Wisconsin home burned down. The intended target of the raid was the nephew of the couple that owns the home. The nephew was not there at the time of the raid.
A public official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post that the drug raid was conducted over a single $50 methedrine sale. The premise of the no-knock raid and the use of the militarized SWAT team was that Thonetheva [the target] had a criminal history and was found, during an earlier drug arrest, in possession of an AK-47. However, the raid in which Bounkham [the infant] was injured turned up no weapons and only a drug “residue” was found. Additionally, Thonetheva was not at the home at the time of the raid. He was arrested several hours later at another location.
The Atlanta police claimed that they had no idea and saw no evidence a child or children lived in the house, though this has been contradicted by the family and their lawyers. The family of the wounded child had been living in the house for two months with their relatives. The father is a stay at home dad who played on a daily basis outside with his baby son and the three other children who live there. If any minimal police surveillance had been done prior to the raid it would have revealed the presence of children.
Sheriff Joey Terrell confessed that no surveillance had been conducted but excused that as not wanting to risk revealing the police pursuit of the target, the nephew of the home owners.
Jerry White in “Detroit police kill seven-year-old child” tells of another tragic death at the hands of reckless police officers:
Detroit police shot and killed a seven-year-old girl during an early morning raid of a home on the city’s east side Sunday morning. The child, Aiyana Stanley Jones, was struck in the head and neck area while sleeping on a couch at the home on Lillibridge Street.
Assistant Police Chief Ralph Godbee said police were executing a “no-knock” search warrant for a homicide suspect in the two-apartment home. The police threw a flash grenade through an unopened window around 12:45 a.m. before charging in with guns drawn. Godbee explained that one of the policeman’s gun discharged after he had “had some level of physical contact” with the girl’s 47-year-old grandmother.
Charles Jones, father of the slain girl, said he rushed from a back bedroom to see his mother being pushed through the door and another police officer carrying his bleeding daughter from the house. “They came into my house with a flash grenade and a bullet," Jones told the Detroit News. "They say my mother (Mertilla Jones) resisted them, that she tried to take an officer's gun. My mother had never been in handcuffs in her life. They killed my baby and I want someone to tell the truth."
Mertilla Jones, who was arrested at the scene and released Sunday, told the Detroit News, "They blew my granddaughter's brains out. They killed her right before my eyes. I seen the light go out of her eyes.” She denied police claims she had a physical confrontation with the cops …
Before the police broke in, a relative told police there were children inside and pointed to toys in the front yard. “‘There’s kids in the house,’ I said five times, ‘there are kids in the house,’” a relative told the TV station.
Jones and his relatives said the suspect was not even in the same apartment as Aiyana. Police raided the upstairs unit simultaneously and reportedly arrested a 34-year-old male.
"Based on our intelligence, we got a search warrant for the location,” Godbee said. "Because of the violent nature of the crime, we thought we were entering a potentially dangerous situation." Godbee said a full investigation would be conducted and expressed fear of public reaction, saying the police “might be the target of anger."
There was a spontaneous memorial set up in front of the home. Family, friends and ordinary citizens left flowers, balloons and toys to honor the dead child. A candlelight vigil was also held.
White points out that in recent weeks there has been a 200% increase in complaints about the Detroit Police Department’s so-called “gang squad” – the Mobile Strike Force – “terrorizing” citizens.
Andre Damon, aforementioned, addresses not only the troubling prevalence of police violence in the United States but the massive expansion of a prison complex “that is without equal anywhere else in the world.”
Last month, the National Research Council released a 440-page report entitled “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States,” documenting the vast increase in the US prison population. Since 1980, the share of the US population in prison has tripled. In the US, male high school dropouts are almost more likely to go to prison than not. Two thirds of black male high school dropouts born in the late 1970s have served time by their mid-30s.
About a quarter of all prisoners worldwide are kept in American prisons, despite the fact that the US accounts for only 5 percent of the world’s population. The portion of Americans in prison is 50 percent higher than the next-worst country, Russia.
Damon also focuses on the brutality of capital punishment.
The crowning symbol of the barbarism of the American “justice system” is the continuing use of capital punishment. The cruelty of this practice was graphically expressed in the execution on April 29 of Clayton Lockett, who was subjected to nearly three quarters of an hour of agony before succumbing to a heart attack. Lockett’s was the latest in a series of “botched” executions using untested drug cocktails from undisclosed sources.
Damon maintains state violence has escalated in all dimensions for the sake of the ruling class elite to repress and intimidate ordinary and economically struggling working class citizens.
State violence has always been a feature of capitalist rule in America, including the massacre of striking workers, the brutalization of African Americans in the Jim Crow South, and the routine repression and intimidation carried out by police departments across the country against working class and minority workers and youth. Police violence has been the precipitating factor in mass social upheavals throughout US history, including the ghetto uprisings of the 1960s.
This has been exacerbated since the eruption of the economic crisis in 2008. The escalation of police violence has gone hand and hand with the increasing concentration of wealth at the top, on the one hand, and the growth of unemployment, hunger and homelessness, on the other, as well as the eruption of American militarism internationally.
… And increasingly, police departments are being militarized, with the addition of armored vehicles, attack helicopters, drones and the like.
The growth of police violence parallels the broader attack on democratic rights, including domestic spying, indefinite detention, drone assassinations and the elimination of any remaining restrictions on money in politics.
The United States “justice” system treats the poor and disadvantaged with total remorselessness, stuffing the prisons with people for the most minor offenses, while the bankers who crashed the economy and CEOs of energy companies whose violations of safety laws lead to the deaths of workers are given a free pass.
Our and our family’s and friends’ lives are becoming cheaper and cheaper to the ruling class elite who encourage and reward hair-trigger reactionary violence – overkill – by a more and more militarized police force and reactionary over-punishment by a double-standardizing judicial system against citizens said elite fears may eventually rebel against its economic exploitation of us and its unconditional immunity from judicial accountability.
As for the incidents of collateral-damage violence and inappropriate levels of lethal force of the police across our country, there are just too many incidents being reported to dismiss them as unique and extenuating tragic and random accidents. Local “law and order” is reflecting more and more the brutal “war on terrorism” m.o. Innocent American citizens are getting a horrifying taste of the kind of shock and awe, hair-trigger, blank check violence our military inflicted on thousands and thousands of foreign peoples during our ongoing imperialist, corporate-profiteering wars.
[cross-posted on open salon]