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What Will It Take to End the Cycle of Police Killings?

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In my life, I’ve never had to worry about anything more than a ticket when a police officer has pulled me over. I’ve never had to worry that a relatively minor infraction or failure to signal a lane change could end in my death. I’ve driven terrible cars for much of my life—hell, I’ve had a broken mirror and missing turn signal on the car I drive now for the past three years. To me, those missing elements serve as a joke about having the worst car at Helena High, not as potentially deadly pretexts for a police stop that ends with my life ending.

I’ve never had to worry. I likely never will. Though I am not armed, I could drive in my car with a gun without fear. When I was younger, I could speed dangerously without fear of anything but a large ticket and the prospect of being yelled at by a highway patrol officer. For me, law enforcement offers little more fear than a temporary inconvenience, and often offers assistance when I need it. The police are not my enemy; more importantly, they don’t see me as theirs. I’m a citizen, not an enemy combatant to be treated with rage and fear.

That’s the privilege I live with. The privilege so many of us live with, often without noting it. Some even seem to believe that their whiteness conveys special burdens and difficulties, but as angry as their ignorant commentary may make us, it’s hardly worth acknowledging their ignorance of the reality that confronts so many in the United States today.

I woke this morning to the news that American police had killed another person of color, this time for “the mistakes” of legally carrying a firearm and reaching for his identification when13626445_1344345712261451_9155852309871878842_n asked to by the officer. Those mistakes led the officer to shoot his victim, Philando Castile (apologies for earlier auto-correct error), and watch the school cafeteria supervisor die while the officer kept his service weapon trained on the man and screamed obscenities. He didn’t appear to deliver first aid. He didn’t appear to offer an apology. He didn’t show the kind of wild grief a person should when he has killed another human being. He was already constructing his justifications for taking a life.

The video, like so many before it, is harrowing. It shows a woman who has just watched a law enforcement officer shoot her boyfriend remain preternaturally calm in the face of the officer’s rage, no doubt to keep her four-year-old daughter in the back seat of the car safe. It shows the the deadly cocktail of racism, police power, and poor training that have led to police killing almost a thousand people a year in the United States, killings almost always obscured by the comforting verbal haze of “officer-involved shootings.” It shows how quickly the deep-seated racist attitudes of this country end in violence.

It shows a human being, our brother, having his life ended for the crime of being an African-American in the United States.

After her son’s death, when she still had been denied the opportunity to see her body, Valerie Castille told the press:

“He’s not a gang banger. He’s not a thug. He’s very respectable….She said she stressed to her son that if he ever had an encounter with police, he should “comply, comply, comply.We’re … hunted every day. It’s a sign of war against African-American people as a whole,” she said.

In the few times I have been pulled over by law enforcement, I have never had to remind myself to “comply,” never had reason to worry that the encounter would spiral out of control. If something like this were to happen to me, my people would not have to assure the police that I wasn’t “a thug,” because no one would be suggesting it before my body had even cooled.

I’m angry and I’m heartbroken. Where are the calls today from politicians concerned about law enforcement abuses yesterday? Where is the national plan to end police violence, to prosecute perpetrators, and to make our citizens—all of them—feel safe when those who are charged with protecting them encounter them?

What can we do?

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

13 Comments

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  • Don, I share your anger and your grief over not just this incident but the recurrence of like scenarios.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates, cites specifically this kind of violence in his book, “Between the World and Me.” He warns his son that “they” will “take his body.” This latest un-speakable tragedy, not at all unusual, illustrates Coates’ point to the letter.

    When will it stop, so future dads of color no longer need to warn their sons? If we fail to speak up – in voice and in print – we bear the burden of guilt for the continuation of these despicable crimes by those who wear a badge.

    Thank you for this terrific post!

    Dan Lourie

      • Don, good for you for planning to teach that book. It’s a difficult book to absorb, or was for me. I grew up in a big city, knew about “tough” parts of town, played ball with black kids, but still not get over his descriptions of the struggles when just “walking to the corner.” There are nuances about which I imagine you will have to work hard to be able to “teach.” I found myself rereading many paragraphs – sentences, too – just to understand and to accept his explanations to his son. And I’m no stranger to black communities, from my HS days in the fifties, to civil rights actions in the 60’s. It’s a profound document and will probably take multiple reads for me to get it all. Maybe I’ll take your class!
        Dan

      • Don, I read a few quotes from Coates when I spoke briefly at the vigil here in Bozeman Friday. But my off the cuff statement was to tell people about Coates’ continued warning to his son that “they will get your body” and to point out how that is exactly what happened to the guy in the car. For no justifiable reason, the cop “took his body.”
        Dan

  • Judges letting sex offenders off the hook, cops killing innocent people just for not being Caucasian, private schools denying entry to and booting out kids with special needs, a generation of people who are going to be in debt just because they wanted to get higher education, bills saying “Hey, maybe we should have some kind of gun regulation” getting shot down repeatedly no matter how many mass shootings there are, a proto-Fascist running for president…

    Pogreba, you were my teacher once. Tell me something. Am I just imagining it, am I engaging in a logical fallacy, or is America on some kind of downward spiral?

  • It’s not OK for cops to murder innocent people. Now, the people are fighting back. The cops should have policed their own before we got to this point. The result? Dallas.

    • And really, it’s important to understand that the militarized police have become the enforcers for the corporate fascists. If you have never done so, please go to any city court in any city in this country and just spend a few hours observing. What you will see is a human salmon cannery. They simply process poor folks through the system for any type of petty crime. It’s nothing personal, just a revenue enhancing system. That’s all. Stealing money from folks who are barely surviving at all to bolster the city coffers. And why not? It’s legal theft.

      And then, stop and think what kind of emotions this engenders in those people. Sure, it’s partly racial, but mostly just economics.

      The cops murdered a guy selling individual cigarettes on the street. The cops murdered the guy selling CDs in front of the store with the owners permission. The cops murdered the guy with his taillight out. And on and on. NONE of these should be a capital offense! But when the city governments want money, they will do what they have to do to get it, and to HELL with a few bodies lying on the ground. There’s lots more poor people to bleed where they came from.

      Butte gal Barbara Ereniech does a great job of point this out. I mean, guy shows up in court for no car insurance. So, what does the court do? Fine him five hundred bucks! Yeah, that really helps.

      https://www.thenation.com/article/preying-poor/

      Does this sort of “policing” really make us safer? Yeah, I feel SO much safer now that the cops here in GF stopped my buddy last week because his license plate light wasn’t working! Jesus, Jesus. Come back soon and end this madness!

      • In the military we rooted out the ‘truly rotten’ drill sergeants, the worst sexual predators (They’re still THERE sadly) and police training NOT uniform and hap-hazard in many communities, and Dallas IRONICALLY made the best turnarounds and sadly suffer the bottled-up rage, ironically again from a black Army veteran who snapped and easily got semi-auto assault rifles freely in TexASS….remember after WWII, Black GI’s – even in uniform – where LYNCHED openly by the KKK and especially when Truman initiated de-segregation in the Armed Forces. Respect
        has to be EARNED, and spot on about cops becoming ‘revenue machines for poorly managed city governments and send poor, working folks down into a death spiral they can’t escape….I’d be PISSED too…

  • Note, COPS – especially in the South – did NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING to catch the cowardly scum that lynched Black-American combat veterans of WWII, and often the cops THEMSELVES were under the hoods!

  • THINKING ABOUT SOME OF THE OBSERVATIONS AND INDICTMENTS OF COPS…

    -When will it stop, so future dads of color no longer need to warn their sons? If we fail to speak up – in voice and in print – we bear the burden of guilt for the continuation of these despicable crimes by those who wear a badge.

    -Am I just imagining it, am I engaging in a logical fallacy, or is America on some kind of downward spiral?

    -It’s not OK for cops to murder innocent people. Now, the people are fighting back. The cops should have policed their own before we got to this point. The result?

    -The cops murdered a guy selling individual cigarettes on the street. The cops murdered the guy selling CDs in front of the store with the owners permission. The cops murdered the guy with his taillight out.

    -WWII, Black GI’s – even in uniform – where LYNCHED openly by the KKK

    CONSIDER THIS:

    First, only a fool would deny that police kill people and every life lost to violence is a tragedy.

    But how much of that is ‘murder’? Is the homicide rate of civilians by police really an epidemic? I guess one would first have to define ‘epidemic’. For argument let’s use “…an inordinately large number of people within a very short period.” But what’s large. Well the current U.S. population 324+ million. The largest total number of shootings in recent years was 630 (2014). If my math was correct, that’s 0.000194444% of the U.S. population.

    List of killings by law enforcement officers in the United States Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_killings_by_law_enforcement_officers_in_the_United_States
    2016 ( 83…) shootings incidents described (by month, starting w/ January)
    2015 ( 401) shootings incidents described (by month, starting w/ January)
    2014 (630) shootings incidents described (by month, starting w/ January)
    2013 (340) shootings incidents described (by month, starting w/ January)
    2012 (606) shootings incidents described (by month, starting w/ January)
    2011 (166) shootings incidents described (by year)
    2010 (289) shootings incidents described (by year)
    2009 (66) shootings incidents described (by year)
    Prior to 2009 (227)

    List of American police officers killed in the line of duty Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_police_officers_killed_in_the_line_of_duty
    The average from 1990-2010 was 164 per year.[2]
    2016 (66) deaths in the line of duty.
    2015 (129) deaths in the line of duty.
    2014 (133) deaths in the line of duty and 51 were ‘feloniously’ killed
    2013 (114) deaths in the line of duty, 27 ‘feloniously’ killed
    2012 (49) deaths in the line of duty.
    2011 (72) killed in the line of duty
    2010 (161) law enforcement officers were killed
    According to the FBI, from 1980–2014, an average of (64) law enforcement officers have been feloniously killed per year.

    According to the US Department of Justice, blacks accounted for 52.5% of homicide offenders from 1980 to 2008, with whites 45.3% and “Other” 2.2%. The offending rate for blacks was almost 8 times higher than whites, and the victim rate 6 times higher. Most homicides were intraracial, with 84% of white victims killed by whites, and 93% of black victims killed by blacks…Wikipedia

    And what about crime? Does it matter who’s committing crimes and the rates at which they’re being committed, matter?

    5 Statistics You Need To Know About Cops Killing Blacks

    1. Cops killed nearly twice as many whites as blacks in 2015. According to data compiled by The Washington Post, 50 percent of the victims of fatal police shootings were white, while 26 percent were black. The majority of these victims had a gun or “were armed or otherwise threatening the officer with potentially lethal force,” …”The black violent crime rate would actually predict that more than 26 percent of police victims would be black,”…

    2. More whites and Hispanics die from police homicides than blacks. …12 percent of white and Hispanic homicide deaths were due to police officers, while only four percent of black homicide deaths were the result of police officers…
    “If we’re going to have a ‘Lives Matter’ anti-police movement, it would be more appropriately named “White and Hispanic Lives Matter,'” said Mac Donald in her Hillsdale speech.

    3. The Post’s data does show that unarmed black men are more likely to die by the gun of a cop than an unarmed white man…but this does not tell the whole story. In August 2015, the ratio was seven-to-one of unarmed black men dying from police gunshots compared to unarmed white men; the ratio was six-to-one by the end of 2015. But Mac Donald points out in The Marshall Project that looking at the details of the actual incidents that occurred paints a different picture: The “unarmed” label is literally accurate, but it frequently fails to convey…

    4. Black and Hispanic police officers are more likely to fire a gun at blacks than white officers. This is according to a Department of Justice…

    5. Blacks are more likely to kill cops than be killed by cops. This is according to FBI data…

    Five devastating facts…

    Despite the media’s overindulgence on white cops killing blacks, there is still a far-larger amount of black bodies being sent to morgues by black killers. Here’s five devastating facts, liberals can’t deny, that prove it.

    FACT 1. Over 1,400 more black Americans murdered other blacks in two years than were lynched from 1882 to 1968.
    According to FBI data, 4,906 black people murdered other blacks in 2010 and 2011. That is 1,460 more black Americans killed by other blacks in two years than were lynched from 1882 to 1968, according to the Tuskegee Institute.

    FACT 2. Black People (mostly men) commit a grossly disproportionate amount of crime.
    In 2012, white males were 38 percent of the population and committed 4,582 murders. That same year, black males were just 6.6 percent of the population but committed a staggering 5,531 murders.

    In other words: black people–at just a fifth of the size–committed almost 1,000 more murders than their white counterparts.

    The figures above highlight a horrific truth that black racialists and white liberals routinely ignore: Lawbreaking black Americans, young black males particularly, put themselves in close proximity to (mostly white male) police officers at rates sometimes five to 10 times higher than whites. This is a recipe for disaster. Thusly….

    FACT 3. Despite making up just 13% of the population, blacks committed half of homicides in the United States for nearly 30 years.
    DOJ statistics show that between 1980 and 2008, black people committed 52% of homicides.

    In 2013, black criminals committed 38% of the murders. Whites accounted for just 31 percent.
    There are five times fewer black people than white people in America and, yet, they consistently carry out a larger share of the crimes? Given this rate, it’s no wonder that there aren’t more assistances where cops kill black criminals.

    FACT 4. Chicago’s death toll is almost equal to that of both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined.
    There have been almost as many deaths in one American city as there have been in the two major wars carried out by the U.S. military this century.

    Chicago’s death toll from 2001–November, 26 2015 stands at 7,401. The combined total deaths during Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2015: 4,815) and Operation Enduring Freedom/Afghanistan (2001-2015: 3,506), total 8,321.

    FACT 5. It would take cops 40 years to kill as many black men as have died at the hands of others black men in 2012 alone.

    University of Toledo criminologist Dr. Richard R. Johnson examined the latest crime datafrom the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports and Centers for Disease Control andfound that an average of 4,472 black men were killed by other black men annually between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2012.

    Professor Johnson’s research further concluded that 112 black men died from both justified and unjustified police-involved killings annually during this same period.

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