It is gratifying to see that the cacophony emanating from the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson has exploded into a unified chorus of voices demanding that police receive better training, particularly in de-escalation techniques.
Thankfully, the shooting of Brown, the “chokehold” killing of Eric Garner, and other police killings of unarmed black people seem certain to bring about widespread change.
Here are some of the stories flaring around the nation Thursday that pointed to an upheaval of the status quo:
The New York Times
“One day after a grand jury declined to indict a New York police officer in the death of Eric Garner…Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday announced the start of a significant retraining of the nation’s largest police force.”
Among other things, the three-day program will train the city’s 22,000 officers on street tactics and presenting a “nonjudgmental” posture.
Police commissioner William Bratton first announced the program after Garner was killed on July 17. Yesterday, the program got the mayor’s full support. “People need to know,” said de Blasio, whose wife is African-American, “that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives.”
In addition to the retraining, about 60 New York City police officers will today be outfitted with body cameras as part of a pilot program.
The Associated Press
“Cleveland — The U.S. Justice Department and Cleveland reached an agreement Thursday to overhaul the city’s police department after federal investigators concluded that officers use excessive and unnecessary force far too often and have endangered the public and their fellow officers with their recklessness.”
In a study, the Justice Department found “a systemic pattern of reckless and inappropriate use of force by officers.” The report also said officers frequently violated people’s civil rights “because of faulty tactics, inadequate training and a lack of supervision and accountability.”
The federal investigation was prompted partly by the November 2012 deaths of two unarmed people who were fatally wounded when police officers culminated a high-speed chase by firing 137 shots into their car.
Then, last week, Cleveland officer Timothy Loehmann fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice outside a Cleveland recreation center…Shot him within two seconds of pulling up next to him. Loehmann said he thought Tamir was holding a firearm, when he actually had an “airsoft” gun that fires nonlethal plastic pellets.
But Loehmann shouldn’t have been on the force in the first place. When he was with a suburban Cleveland police department, he had received a terrible job-performance rating partly because of his “dismal” performance in weapons training. He resigned in 2012 after that department had taken the first steps toward terminating him. Eight months ago he caught on with the Cleveland force, which failed to review the officer’s personnel file from the suburban department.
“(Reuters) – A white former police chief in Eutawville, South Carolina, has been indicted on a murder charge in the 2011 shooting death of an unarmed black man he was trying to arrest, according to records released on Thursday.”
The former chief, 38-year-old Richard Combs, fatally shot 54-year-old Eutawville resident Bernard Bailey in the town hall parking lot in May 2011 after they argued and scuffled over a traffic ticket Bailey’s daughter had received. Last year, Combs was indicted on a misconduct in office charge, related to the shooting, but the local prosecutor’s office subsequently pushed for a grand jury indictment on the murder charge.
Better training isn’t all that’s needed, of course. Officers like Loehmann, who are sorely lacking in temperament and skill, must be identified and fired. In an Op-Ed piece posted on The New York Times website Thursday, Eric L. Adams, a retired New York City police captain and now a local elected official, expressed it like this:
“There is reluctance on the part of police leadership, which has long believed in the nightstick and quick-trigger-finger justice, to effectively deal with officers who have documented and substantiated records of abuse. These individuals need to be removed from the force. That is an essential component of the larger response we must have to address this history of abuse.”
We know for sure a lot more Darren Wilsons and Timothy Loehmann are out there patrolling the streets in cities across America. Let’s hope many of them are rooted out in the coming year.