Thursday, April 9, 2015

Narratives: The Latest Victims of the Cult of Compliance

Walter Scott's killing has made national news, propelled by a cell phone video that allegedly shows the officer dropping a TASER by the body, trying to make the death look justified. When Scott died, I expected to hear defenders of the killing blame Scott for running, but there's been relatively little of that. Instead, Officer Slager is being rendered a bad apple, rather than the sign of a systemic problem.

But absent video, there's little question in my mind that Slager would have gotten away with this. That tells me two important things.

1. Body cams are necessary. They must be deployed with appropriate mandatory activation policies. They will cause some new problems and need to be carefully monitored in terms of storage and use of video, but they are quite simply needed. The failure to turn on one's body camera must function as a gross violation of policy and perhaps indication of wrongdoing. There is no other way to regain trust than to have the verification of video.

2. Police testimony generally has a powerful evidentiary status, a fact that Slager tried to exploit in his alleged crime. For example, Justus Howell was killed in Chicago just a few hours after Scott. He was allegedly in the midst of a deal to buy a handgun when the cops got involved, and ran away with the gun. Running with a firearm is likely justified legally (although I have not heard any evidence that Howell was in fact trying to use the firearm, so any threat remained speculative). The police have told a very clear and consistent story about the incident. Do we believe them? How can we, when this story about the death of Walter Scott, told before the video was out, also is very clear and tells the story of a justified shooting.  I am not saying I in fact think the Zion police are lying. In fact, I think that it's almost certain that their narrative is accurate. But, Slager's conduct forces us, as responsible citizens, to question police narratives.

EDIT - The New York Times has a piece about officers being assumed to tell the truth unless there's evidence to the contrary. They suggest that might have to change. I agree.

Moreover, these are not the only deaths in the news of late.

I wrote about Lavall Hall, the man in mental health crisis holding a broomstick, who police chased as he ran, and shot as he allegedly turned back to them (fearing the broomstick). Now the lawyers for Hall's family have released video, I suspect trying to link their case to Scott's.

The police aren't happy.
As the video played at the news conference, one of the attorneys for the family said Daniels can be heard telling police before the shooting, “Please don’t hurt my child, please.”
A spokesman for Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told ABC News that the investigation is ongoing and they have concerns the video may endanger the investigation into the incident, but the office could not stop the family from releasing the video.
"We investigate every police use of force as a potential criminal case, and that’s why the premature release of this video may well interfere with the investigation," the spokesman told ABC News.
Maybe the premature release is an issue, but to me, I think it's that the video makes the police narrative more questionable. The narrative is:
"The officers were faced with a dangerous situation. They have already given statements to investigators indicating Mr. Hall struck them with a weapon and deadly force was used. The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene. The reliable evidence will establish Officers Trimino and Ehrlich acted appropriately.”
And then there's Donald "Dontay" Ivy - Tasered to death in Albany.
The family of Donald "Dontay" Ivy, 39, described him as a paranoid schizophrenic they said suffered from heart problems. His relatives waited for answers later in the day about the death of a man they said was quiet and introverted as they gathered outside their Second Street residence, several blocks from where the incident unfolded.
Police said Ivy fought with the officers, Michael Mahany, Joshua Sears and Charles Skinkle, at Lark and Second streets and led them on a brief foot chase. The officers started performing CPR on Ivy 11 minutes after the confrontation began at 12:36 a.m., according to a police spokesman.
Police leaders have not said why the officers confronted Ivy or how many times he was struck with a Taser. Ivy was pronounced dead at Albany Medical Center Hospital after he arrived in an ambulance at 1:10 a.m., a spokesman said.
Details on the case are still pending. But Ivy is remembered as a "good kid." Family members argue that the police knew that Ivy was disabled and should have approached the situation differently.
Police nationwide have faced scrutiny for their use of deadly force, especially toward the mentally ill. Ivy's family is questioning the fatal actions of Albany police, since they believe Ivy's illness was apparent.
"They would have known that he was mentally ill," Okwuosa said. "And they would have dealt with it from that perspective. Which they did not, and as a result, I had to see my nephew in the morgue today."
Meanwhile, the DA has announced an independent investigation.

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