We have been discussing the Ferguson matter in which an unarmed young black man was fired upon (multiple times) by a police officer. The young man died from the wounds and many are saying that the officer committed a homicide. Despite the fact that testimony presented to the grand jury told different tales ranging from a description of a cold blooded murder to a shooting in valid self-defense, the grand jury found that there was no probable cause to believe that the officer should be formally charged with a crime. Any crime.
I am hoping that I am not insulting your intelligence by suggesting to you that allegations of police excessive, sometimes deadly, force is not terrible unusual. Usually, the officer or officers involved are not prosecuted.
Take the small central California city of Salinas, for example. Within a period of 11 days, two such incidents recently happened.
In one case, there had been a report that a man burglarized a home, had tried to kill a dog and had exposed himself. Incidently, in case you are not sure, there is no death penalty available for these particular alleged crimes.
When officers found the suspect, he was apparently carrying gardening sheers. At first, the man would not respond to officers who were shouting orders to him. Then, a conversation ensured and police say that he began to attack the officers with the shears. Officers fired and the suspect was dead.
Officers have indicated that they were in fear and that they had tried to use a Taser, but it did not work.
Salinas police Commander Vince Maiorana explains that, “There’s some split-second decisions that have to be made by the officer…When the officer commanded this individual to drop the shears and to get down on the ground, this individual actually attacked the officer with the gardening shears.” Witnesses, including the 19-year-old college student who captured the video footage of the shooting – disagree.
There is a video of this incident, by the way, online if you want to see it. Check out one of the links below.
Meanwhile, this had been the second such incident in the area in a short span of time.
Just over a week prior, Salinas officers fatally shot 26-year-old lettuce farmer Osman Hernandez outside of a grocery store only one mile away from the scene of the above-mentioned location after he reportedly was chasing shoppers with a knife. Reports have since suggested Hernandez was drinking heavily at a nearby bar for two hours before the incident.
According to the man’s family, at least one of the shots fired by law enforcement after the police arrived hit Hernandez in the head while he was lying on the ground.
“They killed Osman like a dog as he lay on the ground. Why are we to trust them investigating themselves? Why does it take so many bullets to the head to subdue a man who is already lying on the ground? Osman’s life had value. We want the truth,” a spokesperson for the man’s family told reporters earlier this month.
KSBW added that the one eyewitness told the network that Hernandez was on the ground and stunned from the Taser when police fired no fewer than four shots. .
And then, only yesterday, this time in New York, a grand jury refused to indict another police officer who was said to have killed a black man, Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold.
Once again, the screams of outrage from Ferguson, Boston and other states have started again…or, simply, continued.
Mr. Garner, 43, was being arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes. In a video of the arrest, which has since gone viral, Garner screams “I can’t breathe!” multiple times until his body goes limp. A medical examiner later said that he died of a chokehold, a move that is banned by the NYPD, and ruled his death a homicide.
The officer said in a statement that he regretted Garner’s death. He said, “I became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves…It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner. My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Garner’s death “a terrible tragedy that no family should have to endure,” and said he would continue to work to decrease the use of excessive force among officers.
“This is a subject that is never far from my family’s minds – or our hearts,” he said. “And Eric Garner’s death put a spotlight on police-community relations and civil rights – some of most critical issues our nation faces today.”
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton told The New York Times Wednesday that he had spoken with the Garner family and they were not surprised by the announcement. He also said that before the grand jury had reached its decision, he had met with federal prosecutors to ask them to take over the case.
Attorney Sam’s Take On History Repeating Itself
Of course, it would be folly to suggest that any of this is new.
Not so long ago, a quasi-police officer shot and killed a young black man in Florida; he was acquitted at trial.
It is reminiscent for me to see Al Sharpton’s entry into the current issue. You see, as a prosecutor in New York, my introduction to such incidents took place after a jury verdict about the killing of a black youth in Howard Beach in Queens. It kicked off the first “Day Of Outrage” for new York.
Al Sharpton’s involvement and that protest, along with others, taught me a striking lesson on how these matters are often handled…by the office of the District Attorney.
Stay tuned for my next blog…this evening.
For the original stories upon which this blog is based, please go to
http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/ferguson-michael-brown-indictment-darren-wilson/ , http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/03/eric-garner_n_6263656.html and http://rt.com/usa/160528-salinas-cop-fatal-shooting/