A brief history of police accountability


Headlines regarding police brutality have been surfacing, which should be alarming to every one. Image courtesy of CanStockPhotos(www.canstockphotos.com)

Vinay Pratapa, Lode Writer

Meet Sarah Wilson, a 19-year-old who got pulled over along with her boyfriend, Holden Medlin, at a traffic stop at Chesapeake, Virginia for possession of drugs. The cops arrested Wilson and handcuffed her hands behind her back, and sat her in the back of the car as Medlin made a break for it. Cops tased him and in the skirmish, allegedly had their body cam “knocked out.” Wilson allegedly found a gun in the car, “contorted” her body and “shot herself through the mouth.” Just imagine that. You find a gun with your hands behind your back and the first thing you do is to fracture your shoulder and pull the trigger as the barrel is in your mouth.

Conveniently, there’s no evidence because the body cam is knocked out. The coroner closed the case as a “suicide through an intra-oral gunshot to the head.” Police accountability is one of the leading problems in the U.S. and the worst thing is that nothing is being done about it.

There is no doubt that a police job is difficult, dangerous and challenging; no sane person would refute that. However, it’s all the more reason for the job to be done to the highest standard. However, as Uncle Ben didn’t say, “With great power to keep the streets safe comes the power of prejudice and bias.” The bias that can manifest itself in the form of racism, homophobia, paranoia and frustration.

Like in the case of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African-American man who was fatally shot by Bay Area Transit Police Officer Johannes Mehserle on Jan. 1, 2009. Grant was celebrating the new year with his friends and was intoxicated. After a public disturbance complaint near the Fruitvale Station, the officers had a physical altercation with Grant and his friends, after which the officer restrained him.

As Grant was kneeling, pleading for the officers not to taze him, Mehserle shot him in his back since he was unable to handcuff Grant. He was sentenced to two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. That’s right, involuntary. Because police firearms training is just a videogame tutorial that you can skip and every copper gets itchy trigger fingers as soon as they see anyone with slightly more melanin in their skin.

However, the problem is that the internal investigations done by the department itself sound pretty pathetic. Out of thousands of shootings that happened between 2005 and 2016, only 26 police officers were convicted. Despite many police shootings being justified, that number seems staggeringly low. One internal investigations report about an officer charged with excessive force even said that the “officer was portrayed in the best possible light.”

One instance of this favoritism was seen in the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy who was shot in the chest by Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann. Rice was pointing an airsoft gun at random passersby, and the person who called the cops on the boy told them that it was probably fake. The police operator conveniently ignored this important bit while relaying it to the officers who asked Rice to show his hands while sitting in the car. Tamir “looked like” he was about to draw and Loehmann killed him.

Cleveland police never did a background check on Loehmann because if they did, they’d know about the multiple incidents of “dangerous loss of composure” during firearms training sessions to which the supervisor has concluded, “I do not believe time nor training will change or correct these deficiencies.”

I can continue with several incidents of unfair police brutality incidents such as the 2017 Wichita Swatting, where a videogamer got fatally shot by a SWAT team due to a hoax call by his online rival, or the incident where an African-American behavioral therapist treating his autistic patient got shot despite being unarmed and lying on the ground, or even the shooting of Walter Scott, an African-American man who, get this, was pulled over and shot eight times because his brake light wasn’t working. If this doesn’t raise awareness about how ridiculous policing policies are in the U.S., I don’t know what does.

There is only so much we can do about these incidents unless we have political power. But look! We are the police. People like us, paranoid, insecure, hot-blooded, xenophobic Americans wearing tin-foil hats fiercely protecting our Second Amendment rights are the ones who pass exams and become cops. If one scared white person reports on a person of color, or anyone really, walking on the street, it’s a national threat. They could be carrying weapons of mass destruction, or be a school shooter or a suicide bomber. Being paranoid will only exacerbate the problem. Until we come to terms with the reality that more melanin does not equal more crime, there is nothing we can do about police accountability.

*Note: This article ran April 4