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As people from poor minorities are compromised, it’s time to admit our police system is flawed

Milam's Musings, milambc@miamioh.edu

Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, was killed by New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo, after Pantaleo performed a banned chokehold move to which Eric Garner repeatedly gasped in a video of the encounter, "I can't breathe."

"I can't breathe, I can't breathe," has haunted me since I watched Eric Garner gasp for his life. All over the suspicion that he was illegally selling cigarettes.

The grand jury has decided to not indict Officer Pantaleo. Such is another in a long line of confirmations to African Americans everywhere that "black lives don't matter." More on that point in a moment.

There was clear video of the incident, which can be found on YouTube, the chokehold was banned under NYPD policy in 1993, and the medical examiner for the case ruled Garner's death a homicide.

Consider, if Daniel Pantaleo had choked a man to death instead of Officer Pantaleo, most of us would assuredly agree that he would have been indicted. However, an unfortunate reality in the United States is that the government, as Radley Balko, a Washington Post reporter pointed out, can kill us with impunity - and "that should terrify you."

If that seems hyperbolic, consider this fact from Vox: Over one third of police officers who are charged with a crime never get convicted and of those, nearly two-thirds are never incarcerated. That's also presuming the officers get to the stage of being "charged."

The system is heavily in favor of shielding police officers from facing accountability for their actions.

First, there's the two-pronged inherent conflict of interest in prosecutors presiding over cases involving officers since those same prosecutors rely on the police in their other cases. Then the conflict of interest in the police investigating themselves (internal affairs).

Second, juries are all too willing to give the police the benefit of the doubt and much leniency versus the word of a "criminal." Despite clear evidence that police lie.

For instance, take the Tamir Rice case in Cleveland. Rice was a 12-year-old playing with a toy gun (with its orange indicator off) in a park.

The officers wrote in their report that Rice was "sitting under a pavilion in the park with a few people."

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In the video, Rice was alone.Then, they said Rice was ordered to put his hands up three times.

In the video, Officer Timothy Loehmann shoots Rice within two seconds of pulling up to the scene without even letting the cruiser come to a full stop.

Also, as an interesting point, Officer Loehmann was "deemed unfit for duty while serving on another police force due to dismal handgun performance and emotional instability," according to Reason magazine.

The obvious question then is what that officer was doing with a gun and a badge on the day he killed a 12-year-old.

With the Garner and Rice cases, unlike the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, there is clear video evidence of what transpired. But it's still not enough, clearly.

Alarmingly, we do not have any idea how often the government kills its citizens. The comprehensive data just isn't there.

Yes, the FBI does have some record-keeping, but it's based on police agencies self-reporting and on the elasticity of "justifiable," so it's woefully inadequate. In other words, the number - 400 "justifiable homicides" each year since 2008 - is likely much higher.

Going on the data we do have, there were 1,217 police shootings between 2010 and 2012. Blacks between the age of 15 to 19 were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million compared to 1.47 per million for whites, according to a ProPublica report.

In other words, blacks are 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer given the data we have than their white counterparts.

"Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population," according to ProPublica.

However, let me be clear: race is only one factor in this equation. Policing has gone terribly wrong in the United States to which a great deal of innocent, unarmed white, black and Latino citizens are being killed. It just so happens that the system leans more heavily, predictably, on poor minorities.

To top all of this off, Police One, a web site and forum for police officers to which only certified police officers can post, gives us some insight into police attitudes after the grand jury didn't bring an indictment to Officer Pantaleo.

One, going by the name, SAPDMAS, said, "People are sick and tired of thugs. Certain people better wake the hell up and stop supporting thugs. Two years, one month before the head thug gets thrown out and hopefully a real POTUS gets elected."

Protect and serve has become protect and serve themselves.

Police traditionally commanded respect in the same manner that firefighters did (and still do) because just as firefighters are willing to do something most of us aren't - run toward a fire rather than away from it - police officers were willing to accrue some risk in the defense of civilians, hence "protect and serve."

Going by the unaccountability of the police and their attitudes therein, that seems a quaint notion.

Finally, if you'll come at me with, "You are painting all cops as bad based on a few bad apples," I'm highly skeptical of that claim.

Aside from the point that I'm discussing a systemic problem, consider, the U.S. Department of Justice's study, "Police Attitudes Toward Abuse of Authority: Findings from a National Study," found that 84 percent of police officers report that they've seen colleagues use excessive force on civilians, and 61 percent admit that they don't always report "even serious criminal violations that involve abuse of authority by fellow officers."

The problem is that we have a rotten apple tree; the roots of which disproportionately ensnare people of color, and to which most (white) people continue to ignore.

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