A multi-cultural group of retired and former law enforcement officers will meet with Rep. John Lewis (D. Alabama) in Washington, DC, next week, to further the discussion started by FBI Director James Comey in his speech on race relations between the police and the black community.
This historic and unprecedented event will include retirees from police departments across the nation: St. Louis, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC Metro, Albuquerque, East Orange, New Jersey, Brockton, MA and the US Marshal Service as well as family members of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man whose murder was the subject of the movie Fruitvale.
In addition, we are also supported by Kevin Murphy, former Alabama police chief who bought Representative Lewis to tears when he apologized to the noted civil rights leader for failing to protect the Freedom Riders during a trip to Montgomery in 1961.
The National Coalition of Law Enforcement Officers for Justice, Reform and Accountability (NCLEOJ) will stand shoulder to shoulder with those "disfavored groups" Director Comey referenced - and not a moment too soon.
While in Washington, the NCLEOJ will also meet with community members to begin this partnership as they embark on an opportunity to re-invent policing service and its relationship to diverse communities, an effort that has been unsuccessful for decades. Concerns expressed regarding racial profiling, disparate treatment in the community, and a lack of transparency in police investigations of alleged officer misconduct have been further exacerbated by minimal disciplinary action on some police departments. In view of the ethical, social and economic cost of this broken system, it is no longer just a matter of "weathering the storm" as an acceptable position.
There appears to be an ongoing and concerted effort by a some police departments to minimize and mitigate bad behavior on the part of police officers on a national level.
There appears to be an ongoing and concerted effort by a some police departments to minimize and mitigate bad behavior on the part of police officers on a national level. It is understood, but not accepted, that court cases generated as a result of police misconduct are often swept under the rug to avoid costly lawsuits.
The belief is that police chiefs and commissioners routinely 'circle the wagons' to avoid agency embarrassment and exorbitant litigation. Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole recently "counselled" Officer Cynthia Whitlach after the police car dash-cam proved that Whitlach had falsified an arrest report of a 79-year-old black military veteran, William Wingate. If falsely stripping a citizen of his or her freedom is not grounds for dismissal - what is?
Then we have district attorneys, who at times, appear complicit in shielding bad cops. We now know that the Ferguson Grand Jury was misled admittedly by District Attorney Robert McCullough.
Recently in New York, in the case of New York Police Department Officer Mirjan Lolja, the prosecutor used his "discretion" and charged Lolja with a misdemeanor rather than a felony for assaulting the subway conductor. Time for an independent prosecutor to handle police officers accused of criminal activity.
There is an abundance of evidence that police officers are given great deference by grand jurors in the discharge of their duties; most don't want to second guess a police officer who uses physical violence that results in serious injury or death. As in the case of the former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle who shot and killed Oscar Grant, the San Francisco civil jury declined to award damages to the father of Grant.
There were similar outcomes in the cases of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in Staten Island, and John Crawford in Beavercreek, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. We are still awaiting a grand jury decision in the matter of Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Sadly, I could go on and on.
So then, the questions that beg to be asked are:
- Might there be a pattern of excessive force by officers?
- Is anger management an issue having been dismissed?
- Would periodic psychological evaluation help identify those police officers ready to 'pop like a cork'?
It's time for real and substantive change in the way police departments discipline errant behavior when discovered. It's time for prosecutors to shed the appearance of collusion and favoritism with police departments and file the appropriate criminal complaints when officers break the law.
No desk duty when an officer is caught red-handed violating policy. No more counseling when termination should occur. No more resignation in an attempt to hide bad behavior, thus allowing employment on another police department.
Time to deter bad behavior with definitive consequences. Time to hold everyone accountable up and down the chain of command. I applaud Madison Alabama Police Chief Larry Muncey for having the intestinal fortitude to fire an officer, Eric Parker, after he slammed Sureshbhai Patel, a 57-year-old grandfather to the ground because he "looked suspicious". Patel's injuries left him partially paralyzed and required spinal surgery. Parker's actions are now being investigated by the FBI for possible federal law violations.
A police officer, in my opinion, is only able to commit egregious acts in the field because of a lack of managerial oversight. Where are the patrol sergeants? Where is the station's watch commander? Who approved that booking of the suspect when there was insufficient probable cause for the initial detention, not to mention the subsequent arrest? Which supervisor signed that "use of force" report without interviewing the alleged suspect to verify the officer's assertions? Every person along the way who had a hand in commission of an act or omission of supervision should be held personally accountability -- officers, sergeants and lieutenants alike.
Accountability will put an end to bad behavior - yesterday. When an officer does come forward with evidence of corruption within a police department, let's make sure real and immediate protection for those whistleblowers occurs. Two Chicago cops, Shannon Spalding and her partner, Daniel Echeverria, have been threatened with death for exposing corruption on their police department. In San Diego, black police sergeant Arthur Scott has initiated a lawsuit alleging retaliation when he complained to his supervisors regarding a racist cartoon that was shown during a police training class. Reward the good cops and punish the bad cops.
This will be the focus of discussion next Wednesday when NCLEOJ and victim family members meet with Rep. John Lewis. Singularly, it's easy to ignore the cry for justice. NCLEOJ is standing in the gap for the mothers; like Tritobia Ford (mother of Ezell Ford) here in Los Angeles and others across the nation who've lost their sons (and daughters) at the hands of over-zealous police officers.
When the nation sees police officers -- black, brown and white -- standing in support of those "disfavored groups", victims' family members and community organizers; it will be clear that their collective voices will not be silenced.
Black & Blue