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No Real Change in Police Behavior Post George Floyd

Stephanie Williams: this is America, the land where the criminalization of Black girls has been a reoccurring experience for us since slavery
No Real Change in Police Behavior

We should not be surprised that a sixteen-year-old Black girl was thrown to the ground like a full-grown man by two Rialto police officers for allegedly riding a mini-bike at a high rate of speed through a residential neighborhood.

The officers claim the young teen was uncooperative and in response, they slammed her to the ground and according to the victim, one officer placed his hand around her throat. She was handcuffed and taken to jail. For those who have not seen the video I encourage you to watch and judge for yourself. (see below)

“The officer’s identity is being withheld as part of the investigation,” we are told. It is a line we read and hear over, and over again.

Rialto Police Chief Mark Kling came out of retirement in December 2017 to “clean up” the Rialto Police Department, so to speak, however this incident and others since his return have left some to wonder whether he forgot to bring a broom.

In the meantime, although two officers were involved in the aggressive take down of the teen, only one officer has been suspended—with pay, of course. I guess the second officer who clearly participated in the aggressive handling and arrest of the young girl for some reason it appears his actions were not deemed brutal enough to warrant a suspension–even with pay. Will he even be investigated?

Kling has offered an apology in what appears to be a proactive effort to temper a rising storm. “We apologize to the juvenile’s family regarding these unfortunate circumstances. At a time when our police department strives to build community relationships, we certainly fell short in this encounter…We look forward to building rapport with this family now and in the future.”

Certainly an apology is a good start but it falls far short of the kind of systemic change this community must demand as a way to put an end to the ongoing maltreatment of people of color by local police.

I do not know Chief Kling and can only take him at his word but what I do know is that his words do little to assuage the physical and emotional damage his officers have inflicted on this child, her family and the broader community.

This is America, the land where the criminalization of Black girls has been a reoccurring experience for us since slavery

The aggressive and terrorizing handling of this young girl is no aberration. Sadly, it did not shock us. It did not catch us off guard but it hurt just the same to witness another of our daughters treated so violently. It makes us angry that in the 21st century we are still fighting to protect our children from the viciousness of those who do not see our children as children.

But then again, this is America, the land where the criminalization of Black girls has been a reoccurring experience for us since slavery and has manifested itself again and again in city, county, state and federal sponsored violence and dehumanization, something fostered on Black women and girls with the same level of intensity as is placed on Black men and boys. Were this not true, then officers like those involved in this incident would not have felt so free to act with such violence, with such confidence and sense of impunity against a young Black girl.

There is more going on in Rialto

As this case garners well-deserved national attention, we should not lose sight of the fact that this is not the only incident of concern involving the Rialto police.

This incident comes on the heels of a January 20 press conference by the family of 23-year-old. Cristopher Valadez who was shot and killed by Rialto police October 22, 2021. Valadez was unarmed.

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As the family’s attorney explained, “Cristopher Valadez was shot multiple times by Rialto Police officer Michael Babineaux when he was attempting to drive away. He was not posing any threat of death to anyone as officer Babineaux opened fire on him.”

This case caught my attention not only because it involved another young man of color where officers acted as judge, jury and executioner, for several reasons but two in particular. Firstly, because the circumstances were somewhat similar to the Minnesota case that resulted in the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by officer Kimberly Potter who was found guilty of two counts of manslaughter for shooting him to death. Potter pulled Wright over for having an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. Like Valadez, Wright also tried to leave the scene and was killed when Porter said she accidentally pulled her revolver instead of her taser. Wright was unarmed.

Another point that resonated with me about Valadez’s death is that he was shot by the same officer, Michael Babineaux, who was responsible for shooting another unarmed man in a case I covered two years ago. Babineaux previously shot 29-year-old Lawrence Bender who had tried to use a cigarette lighter in a tow truck to light his cigarette. At the time this occurred the tow truck driver was preparing an impounded vehicle for towing. Babineaux was on site observing the tow driver when Bender wandered onto the scene.

Babineaux shot Bender twice. Fortunately, Bender did not die but was hospitalized for two weeks. There are two videos on the internet of what occurred, one a highly edited version posted by the Rialto Police and a fuller version of the incident is available here.

When Babineaux shot Bender in June 2019, he was a rookie cop, on the job less than six months—he was never suspended. Now, having been on the job less than three years, Babineaux has used deadly force for the second time—resulting in the death of Cristopher Valadez.

A 2015 review of high-profile police shootings across the country showed officers involved in many of these incidents had a few things in common—they were primarily white, a number had disciplinary records, and many were under the age of 30.

And, we also know the problem runs even deeper in the criminal justice system than inexperienced officers and/or police with strong biases against people of color.

Exactly how deep?

We witnessed a classic example with a recent New Jersey incident where police, breaking up two fighting teens, treated the white kid with gentleness and left him sitting unattended as they tackled the Black teen, handcuffed, and held him in custody. It is obvious that his Black skin made him guilty, how else can you explain the difference in treatment by the officers? The white kid was older, larger and on top of the Black kid when the police arrived on the scene.

As local police in communities across the country continue to treat Black and other people of color as if the uprising of 2020 never happened, it was even more alarming last week to watch Judge Regina Chu sympathize and opine over how remorseful officer Kimberly Potter was for having murdered Daunte Wright.

The judge praised Potter for being a great citizen and for her long police career. She talked about all the letters of support Potter received. On and on the judge went singing Potter’s praises, never mind the fact that as Wright lay dying or dead in the street after Potter shot him, all she could do was wail about what was going to happen to her as she implored fellow officers on the scene to call her union representative. She never even bothered to check for Wright’s pulse.

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It was heart wrenching to see the officer get a two-year sentence…far below the minimum subscribed by law based on her 1st and 2nd degree manslaughter convictions. With the time she’s already served, Potter will spend less than two years in jail and is only being charged court fees of just over $1,000. This is the value placed on the life of a young Black man in America today. Records show the average price of a slave in 1860 was $800—showing how little Black lives continues to be worth in this nation.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

Stephanie Williams

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