Breaking Points

Breaking Points

Riots rage in Ferguson, Mo., as distrust of police grows there and in other communities

By André Coleman 08/21/2014

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As rioting continued for a second week in Ferguson, Mo., and a recent report released two weeks ago by the ACLU has made militarization of police a national concern, the mother of an unarmed teenager who was shot and killed by Pasadena police officers criticized the arms buildup and called for an end to the targeting of black people by law enforcement agencies.   


In the case of Ferguson, located about 12 miles northwest of St. Louis, rioting broke out on Aug. 10 after six-year veteran police Officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed Michael Brown, 18. According to a witness to the shooting, Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot by Wilson. 


According to police, Brown had committed a robbery earlier that day when he allegedly stole several cigars and assaulted a store clerk, although Wilson, whose identity was not disclosed until Friday, apparently was unaware of this incident at the time of the shooting.


According to famed forensic pathologist Michael Baden, who was working for Brown’s family, the teenager was shot six times — four times in the arm and twice in the head, with one of those shots entering the top his skull. The Justice Department is planning to conduct a third autopsy on the youth.


Baden made his findings public Monday morning. Also Monday Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called in the National Guard after taking away control of the situation from local police on Saturday and turning it over to the Missouri State Police.


“Police brutality against young African Americans has to cease,” said Anya Slaughter, mother of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade, who was unarmed when he was shot and killed by two Pasadena officers on March 24, 2012.


“The death rate at the hands of the police is higher among young African-American males,” Slaughter stated. “The police need more training.”


McDade was killed after a local man told police that he had been robbed at gunpoint by two African-American males. Police, believing McDade was armed, chased the youth for several blocks and eventually shot him when he turned and ran toward them. 


In June, the city settled separate wrongful death lawsuits filed by Slaughter and Kendrec’s father Kenneth McDade for $850,000 and $187,000, respectively. 


Despite the settlement, Slaughter — like Brown’s parents — is still fighting to get answers about what happened to her son. Pasadena city officials have refused to release a full report on the shooting authored by the Office of Independent Review, which probed the procedures used by the officers who shot and killed McDade.


“I was very upset when I heard they won’t release the full report,” Slaughter said. “I called [my attorney Dale] Galipo and he said there is nothing they can do about it. I am willing to do whatever I can to get the full report. There is something they are still trying to cover up.  


“It is unfair to me as a parent and the community, because we want to know what happened,” she said. “How can we build trust with the Police Department if they keep things from us?” 


Slaughter has avoided coverage of the unrest in Ferguson and the deaths of four other unarmed African American men who were killed by police over the past month, but she read several stories about all four situations last weekend. 


In Los Angeles Sunday, an estimated 100 people marched to protest the officer-involved shooting of Ezell Ford, 25, who was shot and killed by an LAPD officer in South Los Angeles on the same day Brown was killed. According to the Los Angeles Times, police claim Ford did not stop when they attempted to make contact with him and later made suspicious moves before attacking one of the officers. 


According to one eyewitness, there was no struggle and Ford had his hands up when he was shot. Neighbors shouted to police that Ford had mental problems. 


Ford had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Family members told the paper he was taking medication and seeing a doctor.


On Aug. 12, deputies Tasered and killed Dante Parker, 36, in Victorville after a local resident said that a robbery suspect left their property on a bicycle. Police made contact with Parker — who worked as a pressman at the Daily Press newspaper in Victorville — after seeing him on a bike. According to eyewitnesses, a scuffle ensued when Parker resisted arrest. He was repeatedly stunned with a Taser by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies and died at a local hospital.


On Aug, 5, police shot and killed Jonathan Crawford III in a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio. Crawford was handling a toy gun when he was gunned down by police who claimed they received a call claiming a man in the store had a rifle and was loading it. The family is demanding to see the surveillance video, but so far it has not been released to them.


On July 17, Eric Garner, 43, was killed after an encounter with police on New York’s Staten Island for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally. During the encounter, Garner raised both hands in the air and told the officers not to touch him. Seconds later, video footage of the event posted on YouTube shows an officer placing the 350-pound man in a choke hold from behind while taking him down to the sidewalk and rolling him onto his stomach as Garner screamed that he could not breathe.


In another incident, California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel L. Andrew was videotaped pummeling 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock on the side of the Santa Monica Freeway after the officer allegedly found her walking on the freeway.


According to local activists, police sometimes try to intimidate African Americans during traffic stops and other times when they come into contact with police. 


“No other male has a history of being a victim of the worst type of violence like the black male,” said local activist Tarik Ross. “Somehow over time the image of the black male has become that of the perpetrator of violence and aggression.” 


Ross said that he has had to learn how to deal with the police during traffic stops.


“When I’m stopped by the police it’s all too familiar,” Ross said. “Now that I’m older, I’m more calm and collected, but of course it’s dehumanizing to constantly be perceived as a ‘bad guy,’ a ‘monster.’ Why can’t I just be human like everyone else?”


Former Altadena Town Councilman Steve Lamb said blame for all the shootings does not just rest with police officers, but also policymakers who do not hold them accountable.


“They only do what they have permission to do from mayors and city councilmen,” Lamb said. “Either by direction or what seems to be inattention. So if they are shooting unarmed citizens who have their hands up, or beating to death homeless men, they are doing so because they have been given a green light to do so.”


Efforts are being made to initiate a citizen police oversight board in Pasadena, but most City Council members have rejected that idea.


President Barack Obama has ordered a federal investigation into Brown’s death.


“I’ve already tasked the Department of Justice and the FBI to independently investigate the death of Michael Brown, along with local officials on the ground,” Obama said on Saturday. 


“There is never an excuse for violence against police officers, or for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests,” Obama said.


Police officers have come under fire for the increasing use of paramilitary gear and vehicles to combat the civil unrest. According to a recent ACLU report, “The War Comes Home,” police have almost unlimited access to the nation’s military arsenal through federally subsidized Department of Defense surplus programs, which provide police with billions of dollars in military vehicles, weapons and other gear.


Slaughter can’t help but think police are becoming more interested in “defeating an enemy” than protecting and serving a community.


“That is absolutely right,” she said. “The community is losing trust in the police force. When it comes to African-American males, they are not protecting and serving. They are harming and hindering.”


Pasadena police Chief Phillip Sanchez said there is a time to use military gear, but he also denounced the inappropriate militarization of police departments. 


“It’s inappropriate when a police agency cannot articulate why they need an armored vehicle,” Sanchez said of the department’s armored vehicle, known as a Bearcat. “Like when the police show up in an [armored vehicle] to serve a search warrant on a non-violent suspect missing their child support payments.”


Pasadena police recently used its armored vehicle during a mass shooting on Summit Avenue in July and arrested the suspect, who allegedly killed three people and wounded two others, without firing a single round. Sanchez said a certain threat level must be reached before the vehicle is used and so far no shots have been fired with it.   


“The tools we use are to safeguards the employees and to reduce the options of an armed suspect,” he said. “We have never fired a shot from the Bearcat.” 


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