Executed: How Deborah Danner Predicted Her Death at Hands of Police

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As far as Ed Mullins is concerned no Black person has ever been wrongfully killed by police

Last week’s killing of Deborah Danner, in the Bronx, is one more example of an unnecessary shooting by a cop with an itchy trigger finger, those who adopt the “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset whenever it comes to their interactions with Black people—whose lives matter very little to America’s police and politicians.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Danner’s death “tragic and unacceptable.”
Across America, the list of the “unacceptable” killings of Black people is a repeatedly rising one that highlights just how cheap Black life is viewed by the larger White American society.

Last Tuesday, Deborah Danner, 66, who suffered from mental illness, was killed in her apartment by Sergeant Hugh Barry. Police had received a 911 call for help by a neighbor who reported that Danner was behaving in an erratic manner. Police had been called in previous instances to deal with Danner’s mental episodes.

According to the NYPD, after initially complying with Sergeant Barry’s command to drop a scissors, police claim she tried to swing a baseball bat at Sergeant Barry—who then shot her twice, killing her. Mayor Bill de Blasio has faulted Sergeant Barry for his actions. The sergeant had a stun gun but never used it.

Is there a reason why we should even believe Sergeant Barry’s assertion that Danner tried to hit him with a baseball bat? Unfortunately, because of all the lies and cover-ups police engage in, their stories in these instances cannot just be accepted at face value. Indeed, it seems a little strange that police tells us Danner complied with the command to put down the knife but then try to hit Barry with a bat, even taking into account her mental illness.

More importantly, at the time she was shot, Ms. Danner was in her home and was therefore then not a danger to the larger public. Sergeant Barry never waited for the Emergency Services Unit which has officers who are more specialized in handling the mentally ill. “There was an opportunity to slow things down here and wait to get everything set up the right way,” Mayor de Blasio said.

Not surprisingly, the police union and other police apologists did what they always do: complain that police are being unfairly attacked and accused. Once again, we’re told by the Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins that Sergeant Barry shot Danner “fearing for his own life, as well as the lives of others.” Since Danner was alone in her house when she was killed, what “lives of others” is Mullins talking about?

Mr. Mullins characterized Mayor de Blasio’s response to the killing as having everything to do with “political expedience.” How should we characterize the responses of police union leaders who excuse any and everything their officers do, regardless of the facts? Somehow, these shameless cops always try to pretend they are the real victims—even after killing innocent people, in their homes.

Here we have a prime example of why we have unaccountable, undisciplined prejudiced police officers roaming the streets. For when police leaders like Mullins, and their kind, look for any excuse to shield officers from taking any kind of responsibility, how will we ever have any accountability? And, can this woeful lack of accountability encourage Black America to trust police officers and the crooked criminal justice and its mass incarceration machine that feeds off of the blood of Black bodies? The lack of accountability allows police to continually brutalize and kill Black people.

Moreover, even in cases where a victim or family of police brutality is given a monetary settlement, police departments seem to look at this a just part of the cost of doing business. And since the pay and pensions of these police officers are secured, and hardly ever targeted in lawsuits, there is no incentive whatsoever for these prejudiced police to change their behavior.

Last week, we saw something quite extraordinary by a high-ranking police official: Mr. Terrence Cunningham, president of the International Association of Police Chiefs apologized for the “historical mistreatment” of Black Americans.

In his statement, dated Oct.17, Mr. Cunningham admitted “There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens. In the past, the laws adopted by our society have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks, such as ensuring legalized discrimination or even denying the basic rights of citizenship to many of our fellow Americans.”

Mr. Cunningham’s comments are somewhat hopeful—even though he wrongly suggested that discrimination of the past is somehow not present in contemporary law enforcement and that police are no longer “the face of oppression” for Black people. This is obviously not the case. Cunningham also needs to get on with the business of enacting procedures that will hold criminal cops accountable for their brutal and murderous actions, when appropriate.

Those cops who not only violate the rights—but take the lives of innocent Black people must be punished. South Carolina Officer Michael Slager must pay for his cold blooded murder of Walter Scott. The same is true for Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke. How could these murderers have been given bail?

And what is going on in Louisiana where Alton Serling was murdered by Officer Howie Lake and Officer Blaine Salamoni?

However, we do agree with Mr. Cunningham when he says “the first step in this process [promoting good will between Blacks and police] is for law enforcement and the IACP to acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”

Mr. Cunningham needs to give this message to police like Mr. Mullins and PBA President Pat Lynch who never seems to see any conduct worth condemning by their cops. Cunningham should remind them that they destroy the integrity and credibility of cops when they reflexively excuse ever excess and crime their officers commit. He must convince them that the “Blue Wall” of silence only affirms police to many Americans as one of the most corrupt gangs in America.

Even soldiers sent to war and who are exposed to even greater risks are supposed to be prosecuted when they commit crimes overseas; so why should police officers be treated differently?

The killing of Danner has brought back memories of the 1984 killing of Eleanor Bumpurs—who like Danner suffered from mental illness—and was also killed in her Bronx apartment during an altercation with NYPD officers, who were trying to evict her from her apartment.

Ironically, Danner, in an essay she wrote detailing her struggles with schizophrenia, outlined basically the manner in which she would be killed by police. Prophetically Danner wrote “We are all aware of the all too frequent news stories about the mentally ill who come up against law enforcement instead of mental health professionals and end up dead.”

The killing of Danner in her apartment has been denounced by Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. But at the end of the day, will Sergeant Barry be held accountable? Or, will we see yet another farcical outcome?

The repeated killing of innocent Black people by police represents a crisis which demands more than lip-service denunciations by a politicians seeking re-election.

To get concrete action that will change the corrupt culture of cops, activist groups like Black Lives Matter and the rest of Black America must continue to put pressure on America’s political and economic system.

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