Social Media Exposing More Police Crimes Against African Americans Than In Past

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Michael Slager -- the cowardly killer cop who used Walter Scott's back for target practise

Are police criminal actions such as the killings of African American civilians getting out of hand?

Many of us are familiar with several recent deaths --some highly publicized, others not so widely covered-- at the hands of police, including, and following, Eric Garner's with a lynch-hold on July 17, 2014 by Daniel Pantaleo, of the New York Police Department: John Crawford, after picking up a BB gun at a Walmart in Beaver Creek, Ohio, on August 5, 2014; Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, at the hands of Darren Wilson; Ezell Ford, who was killed after being stopped on the street, in Los Angeles, California, on August 11, 2014; Dante Parker, Victorville, California, on August 12; Darien Hunt, in Salt Lake City, UT, in September 10, 2014; Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun, killed on  November 22, 2014, in Cleveland, Ohio; Walter Scott, in North Charleston, S. Carolina, on April 4, 2015; Eric Harris, shot and killed by Robert Bates, a volunteer policeman in Tulsa, OK.; and, most recently, Freddie Gray, who died on April 19, after he spine was severed, in Baltimore, MD.

The number of such incidents, over the past 10 months --and this list doesn't include killings that didn't gained national media coverage-- are alarming; but are the frequency of such killings more so than in the past?

When President Obama made his initial comments about the brutal killing of Freddie Gray by the police in Baltimore during a press conference with Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe, on April 28, the president said "...we have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals -- primarily African American, often poor -- in ways that have raised troubling questions. And it comes up, it seems like, once a week now, or once every couple of weeks."

There is no comprehensive national database that documents killings such as the ones that have been widely covered so it's not possible to offer detailed statistical comparison.

There's no question African Americans are killed at a disproportionately higher rate that Whites by the police. Some compiled data showing deaths of African American at the hands of police in various cities, in 2012, published on The Daily Kos, show the following: In Chicago, a city with a 33% African American population, 91% of people killed by police (21 people) were Black; in Houston, with a 25% African American population, 48% of the people who died at the hands of police (12 people) were Black; and, in New York City, with a 29% African American population, 87% of people who died at the hands of police were (20 people).

The statistics don't show what percentage of the killings were "lawful" or "unlawful." Nevertheless, in light of the fact that the police often provide misleading information, even past deaths that were eventually ruled to have been as a result of "lawful" police action, may have been wrongful killings.

For example, after the lynch-hold killing of Eric Garner, the NYPD account of the incident, fed to media, including The New York Times, never mentioned that Garner had been strangled. Had the video recording made my Ramsey Orta never emerged, the false misleading police story would have carried the day. In Baltimore, we saw how the police tried to spread the false and preposterous rumor that Freddie Garner had severed his own spine. 

Just because we've had several high-profile well-covered incidents over the past year doesn't mean there has been an escalation in the number of incidents. The history of unlawful criminal police conduct against African Americans goes back for decades and in fact sparked a number of destructive urban uprisings, including in 1943 and 1964 here in New York City.

And it's hard to imagine that there could be more extrajudicial killings by police today than during the era of Jim Crow regime in the South when police departments were exclusively White as was the case in many parts of the country.

What's different today from the past pre-smart phone era is that now wrongful police actions are instantly disseminated around the world on social media. This makes it more difficult for the police to plant misleading and even false stories through traditional media; case in point, the Eric Garner case.

In North Charleston, had it not been for the video recording of Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott from behind, the police would have spun a tall tale to justify the killing.

The wrongful police killings captured on social media have also helped to spark protests, which are then also publicized and coordinated through social media, ensuring a quick and sizable turnout.

In the pre-smart phone and social media era, it's highly likely that there was a huge undercount, historically, of unlawful police actions. Some criminal conduct were likely never investigated,  or were swept under the rug as "lawful" police actions.

Even today, with video evidence showing clear egregious criminal conduct --such as Pantaleo's lynch-hold killing of Eric Garner-- there is no guarantee that social media dissemination will result in criminal prosecution of a police officer.

That's why it's critical that the expose of wrongful police actions on social media must be accompanied by protests and demand for comprehensive reforms: including mandatory body cameras and special prosecutors in cases of questionable deaths, including of unarmed civilians, at the hands of police officers.



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