A recording has been produced of Minneapolis police officers laughing about the suppression of peaceful protests and saying they were planning to “hunt” protestors. Although this took place last year in the mass uprising after the brutal murder of George Floyd, the audio is from body camera footage in the trial of Jaleel Stallings, who had been charged with shooting at police officers.
Stallings was acquitted by a jury, on all charges, this July after they determined he had fired in self-defense. As the body camera footage of his specific incident showed, Minneapolis cops were riding around in unmarked white vans shooting all sorts of “non-lethal” projectiles at people. At one point they opened fire on Stallings, who fired back. They then identified themselves as cops, he complied with their orders, but they still kicked, beat and arrested him.
Stallings argued that he had reason to fear they were white supremacist vigilantes. I was there in Minneapolis at the same time and there were tons of rumors of KKK-type forces roaming the city looking to kill Blacks, including, by the way, in unmarked white vans. The jury correctly decided that Stallings, who was legally carrying his weapons, was in the right. It was the cops who were grossly outside the law.
The whole incident really raises the culture of impunity of American policing, where a mythos of “protect and serve” persists despite the overwhelming evidence of harassment, abuse, murder and mayhem coming from law enforcement agencies of all types. These videos were but one telling example.
Easily one of the most shocking stories this year is a new study detailing a massive undercount in the number of police killings in the United States.
The findings, from researchers at the University of Washington and published in the Lancet Medical Journal, show that from 1980-2019 police killings were undercounted by half. As the New York Times summarized:
“Researchers estimated that over the time period they studied, which roughly tracks the era of the war on drugs and the rise of mass incarceration, nearly 31,000 Americans were killed by the police, with more than 17,000 of them going unaccounted for in the official statistics.”
“The annual number of deaths in police custody has generally gone upward since 1980, even as crime…has declined from its peak in the early 1990s.”
Unsurprisingly, the report found that: “Black Americans were 3.5 times as likely to be killed by the police as white Americans were.” Despite all the proclamations of racial progress, the study also noted that the racial disparities had actually widened since the year 2000. It noted that “more American men died in 2019 during police encounters than from Hodgkin lymphoma or testicular cancer.”
17,000 killings, previously unaccounted for: Let that sink in. How could this have happened? The main reason in this case seems to be the medical examiners, who are typically overlooked in discussions of state violence and institutional racism. But, like prosecutors, they typically have close relationships with the police and often fail to list the police as being involved in the case of death. To be fair, some examiners have spoken out about the police not giving them enough information in many of these cases, asserting that they can only make determinations based on the evidence provided to them. Either way, by malice on the part of the cops, the coroner or both, many cases are going mislabeled. The Times highlighted a few cases that proved the point:
“Ronald Greene’s death in Louisiana, for instance, was attributed by the coroner to cardiac arrest and classified as accidental before video emerged of him being stunned, beaten and dragged by state troopers.
“In Aurora, Colo., the manner of Elijah McClain’s death was ruled undetermined after the police put him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative. Almost two years later, three officers and two paramedics were indicted.
“Even in the case of George Floyd, whose agonizing last breaths under a Minneapolis police officer’s knee were captured on bystander video, the police and the county medical examiner first pointed to drug use and underlying health conditions.”
Can this problem be solved? The Times noted that 2014 a Federal law was passed, allegedly to require reporting on in-custody deaths, to clear some of the fog around police killings. Well, it’s 2021, and nothing has yet been produced. The cover-ups continue. Tens of thousands of people have been extrajudicially murdered by cops in the last 40 years, and there’s no indication of change. That “justice” for you, American style.
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Eugene Puryear is a longtime journalist and community organizer currently-based in New York City. Eugene helped to organize a number of the large-scale demonstrations that took place against the continuing U.S. war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, he was a key leader In the struggle to free the Jena Six in 2007, and a founder of the anti-gentrification group Justice First, the Jobs Not Jails coalition, DC Ferguson Movement and Stop Police Terror Project-D.C. Puryear is the author of the book Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America, and spent five years in radio prior to helping found BT News.