You Were Put Here to Protect Us, But Who Protects Us From You?

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, New York City, Policing on November 28, 2006 at 11:28 pm

KRS-ONE said those words back in 1989. It is now 2006, 17 years later, and the words are still VERY relevant. After all, it seems that you aren’t able to leave your bachelor party these days without the fear of getting shot up by the police.

Hopefully everyone has heard about the police shooting in Queens by now, but if you haven’t, there is a good wrap-up of articles here.  The basic summary is that police in Queens fired 50 bullets at three unarmed men, who had gotten inside of their vehicle after leaving a bachelor party at a strip club, leaving one man dead and the other two injured. To top it all off, the man who died was the groom to-be and it was the night before his wedding day.

What exactly does the shooting mean in the context of police policy and average shots fired by police?

One NYTimes article said:

Officers are trained to shoot no more than three bullets before pausing to reassess the situation, Mr. Kelly said in his most detailed assessment of the shooting yet. Department policy also largely prohibits officers from firing at vehicles, even when they are being used as weapons.

Another NYTimes article said

One of the officers fired more than half the rounds, pausing to reload, and then emptying it again, 31 shots in all, according to the police. Another officer fired 11 shots. The others fired four shots, three shots and one shot apiece, the police said…

Statistically, the shooting is an aberration. The number of shots fired per officer who acted in the 112 shooting incidents this year, through Nov. 19, is 3.2, said Paul J. Browne, a department spokesman. Last year, that number was 3.7 shots fired per officer in 109 incidents. They are down from 4.6 in 2000 and 5.0 in 1995.

Another NYTimes article says:

But Saturday’s shootings may have violated department rules, which largely prohibit officers from firing at vehicles. According to police guidelines, officers can fire only when they or another person is threatened by deadly physical force, but not if that physical force comes from a moving vehicle alone.

“The theory is that if the cops have time to set up a clean shot, they have time to get out of the way,” said Eugene O’Donnell, professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The cops shouldn’t be firing unless they have a clean line of fire. If they have the time to establish that shot they probably have time to get out of the way.”

What does this mean? Well in my opinion, these police committed a crime and used excessive force. Not only did they fire without seeing a gun, they fired way too many bullets and fired at a vehicle, which clearly violates policy. This goes especially for the cop who reloaded and fired 31 shots in total.

Last night, Mayor Bloomberg seemed to agree with me by calling the incident “unacceptable” at a press conference with family members and community leaders. Now, everyone wants to praise Bloomberg for creating dialogue with community members and for his initial stance on the incident. I do have to admit that this is praiseworthy, especially when comparing it to similar incidents during the time of Giuliani. BUT, we can’t let this be the end of it. Severe pressure needs to be put on Bloomberg and Kelly to not only address this situation by punishing the officers involved, but also to make steps to change policies and tactics, particularly when it comes to policing communities of color.

And to that you might say, “Why is it a racial issue? Some of the police involved were Black and Latino.” Well it’s a matter of sytematic and instituional racism. Why is it that incidents like this always victimize people of color? Why do they always occur in communities of color? It has nothing to do with the color of the police. It has to do with police policy, tactics, training, and the culture of the police force.

I will post up other actions and events about this case as they occur, but the first news I have on that end is the following (from the blog linked to above):

The police officers’ group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care said it was issuing a vote of no confidence in Kelly over the shooting.

Community leaders planned a rally Dec. 6 at police headquarters.


The above image is from a post on The Gothamist about this topic, which is also worth a read. One piece of the story mentioned here that I haven’t seen elsewhere is the following:

Police officers were also criticized for handcuffing Guzman and Benefield to their hospital beds for much of the day. While the police say they were uncuffed when it was realized they had been unarmed, their relatives say they were only uncuffed after “press inquiries.”

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