Guns, Bombs and Due Process

Robot Bomb

The Due Process clause of the US Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. That principle has historically been interpreted to prohibit extrajudicial killing of suspects without a trial or some other legal proceeding.  In the case of the Dallas Police robot bomb the police  circumvented any judicial process and served as pre-trial executioners when they were unable to apprehend the shooter. I am certainly not defending the actions of the suspect and I understand that efforts were made to apprehend him before he was bombed.  I still take issue with the idea that bombing a suspect is an acceptable tactic, even as a last resort.

Using bombs on suspects not only violates due process but it also blurs the line between military and police tactics.  The recent public concern and push back over the use of the robot bomb is warranted and necessary to preserve our constitutional principles as well as the peace and civility of our streets.  While bombs have existed for decades, there are many reasons why police don’t use them on our civilians.  Nobody wants weapons of war on the street that will transform our cities into war zones with bomb blasts. We should all be concerned when our already militarized police force takes this major step towards further militarization. Whether or not the Dallas shooting suspect deserved to die, our civility and our constitutional principles do not deserve the same fate.

As Americans we claim to hold a moral authority among nations because of our constitutional values like due process, free speech, the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. When we agree to compromise any of those fundamental rights then everyone loses.  There are some who believe that a cop-killer does not deserve due process, I disagree. To honor our legal principles we have to insist that they apply in every situation. Compromising our principles even once is a collective compromise of our rights and once we open that door it becomes very difficult to close. Today the exception was made for a cop-killer, tomorrow it may be a gang member, and eventually we may end up with Apache helicopters engaged in urban tactical warfare firing on streets and homes where police feel that their safety is compromised and their justification will be to preserve police and civilian life at the expense of our founding documents and principles.

To be clear this was not the first time our due process clause was compromised by the state. Every time a young black man is shot and killed in the streets we violate some of the same constitutional principles, so much so that many Americans have become immune to the state violations. Many insist on ignoring the issue and defending the officers involved by reminding us how difficult and dangerous it is to be a policeman and that we have to protect our cops from dangerous criminals. I agree that it is a dangerous and difficult job but officers willingly embraced that career despite the dangers. They choose to put themselves in harms way to serve and protect the public, civilians don’t make that choice but they still often suffer the same dangerous consequences, especially if they’re black. Fear can not justify extrajudicial murder and lethal force can not be the initial response to a scary situation. I know that not everyone has the restraint and resolve to keep a gun holstered in tense situations. Those who lack the necessary restraint need to find other work and do not belong on the street with a badge and gun patrolling communities that they already fear and distrust.

It’s clear to me that the number of guns in America exacerbates the issue of police violence. Police are afraid that they can be shot anytime because guns are everywhere and as we saw in Dallas, isolated police misconduct by a few bad apples can make every cop a target in every city in America. That reality puts police on the defensive and they often decide to shoot first even before they are confronted with a suspected weapon. Following the shooting in Dallas, police scrambled to detain and question many innocent protesters who were armed and were therefore suspects. The Dallas police chief even made statements calling the open carry law into question indicating that it contributed to the confusion and hysteria of the situation. Our gun laws are absurd and archaic, despite what the NRA tells us. Perhaps after losing five sworn peace officers to an angry sniper we will reconsider our gun laws in order to protect our cops and civilians. The Dallas shooting, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, these are all examples of senseless gun violence and it is within our power to legislate necessary change.  The time to address this issue is now while public sentiment and political will are simultaneously focused on the loss of black lives and police lives. The tension between police and minority communities will not disappear anytime soon but we can help deescalate the situation by taking steps to remove the guns. We must strike while the iron is still hot to legislate change or we will watch the fire continue to burn and destroy lives and communities.

 

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Baltimore Burns Along With Our Trust in Police

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Law enforcement agencies are supposed to serve and protect. That paradigm is shifting and more communities are losing confidence in their officers. From Baltimore to Charleston to Ferguson to New York we see the same story with different backdrops. This pattern of police brutality and murder drive public outrage and civil unrest in cities where “law enforcement” is operating above the law. For decades this type of police misconduct has been allowed to spread like a fungus while police and city management turn a blind eye or cover-up material evidence that may have resulted in the removal of the bad cops before they commit more violence adding to public distrust. Part of the problem is the police code of silence where police cover up for each other by hiding the truth and withholding information that would otherwise expose the bad seeds. The proliferation of smart phones and social media has made this misconduct more evident. Police corruption is no more common than before but now it is more readily available via twitter, facebook and instagram. Social media has effectively broken the code of silence by delivering evidence directly to the world.

On April 4, 2015 former US Coast Guard Walter Scott was shot and killed while fleeing from officer Michael Slager following a traffic stop. Slager was terminated, arrested and faces murder charges because the incident was caught on video. Without that recording there would be no proof against Slager who planted evidence on Scott and lied in his report to cover up the murder. He lied claiming Scott was the aggressor who took his taser. Other officers quickly arrived and failed to assist the victim thereby implicating themselves in the lie that police attempted to resuscitate Scott who is seen in the video handcuffed face down on the ground until his body was placed in the ambulance. Without the video the Scott family would have no chance at finding peace or justice. This is one of many stories of why civilians need to oversee their police.

My city, Pasadena California is the midst dealing with the issue of police oversight. I am one of many members of Pasadena’s Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Police. We organized after attempts by the city manager and the police officers union to withhold evidence regarding the police shooting of Kendrec McDade. Documents were recently revealed indicating that the Pasadena police acted outside of their own policy resulting in the fatal shooting of a 19 year old unarmed male being shot multiple times in the back as he fled from police who were chasing him by car and on foot. So far the city has provided excuses instead of support regarding civilian oversight. Our new mayor elect takes office in May. He ran a progressive campaign so I hope he continues to side with progress and public safety over the status quo.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. We can no longer trust police to police their own when they continue to operate above the law. History has proven that self-policing models are flawed and encourage misconduct and corruption. Each community must insist on its own civilian oversight plan to monitor cops. Remember they work for us, we pay their salaries and they answer to us, not visa versa. Communities are in the best position to identify and uproot the bad seeds in order to preserve the trust that is necessary to foster healthy relationships between police and communities. The role of city management in this process is to empower the public and help create these oversight bodies instead of fighting with citizens who are working for the safety and security for their families and neighbors. When city government opposes such models it makes me nervous. Perception is reality and when cities are afraid to pull back the curtain on police conduct the perception is that there must be skeletons in the closet. Transparency in government and law enforcement is a necessary prerequisite to healthy democracy. Today both our nation and our democracy are far from healthy and denial is not the remedy.

Not all cops are dirty. Just like everyone else police can be honest and noble or they may be bad seeds that create animosity, anger and sow public distrust. That distrust has driven negative public sentiment that has gone from a slow simmer to a rapid boil. For too long the bad seeds were left to grow and spread like weeds. We need honest, confident, outspoken cops to weed their own yards. Until that happens the only solution is to insist on civilian oversight to check our cops before they murder one more member of the communities they “serve.”