Monday, September 29, 2014


Levar Jones, 35, an assistant manager at a Subway store, was stopped in his hometown of Columbia, SC on September 4 for a seatbelt violation. After Officer Sean Groubert, 31, a State Trooper instructed Jones to produce his license, Jones, who was standing outside the vehicle, reached in the front seat to comply with the order. When he turned around, Groubert fired four shots in rapid succession, one hitting Jones in the hip. Nobody knows why Groubert fired, but other citizens will not have to worry about him, because once the powers that be saw the videotape from Groubert’s dashcam, Groubert was fired and charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature for the shooting. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted. He will likely also face civil charges for assault or even federal civil rights charges over this incident. It bears mentioning that Groubert is white, and Jones is black. Here is the video from Groubert’s dashcam.

What you just witnessed could happen in your town or my town; in Peoria just as easily as in Poughkeepsie. Detroit, Provo, Anchorage, St. Louis, Galveston, Jersey City, you name it. Nationwide, urban, suburban and state police forces are hiring young people (mostly male), who complete what many might consider minimal training before being let loose on the streets, with firearms and a type of authority with which most people their age are unfamiliar.  State Trooper training in South Carolina lasts 17 weeks. That’s it. Poof.  Four months and you’re a cop. No college required, just a high school diploma or a GED. Oh, and you can do all of this at the tender age of just 21. Some of these rookie cops are so young they still live with mom and dad.

For the moment, let’s travel north to Brooklyn, NY, where that same 21-year-old can become an officer with the NYPD with six months of “intensive” training. Presumably, the unnamed Brooklyn officer who tackled a very pregnant Sandra Amezquita to the ground on a city street had undergone that training. Amezquita was trying to intervene as officers arrested her 17-year-old son. Before she was violently forced to the ground, she was struck in the abdominal area with a police baton. Another woman, who tried to help Amezquita was forcefully pushed to the street by another officer.  Again, there is a video. Watch:

Of course both of these incidents come just weeks after Officer Darren Wilson, 28, shot and killed Michael Brown, 18 in Ferguson, MO, after Wilson considered Brown a suspect in the theft of some cigars. Wilson is a four-year “veteran” of the Ferguson police department, having served two years before that on the Jennings, MO police force. Wilson started his career at 22 years old.

While I cannot authoritatively comment on the personal lives and backgrounds of Groubert, the unnamed Brooklyn cop or Wilson, let’s just say there is an obvious pattern of brutality and abuse in these cases, and they are not isolated incidents. Jones was complying with Groubert’s order; Amezquita was visibly pregnant, and Brown, unarmed, allegedly had his hands up in the air when he was shot. 

As usual, the numbers tell the story: 
  • The FBI reports that a white police officer shot a black citizen on an average of twice a week in the seven years from 2005 to 2012 in the U.S.
  • ·Between 2003 and 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that 4,813 people died while in the process of arrest or in the custody of law enforcement.
  •  The FBI stats indicate about 400 U.S. citizens each year are killed by police officers in acts of “justifiable homicide.” Compare that statistic to six in Australia, six in Germany and two in Australia.
  • As opposed to those citizens killed each year, in 2012 (the most recent year stats are available), 48 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty.
  •  The Lavar Jones incident is the 32nd officer-involved shooting in South Carolina in 2014, according to the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division.
  •  Black Americans are killed by law enforcement officers in an inordinately higher percentage than white Americans. Case in point: Chicago. In 2012, there were 57 police shootings in Chicago. Fifty of those shot were black, according to the city's own published statistics.
Former S.C. State Trooper Sean Groubert
Having chewed on these and many other statistics for the past several days, there are a number of elements of this street war culture that occur to me.  First, every local and state police organization requires officer applicants to go through a psychological evaluation, but none of them make the details of the evaluations or the individual results available to the public. Just how deeply are we delving in to the psyches of these 20-something, over-testosteroned males who are patrolling our cities? Are they being adequately tested for behavior traits such as impulse control? Are they being deeply questioned and investigated as to their beliefs about racial issues? What do the hiring agents at these agencies know about the applicants’ family and peer influences as it regards race? Why are there so many instances of police brutality and over-use of excessive force that go unpunished?

As mentioned earlier, Grouber has been heavily charged in the South Carolina case, and the buzz now is that his attorney will use Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a defense. We have no way of knowing if he suffers from PTSD, but the big question will be whether the South Carolina State Police even monitor their officers for PTSD. Is it even a topic of consideration? And if there is a rash of PTSD permeating our local and state police forces, how many other disordered, heavily armed cops are freely roaming our streets in or out of uniform?

To add to all of this, there appears to be a type of arms race between citizens on the street and law enforcement officers. There is an increased availability of firearms to almost everyone in this country, at the same time there appears to be a diminished respect for human life on both sides. That disturbing trend certainly showed itself in Ferguson, MO, when law enforcement produced military style weaponry and defense vehicles in preparation for violent rioting which never came.

I see our current cultural shift this way: Once everyday Americans become fearful of the police, rather than trusting, fewer and fewer will depend on law enforcement when the need arises. Already   
Former NOPD Officer Joshua Colclough and Wendell Allen
some citizens in heavily populated urban areas express their fear of calling the police. At the same time, once police begin to view citizens as alternately enemy combatants and expendable, no one is safe even in their own homes. Best evidence? In 2012, in my town, New Orleans, police executed a drug raid on a local home. One of the officers, Joshua Colclough, was walking up the stairs in the house when resident Wendell Allen appeared at the top of the stairs. Allen was unarmed and shirtless, and his hands were visible. Officer Colclough instantly shot Allen dead. After two years of legal wranglings, Colclough backed out of a plea deal to plead guilty to negligent homicide and was ultimately found guilty of manslaughter. His sentence? Four years in prison. Said Allen’s mother of her dead son: “He was my everything. He was my superstar.”

For the record, the white Colclough was 27 at the time of the murder (my word), and the black Allen was 20 years old.

Colclough’s case is not unique to New Orleans. Until law enforcement agencies make applicant requirements more stringent, require more education for recruits and take psychological testing and monitoring more seriously, how many more Wendell Allens and Michael Browns will there be? And why are people like Darren Wilson and Joshua Colclough immune from murder charges in cases like theirs? Sure looks like cold blooded murder to me.

Fortunately, the citizenry is beginning to demand to be heard. On Friday, September 27, a citizen rally was held in Brooklyn (right)  to protest police violence.
This came just after the pregnant Sandra Amezquita incident. In Ferguson, MO, marchers recently held rallies demanding the resignation of Police Chief Thomas Jackson. In New Orleans, still a hotbed or violent crime, Police Chief Ronald Serpas recently resigned his post. Earlier this year, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne resigned amid a number of controversies, some involving officers’ unwarranted use of excessive force. One notable case involved an officer who shot and killed a 25-year-old mother in her kitchen because he believed she was about to attack him with a meat cleaver that turned out to be a vegetable peeler with a six-inch blade. 

Marchers at the New York rally demanded the resignation of NYPD Chief Bill Bratton, carrying signs that said such things as “100 Chokeholds, 0 Cops fired; Who Runs this Town?”  Who, indeed.

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