by Jeffrey L. Boney
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward-Times
Back in 2007, an article entitled “Police brutality cases on rise since 9/11” appeared in USA Today, showing that federal prosecutors started “targeting a rising number of law enforcement officers for alleged brutality” and that the heightened prosecutions came as the nation’s largest police union feared that agencies were “dropping standards to fill thousands of vacancies and ‘scrimping’ on training.”
In 2007, federal records showed the vast majority of police brutality cases referred by investigators were not prosecuted. Fast forward to 2014, and we see that the police brutality is still occurring, and the number of incidents we are seeing are not just brutal, but fatal as well.
Here in the state of Texas, a number of recent high-profile incidents involving law enforcement officials, has many minorities deeply concerned and looking for answers to what they consider to be an ever increasing problem with aggressive police tactics.
Could it be that there is a lack of training or could law enforcement officials have the green light to be trigger-happy?
MENTALLY DISABLED MAN GUNNED DOWN
Michael Garrett Blair was a 26-year-old African American man who had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. On November 4, 2013, Blair, who had never had any episodes of violence, unexpectedly locked himself in the bathroom of his family’s home in Richmond, Texas and threatened to commit suicide. His mother, Kimberly Blair-Olaniyi, called around to several mental health hospitals seeking assistance, but those facilities told her to call 9-1-1. Although she was reluctant to, Blair-Olaniyi called 9-1-1, and informed them of the situation and of Blair’s mental illness and shared with them that she just simply wanted help for her son.
Instead of getting the help that his mother was desperately looking for, she had the unfortunate experience of witnessing her son be shot dead by a Fort Bend County officer. Blair was shot 11 times after he was already wounded, and the family had held onto a hidden video of the shooting that they chose not to release until the investigation and grand jury proceedings concluded.
In the video, officers are seen talking to Blair through the bathroom door, which was eventually kicked in with guns drawn. Blair is seen being tasered and officers enter into the restroom and could easily handcuff Blair, but the officer comes back out of the restroom and when Blair attempts to get up the officer stands over him and shoots him eleven times with eight of those shots to the head.
Per the family and community activist Quanell X, who has been assisting the family, the video exposes that the officers committed perjury to the grand jury about the shooting, and gave false statements to the media and public. Law enforcement officials were totally unaware that the shooting video existed, and a hand delivered copy of the videotape was given to Kenneth Magidson, U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Texas, demanding that a civil rights investigation be opened up regarding Blair.
The officers involved in this shooting were no-billed by the grand jury and cleared of wrongdoing. Now that the tape has been released, the case is being reviewed and looked at again.
93-YEAR OLD WOMAN GUNNED DOWN
Ms. Pearlie Golden was a beloved great, great grandmother who was affectionately known as “Ms. Sully” by those in her neighborhood of Hearne, Texas. Golden, 93, had never had any major encounters with law enforcement until the day she was shot five times by a member of the Hearne Police department, in her own yard.
It has been reported that Golden’s great-nephew, Roy Jones, was with his aunt the day of the shooting and called 9-1-1 after he stated that Golden became upset about not being able to have her driver’s license renewed. According to reports, Jones and his aunt got into an argument after he refused to give her the keys to her car and allegedly Golden grabbed her late husband’s gun, which prompted Jones to call 9-1-1.
Jones said that he was only calling 9-1-1, with the hopes that trained law enforcement officials could help defuse the situation and calm her down. That did not happen.
As police arrived to the scene, Golden was reportedly waving a gun around in front of her home and after ignoring demands by police to put the gun down, witnesses say that the responding officer, Stephen Stem of the Hearne Police Department, shot at Golden at least five times. Golden was transported to a local hospital, where she died from those injuries a short time later.
Nearly 200 protestors marched on the Hearne police station on May 8th, where they demanded Officer Stem be fired. Mayor Ruben Gomez, who was present for the protest, told protestors that Stem should be fired and made that recommendation at their next city council meeting.
With a unanimous vote by city council, Officer Stem was fired from the Hearne Police Department and has hired an attorney to argue against what he has called an unjust termination.
This is not the first incident involving Officer Stem. Back in December 2012, Officer Stem was involved in the police shooting and killing of Tederalle Satchell. Officer Stem was cleared by the grand jury of no wrong doing in that shooting.
William Foster III, lifelong resident, President of the Hearne’s Oversight Committee, and community advocate for over 25 years, claims that the City of Hearne has been corrupt for a long time, with discrimination to Blacks, violence, voter fraud, and unsolved murders.
“It’s time for the people to take a stand,” says Foster.
ATTACKED AND CALLED A RACIAL SLUR
A group of friends, family and neighbors were gathered together for a birthday party and to view the boxing match between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Marcos Maidana on May 3rd, when law enforcement officials unexpectedly showed up at the house in Baytown, Texas, claiming they were responding to a “noise complaint.”
Things got of hand extremely fast, as video of the incident shows Baytown police aggressively handling many of the occupants in the house. Video shows officers shoving people to the floor, using Tasers on people and pepper spraying participants at the party, all based on a “noise complaint” that police had received.
In the video, you see an elderly grandmother sitting in her chair doing nothing, when a female officer kicked her out of the chair when she didn’t respond to police officers’ commands and Tased her four times. Also in the video, you see nearly 10 children, between the ages of 2 to 5 years old, crying and rubbing their eyes after being pepper-sprayed.
According to attendees at the party, the audio on the video also reveals that Baytown officers used the racial slur “Wetbacks” to address the residents. In all, seven individuals were arrested that night and family members and attendees are calling for the District Attorney’s office to file charges of excessive force against the officers involved.
Community activist Quanell X calls the video clear evidence of police brutality and abuse aimed at people of color.
“The Baytown Police Department has a notorious record of violating the civil rights of Mexicans and Blacks”, says Quanell X. “What are the citizens to do when they are being beaten and pepper-sprayed and tasered, and they have done nothing criminal at all”.
MORE OF THE SAME?
Since 2012, the U.S. Justice Department has been actively investigating six cases that have taken place in the Greater Houston area over the last several years, in which Houston police officers either allegedly used excessive force against or fatally shot several unarmed individuals.
There has been no reportable progress made on those cases, but that hasn’t stopped community leaders from demanding that the U.S. Department of Justice do more to investigate what many are calling an epidemic that must be stopped.
Law enforcement officials are supposed to be some of the most skilled and best trained public servants in the United States. Many in the community are asking what can be done to deal with this rising tide of police brutality. Is more training needed or are the lives of minorities not worth protecting?
The usual cliché is, “only time will tell,” but at the rate these incidents are occurring, citizens in minority communities may not have much time to find out.