by nancy a heitzeg
In the aftermath of Anaheim — that anti-thesis of Disneyland – we will add the names of Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo to that endless list of those struck down by “extra-judicial killings by police, security guards or self-appointed law enforcers.”
Diaz is just the latest in a long line of police shootings of unarmed people of color. His name has come to symbolize the ongoing struggle against police violence in poor black and brown communities, for which authorities are almost never held to account. In Anaheim, where tension between police and the Latino community has been building for years, Diaz is the match that lit the fire which has spread throughout the city.
His shooting sparked an immediate protest by area residents who demanded answers from police. When some in the crowd allegedly hurled bottles and rocks at officers, police responded by shooting rubber bullets and pepper spray and releasing (apparently by accident) a K-9 attack dog into the crowd of mostly parents and small children. The chaos was captured on video by a KCAL news crew showing screaming mothers and fathers shielding their children in horror.
The following day a second Latino man, 21-year-old Joel Acevedo, was shot and killed by Anaheim police, who said Acevedo was shot after firing at police during a foot chase.
We say the names to honor the dead and the living — but their individual stories whatever their power, tell a collective tale as well. That is the story of unchecked — no routinized, normalized. even glorified – systemic structural violence targeting communities of color.
Lethal Police Violence and Communities of Color
While local state and Federal law enforcement agencies keep absolutely accurate records of the number of police officers killed or assaulted in the line of duty (typically less than 60 killed per year), there is no comparable systematic accounting of the number of citizens killed by police each year.
This data is not nationally gathered or reported, The task is left to individual researchers to cobble together local and state – level data (much of which has removed racial identifiers) and report what police only seem to be concerned about in light of potential litigation, Anywhere from 350 to 400 civilians are killed by police each year — an average of one per day. This number is certainly an undercount since it is based on police shootings and does not include deaths by choke-holds, hog-ties, tasers, reactions to chemical sprays or injuries sustained in beatings.
And those killed by police are disproportionately black and brown. A variety of studies have found consistent racial disparities in police shootings –
Since the 1970s, sociologists and political scientists have consistently found that minority suspects in the United States face lethal force from police officers at a disproportionate rate. According to 2001 figures from the Department of Justice, black suspects were five times more likely to be shot and killed by officers than white suspects.
A 2007 study conducted by ColorLines and The Chicago Reporter examined police shootings in the 10 largest U.S cities. The findings were sadly predictable..
African Americans were overrepresented among police shooting victims in every city the publications investigated.The contrast was particularly noticeable in New York, San Diego and Las Vegas. In each of these cities, the percentage of black people killed by police was at least double that of their share of the city’s total population….
A second significant point: Latinos are a rising number of fatal police shooting victims.Starting in 2001, the number of incidents in which Latinos were killed by police in cities with more than 250,000 people rose four consecutive years, from 19 in 2001 to 26 in 2005. The problem was exceptionally acute in Phoenix, which had the highest number of Latinos killed in the country.
Risk of violence/death at the hands of police is compounded by undercover/plain-clothes police work. This sort of police is disproportionately practiced in Black and Latino communities and increases the likelihood of hostile encounters. Plainclothes police work not only endangers civilians but also undercover officers of color who may – like Omar Edwards or Shem Walker – be killed by fellow officers,
De Lacy Davis, a former police sergeant on the East Orange, New Jersey police force, and founder of the Newark-based Black Cops Against Police Brutality (B-COPS), notes this, “Black and Latino people die at the hands of police departments disproportionately because of the culture of racism that permeates these departments nationally..And some of the problem comes from the culture of arrogance that is also part of the undercover policeman’s demeanor.”..
“undoubtedly undercover police work exposes Black citizens to the potential for dangerous encounters with the police; and further poses extreme hazard for Black undercover officers at the hands of their fellow officers.“…..
And, a growing body of research indicates that these shootings are at least partly explained by unconscious bias and the “implicit association” of blacks in particular with violence.
In short fear of black people – due in part to relentless stereotyping of young black and brown men as “dangerously violent criminals” – proves to be fatal.
A just released report by The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement – Report on the Extrajudicial Killing of 120 Black People, January 1n to June 30 2012 – verifies this. It documents the police killing of one Black Man Woman or Child every 36 hours — most are unarmed, many are targeted via profiling and stop/frisk activities and a disturbing number were killed after actually calling 911 for assistance.
A human rights crisis confronts Black people in the United States. Since January 1, 2012, police and a much smaller number of security guards and self-appointed vigilantes have murdered at least 120 Black women and men. These killings are definitely not accidental or random acts of violence or the work of rogue cops. As we noted in our April 6th, 2012 “Trayvon Martin is All of US!” Report, the use of deadly force against Black people is standard practice in the United States, and woven into to the very fabric of the society.
This report documents how people of African descent remain “without sanctuary” throughout the United States. Nowhere is a Black woman or man safe from racial profiling, invasive policing, constant surveillance, and overriding suspicion. All Black people – regardless of education, class, occupation, behavior or dress – are subject to the whims of the police whose institutionalized racist policies and procedures require them to arbitrarily stop, frisk, arrest, brutalize and even execute Black people.
Despite the persistence and consistent death toll, there is rarely any individual or collective accountability for police violence. One of the MXGM report’s most damning findings is this: Less than 9 percent of those responsible for the deaths have faced charges. If the past is any indicator, few, if any, of these charges will stick.
The pattern is predictable:
“The standard procedure in most jurisdictions is for police involved in fatal shootings to be given paid ‘desk-duty’ while the department conducts an investigation of itself. The press applauds their fine records while it screams about the criminal records of the deceased. Almost all killer cops are routinely exonerated and quickly return to the street. Grieving families who invariably ask the modest question, ‘why did he have to die?’ are ignored. If there is some demonstrated community outrage the case may be further investigated. The legal system almost never charges these executioners and even if they do, the killing continues.”
In lieu of any immediate solutions, CI can simply offer the following list of resources:
- The National Plan of Action for Racial Justice
- Chain Reaction: Alternatives to Calling the Police
- Stop Police Brutality
- Communities United Against Police Brutality
- Black & Blue – History and Current Manifestations of Policing, Violence & Resistance
No Justice/No Peace….