[The following excerpt from “Are Cops Constitutional?” by Roger Root, raises significant reasons to approach police testimony with great skepticism, and with demands for verification of everything. The lives of many have been lost due to police aggression against all kinds of people, especially in traditionally oppressed or culturally/politically targeted communities. The continuing losses of lives at the hands of police requires the highest attention and solidarity among the people in victimized communities and all who want an end to all attacks on our common humanity. — Frontlines ed.]
“Untold dozens, if not hundreds, of Americans have been shot in the back while fleeing police, even after the Garner decision. Police have shot and killed suspects who did nothing more than make a move,123 reach for their identification too quickly,124 reach into a jacket or pocket,125 “make a motion” of going for a gun,126 turn either toward or away from officers,127 ‘pull away’ from an officer as an officer opened a car door,128 rub their eyes and stumble forward after a mace attack,129 or allegedly lunge with a knife,130 a hatchet,131or a ballpoint pen.132 Cops have also been known to open fire on and kill persons who brandished or refused to drop virtually any hand-held object — a Jack Daniel’s whiskey bottle,133 a metal rod,134 a wooden stick,135 a kitchen knife (even while eating dinner),136 a screwdriver,137 a rake138 — or even refused an order to raise their hands.139
Cops who shoot an individual holding a shiny object that can be said to resemble a gun — such as a cash box,140 a shiny silver pen,141 a TV remote control,142 or even a can opener143 — are especially likely to avoid liability. In line with this defense, police officers nationwide have been caught planting weapons on their victims in order to make shootings look like self defense.144 In one of the more egregious examples ever proven in court, Houston police were found during the 1980s to have utilized an unofficial policy of planting guns on victims of police violence.145 Seventy-five to eighty percent of all Houston officers apparently carried “throw-down” weapons for such purposes.146 Only the dogged persistence of aggrieved relatives and the firsthand testimony of intrepid witnesses unraveled the police cover-up of the policy.147
Resisting arrest, defending oneself, or fleeing may also place an American in danger of being killed by police.148 Although the law clearly classifies such killings as unlawful, police are rarely made to account for such conduct in court.149 Only where the claimed imminent threat seems too contrived — such as where an officer opened fire to defend himself from a pair of fingernail clippers150 — or where abundant evidence of a police cover-up exists, will courts uphold damage awards against police officers who shoot civilians.151
As Professor Peter L. Davis points out, there is no good reason why police should not be liable criminally for their violations of the criminal code, just as other Americans would expect to be (and, indeed, as the constables of the Founding Era often were).152 Yet in modern criminal courts, police tend to be more bulletproof than the Kevlar vests they wear on the job. Remember that the district attorneys responsible for prosecuting police for their crimes are the same district attorneys who must defend those officers in civil cases involving the same facts.153 Under the Framers’ common law, this conflict of interest did not arise at all because a citizen grand jury — independent from the state attorney general — brought charges against a criminal officer, and the officer’s victim prosecuted the matter before a petit jury.154 But the modern model of law enforcement provides no real remedy, and no ready outlet for the law to work effectively against police criminals. Indeed, modern policing acts as an obstruction of justice with regard to police criminality.
The bloodstained record of shootings, beatings, tortures and mayhem by American police against the populace is too voluminous to be recounted in a single article.155 At least 2,000 Americans have been killed at the hands of law enforcement since 1990.156 Some one-fourth of these killings — about fifty per year — are alleged by some authorities to be in the nature of murders.157 Yet only a handful have led to indictment, conviction and incarceration.158 This is true even though most police killings involve victims who were unarmed or committed no crime.159″
123 OCTOBER 22 COALITION TO STOP POLICE BRUTALITY ET AL., STOLEN LIVES: KILLED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT 307 (2d. ed. 1999) (hereinafter “STOLEN LIVES”) (saying officer shot and killed victim after victim ‘made a move’ following a foot chase).
124 See id. at 207 (listing a 1993 Michigan case). Continue reading →