By R.L. Nave in Jackson Free Press – A private autopsy is under way for Rexdale W. Henry, a 53-year-old man found dead inside the Neshoba County Jail in Philadelphia, Miss., on July 14. According to WTOK, detention officers found Henry’s body around 10 a.m.; he was last seen alive 30 minutes earlier. The state crime lab in Jackson conducted an autopsy and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case. Funeral services for Henry took place July 19 in Bogue Chitto. A few days later, his body was flown to Florida for an independent autopsy paid for by anonymous donors. Henry, a member of the Choctaw tribe and a lifelong community activist, coached stickball and had been a candidate for the Choctaw Tribal Council from Bogue Chitto the week before his arrest on July 9 for failure to pay a fine. Helping with the family’s independent probe are civil-rights activists John Steele, a close friend of Henry’s, and Diane Nash, a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, as well as Syracuse University law professors Janis McDonald and Paula Johnson of the school’s Cold Case Justice Initiative.
By Dylan Baddour in Houston Chrnoicle – When the troops land in Texas for Operation Jade Helm next week, someone will be waiting for them. Hundreds of people have organized a “Counter Jade Helm” surveillance operation across the Southwestern states and in an effort to keep an eye on the contentious military drill that’s sparked many suspicious of Uncle Sam’s intentions. Eric Johnston, a 51-year-old retired firefighter and sheriff’s deputy who lives in Kerrville, is a surveillance team leader in Texas. He’ll coordinate three groups of volunteers, about 20 folks in total, who hope to monitor the SEALs, Green Berets and Air Force Special Ops in Bastrop, Big Spring and Junction when Jade Helm kicks off on July 15.
Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice unveiled widespread reforms Tuesday meant to transform a police department that too often used excessive force and failed to conduct thorough internal investigations into a national model for big-city police. The 105-page settlement avoids a potential lawsuit by the Justice Department after its investigators concluded a nearly two-year investigation in December and found Cleveland police too often used excessive force, failed to thoroughly investigate itself and had suffered from an erosion of community trust. The agreement goes beyond correcting the Justice Department’s complaints and includes extensive data collection meant to curtail racial profiling. The Justice Department and the city reached the agreement after five months of negotiations, with input from rank-and-file police, union officials and citizen groups.
The New York Police Department is being forced to acknowledge they have arrested far too many people for victimless crimes. Now, the department admits they will have to do something about it. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has publicly accepted the fact that “millions” have been convicted of crimes that they should never have been jailed for. The new controversial proposal suggests the City of New York grant amnesty to over 1 million citizens who have open warrants for low-level, clearly victimless offenses. The prison industry warns that this will “cause crime to skyrocket,” but what they seem more worried about is the bottom line for their for-profit, tax-payer-funded prison schemes.
We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” the president explained. “It can alienate and intimidate local residents, and send the wrong message. So we’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments.” Bayonets, grenade launchers, ammunition of .50 caliber or larger, and tracked (but not wheeled) armored vehicles are now banned items. Amid widespread protests against police violence, many have welcomed the president’s address as the first steps toward police demilitarization. But we should be skeptical of this conclusion — and of the conventional notion of police militarization itself.
On May 14, copwatcher Michael Barber of the Copwatch Patrol Unit was out doing a great public service in which he frequently engages – filming the police. As he was doing so, he captured something absolutely amazing. The video, originally posted to Facebook early Friday morning, captured undercover officers grabbing at children while attempting to arrest a 14-year-old girl. This was reportedly over allegations that a child who was with her, who witnesses say appeared to be around 7-years-old, had pushed the button on a police call box.
“We also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that.” Those are the words spoken on Saturday by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake that propelled her into the national political cross-hairs. Americans who did not know the woman’s name a week ago have called for her resignation. Some have even gone as far as to say that she should be charged with inciting a riot. Rawlings-Blake promptly issued a response on her Facebook page clarifying her original statement. “I did not instruct police to give space to protesters who were seeking to create violence or destruction of property,” said the Mayor via her social media account. Instead of growing incensed over a few words said by a politician in the midst of a crisis, we need to focus on what caused protesters and looters to fill the streets of Baltimore in the first place.
Baltimore officials braced for large-scale protests Saturday over of the death of Freddie Gray, top police brass acknowledged that officers made mistakes during the arrest that ended with his slipping into a coma and dying a week later. At a news conference Friday at police headquarters, Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said protesters have a right to speak out, but he urged them to remain nonviolent. He also provided an update on the investigation, saying that officers violated department policies while Gray was in their custody. Police said Gray, who was dragged by officers to a transport wagon, should have gotten immediate medical attention. Batts said the department is investigating whether Gray’s injuries resulted from his arrest or a “rough ride” — in which police vans are driven erratically to harm unbuckled, handcuffed detainees.
Baltimore residents and police clashed as people marched downtown to protest the mysterious death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said he will send 32 state troopers to the city in order to oversee demonstrations. No concrete numbers are in, but hundreds of protesters took to the streets of downtown Baltimore, rallying in front of City Hall and the US Courthouse while calling for justice in Gray’s death. The 25-year-old African-American man died as a result of a severe spinal cord injury, though it’s unclear exactly how or when he was hurt. His funeral is set for Monday. As demonstrators marched through the streets, they chanted phrases such as, “All night, all day – we’re going to fight for Freddie Gray” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
An 11 year old African girl, Danielle Hicks-Best, reported to Washington, DC police that she had been raped twice by older men (in their early to late 20’s) in her neighborhood. In both cases, forensic medical evidence supported her claims. Considering her age and the ages of the assailants, one would have assumed that the police would have conducted an investigation into statutory rape. Instead under the mis-leadership of DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, Danielle, then 12 years old, was charged with filing false police reports. “After 11, she lost the rest of her childhood,” her mother Veronica Best lamented. Ms. Best launched a campaign to save her daughter’s life that leads all the way to the Washington, DC Police Chief Lanier. The family devoted their limited financial and emotional resources to addressing their daughter’s legal entanglement and providing psychological support against a system with unlimited financial resources.
Video released by an Oklahoma sheriff’s department on Friday shows an unarmed black man named Eric Harris fleeing police as they exit their cars to chase him. After officers catch up to Harris and bring him to the ground, an officer calls out the word “Taser” twice, before firing a single shot at Harris. The shot, which was fired by Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, was fatal. Harris was pronounced dead an hour later. The shooting appears to be a tragic accident. Bates did say “Taser” before shooting Harris, and immediately after pulling the trigger, Bates drops the gun and says “Oh! I shot him. I’m sorry.” At a press conference on Friday, a Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson claimed that Bates was a “true victim” of something called “slips and capture” — a police term for when someone does one thing while believing they are doing something else in a high stress situation.
Protests have been held in South Carolina over the fatal shooting of an unarmed man as he ran away from police. Officer Michael Slager was charged with murder and sacked after video emerged of him shooting Walter Scott multiple times in the back following a scuffle. He was arrested when authorities reviewed mobile phone video of the shooting, which took place on Saturday. The incident has been widely condemned, and the US Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating. Cries of “Black lives matter!” rang out as about 50 protesters joined local politicians outside City Hall in North Charleston on Wednesday morning. “We cannot sit still and be quiet anymore. This is our season to speak!” said one woman who commanded the crowd’s attention.
The North Charleston police chief, Eddie Driggers, said officer Slager, 33, had been arrested and charged with murder. Attorney L Chris Stewart, who came to North Charleston a day after the shooting to represent the family, said the video forced authorities to act quickly and decisively, and he called the person who made the video a hero. “What happened today doesn’t happen all the time,” Stewart told a news conference. “What if there was no video?” Scott’s mother stood nearby, saying, “Thank you, Lord” and “Hallelujah.” The family plans to file a civil rights suit against Slager, the department and the city, Stewart said. Anthony Scott said his late sibling served for two years in the US Coast Guard, that he was a father of four, and that he loved the Dallas Cowboys.
There is significant evidence that cop cams cut down on most civilian complaints. But a close examination of violent encounters with the police caught on tape suggests that even with seemingly incontrovertible video evidence, questions will often linger. The kind of sea change that police reform activists desire will still likely escape them. “I don’t think anything is as good as having a camera,” said John Burris, an Oakland civil rights attorney who represented both Rodney King and the family of Oscar Grant, who was killed by an officer in an Oakland train station while he was lying face-down on the ground. But, Burris added, “The realities of the world are police get the benefit of the doubt.”
Here’s a statistic for you: It’s been 31 days since the release of the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing report, but the number of fatal police encounters is already over 100 and counting. That’s an average of more than three people killed each day in March by police in America. This isn’t a problem concentrated in a few rogue police departments. Even those police departments with the best of intentions need reform. Take, for example, last week’sDepartment of Justice report that Philadelphia police shot 400 people – over 80 percent African-American – in seven years. This is in a city where the police commissioner is an author of the very same White House task force report calling for police reform.