No Rights For These Victims
By Tom Gomez
Every year in Washington D.C. police officers from cities and towns throughout the U.S. gather for a solemn ceremony that pays tribute to the men and women of law enforcement to lose their lives in the line of duty. While most of those to be arrested by police each year are neither violent nor especially dangerous, some are extremely violent, very dangerous, and can only be taken into custody at all after being subdued by force. In such instances the law has historically given the officers wide latitude to judge how much force was needed to effectively subdue an uncooperative and defiant subject. The roll call of the dead argues persuasively that in such situations nice guys wind up getting killed. Faved with subduing suspects who are drunk, high, enraged and not infrequently utterly insane officers more often than not opt for using more force than is needed than less, and for obvious reasons.
There are times however when an officer abuses his or her discretion in using force so blatantly and egregiously as to border upon being criminal. African Americans have disproportionately borne the brunt of such excesses by police. Some like Amadu Diallo shot 44 times in the hallway of his apartment building while reaching for his wallet in New York City, or Rodney King whose brutal beating by police in 1992 se off rioting by Blacks and Latinos in L.A. that left 50 people dead and countless buildings burned in that city’s poorest neighborhoods, became national symbols of racial injustice. Others like Chaquisha Johnson, a young mother gunned down in the doorway of her own apartment in a Washington D.C. housing project while holder her infant child, got little attention. Between 1990 and 2000 police in the U,S. killed over 5000 unarmed civilians; most were Black and Latino. Whatever their race or ethnicity may have been it is likely that comparatively few were as innocent as Ms. Johnson. Many, like Micheal Stewart, who was spraying graffiti in the New York City subway, were shot to deaths when they tried to flee the scene when police arrived, on resisting arrest. Still, none deserved to be killed.
Complaints about police brutality in the Black community have such a long history that the issue itself ahs been marginalized as a ‘Black issue.’ From 1965 to 1975 alone Dr. Cornel West, one of the nation’s foremost African-American intellectuals, had documented over 330 uprisings in 258 American cities. Many of these outbreaks of civil unrest were driven by complaints of widespread police brutality. Similar explosions of rage since that turbulent era in American history have occurred in Miami , L.A. , Ohio , N.Y., and elsewhere around the nation for the same reasons. Countless marches and rallies against brutality by police have been held from coast to coast for over half a century now, yet even the ageing Dr. Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University can still be arrested in his own home. When for every Black man to graduate college 100 will go to prison, and one in three will be incarcerated in his lifetime, has anything at all really changed? Nor is the story that much different for Latinos.
Dereck Alexander is not a statistic. He is a person who was beaten and ultimately shot by police during the course of an arrest. Despite being unarmed at the time he is now serving a 65 year sentence for assaulting a police officer. His case illustrates why many African Americans believe the criminal justice system is racist, and that little has changed since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965. While the period since then has seen African Americans rise to prominence in ever field of endeavor, it has also seen far more left behind in poverty and prisons.
In 2005 24 percent of all African Americans were mired in poverty, three times the eight percent of whites below the poverty line. Since then, the number of Americans living in poverty has increased by more than 50 percent, going from 11 percent to 17 percent of the overall US population. That’s especially bad news for African Americans. Black unemployment, at 16 percent in February, is 60 percent higher than for the nation as a whole. Such figures help to explain why despite the lowered crime rate since the early part of the 1960s Washington D.C. still has three times the crime rate of Mexico , where the government is deploying troops to quell violence.
Unlike Dr. Gates or Ms. Johnson, Dereck Alexander was not at home when he encountered police. He was in fact in an area known for open air drug dealing in Denver . An officer attempted to detain him and may have initially mistaken him for another man wanted on a warrant. Police allege that Alexander was uncooperative and resisted arrest. Alexander, who stand approximately 5’8” and weighs around 150 pounds, says the officer rushed him wielding his baton and broke four of his ribs before he started swinging and put the cop on his back. There is no disagreement as to what happened next. Alexander was shot. Whether he was shot because the officer was at the point of fear for his life, or as Alexander suspects, because he was humiliated and enraged is anyone’s guess. For going bare handed to a gun fight Alexander was given 65 years, 16 years for swinging on a cop while being beaten like Rodney King, and four times that as a habitual offender. His previous record consisted of two F-6 felonies punishable by no more than 18 months, and a 15 year-old conviction for assault in 1994 before he was even 21.
You don’t need to be Black to be the victim of a police shooting by any means, but it certainly doesn’t hurt your chances. Open air drug dealing isn’t confined to one area or community of people. The Red Rocks Amphitheater was famous for it during shows by bands like Phish and The Grateful Dead. Nor were the arrests at those shows free of unruly suspects either, and who doubts that more cake changes hands on a Saturday night in Aspen or Telluride than off of Colfax Avenue ? This prison had few fancy restaurant owners found with a million dollars in drug money, or strip joint operators engaged in international dope smuggling. It’s filled with bet players often doing long sentences for small crimes. Very few are cop killers, quite a few are serving double digit times fore shoving a correctional officer, before getting beat down by five of them, or spitting on the cop to arrest them while dead drunk. One prisoner finishing his sentence when we met claimed he was given an additional four years for the emotional trauma suffered by the officer to shoot him in the back as he fled the scene of a burglary after being told to stop. Not surprisingly he was also Black.
Convict writer Tom Gomez is serving 4 years in prison for the commercial burglary of a pharmacy in Telluride, CO. Tom needs your help to keep publishing on Indymedia. If you can help by typing up and posting some of his articles, or if you would like to correspond with him, he can be reached at:
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