A selection of articles I have written since 2015 about police killings and race in the Albany Times-Union, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Medium, The New York Times, Real Clear Policy, The Washington Post, and USA Today.
Albany Times Union
This past month saw several deadly encounters between police and unarmed civilians, including the highly controversial death in Minneapolis of Jamar Clark and the shooting by police in Opa-Locka, Fla., of Cornelius Brown. While there are, throughout the country, many points of serious disagreement between citizen protesters and police supporters, the death of Brown, as with the death of Donald “Dontay” Ivy in April in Albany, highlights one area on which agreement should be easy.
Fort Worth Star Telegram
The Texas judicial system has come under national scrutiny again, and the headlines aren’t good for our state’s image.
A Buzzfeed report’s headline blared last month, “Their Crime: Being Poor. Their Sentence: Jail.” As a Texas police officer, I’ve seen these sorts of stories play out firsthand. The real tragedy is that things don’t have to go that way if judges, prosecutors and, yes, police become more attuned to the financial circumstances of the people who get caught up in the legal system.
It’s 3:40 a.m. and you’re driving in the right lane, southbound on Broadway. You’re on patrol alone, and that makes sense — you work at one of the more than 93% of police agencies in America that employ fewer than 100 officers. About half employ fewer than 10. So backup is at least a couple of minutes away.
Today’s New York Times article, The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black, is either a highly important, 5700-word indictment of a corrupt and racist police department, or it is an irresponsible and scurrilous accusation against an entire department, plastered on the front page of the nation’s most widely circulated newspaper. The problem is, since the authors don’t share or summarize in any meaningful way the core data on which their report is based, or provide their methodology, we can’t know for sure until an independent analysis is performed. That, at a minimum, is poor journalism.
New York Times:
Thursday night in Dallas, a calm and peaceful protest was shattered by a brutal precision attack against officers at the scene. Just moments before, some of those same officers had been amiably chatting with young families and others in the diverse group of demonstrators.
Real Clear Policy
Last year, 46 percent of the 153 unarmed civilians killed by police in the United States suffered from serious mental illness or acute narcotic intoxication or both. For comparison’s sake, consider that in 2009, 17 percent of those arrested on felony charges were female. Still, as a nation, we seem to think of both mental health and drug addiction as issues at the margins of our society.
Calls for a national police use-of-force database have reached the executive branch, with Attorney General Loretta Lynch endorsing the idea publicly last week. As practitioners in the world of law-enforcement technology and data, we at StreetCred Software applaud the idea. The wrongful death of a citizen at the hands of a police officer is among the gravest of crimes.
A year ago, I woke in the night with pain so severe I was crying before I was fully aware what was going on. A 50-year-old cop sobbed like a child in the dark. It was a ruptured disc and related nerve damage. Within a couple of months, it became so severe that I could no longer walk or stand. An MRI later, my surgeon soothingly told me it would all be okay. He would take care of me; the pain would end. After surgery, I never saw that surgeon again. A nurse practitioner handed me a prescription for painkillers — 180 tablets, 90 each of oxycodone and hydrocodone.
A little more than a year ago, my colleagues and I started the StreetCred Police Killings In Context data project. There were already several projects tracking police shootings, including Fatal Encounters, and new projects at The Washington Post and the Guardian. But we felt that they left out crucial context. Why did the police become involved in these incidents in the first place? Was their use of force something that most people would consider reasonable, such as the police response after Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire on military personnel at a Chattanooga, Tenn., recruiting station? Or was it unreasonable, as with the shameful killing of Walter Scott?
In Dallas this week, President Obama spoke movingly of the five officers killed after a protest. The president spoke beautifully of these officers’ acts of service, charity and good will, and he honored how bravely they placed themselves between a gunman and the people who had come to defend their constitutional rights. Then, while discussing the increased burdens placed upon officers by our society, the president said that in some neighborhoods it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than a book. That line was uttered in the context of the burdens facing police, but many of the officers watching were taken aback: Although we had lost five brothers, Texas law enforcement had never blamed the gun.
The Black Lives Matter movement and the recent focus in the media on how police interact with citizens of different races has helped engage Americans in an important conversation about how law enforcement works. Study after study has found that black drivers are more likely to be stopped and arrested than whites. But a closer look at some statistics shows that the problem is not necessarily an issue of racist cops, and that means fixing the criminal justice system isn’t just an issue of addressing racism in uniform.
With Peter Moskos
In the past two years, deaths at the hands of police officers sparked protests, riots and a national conversation about how law enforcement uses force. That conversation would be a lot more productive, though, if data on police-involved fatalities were more reliable.
With Colt Remington
On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the state’s Sandra Bland Act, named after the black woman who was found dead in a Waller County jail cell, into law. The state’s new law requires jailers to immediately determine whether inmates suffer from mental illness and divert those who do to a mental health facility. That’s what should have happened to Bland, and that action could very well have saved her life. Texas’ new law sets an example the rest of the country should follow.
Putting a camera on every law enforcement officer – along with storing and securing millions of hours of video – could be the most expensive law enforcement initiative since installing two-way radios in patrol cars. Before rushing headlong into an age of ubiquitous police cameras, there should be some consensus on a question of equal interest to everyone from Black Lives Matter to Blue Lives Matter: What do we want cameras to accomplish?