Chicago police released the video this week, after a year of legal wrangling, of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. Over a year since the incident, the officer is facing first degree murder charges.
According to police accounts, McDonald was a suspect in some auto burglaries in the area. The police also say he was armed with a knife.
But those same accounts say Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke fired sixteen bullets into his body but never gave any commands for him to halt, or put up his hands, or in any other way surrender. In fact, according to the officer whose car was recording the incident, said he was only on the scene for less than 30 seconds when he opened fire.
We’ll never know if McDonald is guilty of the crimes he was suspected of, because Officer Van Dyke acted as Judge, Jury and executioner, for a crime that would have been anything but a death sentence.
This isn’t the first time Van Dyke has been in trouble. According to CNN, he’s faced 20 lawsuits or complaints, which makes you question why he was on the streets to begin with.
Over the past few years I’ve seen a lot of videos like this. I had to write story after story in my former role as a local TV news producer about these incidents.
And every one has made me more sure in my resolve that there is something broken in law enforcement in this country.
See, the ‘good guys’ aren’t supposed to shoot people in the back, or while stopped for a missing license plate, or choke them to death over bootlegged cigarettes. The ‘good guys’ are supposed to bring people to justice. Let them have their day in court, and spend time in jail if they’re guilty of the crimes they’re accused of.
But it seems like in the past few years, maybe more than other years, maybe I’m just paying more attention now, there are a lot of people getting killed by police for what would otherwise be petty crimes.
Is this a fluke that all these are happening, one seemingly after another?
Is it bizarre happenstance?
Or is it something that’s been going on, we’re just now getting around to noticing it?
I don’t have the answer to those questions. What I do know, both first hand, and through the stories of friends is that being at the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to big trouble for you, especially if you’re black. And if you happen to live in an area that’s a designated ‘wrong place’, you’re pretty much screwed.
And that’s why I’m a strong advocate for additional police oversight.
But lets not fool ourselves, cameras are only a part of that oversight.
What the shooting of Laquan McDonald shows is that the presence of cameras doesn’t mean a cop will think twice about using unnecessary deadly force for an assailant that is running away from them.
If this were a standoff, I think both the law, and standard operating procedure clearly dictates that the officer has a right to defend himself. But that’s not what happened. As the video clearly shows, McDonald was running away from the police. I’m not saying that’s legal, but it doesn’t seem to rise to any reasonable standard of using deadly force. That’s why this officer is facing murder charges.
But you also have to ask, “Why did this officer think using his service weapon was the best/only response?” And to get that answer, you have to look into both the written policy of the department, and the culture of the department. Because policy is no better than the paper its written on if there’s an understanding about when it will and won’t be followed. And if this officer believed that he could act in this way, without facing consequences, then the charges against him are as much an indictment of the upper echelon of the Chicago Police Department… a department whose initial account of what happened is very different from what is shown in the video, and the Cook County Prosecutor, who took a year to announce the indictment the officer, as it is an indictment of the individual cop.
Cops are the boots on the ground who deliver the goods to prosecutors: from the uniformed patrol who are the first responders, to the investigators who work to crack the case. Cops do the prosecutors dirty work, deliver them the case, and the prosecutor then has to be ready to take that information and put it before a jury.
Truth be told, both prosecutors and top brass with police forces around the country are political jobs, and they rely on the cops at the ground level to make them look good so they can keep their jobs.
So when no cops are found to have abused their authority after 20 police shootings in 5 years , or 6 cops beat the hell out of two guys and aren ‘t charged no one should be surprised.
One hand relies on the other to stay alive. As a result, those two hands tend to be forgiving of sins against outsiders.
The tactic was a shrewd maneuver, legal experts say, in which McCulloch both deflected responsibility for his own failure to charge Wilson and — deliberately or not — created conditions in which the grand jury would not be likely to charge him either.
Which is why its important that the Grand jury transcripts in the Darrius Stewart case be reviewed, and if the prosecutor employed a similar tactic, it be released to the public.
Because if the Shelby County DA’s office isn’t going to handle an indictment proceeding for a cop the same way they would handle any other like charge, then how can anyone believe that the interests of impartial justice are being served?
I like Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never met the man. But I believe he’s trying to run a clean shop, despite the slew of current and former officers that have been indicted over the past few years.
But when you read an investigation about something known as Choir practice you have to question not only the leadership that has risen through the ranks, but also the internal culture that brought that leadership to the top.
And while Armstrong may have kept a low profile early in his career its not crazy to question his ability, as an insider, to challenge a culture he’s been a part of since he was on patrol.
Because it seems that a greater proportion of cops have been accused to all kinds of crimes (cop crimes per thousand on the force), than the general public in the past couple of years (I dare a media outlet to run the numbers). And that’s worrisome.
Now, you could argue that the fact that so many cases have come up shows that the current administration is fighting back against internal demons, and you might be right about that. Or it could be that these were the easy cases, that were perpetrated by dumb people, and it was just too hard not to prosecute them.
In any case, with one case after another coming up this year alone, you have to wonder what else is going on, and, more importantly, what, if anything is being done about it.
We also have to recognize that this isn’t anything new. This kind of separate and unequal justice has been going on in America for a long time. Anyone remember Rodney King? The only reason any cops were indicted in that case is because someone started videotaping from a nearby apartment. It was 1991, and video cameras weren’t as pervasive as they are today.
Now, just about every phone out there has some kind of camera. And that means, cases like the ones we’ve been hearing so much about over the past couple of years, are going to come to light more than ever before. Which should tell cops who are intent on overstepping their authority that they can’t do that anymore. That hasn’t happened.So while law enforcement leaders, from the head of the FBI on down, may cite the “Ferguson Effect”… a spike in violent crime resulting from law enforcement withdrawing due to increased oversight, even though he admits he doesn’t have any solid evidence of it being a ‘thing’, the real ‘Ferguson Effect’, if there is one, is that the public is using the technology that is literally in their hands, to protect themselves from cops who would do wrong.
And that’s exactly the kind of oversight that is necessary to provide a check against civil rights abuses that have always been there, but are just now coming into the light.
But as we’ve seen in case after case, just capturing something on video isn’t enough to bring justice. That’s why independent prosecutors who have a transparency mandate should bring these cases to the Grand Jury, not state cops like the TBI, who have promised transparency, but so far, haven’t delivered.
That’s also why independent citizen led groups, like the Citizen’s Law Enforcement Review Board should be there to provide oversight to the internal affairs process to ensure the internal enforcement of standard operating procedures and good policing techniques are adhered to, rather than relying on assurances from police administrators.
Because no one who’s ever had a bad encounter with a cop, and plenty of people who haven’t, believe in those assurances anymore.
Most importantly, the good cops who are out there…and there are hundreds of them in Memphis alone, should demand this kind of transparency, so they can remove the tarnish from their badges that cops who would exceed their authority have brought on them.
The police work for us, the citizens of Memphis. So do prosecutors. And while its understandable that neither group would want to part with the one hand washes the other relationship they’ve had over the years, the events highlighted in the media, both here and around the country, demand that they do.
That means more transparency in the workings of both organizations, and more accountability when things go wrong.
Exactly how it should have been in the first place.
The Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board, an entity that has existed in name only for years, would be given additional powers to investigate complaints brought forward against the Police department. One of those powers would be the ability to compel testimony, and the handing over of documents from the Police department.
Until last night, it seemed everyone was on board…the majority of the City Council had pushed through two readings, and the Mayor had signaled he supported the draft that included the above changes. Even the super secret 14th member of the City Council, Alan Wade, had been placated it seemed.
But for reasons not immediately apparent, the Mayor withdrew his support of the ordinance at the 11th hour, and wasn’t even man enough to deliver the news himself.
Considering recent events, many observers wondered why the Mayor would do this? But if you’ve been paying attention, this has been this administration’s Modus Operandi from the very beginning.
Wharton is no stranger to randomly, and seemingly without warning, changing his positions.
In 2010, the Mayor withdrew his support for a non-discrimination ordinance that he previously supported. The ordinance was eventually withdrawn.
He did it again in 2012, citing mysteriously vague objections, and trotting out Attorneys Alan Wade and Herman Morris to do his dirty work.
He’s done the same thing to the folks seeking to keep a section of Overton Park from being a defacto parking lot for the zoo. The mayor, at first seemed to support the idea, then both backed off at the last second, and changed his ‘opinion’
In fact, if you look for any issue you’ve seen the Mayor speak on over the past 6 years of his tenure, you will find articles and appearances in which he regularly supports both sides of the issue, sometimes at the same time, and in the process, preserves his political capital for the masses who generally aren’t paying attention to such things.
It is both sad testimony that the local media has largely allowed him to do this, and that he thinks we’re too dumb to notice.
The City has had a Civilian Review Board ordinance on the books since 1994. The ordinance, in its current form, has no teeth. As a result, the board went dormant until a series of actions, both locally and nationally, brought the idea back into the spotlight.
Now, in light of a the local shooting of an unarmed black teen… another in a string of nationally spotlighted shootings of unarmed black men, it would seem like the perfect time to institute some independent oversight of the police…not to go on a witch hunt, but to both provide the public with assurance that the investigations into possible malfeasance by officers are above board, and to root out those few officers who don’t like playing by the rules.
People who don’t like civilian oversight of anything have called supporters of the CLERB “anti-cop”, but that is a gross mischaracterization. If anything, the CLERB would help restore faith in the police by bringing the findings of investigations out into the open where regular folks can see what’s going on.
Many other cities have Review Boards…some with more powers than others. Knoxville has a review board that has many of the powers sought by advocates for the Memphis ordinance. In fact, restoring the relationship between the public and police is job #1 listed in the Knoxville ordinance.
It doesn’t seem like a crazy request or an unreachable. But to the Mayor, in an election year, it scared him so bad, he couldn’t even come down and deliver the news of his flip floppery himself.
“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” –Thomas Jefferson
Every two to four years we have elections for various and sundry offices in this country. In Memphis, those elections seem to be every 90 days or so, but they still happen.
Its natural for people in power to try to put the best face forward, to obfuscate somewhat, to use misdirection to confuse people.
But there’s nothing confusing about what Mayor Wharton’s administration did yesterday: It purposefully withdrew support for political purposes. Mayor Wharton figures the politics of not supporting this ordinance, and possibly upsetting some police officers, is more important than the public having a voice in the workings of an agency of their government that, under the long veil of secrecy, has continued to lose the faith of the citizenry.
You can be a strong supporter of the Mayor and still support the CLERB ordinance.
You can be a strong supporter of local law enforcement and support the CLERB. In fact, regular cops who serve the public well on a regular basis have nothing more to worry about from the CLERB than they do from the current Internal Affairs process.
You can’t, however, proclaim to be a strong supporter of transparency and at the same time, oppose giving powers to a board that would seek to bring more transparency to an unnecessarily veiled process.
In fact, it is one of the very ideas the Mayor solicited from former County Commissioner, Mike Carpenter when he asked him to review the city’s transparency process.
Its high time the Mayor stood by that 2009 Executive Order and let the sunshine in on local government.
One way to do that, is to support all the changes the new CLERB ordinance proposes.
Doing anything else, means the Mayor has just added to his growing list of flip-flopery on the important issues of the day.
Perhaps it was naiveté, or my fond memories of great journalists from the late 70’s through much of the 80’s and early 90’s.
I gave up any illusions of this fairy tale long ago.
That’s not to say there aren’t great journalists out there…they’re just fewer and farther between…and they’re trapped in a business environment where quantity, punch, and social media ‘engagement’ trumps a balanced account of the news.
Such is the case with this truly ignorant report from WREG that aired in July.
The web story is pretty benign, but the report that actually aired takes a Gary Vosot approach to reporting that demands you turn every fallen acorn into a “sky is falling” event.
The news item I’m referencing involves a little known report called the “Participating Voter List”, aka PVL.
The PVL is exactly what it sounds like. Its a list of people who have participated in an election. It includes your name and address, precinct information, and in primary elections, which primary ballot you chose to vote on.
Independent observers, political consultants, and campaigns use the PVL to see who’s voted, which areas are turning out more than others, and to tailor their communications to people who haven’t voted by purging the names of people who have voted from their direct communication list (mail, phone, and canvassing).
If you don’t want annoying calls, knocks, or mail, vote early and all that will stop…if the campaign is managed effectively.
Aside from primary ballot information, there is no information in the PVL that’s any more dangerous to your privacy than the information from an old school phone book, or white pages dot com.
But reporter Michael Quander’s piece makes it sound as if the very act of voting could endanger your privacy in some way.
That’s simply not the case. There are far easier and more informative ways and places to get that information than the Election Commission…though you’d never know it from his actual report.
Because of Quander’s report, the Election Commission now only sends the PVL out by request, instead of publishing it in the deep dark recesses of the Election Commission website where only people who know where it is can find it.
The PVL is important because it is a way to, in nearly real time, see what’s going on with an election.
The PVL was how Joe Weinberg and I found the redistricting errors that resulted in over 3000 voters receiving the wrong ballot in the August 2012 election.
At that time, the PVL was posted directly on the Election Commission’s website daily. Because of this, we were able to run our tests promptly and without waiting for a gatekeeper to open the gate for us (other than waiting for the report to be posted). This allowed both of us the ability to work, as volunteers…using our own time and getting paid nothing for our efforts, to expose one of the greatest election screw-ups in recent memory.
Had the PVL’s only been available by request, it may have taken several more days to complete our tests, causing a greater delay in resolving the problem, and potentially disenfranchising thousands of more voters in the process.
There is a small, tightly knit group of mostly volunteers, on both sides of the aisle, who pay very close attention to this report. Any delay is a huge setback because we are working on our own time, and of our own initiative.
Thanks to another barrier being placed due to unnecessary fear drummed up by this report, the next election disaster, should it occur, will take days longer to identify.
Way to go Channel 3.
But what is perhaps most perversely ironic is that the PVL is more safe than many of the methods WREG, and other commercial websites use to make money off of you.
Have you ever noticed that things you’ve browsed on Amazon or other online retailers regularly show up on ads at completely unrelated websites?
In doing so, they’re taking advantage of your ignorance of potential privacy concerns far more than the Election Commission or any other government agency that is required by law to publish or make available information about you and yours.
Aside from the report being…just dumb…the Election Commission’s decision to no longer post the PVL is also a blow to reporters who know what to do with the report…other than stir up unnecessary FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) in the minds of viewers.
In years past, experienced reporters and election observers have used the report to do good journalism in the public interest. I remember the first time I started seeing reports like this, but in particular, the work of Commercial Appeal reporter Zack McMillian back in 2010 when he was on the political beat.
He used the information in a way that challenged me to dig even deeper into the report…which ultimately led to the discoveries Dr. Weinberg and I made going public.
Journalism is supposed to both inform people, and make those who engage in it, either by profession or by hobby, better. Quander’s report doesn’t do that. It preys on the uninformed fears of people, who are already scared of the very big data his company makes money off of.
So way to go Michael Quander, and the Producers, News Directors, and other influential decision-makers at WREG Channel 3. You’ve just made it harder for people just like you to do their job. I know you’re proud.
The following is an editorial penned by the University of Memphis College Democrats. It is published here in its entirety.
Tennesseans face a leadership crisis due to the self-serving mismanagement of our state by Governor Bill Haslam. So far, during his more than three years in office, Governor Haslam has abused the public trust in order to enrich him and his friends. As dogged investigative reporting offers more insights into the nature of this administration, the public is learning just how pervasive and damaging Governor Haslam’s “leadership” has been for the middle class Tennessean, and why it is imperative that we consider House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh for election as our next governor:
• Governor Haslam awarded a $330 million contract for the management of state buildings to Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a company with which the Governor has over $10,000 invested. The Governor maintains a close relationship with JLL executives, inviting them to an “intimate dinner” at the Governor’s Residence during the contract bidding process in April 2012.
• Governor Haslam’s family company, Pilot Flying J, is currently under investigation by the FBI for knowingly withholding fuel rebates from trucking companies with which they do business. The investigation calls into question the Governor’s business integrity and is indicative of a culture of blatant disregard for middle class workers within the Haslam Empire.
• Bill Haslam failed to disclose that he paid lobbyist Tom Ingram for political advice while Ingram lobbied on behalf of a coal company hoping to mine beneath state parks.
• The Haslam Administration outsourced a million dollar contract for maintenance of the state’s fleet of vehicles to Bridgestone/Firestone, a company once headed by Mark Emkes, Haslam’s former finance chair. The bloated deal includes massive markups that waste taxpayer dollars. For instance, a $1.74 headlight bulb cost Tennesseans $12.
• Haslam outsourced the state’s motor pool to Enterprise for the price of $739,000, despite the fact that state employees used only $450,000 worth of services. General Services Commissioner Steve Cates began pushing for the deal around the time that he hired former Enterprise executive Kathleen Hansen to head General Services’ motor vehicle management division.
• Governor Haslam appointed Brad Martin interim President of the University of Memphis. Martin was the CEO of Saks Inc., and hired Haslam as an executive, when the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated the company on charges of fraud for withholding millions owed to clothing retailers. Martin is also conducting Pilot’s internal investigation regarding the withholding of fuel rebates.
• Haslam appointee Kate O’Day, head of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS), resigned amid an investigation into the deaths of 31 children in DCS care.
• Under Haslam’s guidance, the State of Tennessee awarded a $200 million-plus contract to provide health services for our state’s inmates to Centurion, which employs the wife of the head of the Tennessee Department of Corrections, despite concerns about the company’s qualifications and the fact that Centurion’s bid came in almost $20 million higher than its competitor’s bid.
This laundry list of scandals, mismanagement, and disregard for the livelihood of Tennesseans is emblematic of the leadership crisis facing our state. Haslam’s passion for political patronage endangers the welfare of ordinary Tennesseans and threatens to cause serious long-term damage to the state we all love. For the good of the state, Tennesseans need a candidate for governor whose leadership offers a clear contrast with Gov. Haslam and his self-serving Capitol Hill cronies.
Leader Craig Fitzhugh ran the Bank of Ripley in a clean and honest manner; Governor Haslam has been an executive at two companies that federal authorities have investigated. Leader Fitzhugh has given nearly 20 years of his life to a career in public service aimed at increasing the well-being of all Tennesseans; Governor Haslam has spent his ten years in public office focused on the financial fate of his inner circle. Leader Fitzhugh has been a champion of bipartisanship during his years in Tennessee politics; Haslam has spinelessly rubber-stamped the agenda of the most radical state legislature in Tennessee history. For these reasons, we urge Craig Fitzhugh to enter the 2014 Governor’s race.
At the end of Don Sundquist’s tenure as Governor, it was revealed that Sundquist gave no-bid state contracts to his business associates, and then the FBI raided the business offices of a close friend of his. The parallels with Bill Haslam are striking. Tennesseans had the good sense to elect Phil Bredesen after the mismanagement of the Sundquist years; and, after four years of Haslam’s underhanded governance, we are confident that the sensible citizens of our state will have the wherewithal to elect another serious leader who is committed to serving all Tennesseans. We are confident that Craig Fitzhugh is that leader.
Charles Uffelman–University of Memphis
President of University of Memphis College Democrats
Matt Strauser–Princeton University
Now, anyone with half a brain in their head should have looked at this promise pretty skeptically. Its just like any other promise a politician makes, subject to change based on future events.
And while the notion of “running government like a business” may seem like a good idea, 2010 was just two years after businesses…really big businesses…essentially tanked the economy by screwing over people who just wanted to own a home.
So, maybe we didn’t ask the right question at the time. Maybe we should have asked, “What kind of business?”
Of course, a fawning media, ready to crown a victor well before the election, didn’t help with the questions. They were falling all over themselves to use every adjective they could to make Haslam seem inevitable.
30 months into this term, the shine is starting to wear off with the media, and problems both inside and out of his administration have more than a few observers wondering about the Governor’s decision-making and the patronage system that has emerged.
Riding a wave of Republican victories across the state, Gov. Haslam was inaugurated with a newly ensconced GOP led House and Senate. While the Governor was just getting settled in, the legislature went to work, removing collective bargaining for teachers, instituted a photo ID bill for voting, and passed a bill allowing corporate contributions to political campaigns, among other things.
By the end of the 2011 session, many on both sides of the aisle rightly asked who was in charge of the state…the Governor or the Legislature? By 2012 the Governor started getting his sea legs, even if the legislature continued dragging him further to the right than most thought possible.
A post-mortem of the Gov.’s second year in office, noted that Haslam had a hard time reigning in the far right elements in the legislature. In the days following the end of the 2012 session, a slew of articles noting both the secrecy of the legislature and the Executive Branch intent on keeping information about the workings of government from the people, under the guise of “privacy”. One such effort sought to shield the owners of companies from public disclosure of their receipt of cash grants from the state.
All of these things led to the state being saddled with the dubious distinction of having the worst State Legislature in the US in 2012, and led to many questions, including those wondering if Gov. Haslam would ever live up to his “moderate” public image?
Apparently, the Gov. had other things in mind…like fulfilling the worst fears of what “running Government like a business” can be.
With the passage of the TEAM Act, a bill that radically changed the way Civil Service jobs are awarded, and which led to the hiring of what one writer called his patronage chief, Larry Martin, the nature of that “business climate in government” began to emerge.
Martin, who retired from First Tennessee Bank in 2006, also served as Chief of Staff for the Haslam Administration in Knoxville. While its not unusual for a political appointee to follow an executive from one place to another, Martin’s connections to the Haslam family are deeply rooted.
Both Jimmy Haslam and R. Brad Martin (U of Memphis interim president and chief Pilot internal investigator) served on the First Tennessee board while Larry Martin was COO of First Tennessee’s Financial Services division.
Another Haslam staffer, Mark Emkes, a Director at First Horizon (Parent Co. of First TN) became Director of Finance and Administration until he retired recently and was replaced by Larry Martin.
While the tangled web of business friends of the Haslam family that litters the upper echelon of the Haslam Administration is interesting, I’ll leave that for a future post to deal directly with the personal interests that have been rearing their ugly head for months now.
In June, a committee tasked with oversight of state contracts deferred the review of a contract for the Dept. of Corrections, that was awarded to a company employing the wife of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield…and cost the state $15m more.
This same group was also exploring looking into contracts offered to Enterprise Rent-a-car and Bridgestone, the latter formerly headed by recently retired Director of Finance and Administration, Mark Emkes.
But it doesn’t end there.
The Governor recently awarded a $330 million contract to a company he listed on his disclosures as an investment, one of the scant few I might add. He also signed a law that benefitted a business buddy in Gatlinburg and says he’s unconcerned about a coal company that has ties to his family business.
All of this leads us to a report from NC5 yesterday that alleges inside dealings on contracts by Tom Ingram, who, until recently was paid privately by the Governor.
This after several administrative problems involving child deaths at DCS, and the rewards totaling $1m that went to the TN Dept. of Labor after misspending $73m of unemployment money, which ultimately led to the Governor seeking cover behind newly appointed State Chief Operating Officer Greg Adams.
Apparently, “running government like a business” in part, at least, means placing layers of folks between you and government so you don’t really have to take responsibility for governing.
Of course, this is going on while the FBI and IRS are investigating the family business. An investigation that, while not directly connected to the Governor yet, certainly puts a pall on the overall outlook for Tennessee’s first family.
Which brings me back to something I said at the beginning…just what kind of business did candidate Haslam intend to model Tennessee government after?
While the jury may be out on that question as a whole, the evidence is pointing to the same kind of crony capitalism that brought down the banks in 2007-08 and is causing his family business all kinds of trouble right now. The kind that works with its friends at the expense of everyone else.
And while the Governor has enjoyed a certain measure of teflon like “unstainable” status in public opinion, one has to wonder how many scratches that surface can withstand before the public turns their back on the Governor.
What should be even more troubling for the Governor is that while he’s taken some dings to his image, the investigations into poor management and potential misdeeds in his administration are just beginning.
And just like most things, the bandwagoneers in the media will eventually jump on this en masse to do the thing they like doing more than building someone up…taking them down.