Tag Archives: racist cops

Sandra Bland and the long history of racism in Waller County, Texas…

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Waller County, Texas, has had a complicated racial history since the days when it was a part of Mexico. At one of its first settlements, Bernardo Plantation, about 100 slaves grew cotton on a large farm on the banks of the Brazos. Yet in the years before Texas fought Mexico for its independence, the area became a magnet for free blacks from elsewhere in the South who sought a welcoming home.

The messy, confusing double legacy of that history has persisted to the present, most recently embodied in the death of Sandra Bland in a Waller County jail cell. Bland, a 28-year-old from Chicago, was on a road trip to start a new job at her alma mater, historically black Prairie View A&M University, when she was pulled over by a state trooper for failing to signal a turn. Somehow, that apparently routine stop escalated and ended with Bland with an arm injury, under arrest for assaulting an officer. She was found dead in her cell three days later, on July 13, of what police say was suicide by asphyxiation. Her family disputes that account, saying she had no inclination to suicide and was upbeat about her new job.

We’ll need more information to understand what happened to Bland. As Radley Balko notes, jailhouse suicide is disturbingly common. Regardless of the circumstances of Bland’s death, however, a routine stop for failing to use a blinker should not end in several days of imprisonment and death. That has brought a natural focus on Waller County and the figures involved.

After Walter Scott was shot and killed by a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer, advocates noted that traffic stops are often a pretext for searching or questioning citizens of color. Scott, who was pulled over for having a taillight out, was wanted for failing to pay child support, and it’s speculated that led him to run away. He was shot in the back as he ran. In North Charleston, police made traffic stops involving African Americans far out of proportion to their percentage of the population. That isn’t the case in Waller County. Statewide, stops and citations for black people in Texas are actually lower than their share of the overall population, and the same holds true for stops by the Waller County sheriff and police in the towns of Hempstead and Prairie View.

But this might be one of the few areas where there isn’t evidence of racially disparate outcomes in Waller County, a place with a grim history of discrimination and tension—“racism from the cradle to the grave,” as DeWayne Charleston, a former county judge, put it to The Guardian.

The history is especially painful because Waller County was for a time a beacon of black progress. During Reconstruction, an office of the Freedmen’s Bureau opened in the county seat of Hempstead, and federal troops—including, for a time, some commanded by George Custer—occupied to keep the peace. Not coincidentally, the Ku Klux Klan also set up shop. Nonetheless, Hempstead became a locus of black political activity and hosted the Republican Party’s statewide convention in 1875. In 1876, the predecessor of Prairie View A&M was established, and in the 1880 Census, the county was majority black.

But the last two decades of the century saw an influx of white immigrants from Eastern Europe, and that dilution of the black vote, along with the end of Reconstruction, reduced blacks to a minority and slashed their political power. After a 1903 law established “white primaries,” African Americans were effectively shut out of politics—such that in a county with some 8,000 black voters, only 144 Republican votes were cast in 1912, according to The Handbook of Texas. Waller County, as Leah Binkovitz notes, had among the highest numbers of lynchings in the state between 1877 and 1950, according to a comprehensive report by the Equal Justice Initiative.

This may seem like distant history, but it set something of a pattern for the county’s race relations through to the present—and as the events of the last year have made clear, a place’s history is often an effective predictor of how it treats its black residents, from St. Louis County to Cuyahoga County. In fact, the disenfranchisement of black voters in Waller County has continued to be a source of contention.

In 2004, students at Prairie View A&M fought and won a battle over their right to vote in the country. District Attorney Oliver Kitzman claimed the students were ineligible to vote in Waller County and could only cast ballots in their home counties, despite clear Supreme Court precedent showing they were allowed to register. Kitzman threatened to prosecute any student who voted. It wasn’t his first clash with black residents, who accused the district attorney of deploying a range of intimidation tactics. Kitzman denied any racism, and told the Los Angeles Times that any racial issues in the county could be solved “ if we took several of the players and sent them to Los Angeles.”

The students, with the support of conservative Republican state Attorney General Greg Abbott, triumphed in the battle. Kitzman resigned his post, a moment local black leaders compared to the Emancipation Proclamation. But four years later, PVAMU students again found themselves fighting for their fight to vote. A judge ruled against Waller County , and demanded that county officials justify every rejected voter registration to the U.S. Department of Justice for four years. The county has seen a variety of other accusations of voting irregularities in recent years.

In the early 2000s, Hempstead was embroiled in a dispute over cemeteries in town, which had historically been divided between white and black. Black residents complained that the city had devoted much lesser resources to black burial grounds. In the midst of litigation, the white mayor of Hempstead offended the city’s African American residents by refusing to attend a parade to mark Juneteenth, the day of emancipation of slaves in Texas. The lawsuit was ultimately settled, with Hempstead agreeing to spend more on upkeep of the black cemeteries.

The interment question wasn’t entirely settled: In 2007, DeWayne Charleston, the judge, ordered a black funeral home to bury the body of an unknown white woman found dead in the county. (Charleston was later removed from the bench for accepting bribes.) Officials balked, as the Associated Press reported:

When activists started raising questions about the county’s hesitation at burying the woman in a black cemetery, the commissioners asked a white-owned funeral home to handle arrangements—adhering to what community activists say is a long-standing tradition of cemetery segregation in the county .… Had the unidentified woman been buried in a black cemetery, she would have been the first known white person buried in a black cemetery in the county.

In 2007, the chief of police in Hempstead, Glenn Smith, was accused of racism and police brutality during an arrest. Council members opted to suspend Smith for two weeks, a sanction that disappointed civil-rights leaders in town. The following year, amid more allegations of police misconduct, Smith was fired. He promptly ran for county sheriff and won, and is now charged with investigating Bland’s death in the jail he oversees. At a news conference about Bland’s death, Smith vowed , “Black lives matter to Glenn Smith.”

It may not come as a surprise if Waller County’s African American residents don’t buy that. And they may not feel any better about the prosecutor who would handle any case. Elton Mathis, who holds Kitzman’s old job, has also been accused of pursuing racially disparate prosecutions. Last June, a black clergyman alleged that Mathis has threatened him over such accusations.

Almost as soon as Bland died, her family and many black Americans assumed the worst. They were skeptical of official explanations and pessimistic about the odds of a thorough and fair investigation. A popular hashtag, #IfIDieInCustody, became a forum to express that skepticism and the fear of being disappeared into a jail—or, like Freddie Gray, a police wagon—and emerging dead or near death, with no explanation and little evidence to explain what happened beyond the official account. To those Americans more accustomed to trusting the judicial system to deliver fair outcomes, this outpouring may come across as baffling at best—and as a hasty, unwise leap to conclusions at worst, short-circuiting the due process of the justice system. But the local history explains those deep wells of skepticism. Waller County has given African Americans more than a century’s worth of evidence that it is not in the habit of protecting their interests.

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America’s “death squads” in blue…

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Appearing on various 24×7 “news” channels, self-anointed “experts” on the social collapse of poor, mostly African-American working class neighborhoods across the United States, are avoiding talking about the real reason cities and towns across America are erupting in protest and resorting to rioting every time a young African-American is murdered by the police. America, like the fascist dictatorships in Latin America during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, is now rife with police “death squads.” Uniformed law enforcement officers now act as judges, juries, and executioners in meting out death sentences on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb; New York City; North Charleston, South Carolina; Baltimore; and other cities and towns across the dis-United States.

As the result of the steady militarization of America’s state, city, county, and small town police forces since the 9/11 attack and under what is called the “1033 program,” the Pentagon has provided state and local police with everything from war surplus armored personnel vehicles (known as Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles or “MRAPS”) and military-grade M-16 rifles to mortars and armored Humvees. The creation of paramilitary death squads by the government and police force militarization go hand-in-hand. Death squads, by their nature, are military counter-insurgency units and are organized along military lines.

The dispatch of the Maryland National Guard, 100 state troopers from New Jersey, courtesy of Governor Chris Christie, and police from other jurisdictions, including Pennsylvania, and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland, to Baltimore was designed to send a clear message to America’s minorities: police remain free to summarily execute civilians at will and any protests, be they in black ghettos, Hispanic barrios, or on Native American reservations, will be met with overwhelming police force or “shock and awe.” Police brutality and misconduct will continue to be covered up by the “blue line” of silence spurred on by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) working with police internal affairs divisions. Police body cameras will be the new “placebo” used to quiet police critics and skeptical media.

Unfounded rumors that the black gangs — the Bloods and the Crips — were en route to Baltimore to stoke violence and kill Baltimore police were found to have originated from social media messages from FOP officials in Baltimore, Maryland, and New Jersey.

Residents of black neighborhoods in America’s cities and towns are being menaced in the same manner that Guatemalan government-instituted “Civil Defense Patrols” were used by the regime of dictator Efrain Rios Montt to instill fear in the country’s Mayan Indian population. Similar “death squads” were supported by the governments of El Salvador and Honduras. All of these death squads received supplies from the U.S. military and training from Israelis, just as America’s police forces that are targeting minorities for death, receive today.

Just as the Israeli police and army attack journalists covering Palestinian demonstrations, the Baltimore police beat one journalist covering the rioting in Baltimore. Baltimore cops have received Israeli training in crowd control in the use of acoustic weapons, martial arts techniques, corralling strategies, and crowd surveillance.

A study by Princeton University concluded that the United States is no longer a democracy. Instead, the study said that beyond the appearances of Americans enjoying basic civil liberties, real power in America is exercised by a small and wealthy elite. The situation is similar to the plutocracies and oligarchies that ruled the Latin American countries that employed death squads. The proof of the Princeton results are on full display on the streets of Baltimore.

Journalists sue St. Louis police over treatment during the Ferguson protests…

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Four journalists arrested during last summer’s protests over the Ferguson shooting death of Michael Brown are suing St Louis County’s police department for civil rights violations and unlawful detention.

The lawsuit filed Monday in St Louis also names 20 unidentified St Louis County officers.

Plaintiffs include two journalists who were covering last August’s protests for German publications, as well as a freelance reporter and a journalist for an online investigative publication. The suit describes them as US citizens.

The lawsuit alleges that the journalists’ arrests for failing to disperse when ordered by police was unjustified and was an infringement of constitutionally protected freedom of the press.

A St Louis County police spokesmen referred questions Monday to the county counselor, who did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

“But who is Darren Wilson? Darren Wilson’s first police job was in the small town of Jennings, MO–and the police department had such a troubled history with racial tensions between white officers and black residents that the city eventually disbanded it. Three years ago, every single officer–including Wilson–was fired, and new people were hired in an effort to regain credibility with residents”

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While a small minority of white people may be adamantly supporting Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed an unarmed African-American teenager, the rest of us are wondering why police are providing little-to-no information regarding the homicide.

Thus far, Ferguson has, weeks after the shooting, released a heavily-redacted incident report they initially claimed did not exist because the case had been turned over to St. Louis County, who filed an information-free report of their own. When Wilson was revealed to be the murderer, Ferguson cops made public a video they claimed showed Brown robbing a store–but the store owner, through his attorney, said that he nor any employees reported a robbery. In fact, police did not see the video until after Brown was dead in the street. In any case, he does not believe that the person allegedly committing strong-arm robbery is Michael Brown.

The Ku Klux Klan and other white people have set up funds to collect reward money for Wilson, in any case.

But who is Darren Wilson?

Darren Wilson’s first police job was in the small town of Jennings, MO–and the police department had such a troubled history with racial tensions between white officers and black residents that the city eventually disbanded it. Three years ago, every single officer–including Wilson–was fired, and new people were hired in an effort to regain credibility with residents.

After his termination, Wilson applied and was hired in nearby Ferguson. Things were going well for Wilson–until August 9, when he gunned down Michael Brown. Since the shooting Wilson has disappeared from the public eye, and is silent about the shooting–though many are willing to speak on his behalf, including a certain blogger who fraudulently claimed Wilson suffered an orbital blowout fracture as a result of his confrontation with the unarmed teen. Even the spirit world says that Wilson is innocent, according to a right-wing “Christian” psychic and astrologer.

The Jenning police department was, like Ferguson, mostly white despite a majority of African-American residents. “It was not an ideal place to learn how to police,” the Washington Post noted. According to officials, Wilson kept a clean record with no disciplinary action–unsurprising, given the department’s history.

According to Rodney Epps, an African-American city council member in Jennings, racial tension was rampant in the police department.

“You’re dealing with white cops, and they don’t know how to address black people,” Epps said. “The straw that broke the camel’s back, an officer shot at a female. She was stopped for a traffic violation. She had a child in the back [of the] car and was probably worried about getting locked up. And this officer chased her down Highway 70, past city limits, and took a shot at her. Just ridiculous.”

Police faced numerous lawsuits for using unnecessary force. Cassandra Fuller sued the Jennings police department after an officer beat her on her front porch after he became incensed by a joke in June 2009. A car smashed into her van, which was parked in front of her home. The officer asked her to move her van. “It don’t run. You can take it home with you if you want,” she answered. The officer threw her off the porch, knocked her on the ground, and kicked her in the stomach, Fuller said.

The department paid Fuller a confidential sum to settle the case. “It’s like a horror story in my mind. I never thought a police officer would pull me off my porch and beat me to the ground, for just laughing,” Fuller said.

On top of racial tensions, the department was dealing with institutional corruption on a grand scale. A joint Federal and local investigation determined that a lieutenant was receiving federal funds for DUI checks that never happened.

In March 2011, the city council voted 6-1 to shut down the department and hire St. Louis County to run its police services with Lt. Jeff Fuesting as commanding officer. “My impression is he didn’t go above and beyond, and he didn’t get in any trouble,” Fuesting said of Darren Wilson.

He said of the department before it was disbanded, “There was a disconnect between the community and the police department. There were just too many instances of police tactics which put the credibility of the police department in jeopardy. Complaints against officers. There was a communication breakdown between the police and the community. There were allegations involving use of force that raised questions.”

Police in the area have revealed that racism is not a problem limited to Jennings or Ferguson. St. Louis officer Dan Page was revealed to have given a racially-charged speech in which he talked of his love of killing at an Oath Keepers meeting two years ago. An officer in Glendale, just fifteen miles from Ferguson, was suspended for his bigoted Facebook posts about the Michael Brown murder and the resulting protests. An officer working the Ferguson protests was caught on a racist Twitter rant about protesters, as well. Officer “Go F*ck Yourself” pointed his weapon at an African-American member of the media and loudly declared, “I will f*cking kill you.” A member of the National Guard, called in to “restore calm,” referred to protesters as “n*ggers.” Another cop was busted calling demonstrators “f*cking animals,” on top of all that. The list goes on–and this is just what was caught on tape and on social media!

A grand jury is currently reviewing evidence in making a determination whether or not Wilson will be charged for the murder of Michael Brown. The Grand Jury, unsurprisingly, is mostly white.

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