Thousands Dying as Killer Cops Go Free

May 18, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


When Carl Dix spoke at a rally in Baltimore on May 2, he started by leading the crowd in a chant that’s been taken up in marches and rallies throughout the country: “Indict, Convict, Send the Killer Cops to Jail. The Whole Damn System Is Guilty as Hell!” Carl went on to say that while the cops who killed Freddie Gray have being indicted, this is not “the system working” and this is “just one step.”

He said, “This is their system showing its fear of you. They saw you stand up. They saw you saying ‘not this time.’ They hear you saying ‘no more.’ So they said, ‘Well, maybe we should indict and maybe they’ll go home and maybe they’ll forget about it.’” He said, “I have seen them a few times indict killer cops. But I haven’t seen them convict too many killer cops. I have not seen killer cops go to jail. You gotta stay on the case like that. You gotta fight through to make this happen.”

So what ARE the facts when it comes to killer cops being indicted, convicted, and going to jail under this system?

A recent Washington Post analysis revealed: “Among the thousands of fatal shootings at the hands of police since 2005, only 54 officers have been charged ... [and] most were cleared or acquitted in the cases that have been resolved.” (“Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted,” April 11, 2015)

This study was the first time there’s been an effort to identify every officer who faced charges for such shootings since 2005. The Post and researchers at Bowling Green State University looked at a wide range of public records and interviewed law enforcement, judicial, and other legal experts. The Post study concludes, “Only in rare cases do prosecutors and grand juries decide that the killing cannot be justified.”

The Post identifies certain common factors in the cases that led to officers being charged. It says that in an overwhelming majority of the cases the person killed was unarmed. It also says there were “typically other factors that made the case exceptional, including: a victim shot in the back, a video recording of the incident, incriminating testimony from other officers or allegations of a cover-up.” Of the 54 cases, 28 were ones where the victim was shot in the back. In 10 of the 54 cases, prosecutors found that the cops either planted or destroyed evidence in an attempt to exonerate themselves.

But there is one big factor the Post’s analysis leaves out of the equation: cases in which families refused to accept the “explanation” of the police, where there was protest and struggle against the killings, and sometimes determined marches and rallies of hundreds of people.

At least 28 of them—more than half—were cases where there had been protests against the killing. This includes these well known cases: seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones killed by Detroit police in 2010; 18-year-old Ramarley Graham killed by NYPD in 2012; 23-year-old Sean Bell killed by NYPD in 2006; 22-year-old Oscar Grant killed by BART police in Oakland in 2009; 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston killed by Atlanta police in 2006; 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, killed by police on the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans; 30-year-old Malissa Williams and 43-year-old Timothy Russell, killed by Cleveland police after a car chase; 38-year-old James Boyd, a homeless man killed by Albuquerque police for “illegal camping”; 28-year-old Akai Gurley killed by NYPD in 2014; and 50-year-old Walter Scott killed by North Charleston, South Carolina, police in 2015.

In all of these cases, the system had to take into account that fact that the families and friends of the person killed and broader numbers of people were not letting police murder be swept under the rug; that there was struggle and the people were demanding: “Indict, Convict, Send the Killer Cops to Jail!”

But again, these are all RARE cases. Of all the thousands and thousands of instances of police killings in 10 years, ONLY 54 cops have been charged. And even in these rare cases it does not mean that the cops end up being convicted or doing any time behind bars.

And in these rare cases, where a cop is even charged, the majority of times the cops were NOT convicted. And then, in the even smaller number of instances where cops were convicted of anything or if they plead guilty, they got very little time behind bars, on average four years and sometimes only weeks—for murdering someone.

The Post article includes many examples, including these two:

  • A Michigan state trooper shot and killed an unarmed homeless man in Detroit as he was shuffling toward him, the man’s pants down past his knees. The incident was captured on video, and the officer, who said he thought the man had a gun, was charged with second-degree murder. A jury accepted the officer’s account and found him not guilty. He remains on the job.
  • A police officer in Darlington County, South Carolina, who was charged with murder after he chased an unarmed man wanted for stealing a gas grill and three U-Haul trailers into the woods, shooting him in the back four times. A jury, believing that he feared for his life, found him not guilty.

The Post also tells of another case in South Carolina where a sheriff’s deputy says he had to open fire on an unarmed man who was grabbing for his gun. But the autopsy report showed that the victim was shot in the back four times as he was running away. In fact, in HALF the criminal cases identified by the study, prosecutors cited forensics and autopsy reports showing unarmed suspects who had been shot in the back.

Actually, it wasn’t that long ago that it was perfectly LEGAL for a cop to shoot someone in the back. Then, in 1985, the Supreme Court ruled (Tennessee v. Garner) that officers could not justifiably shoot someone simply to prevent him or her from escaping. The ruling said the suspect had to pose a significant threat of death or serious harm to either law enforcement or innocent bystanders for the shooting to be legally justified.

So now the law says cops can’t shoot people in the back who are running away. But we still get cops shooting people down in cold blood—including in the back as they are running away—and almost always getting away with it or just getting a slap on the wrist.

The study found, “Of the 54 officers charged for fatally shooting someone while on duty over the past decade, 35 have had their cases resolved. Of those, a majority—21 officers—were acquitted or saw their charges dropped.” (The other 19 cases are still pending.)

Out of the total 54 officers charged, only 11 were convicted. Nine were convicted in state prosecutions and got sentences ranging from six months to seven years. In one of the other federal cases, involving the shooting death of the 92-year-old woman in Atlanta, civil rights violations were added to manslaughter charges and the two cops were given prison sentences of six and 10 years.

According to the Post, "In at least six cases, lawyers for the officers were able to get charges reduced, resulting in lighter sentences. These cases included convictions as well as instances where judges deferred convictions and just put officers on probation." These officers on average only did about two-and-a-half years behind bars.

As Revolution newspaper pointed out when the cops who murdered Freddie Gray were indicted: "This ONLY happened because people not only demonstrated, but ROSE UP POWERFULLY IN REBELLION and the powers-that-be openly feared much worse as protest spread across the country. The prosecutor now posing as the great friend of the people, and especially the youth, would have almost certainly 'moved along' with no charges at all had not the people risen up and DEMANDED JUSTICE.” (“On the Indictment of the Pigs Who Murdered Freddie Gray”)

The system we live under with its criminal INJUSTICE system is set up to protect the armed enforcers who murder and brutalize the people everyday. It is up to the people to demand and struggle to “Indict, Convict, Send the Killer Cops to Jail” because the “Whole Damn System is Guilty as Hell!”


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