Feds Refuse to Prosecute Cops Who Killed Tyisha Miller

Revolutionary Worker #1185, February 2, 2003, posted at http://rwor.org

When you hear the name, you remember the story. Tyisha Miller, the young African-American woman executed by four white LAPD officers while she sat unconscious inside her locked car. The place was Riverside, California. The time, December 1998. Tyisha Miller had just turned 19 years old.

For four years since then, the system has refused to act on people's demands for justice for Tyisha Miller. And in the latest chapter in this story of deep injustice, the U.S. government has refused to prosecute the cops who killed Tyisha in cold blood.


On December 28, 1998, Tyisha's cousin found her unconscious inside a locked car, apparently suffering from medical problems. The cousin called 911 for help. But help never came. What came instead were four carloads of cops.

Tyisha's cousin and another friend pleaded with the police to wait for a family member who was on the way with a spare key to open the car door. But the cops surrounded her car and opened fire. They later claimed they had heard a shot or seen Tyisha's hand move toward a gun.

The cops fired 27 shots--12 bullets hit Tyisha in the back.

Family members and other eyewitnesses said the cops made racist comments before, during, and after Tyisha's murder. "Do you want to sic the dogs on her?" they said to a police dog handler while her bullet-ridden body was still in the car. They cursed at her and laughed at her grieving relatives, describing the cries of Tyisha's family as "Watts death wails" and a "Negro Kwanzaa festival." These remarks were made by supervising officers as well as lower-level cops, and were reported by family members and sources within the police department.

The authorities immediately began the cover-up. Tyisha's car was dismantled, and the parking lot where she was killed was paved over. The four cops who fired their guns were put on paid administrative leave. The officials story in the media was that the cops had shot in self-defense.

As word of the young sister's cold-blooded murder spread fast and far, a deep-felt rage arose among the people. Her funeral was attended by 700 people, angry and demanding justice. Within days, the Tyisha Miller Steering Committee was formed, and they have relentlessly pressed the demand for justice ever since.

For six months after the shooting, the Riverside District Attorney's office conducted their "full investigation." After interviewing dozens of witnesses and examining scores of official reports, they issued their findings in a lengthy report that found "insufficient evidence" to prosecute the cops. The DA's report ended with this sentence: "[I]t does appear that the four officers involved in this shooting actually intended to aid Ms. Miller." So in the DA's view, these cops were not killers-- they were conscientious police officers!

But the people were not ready to let this crime be so easily swept under the rug, and continued to demand justice. In 1999, the four cops were fired. In response, many of their fellow cops shaved their heads, like a bunch of skinheads, in a show of support. The California Attorney General was forced to intervene, promising another "full investigation." Two years later, he ordered the police department to adopt a reform plan "designed to root out racism"--but his office refused to prosecute the shooters, again on grounds of "insufficient evidence."

Now, four years after Tyisha's murder, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department has issued yet another report after yet another "full investigation." Their conclusion? Insufficient evidence to prosecute!One more "Get Out of Jail Free" card for murderers in blue.

A friend of the Miller family recalled how he and other civil rights activists had worked for weeks after the shooting to persuade angry youths not to take to the streets. They thought some kind of justice could be won through the courts. Now, he says, "They are sending a message ... that cops are going to get away with this."

A member of the Tyisha Miller Steering Committee said she was not shocked with the decision. "They don't prosecute white male police officers. They just don't--even when the evidence is overwhelming. That's the American way. People say we live in a democracy. It's a fa‡ade. It's a democracy for a few." As people in L.A. and around the world saw more than 10 years ago, the courts let walk the cops who were caught on videotape viciously beating Rodney King. It was only after people rose up in the 1992 L.A. Rebellion that several of the cops involved in the beating were convicted and sent to jail.

In an added outrage, the cops who shot Tyisha are now suing to get their jobs back. Their lawsuits allege that they were fired because of their race! "The city gives medals of valor" for "the same kind of thing these guys did," their attorney said. And even before their suits have been heard, the Riverside City Council has already offered two of the former officers $2,000 a month, tax-free, for life.

A few days after the U.S. In -Justice Department released its whitewash, Reverend Bernell Butler, Tyisha's uncle, wept as he spoke to the RW. "I can't believe it! I'm just so upset. The feds said the cops didn't violate her civil rights. They violated all of her rights, damn it--they killed her! Any jury in the world would have convicted them, but the DA couldn't find enough evidence to bring them to trial. And now they want to pay them for murdering Tyisha!

"All this shows that cops are above the law. They can murder Tyisha Miller, they can murder Margaret Mitchell [homeless woman killed by LAPD-- RW ], they can stick a broomstick up Abner Louima's butt, but nobody can find evidence to file charges on cops.... These people are like Gestapo coming through people's houses in the middle of the night. They might as well give praises to Nazi Germany. Shameful!"

Rev. Bernell Butler said that the problem goes beyond these killer cops: "I'll tell you what this country is--the biggest perpetrator of crimes and corruption around the world. Look at all the people who are suffering right now because of this government, whether it's Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, the Philippines--you name it. You know, I'm still in the military, and I'm scheduled to go to Iraq in a few weeks. How can I go in good faith when there ain't no fuckin' freedom in this country? I'm almost ready to go to jail instead of war for this regime. This country is Babylon, and I will not go to war for them!"

Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, made this point about the police murder of Tyisha Miller:

 "If you can’t handle this situation differently than this, then get the fuck out of the way. Not only out of the way of this situation but get off the earth—get out of the way of the masses of people. Because, you know, we could have handled that situation any number of ways that would have resulted in a much better outcome, and frankly if we had state power and we were faced with a similar situation, we would sooner have one of our own people’s police killed than go wantonly murder one of the masses. That’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re actually trying to be a servant of the people. You go there and you put your own life on the line, rather than just wantonly murder one of the people.

"Fuck all this ‘serve and protect’ bullshit. If they were there to serve and protect, they would have found any way but the way they did it to handle this scene, they could have and would have found a solution that was much better than this. This is the way the proletariat, when it’s been in power, has handled and would again handle this kind of thing—valuing the lives of the masses of people—as opposed to the bourgeoisie in power, where the role of their police is to terrorize the masses, including wantonly murdering them, without necessity, because exactly the more arbitrary the terror is, the more broadly it affects the masses. And that’s one of the reasons why they like to engage in—and have as one of their main functions to engage in—wanton and arbitrary terror against the masses of people." (From "Putting Forward Our Line—In a Bold, Moving, Compelling Way," Revolutionary Worker, December 1, 2002, Issue #1177)


This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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