July 19, 2012
By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
LAWT Contributing Writer
Every 36 hours or every one and a half days, a Black woman, man or child is killed by a police officer, security guard, or self-appointed law enforcer. So says a recent report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), a national Black human rights organization. The report, entitled “No More Trayvons,” examines the killings of 120 people between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year and paints a disturbing picture of questionable actions by both those who are “sworn to protect and serve,” and private citizens who are allowed to act outside of the law.
Originally released on July 9th, the report initially claimed that the killings took place an average of every 40 hours. The report was updated and re-released however, on July 16 – the 150th birthday of anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells – to reflect an additional 10 confirmed victims who had been killed during the first six months of 2012.
“Since the murder of Trayvon Martin and the worldwide attention that’s been focused on it, there’s been a huge public outcry, but few headlines, about more killings. More grieving family members started coming forward and there were more calls for investigations,” said Kali Akuno, the national organizer of the MXGM and co-author of the report. According to Akuno, “exposure of the true depth of the problem became more urgent to demonstrate that Trayvon’s murder was not an isolated tragedy, but symptomatic of the larger problem of institutional racism.”
Trayvon Martin was the Florida teen shot and killed while visiting his father on Feb. 26, 2012, in a gated community by George Zimmerman, a self-described Neighborhood Watch captain. Zimmerman claimed his shooting of the unarmed, teenage Martin was in self-defense and thus justified under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Florida is one of a handful of states where voters have adopted laws that state an individual, instead of retreating, may exercise deadly force if they believe a threat to their life exists. The individual may be justified to “stand their ground,” whether in a public or private space.
Among the findings of the 38-page report are the following:
●In 105 of the 120 cases of extrajudicial killings, the legal system has (thus far) only charged nine people and the outcome of these charges is yet to be determined;
●Of the 120 killed 13 were children under the age of 18; 22 were just entering adulthood, aged 18-21 years; 48 were aged 22-31 years and 20 were aged 32-41 years;
●A significant portion of those killed suffered from mental health problems or were intoxicated and behaved in ways the police allegedly could not control; 28 people might be alive today if community members trained and committed to humane crisis intervention and mental health treatment had been called instead of the police;
● 55 people had no weapon at all at the time they were executed and 43 people were alleged to have weapons but the allegations were either disputed by witnesses or further investigation.
● Five women were among the 120 executed by police: two who were accused car thieves, two who were by-standers and one woman who was beaten and smothered by police in an inappropriate attempt to “calm” her down.
Akuno says that the 120 people killed by law enforcement and others are described as extrajudicial “because they happen without trial or any due process, against all international law and human rights conventions. As such, a national plan of action needs to be adopted by the Obama administration to address this.”
Local reactions to the report’s findings include anger and calls for federal oversight of the police.
“It would be an understatement to just say this report is disturbing,” said Bilal Ali, a founder of the Coalition against Police Abuse along with the late Michael Zinzun.
Ali is now an organizer with Occupy the Hood, an offshoot of the Occupy Movement that swept across the country in the fall of 2011. “The report validates the assumption that there is no value placed on African-American life here in Amerikkka. Occupy The Hood-LA, through its “Stand Our Ground Campaign,” plans on educating and organizing our people so that we will ‘stand our ground’ against any and all genocidal practices as employed by this racist and parasitic social order.”
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, civil rights activist and analyst, called the report both “frightening” and “terrifying,” and stated that it shows how “local police departments have dropped the ball.” According to Hutchinson, [These incidents of extrajudicial killings] “demand not only a full scale investigation, but the feds are going to have to do what they did before: when Los Angeles, Miami, Pittsburgh and other cities were under consent decrees, there was a decrease in these types of incidents. When L.A. came out from under consent decree, there was an increase.”
Hutchinson noted that the “No More Trayvons” report appeared not long after the Los Angeles Police Commission’s Inspector General released its own report on the LAPD’s use of force incidents for the first quarter of 2012. That report, published June 27 and available on the web, states that “the total number of categorical use of force incidents, which had been declining since 2007, steeply increased in 2011 to its highest point in 5 years. This growth – encompassing 30 additional incidents – represents a 35 percent increase over 2010 numbers.”
According to the report, the number of shootings for the years 2007 through 2011 is as follows:
The LAPD’s Southeast and 77th Street precincts show the highest number of incidents of officer-involved shootings.
The Inspector General’s office disputes LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s explanation that the number of officer-involved shootings increased because the number of assaults on officers had increased. Suggesting that the methodology used to record such incidents may be faulty, the report states that “Aggravated assaults on police officers are measured on a per-crime/per-victim basis, while categorical use of force incidents are counted on a per-incident basis, regardless of the number of officers (or suspects) involved. For example, a single shooting incident in 2011 involved 16 documented assaults. Although 15 officers fired their weapons, this incident is counted as one officer-involved shooting.”
Hutchinson believes that “the federal government, Attorney General Eric Holder are going to have to step up to the plate,” and that any consent decree, regardless of where it is implemented nationally, must have at least three common components: “racial profiling must cease; complaints about police conduct must be taken seriously and investigated fully; and police training must be thoroughly revamped,” he said.
Tiah Starr is an organizer with the local chapter of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality. The group holds an annual march in downtown Los Angeles from Pershing Square to MacArthur Park to protest the victims of police murder. She says that grassroots action is also necessary.
“It’s not enough to read the report and complain about how bad things are; we need to hold the police accountable when every time another life is taken,” said Starr. “Whether that means organizing a thousand more million hoodie marches, going out at night with video cameras to watch the cops, or standing with the victim’s family – its clear that remaining silent on this will only lead to even more murders.”