Pressing for hate-crime or federal civil rights violations in the deaths of unarmed black people by police is somewhat of a staple in the arsenal of police-brutality activists. Unfortunately the track record of success is all but nonexistent.
Erica Garner never stopped fighting for justice for her father Eric, who was killed by an NYPD officer with an illegal chokehold in 2014. The 27-year-old — who passed away at the end of December last year — led vigils and protests, spoke at rallies and on panels, and endorsed Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential campaign. And this week, she posthumously released a secretly recorded video of a meeting with Department of Justice officials regarding her father’s case:
In a piece Garner wrote that was released on the site Blavity the same day as the video, Garner expressed her frustration with the pace of the investigation and the feeling that the meeting was a waste of time:
My family has sat through two black federal prosecutors, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, and still has yet to see justice in my dad’s case. The only answers we have received is that the investigation is still open.
So when me and my family got the call that new investigators were willing to meet with us, they were hopeful — but I, personally, thought it would be a waste of time. And surely it was a waste. During the hour-long meeting, answers to our questions were avoided or we were simply told they weren’t at liberty to discuss the case with us.
It’s frustrating, because while we waited to hear something new, what we got was the same old “be patient” speech and vague comments like “we are working as hard as we can to ensure justice.”
The frustrating pursuit of justice and accountability
Elsewhere, MintPress News has written about how Garner, in passing away suddenly, shared the same fate as many other close relatives of victims of police terror. The other thing Garner has in common with many others is a failure to obtain indictments and prosecutions from the federal government.
Pressing for hate-crime or federal civil rights violations in the deaths of unarmed black people by police is somewhat of a staple in the arsenal of police-brutality activists. Unfortunately, the track record of success is all but nonexistent.
Even when the incident of police brutality is caught on video, even when a person appears to have their hands up or is unarmed or is running away from police, it is not enough to meet the federal standard. That standard, as enumerated in the case of former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the August 2014 killing of Michael Brown, is as follows:
(1) that the person was acting under color of law;
(2) that the person acted willfully;
(3) that the person deprived the victim of a right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and
(4) that the deprivation resulted in bodily injury or death.
To clarify what is meant by a “right protected by the Constitution:”
Under the Fourth Amendment, a police officer’s use of physical force against an arrestee must be objectively reasonable under the circumstances.”
A slippery standard
Which begs the question: “objectively reasonable” to whom? What is considered to be objectively reasonable differs between those of us who are not law enforcement and those who are. Which standard applies? This is of critical importance when it comes to the deterrence of future acts of violence by law enforcement. If it is considered to be “objectively reasonable” for a cop to shoot-to-kill a person with arms raised in the air, the roll of such victims will only continue to expand.
There have been successes, but they are notable chiefly for their rarity. Most recently, Michael Slager — the killer of 53-year old-Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, in April of 2015 — pled guilty to a federal civil rights violation charge and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In the 15 most recent high-profile cases of police murder, Slager is one of two police officers to have been convicted in the death of an unarmed civilian — and the only federal conviction.
Read more by Thandisizwe Chimurenga
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- Democrats and Republicans Unite In Vote To Extend Warrantless Surveillance
- Florida Prison Strike Focuses on Prison Slavery, Fair Treatment
- While Prisons Ban Reading Material, Unsearched Guards Walk in With Real Contraband
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the current United States attorney general under President Donald Trump, has said his department will be “pulling back” on suing police departments for civil rights violations. That should not be surprising. Disappointing, but not surprising. The fact that the attorney general of the U.S. hadn’t read his own department’s reports on some of the past decade’s most notorious police departments serves as a good predictor of his and the department’s attitude toward the balance of rights and responsibilities on the nation’s streets.
While a pretty robust movement to hold police accountable for their actions has sprung up nationally, the predominant result of that movement has been increased visibility and acknowledgment of the problem. The movement has yet to score significant state criminal convictions for police officers or federal civil rights convictions. But that’s no reason for justice activists to stop fighting. Erica Garner didn’t stop.
Top Photo | Protesters rally against a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner in Foley Square, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo)
Thandisizwe Chimurenga is an award-winning, freelance journalist based in Los Angeles, California. She is a staff writer for MintPress News, Daily Kos and co-hosts a weekly, morning drive-time public affairs/news show on the Pacifica Radio network. She is the author of No Doubt: The Murder(s) of Oscar Grant and Reparations … Not Yet: A Case for Reparations and Why We Must Wait; she is also a contributor to several social justice anthologies.