Feb 192015
 

police target practice

by Martha K. Huggins, Ph.D.*
Tulane University Emerita………….

In just the first six weeks of 2015 US law enforcement has killed on average one civilian every eight hours, resulting in at least three deaths every day. These figures do not come from a US government data base because there is none, nor has there ever been one on these deaths. Vigilant citizen groups (killedbypolice.net) obtain statistics on law enforcement killings by tabulating national news and newspaper reports. Ironically, this is exactly how non-governmental organizations in countries carrying the scars of authoritarian rule get information on killings by their government’s security forces. Is it a mere oversight that the US, the world’s second most populous formal democracy, has never had an official accounting of total civilian killings by law enforcement?

Michael Brown’s 2014 slaying by Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson and the subsequent unrelenting protests prodded mainstream media to finally dig critically into the unsavory details about law enforcement killings. The media seemed astounded to learn by piecing together diverse facts and figures what America’s poor and especially Blacks have known for a very long time, that law enforcement killings are much more frequent than assumed, with Blacks the disproportionate victims of lethal force, that regularly goes uninvestigated and unpunished.   Most surprisingly to many at the time, the US Department of Justice and its FBI have no record of the total number of civilians killed annually by US law enforcement.

To clarify, for more than a half-century the FBI has published data annually in its Uniform Crime Report (UCR) on what it defines as “justifiable” civilian killings by a “peace officer”; no “unjustifiable” law enforcement killings are documented there. The reported “justifiable” killings have ranged from an annual high of 457 and 459 homicides of civilians in 1980 and 1995, respectively, to a low of 298 and 296 in 1986 and 1987, respectively. The annual average of “justifiable” civilian killings by law enforcement over the past 37 years, according to the FBI’s own statistics, has been relatively stable—two-thirds of law enforcements’ civilian killings in that period have been in the mid-to-high 300s. This implausibly low and relatively steady number of “justifiable” killings has always piqued my curiosity. Could this relatively constant statistic occur by chance alone? Probably not. It is likely to result from the small number of law enforcement organizations that voluntarily submit their quarterly data to the FBI on their law-enforcement homicides of civilians. Fewer than five percent of the nation’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies send this data to the Bureau!

That the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report does not document “unjustifiable” civilian killings by law enforcement—aside from this making it impossible to analyze the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ and ‘why’ of these shootings—points to the quite possibly propagandistic role of seeking data only on and then publicizing only law enforcements’ “justifiable” civilian killings. As Alex Symington (“Satire and Propaganda,” Blue Paper #99) has pointed out, propaganda “twists… information into various shapes to bolster” arguments. In FBI-speak, the “justifiable” killing of a civilian involves, “the killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty…., [which is subsequently] determined through [a] law enforcement investigation to be justifiable.”

The cop who kills “justifiably” is a “peace officer,” who by this upbeat label is rhetorically excluded from killing unjustifiably. But just in case a “peace officer” has his murderous action questioned, not to worry: the Bureau’s definition of a “justifiable” civilian killing covers that as well. A cop who kills a civilian is employing lethal force against an automatically labeled “felon.” The FBI’s definition takes for granted that law enforcement would only shoot someone obviously guilty of a serious crime. This explicit assumption is demonstrated by the Bureau’s omitting “alleged” before the word “felon,” which wipes away the US constitutional provision of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. The “peace officer,” in other words, killed a ‘perpetrator’ who had just been caught committing a felony, or had threated violence against the officer, or had a previous felony conviction. Automatically granting so much in-situ ‘judicial’ right to law enforcers opens the door for killer cops to concoct evidence as they go along, as Keywesters remember happened after Charles Eimers’ killing.

The FBI seals the deal for cops who kill by allowing the shooter’s own blue brotherhood to establish a homicide’s legitimacy. This allows the FBI to then record the killing as “justifiable.” When law enforcement killings of civilians are formalized and validated through a law enforcement agency’s ‘kangaroo court,’ civilian slayings become costless for law enforcement and government–unless civil suits are brought by the families of those slain. Yet even then, as Keywesters have seen, the law enforcement system itself is ordinarily unscathed, with no admission of guilt or culpability by other than perhaps one uniquely bad cop.

We should not be fooled by FBI Director James B. Comey’s recent speech that alternately bolstered US law enfxorcement and softly criticized its “troubled legacy” of handling “disfavored groups.” The FBI continues giving its blessing to unjust lethal force against civilians through its enabling definition of a “justifiable” killing and by not maintaining and publishing any record of all police lethal encounters. Out-going US Attorney General Eric Holder has taken steps to change some of this but will his successor follow suit? Maybe not.

After all, the FBI requires the assistance of sheriff and police organizations to obtain what the Bureau really needs—boots-on-the-ground local surveillance information. This was aptly demonstrated in 1938-1941, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt under pressure from the Dies Committee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, authorized the FBI to expand its domestic surveillance on ‘subversives.’ The Bureau had quickly learned that it could not accomplish its mission without the cooperation of local police and their intelligence squads. This was also required from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, when the FBI carried out its COINTELPRO counterintelligence program to “misdirect, discredit, disrupt and otherwise neutralize ” specific individuals and presumed left-leaning groups. And the FBI continues to need cooperation from state and local police organizations in today’s ‘War Against Terror.’ Especially since police and sheriff organizations would rather not have the FBI poking around in their business, the Bureau cannot afford to alienate them if it is to achieve its surveillance mission primarily against those FBI Director Comey labels “disfavored groups.”

This may suggest why the FBI rigs its reporting system to render law enforcement killings of civilians “justifiable,” with no such process for adjudging and reporting “unjustifiable” police killings. Sweet deal for all of them and no deal for the rest of us, including those who are unjustly killed by police and have their death bureaucratized by the FBI as “justifiable.” This is very likely to be the fate of Charles Eimers’ slaying by Key West police–if the KWPD organization even reports Eimers’ laundered killing to the FBI.

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Martha Huggins*Martha K Huggins’ 8 books and numerous articles have been published in the US and internationally. Writing on human rights, her 40-year research and college and university career (Union College, Schenectady, NY and Tulane University, (New Orleans, LA) have focused on police violence in the US and Brazil.

         

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 February 19, 2015  Posted by at 11:30 pm * Featured Story *  Add comments

  14 Responses to “The FBI Will Record Charles Eimers’ Killing as “Justifiable” Because….”

  1. Wow, excellent article Ms. Huggins! The police have become our self appointed judge and jury. History repeating, it smacks of the early wild west. But, the position it leaves “the people” in is slowly becoming akin to that of the French in and around 1789. I wonder where it will end. I’m curious. Have you seen the results of the psych exams required when hiring police or the exams themselves? These exams actually look for a very specific “person” to give a badge and gun to. Someone who stays calm under pressure, lacks remorse, etc.. Someone who I believe in many cases fits the profile of that of a sociopath. I believe when hiring based on a specific exam, THAT is exactly what fits the bill. I’m not suggesting they look to hire sociopaths, but that the exams themselves look for candidates that fit that criteria, as most of the traits have a degree of what could be considered meritable for an officer of the law. My thoughts, of course.

    • Thanks for assessment. I’ve seen those tests. My thinking from research on Brazilian torturers is that, whatever police orgs do to hire the “best” person (or the “worst), it is an organizational climate and it’s mandates from “brass” that shapes people into human rights violators. I gave evidence of this in Violence Workers (2002 U of Cal Press). I’m not the OY one who subscribes to this. In fact, people who facilitate torture on the ground often fear that psychos will lead to their operation being exposed. Thx Martha

  2. Thank you Dr Huggins for your very erudite and well-heeled summation of the subject. It is quite obviously the “final answer” as long as we IGNORE the real issue…criminals. I’m quite certain you would be as unwilling as the VAST MAJORITY of our population to strap on a weapon and approach those who have violated the law without any guarantee of your own safety, or any knowledge of the intent and capacity for violence of the individual (s) you are approaching. I have done it, and I can tell you, I’m very grateful that there are sufficient numbers of people willing to do it daily so that I don’t have to. These officers rarely “commit homicide” (as you have convicted them of) at cocktail parties of the wealthier segment of society, because that is not where violent crimes often happen nor where violent criminals typically cavort. Those “disfavored groups” Director Comey refers to tend to include a far higher density of dangerous criminals. Peace Officers (and yes, that is a very suitable moniker, as they are tasked with maintaining the peace) are asked routinely to step into harms way. As such, they are given a higher tolerance for and definition of justifiable use of force. I am fairly confident Charles Eimers would still be alive today if he had not driven away from the officer who pulled him over for a routine traffic violation and then led the police on a dangerous chase across the island. I make it a personal rule to never drive away from police officers, nor give them any reason to suspect that I might resist their authority or cause them harm. They are simply doing the job that most of us would not do.
    I would imagine there would be far more “homicides” if we just stopped policing society and returned to the wild west (though I think there are far more criminals now than there were then, and they aren’t as obvious to pick out of the crowd behind their tinted glass and with the availability of tiny concealed weapons). And the increased homicides would very likely be shifted from the criminal end of the spectrum to the innocent folks that would become prey at the other end of that spectrum.
    This certainly does not mean that excessive force, unnecessary violence, abuse of authority or even obnoxious behavior should be tolerated in our police ranks…those are abhorrent and inexcusable and must be policed and avoided at all cost. Believe it or not, there are some very intelligent and benign leaders in our nation’s law enforcement community (and I would include our own Police Chief among them), despite your depiction of ruthless and bloodthirsty killers. I trust them to find the answers to ensure the proper balance is maintained.

    • Hi Just Jim, I live in a world in which there is no “final answer.” There are always new ways to frame something and data to investigate the new frame. I have not “convicted” cops who kill of anything. Indeed, I never use the word “murder” in such cases because due to the good services of the FBI’s definition of a “justifiable” civilian killing by law enforcement, those who kill are not “murderers,” they are killers whose lethal action is deemed “justifiable.” Another point of yours, “Those “disfavored groups” Director Comey refers to tend to include a far higher density of dangerous criminals.” What statistics do you have? In fact, some of the most dangerous criminals to our system are Corporate executives and their servants, the associated White Collar Criminals: This group of organized criminals–who have slain us with pesticides, stock and bank manipulations, oil spills, faulty automobiles, asbestos, trumped-up wars–need not use fire arms because they have the ‘legal’ system and often Congress as well on their side. As for ‘common criminals, we only know of those who are caught and given the over-surveillance of the poor and their neighborhoods, accompanied by racism, any statistics that exist on ‘common’ crime are highly biased. Interestingly, while the NYPD were holding an informal work stoppage in NYC, homicides went down to almost nothing. regarding your claim that, “I am fairly confident Charles Eimers would still be alive today if he had not driven away from the officer who pulled him over for a routine traffic violation and then led the police on a dangerous chase across the island. I make it a personal rule to never drive away from police officers….” It was a slow chase–look at the documents–hardly a dangerous one. I would hope that killing-by-cop has not become a punishment for ‘driving away from police officers.’ I fully agree with your statement that “This certainly does not mean that excessive force, unnecessary violence, abuse of authority or even obnoxious behavior should be tolerated in our police ranks…those are abhorrent and inexcusable and must be policed and avoided at all cost.” Thanks for your observations, Mh

    • How dare you justify the Key West police for killing Charles Elmers and yes, that is exactly what you did. Doesn’t it seem strange that all of the officers sworn statements where proven to be lies. I bet Elmers left thinking everything was just fine until the many squad cars showed up and started shouting orders which he obeyed. Have you even watched the video? Have you watched the Elmers family attorney video depositions of those officers and the chief? You must be totally blind not to see such a cover-up.. It is a darn shame to not only fear the criminals but the police departments. There are many good cops but if a good cop protects a bad cop, he is now a bad cop. It is just like when your companion in a crime kills someone, you are also going to be charged with murder. Excessive force and police brutality has gone too far and the masses are going to rise if the Feds don’t address this issue.

  3. Great report on the Cover-Your-Ass system of law enforcement that we Americans enjoy, from the big guys in DC on down to the local Keystone Cops that literally get away with murder. I always wondered how killer cops know when someone is a felon…Telepathy? A sixth sense? Guilty until proven innocent is the new normal.
    The KWPD insurance actuarial ghouls deemed Charles Eimers’ life was worth 900 K…What IS a father’s life worth? Shame on the City of Key West, shame on the commissioners, shame on the lawyers and shame on the police. One Human Family is a perverse joke.
    Martha, thank you for your well researched, enlightening articles. More citizens need to be aware that all is not well and accountability of police is essential to a healthy democracy. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” T. Jefferson

    • Thx Alex. I love the concept of a “cover-your-ass”system of law enforcement. It would be hilarious but for the profession born of it: risk management. Are they pimping themselves out for ‘The Man’? Mh

  4. perhaps Ms. Huggins you could relate your literary investigations concerning law enforcement to include the integration of said law enforcement to their genesis. exposing corruption, malfeasance, complicity, and duplicity, renders any such prosecutions diluted of salience sans reference and context.

    for example: why the recent nation wide killing of dogs? did dogs all of a sudden get meaner? and why in the past few years do we see the nation wide killing of people for seemingly any and all variety of non-violent reason? and why do we now hear the term ‘officer safety’ all the time? and why are SWAT teams used to check barbers licenses? and why do cops now look like soldiers, and carry the same kind of weapons?

    these are obviously not coincidence, nor are they incidental. they are purposeful acts meant to lay a foundation of fear, authority, and compliance.

    the issue of reporting/non-reporting of statistics by law enforcement would take on greater meaning, and provoke a more lucid understanding, if that story was integrated into the macro-picture.

    • Actually the topic of my piece was not “reporting/non-reporting of statistics” but in fact how a definition favorable to absolving a killing by law enforcement is written to both do that and make law enforcement look good–the FBI as propagandist. A
      as for your other question, how about your writing a book on that. You may be on to something. Mh

  5. One apology, in the process of editing and
    Moving a sentence I missed that “predecessor” was where “successor” went. Sorry, I do know the difference: see error below FOR CORRECTION
    We should not be fooled by FBI Director James B. Comey’s recent speech that alternately bolstered US law enfxorcement and softly criticized its “troubled legacy” of handling “disfavored groups.” The FBI continues giving its blessing to unjust lethal force against civilians through its enabling definition of a “justifiable” killing and by not maintaining and publishing any record of all police lethal encounters. Out-going US Attorney General Eric Holder has taken steps to change some of this but will his successor follow suit? Maybe not.

  6. Kudos to Martha Huggins for another well-written and well-said article regarding Police State Actions

  7. The current police state is simply a war of individuals against other individuals. The Libertarian Party of the Florida Keys views the Charles Eimers incident as no less than capital murder and those who helped cover it up as co-conspirators.

    -Mike Kane

    Chair – Libertarian Party of the Florida Keys

  8. Thx good final point. My work on torture has long argued that a torture system contains 4 types of actors: perpetrators ( in Eimers case the killers), facilitators ( those who enable the killers, in Eimers’ case), enabler organizations (such as the folks who ensure governments to protect them from actions of police who kill), and bystanders (we so do nothing). The Eimers killing is a State crime. That said, I am not a Libertarian. Good for you for being politically engaged. Mh

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