All Police Who Kill Innocent Victims Should Be Indicted

CPA Steering Committee and Staff

April 20, 2015

         Over the past half year, mass protests have erupted throughout the country. Protesters chant: Black lives matter!  Hands up, don’t shoot. I can’t breathe.  Enough is enough!

A Pattern of Excessive Force

         What are these protests about? This past August in Ferguson, Missouri, police killed an 18 year-old black man named Michael Brown with an excessive use of force. He was suspected of stealing a pack of cigarettes from a convenience store.

         A police officer named Darren Wilson approached Brown as he left the store and asked him to stop. When he instead tried to run away, the police officer fired his gun twelve times. Eight of the twelve shots hit Michael Brown; yet, throughout the twelve rounds, Michael Brown had his hands up. Finally, the court decided not to indict the officer.

         Soon after, another Black boy was killed by the police in Cleveland, Ohio. Tamir Rice was only twelve years old and was playing with a toy gun in the playground. Another park-goer called the police; three police officers responded, shot and killed Tamir upon arrival.

         This July, Eric Garner was killed by the police on Staten Island while being arrested for selling single cigarettes without tax stamps. Four police officers held him in a choke-hold, yet he told the police officers eleven times, “I can’t breathe!” After he passed out and the emergency medical services (EMS) arrived, they did not perform CPR. He was pronounced dead an hour after his arrival at the hospital.

         Statistics show that a Black person is killed by the police every twenty eight hours. This is why the Ferguson killing touched such a nerve, particularly among young people of color.

Criminalization and Prison Profits

         Why do people see Black men as criminals? People living in low-income neighborhoods, especially Blacks, are more likely to be victims of crime yet stereotyped as criminals. This deep-seated stereotype is not an accident; it is the product of a longstanding system of racial inequality that starts at birth and is rooted in the history of US slavery.  A recent survey found that eighty percent of news coverage of Black men focuses on either crime or sports.

         The US Department of Education reports that, beginning with preschool, Black and Latino students are suspended more often than whites for the same issues; students who are suspended are then at greater risk of dropping out. Black crimes are punished more harshly throughout our criminal justice system. Only 13 percent of drug users are Black, yet they are 74 percent of those imprisoned for drug offenses.

         Today, the US imprisons more people than any country in the world, while violent crime has actually declined. In Massachusetts, it costs about $40,000 a year to keep someone in prison, yet we spend only $10,000 per child on K-12 education. The privatized prison industry has grown to a $35 billion industry. New repressive laws, supported by the prison lobby, have led to a tripling of incarceration in the last three decades. Some of these proposals also target undocumented immigrants—or anyone who may look like one.

         Cheap prison labor is a growing part of the economy.  Prison labor is used to make license plates, process meat, make furniture, produce solar panels, do public clean-up and replace unskilled state workers. The use of inmate labor contributes to lost jobs, unemployment, and decreased wages among all workers.

Black Lives Matter and the Chinese Community

         Recently, a Chinese American rookie cop in New York City named Peter Liang accidentally shot and killed a young unarmed Black man named Akai Gurley, who was walking with his girlfriend through the housing project where he lived.

         Liang argued with his partner about the incident for four minutes, then texted his union representative, before calling for emergency medical help for the victim. Liang was indicted for second-degree manslaughter, which is defined as “when a defendant recklessly causes death.”

         Conservative leaders in New York’s Chinese community have called for the Chinese American community to come out in support of Officer Peter Liang, calling it a case of racial discrimination because Liang was indicted while so many white killer cops go free. These leaders have received national support from conservative white political forces opposed to police reform.

         The fact that white killer cops go free is a reason to call for all those responsible to be indicted, not to excuse a Officer Peter Liang for manslaughter. If Chinese Americans truly believe in fighting for civil rights, we must apply the same standards for justice regardless of the race of the victim or the perpetrator.

         Injustice against Black lives is an injustice to all. Many of the rights we enjoy today, such as voting rights and immigration reform, came from the civil rights struggles led by the Black community. The recent police killings remind us that racism continues throughout US society, despite having a Black president, and it is our responsibility as people of color to take a stand for justice.