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Saturday, April 19th, 2014

In Kenneth Chamberlain Case, Son Says Officials Send Message That Minorities Are “Worthless”

In a blistering speech to the City Council in White Plains, the city where his father was murdered by police, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. said the fact that no one has been charged in his father’s death “sends a message to the minorities of this city that their lives are worthless.”

Chamberlain Jr. has vowed to keep the pressure on local officials in an effort to win justice for his father. He asked the city to suspend officers involved in the case pending the outcome of a federal investigation.

Chamberlain’s Facebook page is devoted to his efforts to win justice for his father and it also has become a bit of an open journal. In a conversation with Atlanta Black Star, Chamberlain gave us permission to use some of his writings from the Facebook journal.

“When I listen to the audio and view the video of the final moments of my dad’s life and then think about the fact that a Grand Jury did not vote to indict I feel so frustrated but I try to remain optimistic. I never question whether or not the struggle is worth it because I can’t think of anything more important at this time than getting Justice for Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.,” he wrote in a post.

“So when the unexplainable happens, and when there is more brokenness than healing I must remember that my steps have been ordered and that sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.

“The tears still fall and I really want to mourn but I can’t; not until I get Justice for my dad.”

At what point is a police officer obligated to back off a situation rather than escalate tensions?

When are elected officials obligated to quickly admit a mistake was made and work to make victims and survivors as whole as possible after a traumatic event?

The case of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. may bring us one step closer to that answer.

While a grand jury and a district attorney declined to prosecute, several investigations, including one by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, have been launched into the shooting death of the 68-year-old former Marine by White Plains, N.Y. police.

At a standing room only meeting Monday night, the White Plains Common Council voted to authorize the funding of an independent review of the police response to Chamberlain’s slaying.

On Nov. 19, the elder Chamberlain was shot to death by White Plains Police Officer Anthony Carelli following a confrontation at Chamberlain’s apartment, where police responded to a medical alert from a Life Aid device.

Authorities have said that Chamberlain, who had a heart condition, apparently accidentally pressed the device in his sleep. When police arrived, he refused to let them enter his apartment, explaining the call was a mistake.

LifeAid Medical Alert Services, the company that issued the medical device, confirmed to police that the call was a mistake, but the officers insisted on being admitted into the apartment.

The exchange was captured by an audio recording on the medical device, as well as a video camera on a police taser gun used on Chamberlain.

What started off as a calm “we have to check you out” request turned into a gruff, heated confrontation in which police began to cuss and to demand that Chamberlain let them into the apartment. The police even referred to Chamberlain as “nigger” during the exchange.

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore told the New York Daily News that the use of the N-word was meant to “distract” Chamberlain, whom she described as emotionally disturbed, but also said she condemned the tactic.

Really? Screaming, cussing, using a racial epithet to distract and calm an agitated man?  Is that really considered proper police procedure?

The younger Chamberlain took issue with that explanation when he addressed the council on Monday.

“That’s not to distract, that was in fact to antagonize and provoke him,” he said. “The use of offensive terms by a member of your neighborhood conditions unit strongly suggests the existence of a biased mentality. The lack of a criminal indictment also sends a message to the minorities of this city that their lives are worthless.”

Is there no alternative available to police that would allow them, say, ask the medical alert firm to call an emergency contact or relative if they thought they had reason to believe a citizen may be in distress despite a refusal for help? Is there no training on how to deal with the frightened or disturbed?

Why did officials not move swiftly and proactively, issue an apology – or at least condolences –  to the grieving family and assure them justice would be pursued, instead of driving them to feel there would be no redress without appealing to federal authorities and organizing protests?

It seems that a policy, made with common sense, could have averted a crisis.

But then as the old adage goes: Common sense isn’t common.

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