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Missing the Point: Chicago’s Answer to an Epidemic of Police Violence Is More Tasers and Training

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Cop with taser (Flickr)

As 2015 draws to a close, national attention is focused on the cities of Chicago and Cleveland.  Deadly policing policies resulting in dead Black children, women and men have drawn community outrage and attracted federal government scrutiny.  Will tactics and training provide the answer to this fundamental crisis of violence against Black bodies?

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel–who had to cut short his Cuban vacation because his police department can’t stop killing Black people—is to announce changes in tactics and training for police officers, as the Chicago Tribune reported.  Specifically, Emanuel intends to have every street cop equipped with a Taser by the summer, and will announce new police training that will emphasize the de-escalation of conflicts rather than approaching each confrontation with a “shoot or don’t shoot” stance.  The Tribune also reported that it was uncertain how the new training differs from current procedure.

“Our police officers have a very difficult and dangerous job. They put their lives on the line so the rest of us can be safe. And like all of us, they are human and they make mistakes,” Emanuel said. “Our job is to reduce the chances of mistakes.”

“That requires us to give them the right guidance, the right training, and the right culture, to prevent abuses,” he added. “Willful misconduct and abuse cannot and will not be tolerated.”

“Force can be the last option, not the first choice,” the mayor said. “The goal is to make sure everyone goes home safely.”

Emanuel also said that any officer involved in a shooting will be placed on desk duty for 30 days. This is in contrast to the previous three-day period, in fatal and non-fatal incidents alike, according to ABC News.  In addition, the Chicago Police Department intends to double the number of Tasers to 1,400, and encourage trained cops to use this weapon before resorting to their gun.  Currently, according to the Chicago Police, 20 percent of officers have access to Tasers, as CNN reported.

The announcement of the new policy comes as a Chicago officer fatally shot a 19-year-old man and a 55-year-old grandmother of ten last weekend while responding to a call regarding a domestic dispute.  The city has become the focus of Black protest following the videotaped gangland execution of Laquan McDonald, shot in the back by Officer Jason Van Dyke in a barrage of 16 bullets.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. Department of Justice investigates the Chicago police for possible civil rights violations, the feds already investigated Cleveland police for an unconstitutional, systemic pattern of excessive force.  And Cleveland has entered into a consent decree with the Justice Department to reform the police force.

One day after a Cuyahoga County grand jury failed to indict the two police officers involved in the shooting death of Tamir Rice, 12, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced an administrative review of officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback.

“We are doing everything in our power to ensure that this never happens again,” Jackson said as reported by ABC News. 

The mayor confirmed that the city’s Critical Incident Review Committee will review the case and recommend any actions regarding possible suspension or termination of the two officers. Currently, the officers are on paid administrative duty.

Writing for The Guardian, Steven W. Thrasher argued that Tamir Rice was killed by white America’s irrational fear of Black men and boys, reflecting an obsession born from America’s “original sin of slavery.”

“While darker-skinned men are routinely killed out of a fear that they may have legal or toy guns, and while they’re beaten and killed out of fear they could be killers or rapists, white Americans remain free to terrorize their fellow citizens and even law enforcement with impunity,” Thrasher wrote.

Citing the rise of Donald Trump, the writer suggested that “white Americans need black villains to feel superior in their decline as 2015 closes.”  This means that “innocent victims like Tamir will continue to be killed, and those who do so will be rewarded with acquittal, fame or even promotion. It’s the American way.”

And yet, in the face of police violence against Black people, looking at the prescriptions for change in Chicago and Cleveland leaves us wanting so much more.  In Chicago, the killer of Laquan McDonald now facing trial, who had been the subject of 20 complaints of lawsuits yet was still on the force, was the lone shooter among the police officers on the scene.  It is difficult to understand how more training and Tasers—which killed 500 people between 2001 and 2012, according to Amnesty International– would change that reality.

Further, as the city of Cleveland considers whether to fire Officer Loehmann for killing Tamir Rice, we must ask why the cop was working as a police officer at all.  After all, the officer was terminated by the Independence, Ohio police department for being emotional unstable and having dismal handgun performance.  Various police departments rejected his application, yet Cleveland, a police department known for a history of violence, hired him.

But if we are to get to the bottom of the systemic pattern of abuse plaguing these corrupt, criminal and racist organizations masquerading as law enforcement agencies, we must address the root causes.  Doing so may very well take us back to the slave plantations, where the slave patrols, first police forces, monitored and killed Black people.  And that is not happening.

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