Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Shades of Diallo: The mystery man in black

News broke today that the New York Police Department has identified the fourth man who allegedly fled the scene of the officer-involved shooting in Queens on Nov. 25. You can read about it here.

Unidentified sources in the police department said that two witnesses picked this man out of a photo lineup and the department believes that he may have fled the scene with a gun. The same gun that the police no doubt searched for inside the bullet-ridden wreckage that was once Sean Bell's car and never found. The same gun they have been looking for since the shooting in order to make sense of what their employees had just unleashed on a city street. Apparently they are hoping a series of arrests will lead them to the mystery man in black.

The department also stated that it would conduct toxicology tests on Bell to see if he was under the influence when he was shot to death, which is fair enough and could provide valuable information on what happened. However, the department has declined to comment on whether or not they will test their own officers who between the five of them fired 50 bullets at Bell's car. In many law enforcement agencies, doing this in some capacity is routine. However in the Riverside Police Department, officers who are involved in incustody deaths including fatal shootings no longer provide voluntary blood or urine samples to investigators unless they are ordered to do so by the Internal Affairs Division for its own administrative review. If they were under the influence of any alcohol or controlled substance, the public will never learn that truth.

That testing process in my city's police department came under scrutiny in 1998, after the shooting of a young Black woman inside her car, who had 12 bullets strike her body that were only about half of those fired by four police officers. When it came time to test their urine samples, one of the samples apparently never made it to the state DOJ laboratory. No explanation was ever provided by the police department as to where that urine sample went.

Still, back in Queens, it's important to know what blood or urine tests done on these officers will reveal particularly in the case of the undercover officer whose perceptions of events as they unfolded is what catalyzed the barrage of bullets that followed.

That officer who fired first in Queens had been working undercover in the strip club for over three hours and had been authorized by the department to consume two alcoholic beverages in order to "blend in" with the crowd, but no more than that. It is not clear whether he drank any alcohol that night and if so, how much.

Bell, 23, died in the hail of gunfire after suffering bullet wounds to the neck and arm. Two of his friends were also shot and wounded that morning, including Joseph Guzman who lies in a hospital bed hooked up to an oxygen mask and with 17 bullet wounds in his body.

He has not yet been questioned by the police department. He has been visited by family members and community leaders including Al Sharpton.

(excerpt, New York Daily News)

"Saturday he was unconscious, handcuffed," Sharpton said outside Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens. "Yesterday he was groggy. Today for the first time he spoke."

But Sharpton said Guzman, 31, was "very clear" about what he was saying.

"Even at one point, when we pulled back from the bed after having prayed, he called us back and said, 'They tried to kill us, they tried to kill us,'" Sharpton said.

Yolanda, Guzman's fiancee had her opinion on what happened as well expressed in that same news article.

Surveying the crime scene, Guzman's sister said the cops' story just doesn't add up.

"A dog doesn't deserve to die like that," Yolanda Guzman said.

I was reading an article on a New Zealand Web site, where African-Americans and Latinos, mostly young men, were interviewed by reporters in New York City including Queens about what it is like to be a young man of color inside and outside their neighborhoods.

Comments on racial profiling

Edgemere housing project is populated mostly by Black families. A male 16-year-old had been killed by two unidentified men, only several days after the Bell shooting in Queens. Low Lopez, who was interviewed by the reporter appeared to be between a rock and a hard place, a common spot for men and women of color. Afraid to venture outside after Christopher Glenn's murder, yet unable to trust the law enforcement agency assigned the task of trying to solve it. I have had many similar conversations with young men of color in Riverside, 3,000 miles away in several neighborhoods. Particularly after the 1998 shooting of Tyisha Miller by four officers and the more recent shooting earlier this year of Lee Deante Brown, but also the eight years in between.

(excerpt, article)

"It's all the cops. The white cops, the black cops, the Latino cops, the Chinese cops. Yeah, they harass us. That's not news. Nothing's changed," said Lopez, 24.

The officer interviewed in the article who was not named said that he and other officers were just trying to keep the peace, because there was a lot of gang violence.


It's almost all black, so unfortunately anyone who gets caught doing something wrong there is probably going to be that colour," said the officer, who did not want his name used because he was not authorised to speak to reporters.

The Eastside in Riverside, is mostly Black and Latino. Young men and women who live there have shared similar accounts of how they feel about police officers who either protect their communities or police them depending on the season. Some police officers who have worked in that neighborhood have tried to build bridges with the community members there and worked with youth, often in sports programs.

In other cases, the behavior of officers is the opposite. Including perhaps in my blog where unidentified persons claiming to be Riverside Police Department officers have made it clear how they feel about the residents of a neighborhood which was created at least in part from racist housing laws that are no longer officially on the books. Racism hasn't gone away, or even into hiding, too often it is ignored or in some cases accepted, with a wink and a smile. The jokes may not be in the roll call room anymore but does that mean that they aren't out there?

"Cosmo Kramer" is apparently the latest alias of an unidentified individual who created a furor in the police department when it discovered that he and apparently others were posting comments about the police department including racist comments about community members, derogatory comments about the department's female police officers and information leaked from several internal investigations involving separate acts of alleged misconduct by a Black male and a White female officer. He pops up now and then, often with a new moniker or two, especially when there is an officer-involved shooting in the news. Lately, the one in NYPD has him completely enthralled.

This time around, he wrote that Black people were "spear chuckers" and ranted about Black people in the Eastside spending their days on welfare, searching for pocket change in public pay phones so they can buy lottery tickets at the Western Liquor Store, which is why they didn't attend a community forum on the shooting of Lee Deante Brown last April. That's when he is not complaining that it's not safe for him to work as a police officer in Riverside because every Black person is out to kill them. He appears to have dropped the fried chicken and malt liquor jokes for now, but clings to his racist stereotypes like they are a security blanket, and believes I am intent on figuring out who he is, especially if he is one of my city's police officers.

On the contrary, I have very little interest in learning that information. After seeing several police officers associated in one way or another with my blog standing on the award podium at City Hall so far, including one who I was told had a sustained allegation of conduct unbecoming of an officer for racial comments he made and another one who apparently leaked the blog to the press sans site address last November, I have no desire to be put in that situation again.

Ignorance is probably bliss, in this case because to have that information changes nothing. I'd rather watch the monthly award ceremonies involving young, mostly male, police officers getting proclamations from Mayor Ron Loveridge without knowing if they participated in appalling behavior on my blog and if they received their department's apparent blessing, just like everyone else in the chambers including the city government who watches these ceremonies. I do not want to be in an accomplice to a joke being manifested by the police department on its other two partners in the ongoing reform process, the city's officials and the community members.

Besides, events like this just go to show that the focus needs to be on the larger picture, the culture of the RPD that may or may not create individuals similar to those who have posted here. "Cosmo Kramer", whomever he is, and his earlier incarnations as "Starsky", "Lighter Shade of Brown" and "Asti Spamanti", not to mention "Kevin, R.P.D. and those alteregos, "Serpico" and "Gramps" just provide the necessary kick in the butt to keep fighting for reform in this police department.

Most times, the officers honored deserve the accolades, but in the end, they still have to share that honor at year's end with those who don't deserve to be in their group and wouldn't be if the department's leadership had the courage to reject the culture that teaches them that racist behavior is to be overlooked or not viewed as anything but a necessary componant of a law enforcement agency or something that can be easily removed like a dinner jacket. Then there are the other officers who have long deserved similar awards who have to be displaced by those officers who again, do not.

The passage of time doesn't stop several unidentified individuals from appearing time to time like a bad cold and whining about, whatever. They are a good shot in the arm when it comes to being reminded that it is up to community members to address the issues that the department's leadership lacks the courage to address or even dialogue with the community about, if even just to offer an explanation for its actions.

The officers who appeared and dialogued in the Human Relations Commission's study circles in 2003 showed much more courage in that regard. They did it face to face, not hiding behind silly names.

In Casa Blanca, which is also primarily a Latino neighborhood and miles away from the Eastside, community members have begun to appear at the city council's public safety meeting to complain that some residents there have been discouraged from filing complaints there. They are told by the current area commander that he will "handle it" and then they wait to hear back from him but that doesn't happen. It is perfectly fine and indeed commendable for an area commander to tell someone who has a complaint that they will look into it personally but that should complement the complaint process that is established and governed by PC 832.5 and other state laws, not replace it. It is not clear what is happening in this circumstance, except that is apparently taking place, but it warrants further dialogue between the community that has never been shy about speaking out and the area commander who is its public servant.

The city council members present asked some questions, and Capt. Meredyth Meredith provided some good information based on her experiences in field operations and as the former head of the Internal Affairs Division.

More and more, the term "contagious shooting" is working itself in the venicular in connection with the Bell shooting. Here in Slate, columnist William Saletan critiques what has been defined as an event that begins when one officer in a group of officers begins to shoot at what he or she perceives to be a deadly threat and ends with one or more of the officers following suit.

The end result is shootings where the number of bullets fired are in the double digits and the "threat" is usually dead.

Saletan wonders if this "mechanical" condition is real, or simply serves as a convenient excuse to explain away shootings like that of Amadou Diallo where 41 shots were fired, Tyisha Miller where at least 24 shots were fired and even Bell, where 50 shots were fired.

He raised the issue of culpibility by asking that if when an officer shoots, is that officer making a choice to use his weapon or has he caught a disease?

It's merely "reflex", or "it's automatic, your body takes over" is the response from the law enforcement corner. And it is only difficult to pull the trigger on the first shot, because any shots fired after that require less pressure on the trigger, according to a defense attorney who gave an opening statement in the criminal trial involving the four NYPD officers who shot and killed Diallo, according to transcripts provided by Court TV here.

(excerpt, by attorney Bennett M. Epstein)

Members of the jury, you are going to hear about how the danger to police officers from the number of illegal guns and automatic weapons that were getting into the hands of criminals caused the NYPD just a couple of years ago to switch from the standard .38 revolver, six-shot police .38 special, that New York City police officers used to carry and to now require that the officers carry nine millimeter semi-automatic pistols with 16 shots in the magazine and the first trigger pull being a conventional trigger pull and all subsequent trigger pulls being a hair trigger pull, and to further require that the ammunition that they carry be known as pointed full-metal jacket ammunition, as opposed to the other kind of ammunition, which is called hollow point, hollow-point bullets.

After the shooting of Miller, people in Riverside heard of something similar to what is now called, contagious shooting. Here, it had been called "sympathetic" shooting, as in comparison to what is called a "sympathetic muscle response". Contagious shooting sounds like a more apt term, but still does not paint a complete picture, in the minds of many.


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