Wednesday, July 4, 2012

They Shoot Niggers, Don't They?

            Austin is a great town: an oasis in the Texas desert, cool, well-educated, hip and pretty. Got greenbelts and oak trees, Governor’s Mansion and State Capitol. A river runs through it. The major state university. Movie studios. It's the world capital of live music full of artsy Democrats and techy liberals who serve as the loyal opposition to the Republicans and rednecks who run the rest of the state. Bubba is only allowed into town on the weekend, what's not to like? There’s only one drawback, and only then if you’re a member of a minority group, specifically, Negroes—but also, the occasional Hispanic. The cops in River City like to cap a brother now and again. There. It’s said. Can we talk?
            Nothing overboard happens here, nothing over the top, nothing to cause too much attention or Justice Department condemnation or get the FBI involved. This is Austin, after all, liberal mecca, we don’t tolerate racism here. But every so often—usually about once a year—bam, the police pop a brother in the chest. Before Glocks got popular they used the old reliable .38. Been doing it for years. Developed into kind of a ritual, don't you know? Afterwards Negroes demonstrate in the streets. There’s always a grand jury investigation. (There’s one going on now.) In recent years the city has been paying out money to the brother’s family without admitting fault, culpability or liability. Eventually you get the mandatory debate before the city council, actually more like a discussion, some handwringing by liberals—tears are shed although not by members of the city council, then everybody forgets until the next year when another cop blows another brother’s shit away and the ritual is renewed.
            It’s an Austin tradition.
            So, we’re in the beginning of the cycle now. A brother named Ahmede Jabbar Bradley got popped a few months ago by a cop named Eric Copeland. Officer Copeland pulled Mr. Bradley over—either because Copeland smelled weed or because the brother was playing his music too loud or both—depends on what story the police are telling and which cop is telling it. A minor infraction, the chief said. That much is on the record. The interaction between the two men started “friendly,” according to the police chief, which can be considered the official account of events no matter how unlikely, for whatever reason Mr. Bradley drove away, then took off running. Copeland followed. There was a struggle. Bam. Or actually bam bam bam, Ahmede Bradley got holed three times, of which apparently at least one was in the chest, details are sketchy. Officer Copeland is on paid administrative leave, not talking, or at least not talking publicly. An ounce of coke and $1700 was later found, per PD. The district attorney is "investigating." Stop me if you’ve heard this before. God knows it’s not new.
            It’s the same old shit which means the same old outcome, the cop will return to duty, maybe the city will pay out a few bucks while the mayor and the police union bitch about the right of an officer to defend himself as if the pigs are the aggrieved party. The NAACP will claim profiling, that white cops go after black people in the capital city.
            Except this time there’s considerable evidence that is exactly what they do. The police we’re talking about—they profile. They go after brothers. And Spanish. But maybe this time they got caught in the act.
            Literally red-handed.
            Red as in blood.

            Just after the Civil War a Union Army officer newly arrived in East Texas toured the state prison and was surprised to find it full of brothers. He ventured the guess that prisons were being used in Texas as a tool to control the black population.
            Well, yeah. You could say that.
            Every once in a while minorities in the state catch a break, someone realizes what’s going on with law enforcement here—police and prisons—like the Union Army officer realized and it always comes as a surprise, at least to white folk. Sometimes it’s less of a break, not just a lucky happenstance like a roll of dice but more the result of playing the game until you learn how to win which is where minorities are now, creeping up on a win or at least getting a better idea of the odds. We took our fates in our hands you could say: Not relying on the goodwill of white people which—less even than the betting tables in Las Vegas—historically has been a low-percentage game to play. Waiting for the caucasian race to “do the right thing” can get old, too. So, in 2001, and again in 2009, we only started winning because we started writing the rules ourselves.
            A decade ago a coalition of concerned parties—the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and NAACP, led by State Senator Royce West of Dallas—a brother—passed an anti-profiling statute that required police departments across the state to track, by race, who they are stopping on the street. Of course the law had no teeth, no sanctions, and the Criminal Justice Coalition which does good work soon found that many police departments simply were not obeying. “There was a problem statewide about compliance in reporting,” says Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP. Bledsoe credits what happened next with the doggedness of Ana Yañez-Correa, head of the CJC, and the diplomatic skills of Senator West—who managed to get police officers to sit down at a table and talk about what they could live with to fix the law. Well, in short, it’s a mofo—the first, best and still-developing tool to identify police who stop Negroes and kill them. You can go to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement website and on the left side under “Racial Profiling Reporting” you press a button, there’s a map of Texas, you find your region of the state and, bingo, you can see who the pigs are stopping and, theoretically, popping. It’s self-reporting, which means there may be some slips—intentional and otherwise—but in the case of the liberal mecca Austin, Texas—live music capital of the world—the claims that the police don’t have an agenda don’t hold water. The numbers are stark and ugly. In fact, just about everything being reported points to a big policing problem in River City, which no one wants to admit but there it is. Let’s take a look.
            So—in the case of Austin PD—skip what seems to be a large number of reported stops of Middle Easterners because it’s hard to believe the Middle Eastern population isn’t being targeted in Austin or anywhere else in the Great Satan, a “driving while Muslim” experience. Let’s skip Asians too for the moment not because Asians don’t experience prejudice but because they are not traditional victims of discrimination in this state. Instead let’s look at the quintessential victim of profiling by police, black people, brothers, Negroes-at-large on the streets of America, Austin’s black population has actually fallen through the years as the town has gotten trendier and more expensive—and whiter—with the black percentage going from 14% in the 1970s to about 8% now. The police profiling report for last year shows that the drivers stopped by police were African-Americans about 13% of the time. That’s a rate about 60% higher than our percentage in the local population. Commonly it’s the traditional communitywide non-scientific definition of the offense known as DWB, “driving while black.” It’s also probably not the key to where the local pigs are breaking the law. According to experts on police profiling the issue isn’t so much who the police stop—although, yes, that is important. The bigger issue is who they’re searching and, specifically, who the police are searching without consent, that's without a warrant. That’s where the Austin police excel—despite the contentions of Mayor Leffingwell et al that everything is cool. Clearly, everything is not cool. Unless you’re white.
            Most of the major police forces in the state (Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, for example) like Austin, are searching about 4 to 8 percent of cars stopped according to their profiling reports, which are also just a click away. In some cases the officer asks if he or she can search the vehicle/occupants or reports he or she asked. But some searches are made without consent. Those “non-consensual” searches are the most revealing. The police always say there was probable cause. We have only their word to go on. And there is good cause to believe they’re lying. At least in River City.
            In Houston and San Antonio for example non-consensual searches are about 34-38% of all searches conducted. Let’s say one-third for simplicity. That means that SAPD and HPD most often ask if they can look in the backseat or in the glove compartment and in about a third of cases when they ask for permission and are told no, they search anyway. In Dallas which has a long history of heavy-handed policing the figure is 60%. That means in the majority of searches in the Big D, basically, the police have asked for permission, been told no, said to the driver fuck you, whether you like or not we’re looking under the seat, in the glove compartment, maybe you get a pat-down too. Austin police actually use even a heavier hand. In 2011—among Austin police stops that led to searches—only 5% were consensual. Yes, five percent. 95% were not consented to. That is ninety-five percent of the time a search was conducted it was done without the driver’s permission which is a full 60% higher than in Houston and 30% higher than in Dallas where the cops are mean motherfuckers to begin with. Of 11,025 non-consent searches in 2011, APD reports that in 229 contraband was “in plain sight,” in 6775 the officer had probable cause or reasonable suspicion and in 4021 the search was secondary to an arrest that was already going to happen anyway or a warrant already in hand. Houston, the biggest police force in the state, patrolling the biggest metropolitan area, had twice as many automobile stops, fewer searches and half the number of probable cause searches that Austin police reported. Those numbers bear repeating: Houston has a population and police force roughly three times larger than Austin's yet last year Austin police performed twice the number of non-consensual, "probable-cause" searches as the number Houston PD reported. To get a higher rate than APD—you have to reach out to the Israeli border police, or the KGB. 
            And it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out who the local police are pushing the envelope with: it’s not the white soccer mom with two kids in the car who may or may not like nose candy, mom and the kids too, it’s the brother with dreds who, yeah, likes to smoke a little weed. Not the white businessman in a suit and tie, driving a BMW on his way to a power lunch, it’s the Hispanic working stiff in a pickup on his way home from a job. Thirty years ago an Austin police chief by the name of Jim Everett, when questioned about another white officer’s shooting of a black suspect, said that black people are searched more and shot more often by police because we, black people, are involved in more crime and although Austin officials are too PC to say something similar today that kind of thinking continues to be common at the pig pen. But suppose it’s wrong. Suppose it's the exact opposite. Suppose more blacks get stopped (and in the case of Mr. Bradley killed) because white officers look for crime more among black people than among their own race. Is that a revolutionary thought? APD is two-thirds white after all. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Maybe the FBI does need to come in—like that Union Army officer at the end of the Civil War—and offer a new perspective. Because the numbers in APD’s 2011 profiling report are actually worse than they appear.
            Richard Watkins is a former prison warden who now serves as president of the Huntsville NAACP in deep East Texas. He has been fighting profiling among local police forces in the pineywoods of the state for some time now and he notes two particular problems in Walker County and environs both of which also apply in Austin. First is police often turn off their car cameras when stopping minority suspects. Cameras in police cars are a major issue because state law permits any police force that has all its cruisers equipped with cameras to escape the profile reporting requirements on the TCOLE website. In other words if the force is completely equipped with cameras, no statistics must be reported on who is being stopped. Most police departments are, therefore, trying to equip cars with cameras, but Watkins notes that cameras in police cars don’t help when the officer turns it off or points it away from the action—something he says is common in his neck of the woods—and as, by the way, happened in 2010 during a stop in East Austin when an officer turned off his camera and then proceeded to shoot two young men, both black, one fatally, in a confrontation that, as usual, did not lead to charges but did cost the city a $750,000 settlement. (The mayor voted against the payout. He was of the opinion the brothers, one of whom was asleep when shot, the bullet literally woke him up, were to blame.)
            There are even better reasons to compare Austin to small-town Texas.
            Because the other problem, per Mr. Watkins of the NAACP, is that an interstate passes through Huntsville. He estimates that in many of the cases of minorities who are illegally pulled over he never hears about the stop because the drivers keep going and do not complain. That may well be borne out by study. “The only hard and fast rule—don’t look at census data as a denominator. The people who drive in an area,” says Professor Geoffrey Alpert, who studies police profiling at the University of South Carolina’s Department of Criminology, “are not the ones who live there, except in small towns.” Indeed, in Austin, in the narrative explanation given to the mayor and city council regarding APD’s questionable 2011 profiling stats, obtained by open records request, the police report that they are stopping fewer people in general than before but more of them on the interstate and major highways not on city streets. How do you spot suspicious behavior going 60 miles per hour? So the opportunities to break the law and avoid the consequences are actually improving for APD. You stop a brother on I-35, conduct an illegal search, and he’s gone soon after because he can’t/won’t rent a hotel to speak to Internal Affairs in the morning.
            The most damaging admission to the pig pen's contention of a lack of bias in stops is that—in the explanation to the city council regarding the 2011 profiling report—police supervisors admit that in one-quarter of all searches last year, despite department rules, officers failed to document whether the warrantless search they conducted was consensual or not. However you do the math that’s a big number—25%—almost certainly “statistically significant,” meaning it’s not a fluke. What the department wants the public to believe is that one quarter of the time searches were made in 2011, officers didn’t notice or forgot to write down if consent was given which is the law enforcement equivalent of a guy not remembering if a woman said yes before sex. If he reports he “doesn’t remember”—guess what the answer probably is. The police department has promised to audit compliance this year. 
            “The rate of missing or unreadable data that results in the consent status being ‘unknown’ increased in 2011,” according to APD’s explanation submitted to the city council. “APD will conduct an internal audit in 2012 to determine the cause of the missing information on reports. Whatever changes are implemented, whether it is more training and/or a restructuring of the electronic reporting forms, will be monitored to ensure they are having an impact. Moreover, policy is presently being developed requiring quarterly audits of reporting documentation by field commands.”
            Ron Weitzer, an expert on profiling at George Washington University suggests after glancing at APD’s figures, “In the [APD] stats, there are about ten times more probable cause/reasonable suspicion-based searches than consent searches.” (Actually it’s closer to 20-to-1.) He questions whether Austin officers in some way have to justify the probable cause/reasonable suspicion (does loud music count?) and he adds that some studies have shown the “hit rate,” that is contraband found during these searches, is actually lower among black suspects than whites. APD disagrees. In consent searches in 2011 there was a 22% hit rate for white drivers and 25% for blacks, according to the department, a 3% difference. For all searches—consented and non-consensual—in 2011 there was a 20% hit rate for whites and 22% for blacks. It’s totally unclear if those small differences are statistically significant but APD believes it's enough to clear Austin officers of any accusation of bias: “The higher hit rate for minority drivers compared to White drivers in 2011 suggests that profiling is not occurring.” In fact—a statistician would say a 2% difference probably doesn’t suggest shit, it’s within the margin of error, but the department needs cover. Badly. Because City Hall knows that figures like these show something is wrong in River City. 
            So, suppose we look at a different measure—which also comes from APD’s narrative explanation of its 2011 profiling data. We also have to break the “rule” about not using census data suggested by Professor Alpert, the South Carolina criminologist, for the simple reason that there's no other data to go on about who is driving on Austin roads.
            In 2011, APD reported 179,882 stops and 11,719 searches. 694 of the searches were consensual—the driver said yes or is reported to have said yes when the officer asked permission to take a look or do a pat-down or whatever—and 11,025 were non-consensual either explicitly or because in some cases the police were going to make an arrest anyway. That's what the pigs are saying. Looking at Austin’s census data, to determine a rough percentage of population for the races, and doing the numbers on who is getting searched, we have the following:
            Caucasians are approximately 48% of the population in Austin, 55% of the traffic stops but only 30% of non-consensual searches. Remember, the cops are stopping someone and in general have no information to go on about who to search except a look at the person behind the wheel.
            Hispanics are 35% of the local population, 29% of traffic stops and 43% of non-consensual searches.
            Blacks are 8% of the population, 13% of traffic stops, and 26% of non-consensual searches. That means there are about one-sixth as many black people in Austin as whites, but last year almost as many black drivers were searched without consent as whites, in other words, traditional minorities represent 43% of the city population, more or less, but are 69% of forced, warrantless searches by police. Caucasians are almost half of the local population and less than one-third of forced searches. The numbers and methodology are not exact. Probably a statistician would call this approach amateurish. But the thing about math, about stats? It doesn't matter who's holding the pencil. You know? Anyone would call these numbers highly suggestive of profiling. Nor should you make the mistake of thinking that whites had fewer non-consensual searches because they consented to a police pat-down more often than blacks or Hispanics. Apparently whites consented to searches less frequently than did blacks and yet whites were still searched non-consensually less frequently than blacks or Hispanics. 
            Austin has an unofficial stop-and frisk policy just like New York City’s except here it's on the road not the sidewalk and in New York the mayor and the police commissioner admit the policy exists while the Austin mayor and city council lie to the public. In both cities declining crime rates have been achieved at the expense of minorities’ civil rights and the argument will be made that it’s an effective choice but the fact is that if you violate any part of the population’s civil rights, black or white, Jews or Mexicans, the result will probably be lower crime. The city has simply picked blacks and Hispanics to bear the brunt of tougher policing. If police began targeting white people—crime would also drop.
            The only good news about these figures is the gutsy performance of Hispanic motorists who refused searches at a higher rate than blacks or whites. There’s a theory circulating in sociology that Hispanics are becoming more radicalized, not less, about their rights in society. These figures may speak to that view. Following Officer Copeland into that grand jury room should be the police chief, mayor, city attorney and city manager. They have some explaining to do.

            With this background in mind let’s look back at Officer Copeland vs. Ahmede Bradley and suggest a worst-case scenario. It’s not hard to do.
            We’re on the eastside, the traditional minority neighborhood, niggers is thinning out but they's still a bunch.
             Let’s say that Officer Copeland stops Ahmede Bradley because Bradley is playing loud music, or not using his turn signals or he looks like a thug—or whatever Officer Copeland believes a thug looks like. Or suppose Bradley looks like a thug and Officer Copeland uses loud music as a pretext for a traffic stop which is an equally possible scenario. Either possibility is realistic.
            Suppose as well that Officer Cropland decides to search even though he doesn’t have probable cause—something there’s actually good reason to believe is what happened. (We’ll get to that later.) At that point Copeland has decided to take the next step, a search, and Ahmede Bradley refuses. At that point Mr. Bradley also decides his presence is no longer necessary at the scene and he drives away. Eventually he stops the car and takes off running, we're not exactly clear on that yet, nothing is clear until Copeland begins running after him, which is documented, Officer Copeland pursues on foot. Who's in the wrong? Ahmede Bradley obviously. Common sense tells you it’s not a good idea to run from a cop, even one who may have just issued an illegal order. But also—the documentation suggests—Officer Copeland was wrong. Big time. Foot chases, like car chases, are now deemed to be dangerous by their very nature and much discouraged—at least in theory, by local police. On page 94 of the police manual which Officer Copeland had presumably read before Mr. Bradley started sprinting the policy is remarkably clear: “Foot pursuits are inherently dangerous and require common sense, sound tactics and heightened officer safety awareness. . . It is the policy of this department when deciding to continue or initiate a foot pursuit that officers must continuously balance the objective of apprehending the subject with the risk and potential for injury to department personnel, the public, or the subject.” The very first and presumably easiest to remember of 14 different considerations the officer has to take into account according to the APD manual—on deciding to pursue a suspect on foot—is whether the officer is alone which Officer Copeland was. According to APD policy the prudent pig stops there. Protocol demands it. Even without considering whether the stop itself was legal or the decision to search was the result of bias—profiling—this officer was in violation. 
            Presumably the cocaine had not yet been found—the Chief said the interaction was over a minor matter—if cocaine was found at all.
            At that moment all Mr. Bradley faced was a loud music charge or a traffic violation.
            Or weed which in the live music capital of the world is not unheard of. But even if Mr. Bradley did not start running until the coke was found—if it was found—what’s the big deal? It’s not the only ounce of la blanca or la verde circulating in our lovely Texas capital city. Copeland had Bradley’s ID and his car. It was almost sunset and Officer Copeland didn’t have backup and the manual was telling him that a chase is not a good idea. Why not let the brother go? Pick him up another day. The best thing you can say about Officer Copeland's judgment that evening is it was bad. Was it criminal is the question? In fact—surprise—bad judgment in searches had already been documented by the officer's superiors.
            When the shooting occurred Eric Copeland, aged 32, had been a police officer for almost two years. He had gone through one complete evaluation by his sergeant, for 2010-2011. That APD evaluation has 16 performance measures, rated 1 to 10 with 5-6 being satisfactory and 7 to 8 being “highly effective,” and anything lower or higher being exceptionally bad or exceptionally good as the case may be.
            On four measures (initiative, responsibility/timeliness, dress and fitness) Copeland scored 7 out of 10. He was “highly effective.” On twelve measures (including time management . . . awareness . . . communication . . . analysis . . . judgment . . . goal setting . . . planning . . coordination . . . use of force . . . report writing/overall investigation . . . professionalism . . . and driving) practically the whole being-a-cop thing he scored a 6 out of 10 for a total of 100/160 points or 62.5% which made him “satisfactory” for the department but would be failing in any other line of work. The key part of the evaluation came in his sergeant’s narrative of Copeland’s first-year overall performance as an Austin police officer written a few months before the Bradley shooting included below in its entirety:
            “This is PO Copeland’s first annual evaluation. PO Copeland is a new officer, both to the department and to the profession. He has a very good work ethic and proactively seeks activity within his assigned district. He volunteers to take calls that are waiting in the queue, and clears report writing calls to assist other officers when a back-up is needed. Being a newer officer he was at first a little hesitant to ask questions of myself and the corporal. He has adjusted well and now keeps us informed of situations and notifies us as needed. He gets along well with his peers. His level of activity and experience is on a par with his contemporaries. In the coming year I want him to focus on completing all affidavits using careful thought to include all the necessary elements for successful prosecution. To date he has had five probable cause affidavits either deemed insufficient or returned for correction.” Eric Copeland may not have understood required documentation which appears to be an issue with the department overall—those 25% of searches that were consensual or not, we’ll never know—but he also may not understand probable cause, or chose not to understand probable cause, for example whether a black man, maybe wearing a doo-rag and listening to loud music, having made what even the police chief describes as a minor violation, should be chased and shot dead—something that certainly would not happen to, let’s say, a white woman chaperoning her kids, who may also have an ounce of la blanca under the seat and some in her nose, behind the wheel of her Land Rover, which is just as likely in this town because, yes, white people also use drugs. It’s called a double standard.
            “As this is an ongoing investigation I cannot speak about the case,” Senior Police Officer Copeland recently wrote in an email. He noted that his promotion to “Senior” a few weeks after he shot Ahmede Bradley was automatic after two years on the force. Other than that he has nothing to say for the moment. In the absence of better information, the best way to know what Eric Copeland was thinking when he decided to search Ahmede Bradley is not for the grand jurors to ask him questions, which they presumably have done or are about to do, but to look back through his arrests, his prior stops and searches, and to see if he has an unwarranted interest in minority drivers like a lot of the rest of APD appears to have. Officer Copeland was sued in federal court on a civil rights charge the month before Ahmede Bradley was killed, after arriving on the scene with another white officer, Copeland pulled a gun on a Hispanic driver who happened to be the guy who actually called the police. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

            Bradley was charged in 1990 with aggravated kidnapping and rape, but both charges were dismissed. Indeed Ahmede Bradley got around, he was a well-travelled Negro, with a rich personal history of small-time crime in succeeding years, mostly drugs, and with the exception of an unspecified charge involving his family apparently all were non-violent offenses. All Officer Copeland knew was that Ahmede Bradley was a black man who liked to play his music loud. Allegedly. In the world capital of live music. And he liked to smoke weed. And he liked to avoid contact with the police, shit, that describes ninety-nine percent of the public on any given day and at any time. How many whites does that also describe in this city? One big difference is the white guys are still above ground.
            The police said they would release the radio and video of the Bradley stop but so far the only release has been the 911 calls as the people on the street or passersby saw Officer Copeland struggling with Mr. Bradley. The department has couched the question of what happened on April 5th in terms of Copeland’s right to defend himself in the struggle but that’s a straw-man argument—disinformation, kind of like Iraqi weapons of mass destruction—as Mayor Leffingwell tries to avoid repercussions of the latest killing by police. No one is questioning Officer Copeland’s right to defend himself in a struggle. The point is—it was a fight that Copeland started. Bradley wanted out and the police manual said, like Moses to pharoah, let-the-brother-go. How did it reach the point of a struggle for a gun?
            Why did Officer Copeland stop Ahmede Bradley and how did a loud music complaint or weed or whatever led to the stop—if there was an issue—lead to a foot chase under unfavorable conditions which policy doesn't allow? Was Copeland forcing a search as part of APD’s policy for dealing with black people? Do the cops insist on searches of white people who play loud music in their cars? In West Austin? Bitch, please. Look at the damn stats.
            Better yet—let’s get the Justice Department back in town to run the numbers. Maybe while they’re here they can have a chat with Officer Copeland about probable cause.
            One hint, Officer Copeland:
            It's got nothing to do with skin color.


No comments:

Post a Comment