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article imageOp-Ed: Deadly force shootings-AZ bill would keep police names secret

By Megan Hamilton     Mar 24, 2015 in Politics
Phoenix - Rumain Brisbon. Tamir Rice. Akai Gurley. Kajieme Powell. Ezell Ford. Mike Brown.
All young, black, and male. And all shot dead by police under questionable circumstances.
Arizona lawmakers are considering a bill that could very well exacerbate this deadly situation.
Senate Bill 1445 would prevent law enforcement agencies from releasing names of officers "involved in a use of deadly physical force incident that results in death or serious physical injury" for 60 days, NBC News reports.
This comes at a time of heightened tensions and increased scrutiny over controversial police shootings across the country. Critics say the bill is an attack on government transparency, and it's happening while police departments are trying to regain the public's trust.
If the deaths of these young black males are the gasoline, then this bill may very well be the match that ignites the blaze.
Last October, analysis conducted by ProPublica found that young black males, especially in recent years, face a far greater risk of being shot dead by cops than their white counterparts. They were, in fact, 21 times more likely to be killed. ProPublica's analysis was based on federally collected data on fatal police shootings.
This is tragic, shameful, and heinous in every sense of the word.
Of the 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 listed in the federal data, blacks, aged 15-19 were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million. Whites in that age range, on the other hand, were killed at a rate of 1.47 per million.
ProPublica studied detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides that stretched from 1980 to 2012. This data, annually self-reported by hundreds of police departments nationwide, was contained in the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Report.
The FBI data is a minimum count of homicides by police, and precisely measuring what places people at risk of homicide by police isn't possible without more and better records, said Colin Loftin, a University at Albany professor and co-director of the Violence Research Group. Nevertheless, what the data shows in regards to the race of victims and officers, and the circumstances of killings are "certainly relevant," he said.
"No question, there are all kinds of racial disparities across our criminal justice system," he said. "This is one example."
The killing of Michael Brown has brought the FBI's data to the forefront again, and this has highlighted some of the shortcomings of the agency's reports.
ProPublica points out that the data is very incomplete. In the U.S. there are 17,000 police departments and huge numbers of them don't file fatal police shooting reports, and others have filed reports for some years, but not for others. Florida police departments haven't filed reports since 1997 and New York City hasn't reported since 2007. And sometimes information contained within individual reports can be flawed. However, many of the reporting police departments are in large cities, and at least 1,000 police departments have filed reports over the last 33 years.
People look at a mural on December 29  2014 of Ezell Ford  a 25-year-old black man  at the site wher...
People look at a mural on December 29, 2014 of Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old black man, at the site where he was shot and killed by two police officers in August in Los Angeles, California
David Mcnew, Getty/AFP
What is truly sad, is that some of the black boys who were killed were, like Tamir Rice, very young. ProPublica notes there were 41 teens aged 14 or younger killed by police from 1980 to 2012. Out of that number 27 were black, eight were white, four were Hispanic, and one was Asian.
Whites weren't left out completely. Over the 33 years worth of records, 44 percent of all those killed by police were white.
While mostly white officers were involved in killing young black males, black officers were also responsible in hundreds of instances. Black officers, ProPublica notes, accounted for a little over 10 percent of all fatal police shootings. Of those that they killed, however, 78 percent were black.
All of this brings us back to Senate bill 1445.
While agencies won't be able to release the names of police officers in cases of deadly physical force that results in death or serious injury for the aforementioned 60 days, the same holds true if an officer is killed, NBC News reports. The next of kin or the police department can agree to release the name earlier in these cases. An officer's disciplinary history can also be revealed, but identifying information has to be redacted. An officer's name can be released if he or she is charged.
If the public has trouble trusting police officers, this is only going to worsen the problem.
"People cannot believe in what they are not permitted to observe," David Bodney, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment and public records law told NBC. " When a law enforcement officer is involved in a deadly force incident, the trust deficit only grows deeper."
Arizona Rep. Steven Smith is sponsoring this bad idea of a bill, and it is an effort to protect the welfare of an officer who is not a suspect, the director of the Arizona Police department told NBC News per Newser.
"This is a bigger issue than Ferguson," Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told NBC, per AZ Central. "We have a disconnect between some communities in this country and law enforcement. And law enforcement only works if the people of this country believe in it."
State Rep. Reginald Bolding, who's a Democrat representing the Phoenix area, said the proposed law increases public skepticism about the police, NBC News reports.
"This is being packaged as a cooling-off period," he said. "What many people in the community believe is this could build a covering-up period. You're actually increasing tension between the community and the police that serve them."
If Smith thinks this will prevent public outcry he is seriously mistaken. People are going to continue protesting, and they have every right to, especially since it's very clear that so many police shootings involve young black males. People are fed up, they are stressed, and protest is the one way we have to express frustration against a system that is so clearly gamed against us.
Smith decided to sponsor the bill after two controversial police shootings in Arizona.
When former Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia released the name of the officer who fatally shot Rumain Brisbon, who was unarmed, in December, people worried that protesters would march on the officer's home. That didn't happen. Nevertheless, it "sent a chill factor up and down our thought process," said Levi Bolton, a retired Phoenix police officer and executive director of the Arizona Police Association, which supported the bill, NBC News reports
In the second case, which occurred in Pinal County, a deputy received threats after a video appeared to show a suspect with his hands up just before the deputy fatally shot him in January of 2014, sheriff's officials said. The deputy's home was placed under 24-hour surveillance for a while, Steve Henry, Pinal County Sheriff's Chief Deputy, told a state senate committee last month.
"For us, if we would have been able to keep that deputy's official photograph and official name out of the news media for a certain amount of time, for at least for a cooling-off period, then perhaps some of this negative publicity would have been mitigated," he said.
However, considering the fact that there seems to be an epidemic of law enforcement shooting and killing unarmed people, I don't believe that those involved deserve a "cooling-off period."
Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and all of the other young black males I mentioned earlier, are in an eternal cooling off period and their families are left to struggle with their grief for the rest of their lives, while those who shot and killed them have gone on with theirs.
Somewhere, everywhere in the U.S. there is a black mother who grieves for a son who will never come home for Christmas dinner and this is the seemingly endless grief of a nation in which these scenarios seem to play out endlessly.
So Rep. Steven Smith, we will head for the streets. We will post our outrage on Twitter and Facebook, and we will not be forgotten.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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