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Why many aren’t cheering for officers who don’t shoot civilians


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Why many aren’t cheering for officers who don’t shoot civilians

  • Man convicted of obstruction for refusing to open his door to police

  • Mother’s lawsuit says Oklahoma prison failed to prevent her daughter’s death

  • New York prosecutors sue to prevent oversight

  • Recent police killing hits close to home for Silicon Valley

  • Unprecedented and possibly unnecessary security’ measures at Pennsylvania prisons

In the Spotlight

Why many aren’t cheering for officers who don’t shoot civilians

This week, various police officers have been celebrated for not shooting civilians. Over the weekend in Columbus, Ohio, Officer Peter Casuccio, who is white, approached two Black boys, 11 and 13, suspected of having a gun. He drew his gun and ordered them to stop, turn around, and show him their hands. One of the boys pulled a gun from his waist and tossed it. When the gun broke into pieces on the sidewalk, Casuccio realized that it was a BB gun. CNN reported that “the officer showed restraint in the encounter” because he didn’t fire his gun. Casuccio, who is a father, said he went into “dad mode” and used the situation to teach the boys a lesson. “This is getting kids killed all over the country,” Casuccio chided them, in body camera footage released by the police department. “You should be sorry, and you should be scared.” He later added, “Regardless of what people say about the dudes wearing this uniform, OK, we care.” [Darran Simon / CNN]

Also this week, two Pittsburgh police officers approached a man they were told might be trying to commit “suicide by cop.” They started talking to him. “He told us that he wanted to die,” said one of the officers. “My partner saw that he had his hand in his pocket. Asked him to remove his hand from his pocket. At that time, he pointed a gun at us.” The officers could tell the gun was not real. When they told him they knew it was fake, he threw it to the ground and the officers took him in for a mental health evaluation. “They rolled into a situation that [was] tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving,” gushed their commanding officer. “In many cases, we would have seen this play out very differently, but thanks to their training and expertise, they were able to identify the weapon the young man had in his hand was not in fact real and ended the situation peacefully.” Social media is now “blowing up with praise for the two heroes,” according to Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate. [Julie Grant / KDKA]

But the reaction has not been all cheers. For one thing, the Columbus officer’s body camera footage captured his lecture to the boys, which took a decidedly (and admittedly) paternalistic tone. He asked, “How old are you, boy?” At another moment, he said, “You should be sorry, and you should be scared.” When the 11-year-old began to walk home, the officer chided him for what he considered to be an attempt to evade punishment from his family, or, as the officer put it, his “mama.” The officer recalled telling the child, “You’ve got to go answer for your sins to mama.” And there was no escaping the racialized tone of the entire encounter, beginning with the haunting compliance the boys showed as they immediately dropped to their knees and slowly, carefully put their hands in the air, obeying the officer’s every order. And the officer’s lecture begins with the call he received on the radio describing “two young male blacks.” He chided, “You can’t do that, dude. In today’s world, that thing looks real, bro.” The officer said, “I pride myself on being a pretty bad hombre, because I gotta be. Don’t make me.” He seemed to put the onus on the children, saying they were making him into a killer. [Darran Simon / CNN]

These are not mere quibbles, and this is not a one-off encounter. A systematic analysis of police body camera footage last year by Stanford professors Jennifer Eberhardt and Dan Jurafsky showed that officers consistently use less respectful language with Black community members than with white community members. The study, published last year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that the racial disparities in respectful speech remained even after the researchers controlled for the race of the officer, the severity of the infraction, and the location and outcome of the stop. For the study, a team from Stanford’s psychology, linguistics, and computer science departments developed an artificial intelligence technique for measuring levels of respect in officers’ language and applied it to the transcripts from 981 traffic stops that the Oakland Police Department made in a single month. They found that white residents were 57 percent more likely than Black residents to hear a police officer say the most respectful utterances, such as apologies and expressions of gratitude like “thank you.” Black community members were 61 percent more likely than white residents to hear an officer say the least respectful utterances, such as informal titles like “dude” and “bro”––as the Columbus officer said to the children. [Alex Shashkevich / Stanford News]

“I’m not an anomaly,” the Columbus officer told CNN. “The overwhelming majority of police officers feel the same way. They do the same thing.” It is pretty hard to believe that officers are being lauded as heroes for not shooting children. That said, it’s a vast improvement from firing or disciplining officers who do not shoot. Last year, when a West Virginia man attempted a “suicide by cop,” the first officer to respond, Stephen Mader, who is white, began to talk Williams down calmly. But when two other officers, also white, showed up and saw a Black man with a gun, one of them shot him in the back of the head within “mere seconds.” Instead of praising Mader’s bravery and arresting the shooter, the police department fired Mader, accused him of freezing up, and one officer called him a “coward.” [Kristine Phillips / Washington Post]

Stories From The Appeal

John Moore/Getty Images

Man Convicted of Obstruction for Refusing to Open His Door to Police. The conviction could criminalize people who refuse to do things like unlock their phones or garages at police request. [Levi Pulkkinen]

Mother’s Lawsuit Says Oklahoma Prison Failed to Prevent Her Daughter’s Death. New development in a high-profile case comes as advocates question the state’s prison conditions and sentencing practices. [Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg]

Stories From Around the Country

New York prosecutors sue to prevent oversight: New York prosecutors yesterday filed a lawsuit to block a new law that made the state the first in the country to install an oversight panel for its district attorneys. Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the creation of the Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct to investigate the thousands of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, which is rarely done. “When Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law on Aug. 21, somewhat reluctantly, he included the requirement that the next legislative session will take up amendments to it,” reports Courthouse News Service. “The commission’s findings will be sent to the governor and available to the public, a detail over which Cuomo has expressed concern, saying it could open the door for people to meddle with criminal cases. In its present form, the commission’s opponents contend, the body is ‘riddled with fatal constitutional defects.’” In an open letter to Cuomo that backed the legislation, Human Rights Watch wrote, “New York’s court-run disciplinary system operates in secret and does not appear to be any kind of deterrent to prosecutors who bend and break rules to obtain convictions.” [Amanda Ottaway and Adam Klasfeld / Courthouse News Service]

Recent police killing hits close to home for Silicon Valley: Ebele Okobi, Facebook’s public policy director for Africa, decided to move to London because she couldn’t “raise a Black son in America,” she said. “I don’t have that kind of fortitude.” Two weeks ago, her fears were validated when her brother, Chinedu Valentine Okobi, 36, was killed after a struggle with police in the San Francisco Bay Area. He appears to have been killed after two officers discharged their Tasers at him, twice each. “There was something about that call that felt inevitable, because it was something that I was running away from,” Ms. Okobi said. “In the wake of her brother’s killing, every senior leader at the company, including Mark Zuckerberg, has reached out to her to show support,” according to the New York Times. “[T]he case is drawing attention not only because it is yet another instance of a black man dying at the hands of the police, but also for its proximity to the Silicon Valley tech bubble.” [John Eligon / New York Times]

Unprecedented and possibly unnecessary ‘security’ measures at Pennsylvania prisons: A month ago, Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel implemented stringent security measures with no precedent in a state prison system, and he now says they are working. “The measures were necessary, he said, to protect staff from sicknesses related to exposure to synthetic cannabinoids, or K2,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. “But the policies—including barring book donations and providing inmates photocopies of their mail rather than the originals—are unpopular with families and, lawyers argue, may even be unconstitutional.” Experts in medical toxicology doubted that K2 was the cause of officer symptoms and instead blamed “mass psychogenic illness.” The new legal mail procedure, in which a prison staffer opens legal mail in front of the prisoner and photocopies it, setting aside the originals to be destroyed after 45 days—has been called a clear violation of attorney-client privilege. To guard against K2, the department stopped allowing donations from programs like Books Through Bars, or even direct orders from stores like Amazon, which makes little sense. And new ion scanners—meant to detect trace amounts of narcotics––are keeping families separated. Two women married to men in Phoenix state prison are facing six-month bans on visiting their husbands. [Samantha Melamed / Philadelphia Inquirer]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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