Holder: No evidence cops lying down on the job post-Ferguson

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Chris Christie takes up disputed ‘Ferguson effect’ during debate.

COLUMBIA, S.C. Former Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday he disagrees with comments from FBI Director James Comey that suggested a connection between changes in police behavior and the homicide spike experienced by major American cities.With President Obama talking a big, late-in-his-term game about ending “mass incarceration,” Comey, the FBI director, didn’t make the boss happy when he pushed back on the post-Ferguson narrative of cops-as-threat -to-black-Americans to say that “something much bigger is happening” — namely that homicides are up in many big cities, and up significantly in a few of them. “Who’s dying?” he asked rhetorically. “The increase is almost entirely among young men of color.” Nothing accounts for that rise, he said, except for one thing cops whispered to him, but wouldn’t say aloud: that cops “in today’s YouTube world (are) reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime.” That, he said, is having “profound consequences.” Are videos really why crime is up in some cities, he asked, again rhetorically. “The answer is, I don’t know… but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year.” How often do cops use force?

In a wide-ranging conversation with reporters, Holder said he believed Comey had made “gutsy” statements about the issues dividing law enforcement and the communities they serve and had spoken “eloquently” on the topic. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott returned home to an uproar over images of a school resource officer flipping a 16-year-old girl out of her desk and dragging her across the floor of her math class Monday at a high school in Columbia. In announcing the deputy’s firing two days later, Lott called on the public to shoot more video, not less. “I would hope that every citizen that has a cellphone that has a camera on it, if they see something that’s going on and they have questions about it, they need to film it,” Lott said Wednesday. “Our citizens should police the police. Comey said that while there are likely several factors contributing to the uptick, police officials have suggested to him that they see “the era of viral videos” as a link and that fear over being recorded by camera has made some officers apprehensive about leaving their squad cars. “Talking about racial things, especially given this nation’s history when it comes to racial matters, is a very, very difficult thing to do from both sides,” said Holder, who left the Justice Department this year and now works at a Washington law firm. “And we’ve become quite adept at finding ways not to deal with racial issues, and I think that is to the detriment of our country and our ability to make progress.” He also said that a recent Justice Department memo stressing the importance of prosecuting corporate employees and executives in some ways codified existing guidance and policy. The federal government has no idea, even as the Washington Post and others have started collecting the national figures Comey and Co. talk about but haven’t bothered to get.

That’s their job, too.” Comey’s and Lott’s comments — one questioning whether video is causing a chilling effect, the other saying it can only help — are the latest contribution to an intensifying debate over the role of cellphones in policing, at a moment when departments are tasked with at once clamping down on violent crime and repairing fractured trust with the public. That is making our law enforcement officers feel less safe in this country and it’s causing crime to increase.” Christie’s description of Comey’s comments isn’t exactly what Comey said this week, but what he did say was enough for Christie to renew an avenue of attack on Obama and Clinton that has been lurking in the GOP presidential field: linking rising crime to Democratic politicians and their criticism of excessive force by law enforcement. Many of the country’s largest cities including Washington D.C. and Baltimore have seen increases in shootings and killings, but there is little data to back up Comey’s claims tying the patterns to police anxiety.

That’s why the people pushing for reform aren’t inclined to trust Comey’s “strong sense,” backed by very little hard data, that something is changing for the worse, and that videos and protests are the reason why. Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation into the South Carolina school video, the most recent example of how citizen-shot footage of police encounters is inspiring not just outrage but criminal investigations. Comey, speaking at a law enforcement conference in Chicago this week, twice made comments suggesting that increased scrutiny on police in the post-Ferguson era has exacerbated crime in major cities. “Each incident that involves real or perceived police misconduct drives one line this way. Why they discount talk from law enforcement officials about restoring trust in American justice, often using language battle-tested by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, as just talk.

In June, Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina, was charged with murder after a witness captured video of him shooting Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, in the back as Scott was running away. For a long time, American police chiefs, given wide latitude, have treated policing as more art than science, resisting outside measurement and judgment to hide what they don’t know. And on Monday, Baltimore’s top prosecutor announced assault charges against a police officer who was seen on video spitting on a detainee who was handcuffed on the floor. Pasco Jr., executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, told The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery. “He has never been a police officer.” Christie declined to endorse the so-called “Ferguson effect” theory, which asserts that the national fallout over the shooting of a black teen in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014 has emboldened criminal elements across the country. “Whether that’s ‘sanctuary cities,’ which need to end, or whether that’s legalizing marijuana in the state that I’m standing, or whether it’s not supporting police officers, this president supports lawlessness,” Christie said. “That’s what’s causing this.”

With almost no apples-to-apples way to collect numbers from or compare them between America’s many thousands of overlapping police jurisdictions, chiefs don’t know what role, exactly, policing played in the national crime plunge of the 1990 s. Or which tactics did, or did not, contribute to that drop, or why that drop leveled off in most places (though not in New York, where the plunge was twice as long and twice as deep as the national drop, even as fewer people were locked up here). Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?” he said. “I don’t know.” Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations, said the climate surrounding police, including ubiquitous cellphone recording, is certainly impacting how officers do their jobs. “They are under more subjective emotional scrutiny than they’ve ever been,” he said. “They’re dealing with a more hostile public. Judging the state of American policing one ugly clip at a time, one isolated stat at a time, isn’t good, but it’s better than cloaking police work in a shroud of mystery.

He was shot dead by Tyrone Howard, a man with an arm-long rap sheet and a history of gun violence who was in a drug diversion program since he was, on paper, a non-violent offender. If Holder had killed Howard instead, it’s not hard to envision the righteous reports about the father of two who’d been caught up in the system, the marchers chanting for the cop who killed him to face justice.

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