How Lawmakers Are Using Deception & Ineffective Legislation To Prevent Police Accountability



Written By: Reverend Anton Sawyer


Following the news reports of police and their abuses of power nationwide, the summer of 2022 has been a season filled with nausea-inducing stories/headlines. The saddest part about all these news pieces is that they all have two things in common. The loss of innocent life is one. The other is new laws that have been enacted that will prevent law enforcement from ever being held accountable for those losses of innocent life. Today I’m going to look at these headlines, and how in each instance multiple groups are working together to ensure the worst of possible outcomes.

Because of how polarizing this topic can be I do want to enact a trigger warning. If you think that the police in America should be allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want—no matter the outcome—and support the concept of qualified immunity in every circumstance, then you may want to go elsewhere.


VOA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
VOA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for all articles can be found in the bibliography linked here.


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UVALDE & LEADERSHIP

When I watched the surveillance footage of what happened at Robb Elementary School on May 24th, 2022, I was sickened. Various images filled my screen that made me feel shame due to the actions of my species. Watching a group of policemen huddled around all jumping at the same time when hearing gunshots and children screaming, only to stand firmly in place all the while once their feet touched Earth provides emotions that cannot be properly conveyed. There is more, but to be honest, I’m not going into all the details because of how horrific they are. If you haven’t seen the video, I recommend you do. Yet, I’m going to warn you that if you have any human empathy, it will be incredibly difficult to get through.

As someone who is a fan of transparency and the thought of allowing American citizens to be educated on what their tax dollars are doing for them, I supported the release of the video en masse. Regardless of how important I think that release is, I know that many people disagree and think only the “right” Americans should have access to this kind of content. Upon the release of the footage, the mayor of Uvalde blasted the media calling it “chicken” for doing so. “I want to go on the record. The way that video was released today was one of the most chicken things I’ve ever seen,” Mayor Don McLaughlin said at a city council meeting. Other conservative politicians joined in this sentiment with City Councilman Ernest W. “Chip” King III going a step further, calling the media “chicken shit.” When questioned why the news outlet "The American Statesman" released the footage, it's executive editor Manny Garcia said, “Our goal is to continue to bring to light what happened at Robb Elementary, which the families and friends of the Uvalde victims have long been asking for." Garcia also noted that there have consistently been “changing stories, heroic-sounding narratives proven to be false and a delay or in most cases rejection of media requests for public information by law enforcement leaders, public officials and elected leaders.”

Garcia isn't wrong.

As more information has trickled out regarding the events of the shooting as time has progressed, it has allowed the public to get a better picture of the myriad of specific events that led to the loss of life. With that said, the Republican pundits have found one element to these events which they have hung their hat on as the main/only culprit: those cops were "just following orders." When it was found that Police Chief Pete Arredondo had called for the officers to step down, conservative media voices like Buck Sexton, Travis Clay, and Jesse Kelly all said roughly the same thing: it was the following of orders specifically which exacerbated the tragedy. It’s worth noting that not once have any pundits questioned the integrity or bravery of the officers themselves. To the conservative mouthpieces, the leadership failed, nothing more, nothing less.

In this argument, the pundits are half-right. Yes, the chief did give the command to step down. But it's incredibly difficult to pin the blame entirely on the police chief and the orders given to not engage the shooter as the main reason for failure when you also see officers in the video fist-bumping when the screams of children can be heard in the background. With Uvalde, there isn’t a single smoking gun as the relationship between cowardice, zero accountability, and defense from those who are the gatekeepers of law are all contributors to this mess. They all had to work together in a mesh of symbiosis for such a tragedy to unfold. And due to the number of new laws being floated regarding law enforcement this year which have the potential to allow for other disastrous outcomes, it’s clear that nothing has been learned thus far by those in political power who reside in different locales. What makes it even worse is that these new laws consistently miss the mark when it comes to enacting positive changes in the relationship between law enforcement and average citizens.

CHICAGO: SUSPECT CHASING IS ILLEGAL. SUSPECT SHOOTING IS LEGAL

As of June 2022, Chicago police officers will no longer be allowed to chase people on foot simply because they run away or they’ve committed minor offenses. Under the policy, officers may give chase if they believe a person is committing or is about to commit a felony, a Class A misdemeanor (such as domestic battery), or a serious traffic offense that could risk injuring others (such as drunken driving or street racing). Officers also won’t be allowed to chase people on foot if they suspect them of minor offenses such as parking violations, driving on suspended licenses, or drinking alcohol in public. But they will still have the discretion to chase people who they’ve determined are committing or about to commit crimes that pose “an obvious threat to any person.” This law change stemmed from two police shootings that took place in 2021 in which 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez and 13-year-old Adam Toledo were running from police when they were gunned down. Proponents of the no-running legislation have tried to use various facts to support the measure, with my personal favorite coming from Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx. She told reporters that under the new policy, the shooting of Alvarez never would have happened for two reasons. First, when police chased him for a traffic violation, "they knew who he was and where he lived." Second, officers are no longer allowed to chase people on foot who are suspected of the kind of minor offense that led to the chase. This logic is terrible because it completely ignores the systemic legislation and attitudes which allowed for the shootings to happen in the first place.

It goes without saying that the footrace isn't the problem when it comes to shooting a fleeing suspect, rather the discharge of a firearm is. I can't see how whether a cop chases a suspect or not is in direct correlation with that officer unholstering their weapon to discharge it—unless in Chicago humans are genetically different and their legs and fingers are joined in some way. This leads me to the systemic issue which has been completely ignored in this entire scenario; the way the law is written when it comes to police and using firepower. Under Illinois law, "an officer is justified in using force likely to cause death or great bodily harm when he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or to others." This law has everything to do with the perception of the officer and little else. In the case of the 13-year-old Toledo, he was unarmed. Whether he was running or not, under Illinois law, the officer felt his life was in such peril that it warranted the shooting. This verbiage led to the officer being found not guilty of the death of the child.

Let me give you a scenario using these new and existing statutes: An officer pulls a car over with a driver and passenger. As the officer gets the ID and insurance, he gets a feeling that the passenger is unstable. As the policeman goes back to his cruiser to run the ID, the passenger gets out of the car and runs. The officer thinks he might see a weapon being waved around in their hand and yells for the passenger to stop—they don't. Standing in the same location, the officer draws his weapon and shoots the passenger in the back. Given that the officer didn't run and was sure he saw a weapon being waved around during the suspect's running, all while feeling threatened due to perceived instability, then the shooting would still be legal.

As far as Chicago is concerned, nothing has changed. The symbiotic relationship between pro-police-action laws and the potential for lack of accountability in their verbiage is still intact.

ARIZONA: DO NOT FILM THAT COP!

The last piece of newer legislation I want to look at is one that I am sure is going to lead to more death and even less accountability for law enforcement. In 2022, Arizona passed a law that will make it illegal for people to film a police officer from eight feet or closer without the officer’s permission, placing greater limits on how people can video police officers at a time when calls are growing louder for increased law enforcement transparency. Though only eight feet currently, there have been those at the capital who have mentioned extending that length.

If you are a regular reader of the Indie Truther, this law should send chills down your spine. As I've written before, police have been getting very creative in their attempts to prevent ANY body cam footage from being released in either a public or legal setting. In 2022 in California, police officers have been blaring copyrighted Disney music during interactions with people while their body cams are on. What this does is prevent any filming from being released to the public via social media due to the footage being removed over copyright claims. And in Minnesota, officers have decided to use racism, profanity, and other problematic behaviors to such a large degree that the body cam footage is being suppressed in court by prosecutors because of how damaging it is to their cases and securing a conviction. Since these trends are popping up in various cities nationwide, it's getting to the point where citizen-filmed interactions may become the only realistic option in capturing any law enforcement wrongdoing—and it’s clear Arizona is trying to slow that down via legal gymnastics.

Supporters of the Arizona legislation, which was signed into law by Republican Governor Doug Ducey, say it protects officers from people who have poor judgment or ulterior motives. “I’m pleased that a very reasonable law that promotes the safety of police officers and those involved in police stops and bystanders has been signed into law,” Republican state Rep. John Kavanagh, the bill’s sponsor, told the Associated Press. “It promotes everybody’s safety yet still allows people to reasonably videotape police activity as is their right.” To be honest, these statements are the epitome of a conversation once heard between a pot and a kettle about the color black. Between the creativity of making body cam footage useless by cops themselves, in conjunction with citizens not being able to film the police, there is now a pathway to ensure almost 0% accountability for those who are on the front lines of policing.

In reality, when it comes to the future of any filming of any police interaction—whether by officer or suspect—I believe Arizona is the state to keep your eye on. Though California and Minnesota officers are using creativity to skirt the law, Arizona is going straight to the mats and changing the rules as needed.





FINAL THOUGHTS

Whether it's the children of Uvalde losing their lives because of a combination of police cowardice and finger-pointing at the chief, an unarmed 13-year-old boy gunned down due to a legal loophole of perception, or the possibility of the camera lens going black on those who it needs to focus on most, there are too many moving parts in all these examples to say that there is one true culprit behind the tragedies. It takes multiple laws and legal interpretations at multiple levels of local and federal governments to allow these horrors to flourish. Disgustingly, it seems we have enough legislators with enough gumption and savvy to be able to pull off the perfect storm of legality required to ensure that the status quo is maintained when it comes to accountability for law enforcement. Sadly, the primary side-effect of this level of legal mastery is the loss of innocent life.


 

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