There has been uproar over the shooting deaths of yet another two black men by police. One is the case of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma who was gunned down after his car broke down on a road. The link has a video but I have not watched it.
From different angles, the videos show the same scene.
An unarmed black man walks on a Tulsa, Oklahoma, road with his hands in the air. Police officers follow closely behind him as he approaches his vehicle. He stands beside the car, then falls to the ground after one officer pulls the trigger.
The second is the death of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Scott, a father of seven, was killed by police in an apartment complex parking lot as officers looked for another man named in a warrant they were trying to serve.
His family said Scott, an African-American, was unarmed and sitting in his car reading a book, waiting for his son to come home from school.
But Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said Scott exited his car with a gun, not a book. He said officers couldn’t find a book at the scene.
In the case of Scott, the story put out by the police is different from that given by the family. Usually, the police are given the benefit of the doubt. But there have been enough stories about how the police cover themselves after the fact by making up stories that justify their actions that now they are far less credible than they used to be.
This case, though it ended far less tragically than the other two, illustrates why we cannot take the police at their word. It tells the case of Michael Picard, a protestor who was a licensed open-carry gun carrier, whose camera was slapped out of his hand when he recorded a police officer’s actions on a public street. When he picked it up see if it was damaged, the officer grabbed it and took it away and kept it on the hood of his cruiser. Unbeknownst to him, the camera was still recording as he and his fellow officers tried to manufacture charges against the man that would justify them arresting him.
So we get the three troopers at the cruiser talking about what to do. Michael’s permit comes back as valid, they say “oh crap,” and one of the troopers says “we gotta punch a number on this guy,” which means open an investigation in the police database. And he says “we really gotta cover our asses.” And then they have a very long discussion about what to charge Michael with—none of which appear to have any basis in fact. This plays out over eight minutes. They talk about “we could do this, we could do this, we could do this….”
In Connecticut, police officers have clear requirements under the law to intervene and stop or prevent constitutional violations when they see them. But at no time did any of the three officers pipe up and say, “why don’t we just give him his camera back and let him go.”
In the end they decide on two criminal infractions: “reckless use of a highway by a pedestrian,” and “creating a public disturbance.” They have a chilling discussion on how to support the public disturbance charge, and the top-level supervisor explains to the other two, “what we say is that multiple motorists stopped to complain about a guy waving a gun around, but none of them wanted to stop and make a statement.” In other words, what sounds like a fairy tale.
It’s surprising that we are still regularly hearing about incidents in which police are not respecting the constitutional right to record in public. But to hear police officers casually discussing the fabrication of criminal charges to retaliate against a protester is even more shocking. As [Connecticut ACLU legal director] Barrett put it to me, “It’s one of those things that on your darker days you may think happens all the time, but you never really thought there’d be a video recording of.”
So when the police complain that their version of events is not being believed, they should realize that there is good reason for that.
The ACLU is now suing the police department for wrongful arrest and retaliation.