Three Police Brutality Cases To Watch In 2017

Justice won’t come easy. Here’s what you can do to help.

Unarmed Black people are killed by police at an alarming rate. Despite eyewitnesses, clear video of police misconduct, officers’ history of violence/racism, and a host of other evidence, justice has been out of our reach.

In fact, attempts at justice are often met with threats and disapproval, though most instances fail to even show up on our newsfeed. Judge Olu Stephens in Kentucky attempted to address systemic racism in his courtroom by dismissing all-white juries, but he was reprimanded. Black women like Judge Vonda Evans of the Wayne County Circuit Court receive threats when they speak out against racist officers. Moreover, jury nullification continues to threaten the lives of marginalized people.

It’s rare for officers in the United States to be convicted of murder. Cops get a pass — especially if their victim is Black. From 2007 to 2014, only 41 officers were charged for on-duty shootings. In more than 97% of police brutality cases, officers serve no time at all. Even when there is a conviction, the sentences are often less time than someone caught selling $20 worth of weed would get. Arkansas state trooper Larry Norman’s sentence for killing an innocent disabled person? Ninety days in jail and a month of community service. Officer Harmon-Wright shot an unarmed woman seven times, then served less than three years. Between 1999 and 2004, 76 unarmed people of color were killed by police. In 2015 over 100 unarmed Black people were killed by police, but zero officers were convicted.

In 2015 over 100 unarmed Black people were killed by police, but zero officers were convicted.

The implicit bias is clear, but what can we do about it? How can we hold officers accountable? What can we do to prevent police brutality? Clearly, the answer is complicated, but we can do it. Every state and every case is different, but here are three cases to keep an eye on in 2017:

Too often, we react to murders and miscarriages of justice with a hashtag, after the fact. But the killings come so fast we barely have time to grieve, recover, and respond. Rather than wait and react, we must plan a strategy. Let’s look how we can be more proactive.

Hold former mayor Daley accountable for police brutality in Chicago

In 2012, when Daley was called in to discuss the police torture of Michael Tillman, he originally refused to speak. Attorneys and advocates fought for over a year to make this deposition happen, and it bears watching.

In the ’80s, Daley, then mayor of Chicago, was involved in a string of police corruption incidents. Daley was directly informed that police were using electric shock torture and beatings, but refused to investigate. He even approved a call for the death penalty in a case when he knew it was a false confession. Daley refused to hold police accountable, and so we must hold him accountable. We are less than a month away from Daley’s scheduled deposition on police brutality. We still have time to bring attention to it. His behavior proves his apathy, so we have to motivate him to act.

Calls To Action:

  1. Demand action from Daley. Every day leading up to the deposition, we can pressure the former mayor to stand up for what’s right. These depositions generally go unnoticed. Politicians get away with saying “I don’t recall” when asked about instances of police brutality. Public pressure is essential. The deposition is scheduled for January 17th. Advocates can call his office directly: 312–744–5000. If you are physically in Chicago, dial 311. Letters can be sent to City Hall: 121 N. LaSalle Street Chicago, Illinois 60602.
  2. Advocate for transparency. The only way to hold Daley accountable is to make the videotaped deposition accessible by the public. How else will we know whether he truly wishes to stop unarmed people from being killed by police? Call and visit the state senator’s office: 2929 S Wabash Ave Ste 102, Chicago, IL 6061; 312–949–1908. You can also tweet to the State Senator, Mattie Hunter: @SenatorHunter.

Demand Sgt. Hugh Barry’s trial for the murder of Deborah Danner

Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old woman, was shot in her home in the Bronx after neighbors called the police saying she was acting erratically. Police were aware of her mental instability, and yet the officer drew his gun instead of his taser. Although community leaders like Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. have spoken out about the incident, no court date has been set.

As with many officers who use excessive force, Sgt. Barry has a record of brutality. He was sued in 2012, and then again in 2014. Abuse of power is not a new thing for him and he won’t stop on his own. Wanda Perez-Maldonado, chief of the Public Integrity Bureau (PIB), has been assigned to the investigation of Danner’s murder. Although her tenure with PIB has been brief, she has worked in New York through the Attorney General’s office for years. She was first appointed to combat corruption in 2011. This is a promising background, but there is no indication that she intends to be aggressive in this case.

Calls To Action:

  1. Hold Chief Larry Nikunen to his word. Request a public copy of the investigation report on why a taser was not used. NYPD assistant chief Larry Nikunen told the public soon after the shooting that “The reason [a taser] was not deployed will be part of the investigation and review.” This investigation should not be conducted by internal forces. Instead, an independent community organization should get access to properly investigate. Call, write, and tweet to the NYPD, calling for transparency.
  2. Keep this story relevant. Writers and reporters can request access to grand jury files and continue writing about when the trial date will be set. You can write letters to the editors of magazine where you hold subscriptions. Ask your favorite writers to advocate for grand jury reform. Pitch articles about Sgt. Hugh Barry’s trial date. Keep this relevant so that when we call for transparency, people are more aware of the severity of this issue.
  3. Endorse, share, and write about Campaign Zero, then tag Wanda Perez-Maldonado and her alma mater, Columbia Law School, on Facebook and Twitter.
flickr/Tony Webster

Monitor Jeronimo Yanez’s trial for killing Philando Castile

Philando Castile was not holding a weapon; it didn’t matter. His murder was filmed; it didn’t matter. The weapon he admitted to having in the car was legal; it didn’t matter. Governor Mark Dayton claimed that the State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would handle the situation, but what has he done? We’ve already talked about direct actions in these instances. On another level, when we finally do see a court date assigned, it matters who is in the courtroom. There is a disparity between the arrests of whites and Blacks in the state where Castile was killed. This has ramifications for all cases, because fewer Blacks are eligible to serve on juries. A 2001 study clearly revealed that the more white people who served on a jury, then harsher the punishment they would implore concerning nonwhite defendants. Voting rights and jury duty are inextricably linked. As if that wasn’t enough, the Black judge set to preside over the trail was recently removed.

Calls To Action:

  1. Ask for a date to be set. There is no specific trial date on the books. It is imperative that we speak out and continue to vocalize the need for a trial date to be set in this case. Public pressure matters. Fax and call County Attorney John Coi’s office: Fax 651–266–3015, call 651–266–3222. A pile of 100 faxes pressuring the office to set a date will have an impact. You can also contact the news release contact on his cell phone: Dennis Gerhardstein, 651–600–1830.
  2. Register to vote. This is how you become eligible to serve on a jury. We need more people who are socially conscious and we need more people from diverse backgrounds. Update your voter information. Even if you don’t think voting matters, serving on a jury does. It can literally mean the difference between life and death. This is important for all African-American residents in Minnesota, but it is especially significant in this case if you are a resident of Falcon Heights, MN.
  3. Inquire about the new city commissioner in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Contact the city directly: 651–792–7600 (main number), 651–792–7610 (fax), mail@falconheights.org. Having a commissioner with a record of holding government departments accountable can make a difference. Although their application has closed, there is still time to ensure that they choose the best applicant from their list of candidates.
  4. Ask why Judge Edward Wilson was removed from the trial.
We cannot wait for verdicts and settlements to go viral — by then it is too late.

We can absolutely influence sustainable action by preparing ourselves now, rather than waiting for the system to work. The ACLU has a guide to fighting police abuse. We cannot wait for verdicts and settlements to go viral — by then it is too late. It is our responsibility to plan now so that we are informed enough to be much more proactive on police brutality in 2017.