The birds and the bees… in a racist America

“When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me. One was the usual birds and bees… The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.” — Starr Carr, main character of The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas states Black people are 5 times more likely to be targeted by the police force than their white counterparts. Black men, specifically, are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police over the life course than white men. In fact, a Black person is killed about every 40 hours by police and New Orleans is no exception. The city was given the title of America’s most corrupt police department by Tom Perez, former assistant attorney general for civil rights at the US Department of Justice, just less than a decade ago.

A car parked on the wrong side of the road, facing the wrong way. Guns drawn behind their backs, NOPD officers Isaiah Shannon and Markus Caldwell approach the driver’s side with the assertion that they smell marijuana. Minutes pass and a struggle ensues, ending with passenger Anthony Cowart shot in the leg. A decade ago? No. In fact, it was March 10, 2021. Legally, officers can shoot to kill or use lethal force if there is an imminent danger or threat posed by the target to the officer. The 1989 Supreme Court case of Graham vs. Connor further ruled that courts have to consider the circumstances of the situation in order to determine whether or not the officer acted reasonably and if the shooting is justified. At this time, it is unclear whether or not Officer Shannon intentionally fired the bullet that was fired into Cowart’s leg, but “use of force” investigators will continue to investigate his actions. Officer Shannon’s fate, as of now, is confined to desk duty. Unsurprisingly, this is not Shannon’s first time dealing with a police misconduct infraction. In fact, he was fired, or “dismissed” for his actions in 2013 after approaching a parked vehicle with his handgun drawn. He claimed to have seen a passenger reach for a weapon and proceeded to shoot him out of perceived threat, yet thankfully missed.

After video evidence was released, the circumstances of the situation differed from Shannon’s own testimony, showing that his target did not have a weapon and was fleeing from the scene when Officer Shannon shot in his direction. A year later, he was dismissed, yet was able to appeal to the Civil Service Commission under pretenses that he reasonably feared for his life when the shooting occurred, thus, making the infraction justified. He regained his post in 2017. There is little to no accountability for officers with multiple police misconduct cases against them, however, a doctor’s medical license may be revoked for reasons such as sexual misconduct, insurance fraud, patient abuse, medication violations, unethical behaviors / malpractice, etc. Derek Chauvin, the officer who murdered George Floyd, had been involved in eighteen police misconduct cases prior to his fatal use of force on May 25, 2020. Since March 29, 2021, former officer Chauvin has been on trial for second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter charges. 

Under the Violent Crime Control Act and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, consent decrees were established as agreements between a city with growing numbers of misconduct and their police department. The regulations within these contracts vary between cities, but generally, they might include reforms such as retraining of the officers, remodeling uses of force, etc. The pushback of consent decrees (largely led by the Trump administration) maintains the idea that they consume too many of the city’s resources; however, the budget for a large, metropolitan city’s police department like NYPD is $5 billion a year. Thus, the argument for or against consent decrees becomes less about the financial implications of them and more about whether or not issues of police misconduct are deemed “worthy” in the grand scheme of things. New Orleans is currently under an eight-year reform plan functioning as a consent decree and the city is seeking to end it this year. According to court monitors, the city has done a great deal of reform – from creating a special unit to investigate officer force, equipping officers with body cameras, and improving investigations of domestic violence and sexual assault. EPIC, or Ethical Policing is Courageous, is an NOPD peer intervention program developed to incorporate active bystandership within the police force. This program gives lesser-ranked officers the ability to intervene if they feel that higher-ranked officers are abusing their authorities. Riding on the success of EPIC, NOPD is partnering with another national police peer intervention policy, Georgetown University Law Center’s ABLE program. This program is offering a comprehensive active bystandership event that will be provided at no cost to local law enforcement agencies. 

Given the recency of the brutality involving Officer Shannon of the NOPD and former officer Chauvin of the MPD exhibiting the severe lack of accountability for police officers around the country, consent decrees may not be the end-all-be-all of police misconduct solutions. Instead, efforts may be directed towards recruiting a more professional police force, with higher-education degrees required for high pressure, critical scenarios. Being able to carry a gun or use force in a potentially dangerous situation would be an earned privilege, not an assumed right. 



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