The Law Enforcement Agenda
By Cindy Gomez-Schempp
In the moments following the extrajudicial executions of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, social media was flooded with an outcry for justice. Protesters, family, and friends gathered to mourn the loss of these two men. They did not die because they were selling CD’s or because they had a busted tail light. They died because they were black. We did not have to ask what Mr. Sterling or Mr. Castile may have done to provoke such an attack, because we saw with our own eyes what happened.
The nation shifted their focus to the police, and began to ask why so many black and brown lives are taken so thoughtlessly. We began to question why brutality towards black and brown bodies was so commonplace. Why were people dying at the hands of those paid to protect and serve them?
The answer to this question is not a complicated one. Since the birth of our nation, we have thrived on the oppression of black and brown bodies. We enslaved them, raped them, committed genocide, segregated them, placed them on reservations, denied them the same opportunities as whites, and profited off of their labor through mass incarceration; through the use of the privatized prison system.– all the while becoming more prosperous as a nation. There is a direct correlation between this oppression and prosperity.
And why do the police exist at all? They were an invention of wealthy whites as a means to catch runaway slaves and protect the rich white elite from working class folks– mainly brown and black, but also migrant workers. Cops today aren’t that different from the original slave catchers. Paired with our corrupt justice system, police today are still in the business of catching, enslaving, and killing people of color. This is why wall street criminals and wealthy white rapists commit crimes with no more punishment than a slap on the wrist, but a black man can get 20 years-life in prison for stealing $31 worth of candy bars. People of color are shot point-blank every day just for existing. Every time our police brutalize black and brown women, men, and children; they are sending a clear message: “Your lives don’t matter. Know your place.”.
But the media– rather than try to address these critical issues– decided to parrot the fears of their frightened white consumers. We were given full detail of both Sterling and Castile’s police records, along with blind speculation of other crimes they may have committed. As if this somehow justified their murders. These cruel acts of posthumus defamation was usually placed moments after soundbites or quotations from their devastated loved ones had aired. It was a deliberate ploy by media so that if we began to empathize too much for Alton and Philando, we could be reminded that they were the ones to blame.
And then Dallas shootings happened. At a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest- only two days later, five police were shot and killed while on duty. Before we could start to make sense of it, the media balked at the deaths asking “Is this the work of Black Lives Matter? Are the police being hunted?” They displayed pictures: Mark Hughes (a black man) carrying a gun, naming him the person of interest. (He was not their man. He was licensed to carry, and was said to have been assisting the police during the panic. He received numerous death threats for this. Precious little was done by media to clear his name after it was determined the news ‘got it wrong’. ) Before we could even start to cry for the officers who died, the media forced the public to think the peaceful mourners and BLM was responsible; that black people were responsible all while negating the reality of the trauma and danger both were suffering.
We now know that Black Lives Matter was not responsible by the gunman’s own admission. It was one man. He was killed by the police using a robot carrying explosives. While we all may have felt a certain degree of relief, a different uneasiness set in. Is this the way we handle criminals, now? No due process? Now the police can kill us with robots?! [Note: First person to be killed by robots used by cops? A black man]
Many tried to mourn the loss of the police officers.
And separately, they wanted to mourn the loss of Alton and Philando.
But the media was not going to allow that. They shoved a microphone in front of Diamond Reynold and actually asked her to comment on the police who were shot. Police killed her boyfriend in front of her and her four year old daughter two days earlier. This was not just inappropriate. This was cruel and dehumanizing. Mourners and protesters continued to fill the streets. But they were not met with love from the police. They were met with riot gear, pepper spray, and handcuffs.
This is not just a national problem. This is a local problem, too.
There was a small Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Fargo. There was an embarrassingly short article written about it in the Forum. The author of that story decided that she would hijack the message and present it to the public as “All Lives Matter”. That type of sentiment is common in the mostly white population of North Dakota. What’s most disturbing is when you see this deceptive messaging coming from law enforcement.
In the aftermath of the death of officer Jason Moser, Sheriff Paul Laney lumped Moser’s death in with 4 other officers who died around the same time – – under completely different circumstances – – and stated that cops were ‘being hunted’. The implication being made in the media, and echoed by Laney is that the climate around police brutality such as protests and Black Lives Matter were making cops a target.
Few people know or understand the circumstances of officer Jason Moser’s death. What we do know is that there was a white male with a prior homicide on his record, a history of domestic violence and gun. He had a gun, even after a homicide and domestic violence because he is white. He was never adequately punished for his past actions, nor properly deterred from future violence so he continued criming – – as white supremacists do – – until the day he died at the hands of Fargo police. We know there was an armed standoff with police that went on for hours. At the end of that standoff, the front of the house looked like it had been bombed. We know the shooter was hit by police bullets and that at some point he became unresponsive (many assumed it was because he was unconscious). What we don’t know is what actually happened on the day Jason Moser died.
Sheriff Laney tried to use the death of Moser to imply that black people posting brutality had something to do with why Jason died; and why cops everywhere were in fear for their lives. The fargo police department would like you to believe that Jason was killed by the armed white man in the house. They do not want you to even think of the possibility that Moser may have died by friendly fire–at the hands of his fellow officers– that his death was not heroic or meaningful but rather empty and pointless; the possible outcome of overzealous and highly militarized cops with too little training and too many bullets.
Moser wasn’t the only casualty at the Fargo police department. In the years leading up to his death, a shake up took place within the department. Complaints regarding the actions of police and their leadership surfaced and were swept under the rug. All of which culminated in Lt.Jeff Skuza committing suicide under very disturbing circumstances. Media reported Lt. Skuza killed himself after disciplinary action over a misfired taser. His widow published a skathing editorial in which she stated that Chief of police Keith Ternes was responsible for the death. After an internal investigation Chief Ternes stepped down and David Todd took his place.
It was the perfect opportunity for the Fargo police to take stock of their department and to make change. But that isn’t what happened. Instead, Fargo PD ran headlong into the nations most contentious and brutal repressions of native americans in modern history: The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. Sheriff Paul Laney was one of the lead coordinating law enforcement in North Dakota, and he was featured in many stories where brutality and excessive force were used against unarmed protesters. Laney’s distaste for the protesters surfaced in videos and news stories. Recently he has announced he will step down and not run for a third term as Sheriff. And, while that is a relief given his many years of ‘service’. I wonder if we haven’t missed another opportunity to take stock of our law enforcement. We need to stop sweeping these problems with our local law enforcement under the rug.
Recently, police chief David Todd was featured in a New York Times editorial in which he spoke about gun control and domestic violence. When Officer Jason Moser died, Sheriff Paul Laney wanted you to believe his death was somehow related to BLM protests and cops being hunted; now Chief Todd wants to put a new face on the death of officer Moser. He wants you to believe that men with a history of domestic violence should not be allowed to own guns. And, while it is a worthwhile step in the advancement of gun control, it’s still a lie. White supremacy killed Moser. It is the impunity of white supremacy with which the local police enforce the law disproportionately on black and brown bodies that maintains this corrupt institution. The fact that white people– no matter how heinous their crimes– can go free, own guns, and act with impunity; that’s what killed Moser. White supremacy in law enforcement is destroying the department, and eroding people’s trust of police.