Violence Prevention Efforts in Los Angeles, a Problematic Study on Racial Bias in Policing, and LAPD Body-Cam PoliciesJuly 19th, 2016 by Taylor Walker
AQUIL BASHEER’S WORK TO REDUCE GANG VIOLENCE IN LA AND ACROSS THE NATION, DURING A TIME OF HIGH TENSION BETWEEN THE POLICE AND BLACK COMMUNITIES
Aquil Basheer is a nationally known pioneer in the field of violence prevention, whose techniques have been implemented in cities worldwide.
For 40 years, Aquil Basheer, a former member of the Black Panther Party, and the son of Los Angeles’ first African American firefighter, has been working to reduce violence in LA. Now, Basheer travels around the globe training firefighters, social workers, students and former gang-members on how to become gang interventionists and bring peace into the turbulent neighborhoods in which they live and work.
Before Basheer launched his own training company, he was the executive director of Pete Carroll’s A Better LA.
Basheer’s training program teaches participants how to mediate ceasefires, help kids avoid slipping into gang life, and control neighborhood rumors, among other hands-on skills.
Basheer has co-authored a book called, Peace in the Hood, and two documentaries have been made about his work—License to Operate, and, more recently, The Black Jacket (preview above). He also one the 2010 California Wellness Foundation’s Peace Prize.
Here’s a clip from LA Magazine’s Jessica Ogilvie’s profile on Basheer:
Mike Wallen, Omelet’s chief content officer and the producer of what would become the film License to Operate, learned about Basheer’s hesitation early on. “When we first approached these men and women,” Wallen says, “they expressed their concerns. They didn’t want to be exploited; they didn’t want their story to be sensationalized.”
Wallen took the concerns to heart, but his plan to steer clear of gratuitous imagery wasn’t received well from initial audiences. “We got a lot of feedback from people: ‘Where’s the shooting? Where’s the yellow tape?’,” he says. “But it’s so much less about the violence and so much more about community restoration and creating hope and opportunities for kids. It’s a story of redemption. They feel they have to try and create the opportunities for the next generation because it wasn’t there for them.”
The film puts Basheer, who calls his relationship with the police a “respectful coexistence,” in the spotlight at a time of peak conflict, when tension between police and black communities is at a combustible high. “When you tell the police department, ‘We are going to give you military rights, military equipment, military firepower, equip you to be a force that’s going to war,’ well, guess what? There has to be an adversary in that scenario,” he says. “The community has become that adversary, and that is felt.”
RAPPER THE GAME AND SNOOP DOGG INVITED GANG MEMBERS AND LEADERS TO AN ANTI-VIOLENCE SUMMIT
Dozens of LA-area gang members attended a meeting convened by rappers Snoop Dogg and the Game on Sunday in South LA, where a number of speakers (including gang intervention leader and Homies Unidos founder Alex Sanchez) to discuss peace—between cops and communities of color, as well as between gangs—in the wake of a number of high-profile shootings in recent weeks.
This isn’t the first time Snoop Dogg has worked to end violence between LA’s gangs, and the Game recently raised more than $70,000 with his son for Tommy Norman, an unsung hero of a cop—a police officer in Little Rock, Arkansas who takes kindness and community policing to a new level. The money will go toward Norman’s efforts to contribute to the community he serves (which is predominantly a community of color), funding things like toys, snacks, and drinks for the kids he meets.
The Game said he felt compelled to hold the summit following the recent killing of his foster brother. The Game explained that he wants his three children to live in a safer world.
Snoop and the Game headed a peaceful march to LAPD headquarters earlier in July, and joined LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti for a press conference (see above video).
RADLEY BALKO: PROBLEMATIC DATA FROM HIGHLY DISCUSSED POLICE RACIAL BIAS STUDY
The front page of last Tuesday’s New York Times included a much-talked about story about a study that surprisingly found no racial bias involved in police shootings. The study, authored by Harvard economics professor Roland G. Fryer, Jr. looked at police reports of more than 1,300 shootings in big city police departments, including Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Orlando, and found that officers were more likely to use non-lethal force on black suspects than white suspects. But when Fryer and his team looked at their data on the actual shootings, they found no racial bias. In Houston, the city focused on the most, Fryer found that officers were around 20% less likely to shoot a black suspect than a white suspect in situations where lethal force might have been justified.
But how accurate are Fryer’s startling conclusions?
Washington Post’s Radley Balko explains the biggest problem with the study: it’s based entirely on police reports, which are nearly always written by the officers involved in the incidents, and can be uneven, incomplete pictures of incidents. Balko explains that if you were putting together statistics on medical errors, written statements from the accused medical professionals wouldn’t be the only data source you’d tap into. Here’s a clip:
We want to reform policing. But we want those reforms to be informed, based on good data. The problem is that nearly all the data we have on incidents involving police officers using lethal force comes from reports written by police officers, and nearly all of those reports were written by the officers who were actually involved in those incidents.
The current law on when police officers may use lethal force allows for what critics (like me) would say is far too much discretion. It doesn’t account for police officers who needlessly escalate a situation and then have no choice but to use lethal force due to the circumstances they created. It doesn’t account for mistakes made by police officers themselves that might have caused an officer to reasonably believe a suspect posed an imminent threat. It doesn’t account for police officers giving contradictory commands, then shooting someone for misinterpreting them.
For the purpose of the discussion, let’s break shootings and killings by police into three categories: incidents that were illegal and unnecessary, incidents that were legal and necessary, and incidents that were legal but unnecessary. If you’re asking whether current laws and policies allow for too many police shootings, looking at how many shootings are justified under current law and policy is just question begging. It’s that last category — legal but unnecessary — that we want to explore. Unfortunately, it’s also a category that is plagued by subjectivity and the simple fact noted above: Most of the data we have comes from police reports themselves.
If we were to compile statistics on, say, medical mistakes in an effort to make policies that would improve the state of medicine, we wouldn’t get all of our data from written statements by the accused doctors or hospitals. If we wanted to compile data on conflicts of interest in politics, we wouldn’t rely on politicians to self-report and adjudicate when their vote may have been influenced by a campaign donation. But this is essentially what we do with shootings by police officers.
The argument here is not that there’s something uniquely untrustworthy about cops. The argument is that almost every police officer who has just shot and killed someone will defend his or her decision to kill. It’s human nature.
WHAT WILL THE LAPD BODY-CAM POLICIES LOOK LIKE?
As the LAPD and other major law enforcement agencies are rolling out officer-worn cameras, the question of who has the right to see all this video (and when, and under what circumstances) has quickly become the subject of debate between police, civil rights advocates, and the public.
The LAPD has maintained that videos would not be released unless required by a court, arguing the importance of officer and victim privacy and investigation integrity. There are critics of this stance, including the president of the police commission, who believes the policy should be reconsidered.
Department officials say they have been keeping an eye on San Diego’s progress with a policy of releasing portions of officer-involved shooting videos after once the DA chooses not to charge the cops involved. But Craig Lally, head of the LAPD officers’ union, says releasing any video would be a mistake.
The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
Supporters of broader access to police video welcomed a review of the LAPD’s policy. An attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union called it “long overdue.” But, he added, officials would need to craft specific guidelines preventing the LAPD from sharing only footage that helped officers.
“They can’t just leave it to their discretion to release video if it exonerates officers and withhold it if it’s incriminating,” said Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.
But the president of the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers sharply rejected the idea of releasing any of the recordings. Craig Lally said he feared the decision to release certain footage would be influenced by public or political pressure, jeopardizing evidence that could be used in a trial.
“Once you open that Pandora’s box, who’s going to decide what’s going to be released?” Lally said. “Is it going to be the chief of police? Is it going to be the mayor? What’s the criteria going to be?