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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/8/14

You Have the Right to Remain Alive

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From San Bernardino police swat team

I remember when police officers had to justify why they used deadly force.  And if they actually killed someone, boy, they would have some explaining to do.  Apparently now, in the police state of America, police have almost immunity to use any force they deem necessary on a citizen, regardless of the crime they committed, and if they even pose a threat. Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department in 1991 just beat up a man, and when they were acquitted there were city wide riots.  Twenty years later police are killing innocent citizens who pose no threat, and are being acquitted, and no one seems upset by this.  People need to become aware of what is going on.  Why there is no uproar about it, and what this would mean if we continue down this road.

There are two recent instances of this.  The first is the acquittal of two police officers responsible for the death of Kelly Thomas.  Kelly Thomas  was a schizophrenic, homeless man from California.  The event occurred in 2011 in Fullerton, California.  Two cops were called to the scene by a bartender who said he saw a man trying to break into some cars.  Officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli responded.  Now what prevents this story from becoming officers said, dead victim said story is that there is a surveillance video and audio from officers recording devices about this incident.  From those two sources it can be gathered that Thomas pleaded for his life, asked for his father as his last words on this earth, and still the officers continued to beat him with their batons until he escaped consciousness and died five days later.  Now, to be fair, a jury of twelve did acquit these officers, this was not an inside job that did not press charges.  However, California does not have the wisest juries in the nation--rivaling maybe Florida--this state has acquitted OJ Simpson, Robert Blake, and the officers that beat up Rodney King.  Still the officers escaped blame, and are asking for their jobs back. 

The second case involved a teenager.  Keith Vidal was an eighteen-year- old from North Carolina who had schizophrenia.  When he had an episode, his parents called the police and he ended up dead while in restraints.  This editorial is not going to go over the details of this case.  If you are reading this you have access to the internet and a Google search will turn it up some results, but to sum it up, Vidal was visited by three officers.  Two of them had the situation under control until the third officer showed up.  This third officer--Byron Vassey--of the Southport police department allegedly said, "We don't have time for this."  Then after Vidal was being held down by two officers and his father, Vassey shot him in the chest, killing him.  Of course the North Carolina Benevolent Association--a group for police officers--defends Vassey.  As of now Vidal is dead, Vassey is on paid administrative leave, no charges have been filed, and the story is slowly fading from the news.

The news coverage--or lack thereof--may be the most chilling element in these incidents of police using excessive force.  While this story was breaking the news was filled with the story of the New Jersey governor Chris Christie, using his political clout to cause a traffic jam in the town of a mayor that did not support him.  While that story was interesting--newsworthy for the sense of his constituents, and also if he has aims for higher office--the coverage of that story was excessive.  Overall Americans as a whole have more at stake if our officers of the law are able to kill unarmed citizens, than political bullying.  If you feel stories of wrongful death should not make national news, then why was the story of Trayvon Martin so widely covered?  Why is now anything involving George Zimmerman given top priority?  In regards to the Trayvon Martin case, whichever position you take with the verdict, Zimmerman was only a citizen, and Trayvon was attacking him.  With these two stories the police had the upper hand, the victim was powerless, and the action of the officers of the law should be under more scrutiny than that of a citizen.  Oh, and if you think these stories were not widely covered because of their location in small town.  On December 19th 2013 in Los Angeles, Brian Beaird unarmed, after a high-speed chase, was gunned down by up to 20 rounds from the LA police department.  And the incident was recorded live from a news helicopter, here.  Beaird also suffered from schizophrenia.

The scary trend in these stories is the not the subtle execution of mentally ill people--however, these victims were all mentally ill--but the absolution of police officers killing non-threatening U.S. citizens.  We cannot allow our nation-state to permit officers sworn to uphold the law, execute American citizens. Out of all the political slippery slopes there is not much possibly worse than killing innocent citizens.  What kind of police state do we want to live in, where a traffic stop can lead to our death?  What if this tragedy is not just limited to the mentally ill?  What if a deaf man cannot hear a command from an officer?  Or a blind man cannot see a gun pointed at him?  What type of fear as citizens would we then live under?

In the cases presented here, the victims were not harmful.  They were killed when they proposed no threat.  If we require a clear and present danger to attack citizens of other nations, why do we not have this same requirement for our own?  In these cases no officer has yet to be convicted of any crime.  In these cases there was some news coverage, but not with any type of urgency.  As if police killing innocent people is not something the public should know, not something the public should be afraid of, and not something the officers should be held accountable for.  This could be the start of a horrible trend in this nation of our police officers killing citizens with almost impunity.  Any death by an officer should be under investigation with extreme scrutiny.  There are more than enough times that police killing citizens are justifiable, but these instances were not, and there is videotape to prove it.  What is also unjustifiable is how we stand by as a nation and allow this to happen without any outrage.



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Drew D'Amato is the author of the novels Social Studies and Bloodlines. He also has a masters degree in history, and has taught at the high school and college levels. When not writing he spends his time getting himself into trouble.
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