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NNPA Newswire Special Report: Police Shootings of African Americans

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “When I went to the police academy, which was some time ago, a lot of people were coming back from Iraq, and they were looking for jobs. These people were trained killers because they’re soldiers. And, now you’re putting them not just [on the street] and giving them tactical solider-looking gear. And, they feel like they’re back on patrol in frickin’ Ramallah or Bagdad.”

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“Police shooting policies need to change, not only for minorities but for everyone,” said forensic psychiatrist and expert witness Dr. Carole Lieberman. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

White Ex-Officer is Working to Change the Culture

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

A police officer’s bullet shattered a window and fatally struck Atatiana Jefferson as she and her 8-year-old nephew played video games inside her Texas home.

Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean, who never identified himself as a cop, and, without warning, fired into Atatiana’s window from outside the home, fatally striking the 28-year-old.

Just a week earlier, Ex-Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger received a 10-year prison sentence for unlawfully entering the home of 28-year-old Botham Jean and murdering him.

Guyger claimed she had worked a late shift, was tired, and entered an apartment she thought was her own. She said she mistook the successful accountant as an intruder.

Both Atatiana and Botham were Black. Dean and Guyger are White.

study conducted earlier this year by researchers at three universities concluded that African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than White people.

Researchers found that police will kill roughly 1-in-1,000 Black boys and men during their lifetime. For White boys and men, the rate is 39 out of 100,000.

In the aftermath of the killing of Atatiana, an attorney and former detective spoke with NNPA Newswire about police shootings. Because of the sensitive nature of his current assignment, we will refer to the former officer as Detective Jones.

Jones is working with several police departments to find better training solutions, primarily for situations when officers are interacting with individuals of color.

DETECTIVE JONES:

Among my friends who are police officers, I’m considered one of the more – let’s say liberal, as it were.

I’m hoping we can bridge build and repair relations between my brothers and sisters of varying backgrounds. So, that’s where I’m coming from. 

From the police side of things, I’ve seen racist cops. 

Unfortunately, a lot of that is because of what the job can do to people. 

But I think that the key to the current problems, aside from the racial issue, is what the police chief in Fort Worth said. He used the best possible words when he said we need to hire people with a servant’s heart, not people with a warrior’s heart. 

A Soldier’s Mentality

When I went to the police academy, which was some time ago, a lot of people were coming back from Iraq, and they were looking for jobs.

These people were trained killers because they’re soldiers. And, now you’re putting them not just [on the street] and giving them tactical solider-looking gear. And, they feel like they’re back on patrol in frickin’ Ramallah or Bagdad. 

You know, when the soldiers are sent off to war, one of the ways that the government makes soldiers more effective is by dehumanizing them — calling them names like bugs.

It’s a good word to make to dehumanize them, and then they come home. 

And, it’s not hard for them to jump into things by taking back that concept and using it with minorities. Whatever the minority may be in that community.

The minority could be White people. I know it’s not usually that, but it could be anybody. 

So then when they use that language that, you know, aggressive and derogatory language against minorities, it’s just what they were trained to do as soldiers.

 And, one of the things I can tell you from personal experience, and I mean, in the department that I was in when I started my law enforcement career in 1999, it was a small department. 

And there was only maybe one military guy in there. And he had all the knowledge and the tactical gear and everything. Scary.

As soldiers kept returning home, that was easy pickings for police departments, you know, all over the country. They are hiring all of the time.

So, then the department starts getting, you know, an increasing number of ex-soldiers. And, now they’ve got their own culture. And, within the department, they’ve almost created their own little thing. And the non-military cops see it, and they want to be part of it. So, they start to adopt the attitude a little bit. 

It Starts at the Top

You know, here’s what it boils down to — the negative aspects of hiring are so much stronger than the positive aspects. If you hire bad apples, it’s so much worse than the good you get from hiring good apples. 

So, a lot of this focuses on hiring the right people. Because when there’s a hillbilly cracker in the office, guess what? That is your department.

On the other side, cops are continually being taunted, and sometimes there are those purposefully agitating elements from the community. And it makes it difficult and sometimes impossible for them to do their job.

I think when it comes to hiring, police departments need to pay more attention to bringing in people who are servants.

They need to pay more attention to training officers.

Another thing, when I was in the police academy, we were trained on how to figure out when to shoot someone as opposed to not shoot someone.

That’s a considerable distinction right there.

In my career, I had a situation where I would have been justified in shooting and killing someone. If I had done that in that particular situation, it would have been perfectly justifiable. But I also had a way out of it, and I got out of it. I didn’t have to kill anybody. The training would have said, kill, it’s the ABC’s. Pull out your gun and pull the trigger.

Training Not One-Size-Fits-All

It’s not possible to train all departments across the country the same way. It’s not constitutional. It’s not practical. The challenge is different from community to community.

A national policy would not work as a state-by-state policy. And what happens is the communities end up electing their head law enforcement officer, unless they’re appointed by other elected officials.

The department should be a reflection of the sentiments of the community. If you’ve got a community that is mostly White and they don’t like Black people or vice versa, then that may well be reflected in the department for sure. 

Incompetent Law Enforcement Practices Adversely Impact Us All

The overwhelming majority of Americans will never work for a police department or a law enforcement agency. 

Yet, law enforcement impacts all of us in one way or another. 

However, African Americans are disproportionately affected. So, everyone has a responsibility to do what we can to not only understand the culture(s) that influence police practices at the local level, but to also raise our voices as impacted citizens when we see problems.

The killing of unarmed African Americans by officers that are sworn to serve and protect has reached epidemic proportions. No citizen, regardless of race or background, should fear being killed by police when he or she is sitting innocently in their home, or in any other non-threatening situation.

“Police shooting policies need to change, not only for minorities but for everyone,” said forensic psychiatrist and expert witness Dr. Carole Lieberman. 

“It is shocking that police still aren’t trained more effectively to shoot to disarm and not to kill. Their go-to automatic response seems to be, shoot to kill – especially where it concerns minorities,” Liberman stated.

“This is not only tragic for black people and other minorities, but it is dangerous for the police themselves to cause these neighborhoods to become frightened and then act in a self-protective way which gets misinterpreted by the police.

“To shoot anyone in their own home should carry a severe penalty,” Lieberman concluded.

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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She Bought Freedom for Herself and Other Slaves Today a Park is Named in Her Honor

Alethia Browning Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised. 

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Alethia Browning Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

In her early years, Alethia Browning Tanner sold vegetables in a produce stall near President’s Square – now known as Lafayette Square – in what is now Northwest Washington, D.C.

According to the D.C. Genealogy Research, Resources, and Records, Tanner bought her freedom in 1810 and later purchased several relatives’ release.

She was the first woman on the Roll of Members of the Union Bethel AME Church (now Metropolitan AME Church on M Street), and Turner owned land and a store at 14th and H Streets, which she left to her nephews – one of whom later sold the property for $100,000.

Named in her honor, the Alethia Tanner Park is located at 227 Harry Thomas Way in Northeast DC.

The park sits near the corner of Harry Thomas Way and Q Street and is accessible by foot or bike via the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just north of the Florida Ave entrances.

“The first Council legislative meeting of Black History Month, the Council took a second and final vote on naming the new park for Alethia Tanner, an amazing woman who is more than worthy of this long-delayed recognition,” Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said in 2020 ahead of the park’s naming ceremony.

“[Her upbringing] itself would be a remarkable legacy, but Ms. Tanner was also active in founding and supporting many educational, religious, and civic institutions,” McDuffie remarked.

“She contributed funds to start the first school for free Black children in Washington, the Bell School. Feeling unwelcome at her predominately segregated church, she & other church members founded the Israel Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church fell on hard times and was sold at auction by creditors, she and her family stepped in and repurchased the church.”

Born in 1781 on a plantation owned by Tobias and Mary Belt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, historians noted that Tanner had two sisters, Sophia Bell and Laurena Cook.

“Upon the death of Mary Pratt (Tobias had predeceased his wife) in 1795, the plantation, known as Chelsea Plantation, was inherited by their daughter Rachel Belt Pratt,” historians wrote.

“Mary Belt’s will stipulated that Laurena be sent to live with a sibling of Rachel Pratt’s while Sophia and Alethia were to stay at the Chelsea Plantation.”

Tanner sold vegetables at the well-known market just north of the White House in Presidents Park. It is possible – and probable – she met Thomas Jefferson there as he was known to frequent the vegetable markets there along with other prominent early Washingtonians, according to historians at attacksadams.com. 

“There are also White House records suggesting she worked for Thomas Jefferson in some capacity, likely doing various housework tasks,” the researchers determined.

Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.

“Self-emancipation was not an option for all enslaved peoples, but both Alethia and her sister Sophia were able to accomplish this, almost entirely through selling vegetables at the market,” the researchers continued.

“Alethia Tanner moved to D.C. and became one of a significant and growing number of free Black people in the District. In 1800, 793 free Black people were living in D.C.

By 1810, there were 2,549, and by 1860, 11,131 free Black people lived in D.C., more than the number of enslaved peoples.”

Historians wrote that beginning at about 15 years after securing her manumission, Alethia Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

All in all, Tanner would have paid the Pratt family well over $5,000. All accomplished with proceeds from her own vegetable market business, they concluded.

“Alethia Tanner, it’s an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and perseverance,” D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter said at the park’s dedication.

“I just learned about this history through this, so it shows how when you name a park, you really educate people on the historical significance.”

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