On Tuesday, February 10th, three police officers in Pasco, Washington, fatally shot a man who had been throwing rocks. The case has sparked local protests and talk of an investigation in Pasco, a city of about 68,000 people located some 215 miles southeast of Seattle. The victim, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, was a citizen of Mexico and the fourth person to be killed by Pasco police in 7 months (that’s more fatal police shootings than happen in some entire countries in a year, or longer).
While the victim’s family has filed a lawsuit claiming that the police murdered Mr. Zambrano-Montes “execution style,” the Pasco police chief exchanged letters with Eduardo Baca, Consul of Mexico. The Consulate of Mexico in Seattle expressed “deep concern over the unwarranted use of lethal force against an unarmed Mexican national by police officers.”
This exchange mirrors some of what is happening with police in Madison, Alabama, after Madison Police Officer Eric Parker turned himself in to face charges of assault in the third degree. Officer Parker threw a 57-year-old Indian citizen to the ground during a “brief encounter” that left Sureshbhai Patel partially paralyzed. A spokesman for the Indian government said this weekend
“What we will communicate is that we are extremely disturbed. This is a matter of concern for us, and India and the U.S. as open pluralist societies need to address these issues and find ways in a mature manner so that these are aberrations and are not the norm.”
While law enforcement, media outlets, and statisticians debate whether police shootings are on the rise in the United States, occurrences like these may bring the debate to a new level. These links are just a brief sampling: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Given recent events, it isn’t a far stretch to say that events like these could easily turn into international incidents, jeopardizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and our allies, and even resulting in travel warnings and travel bans for tourists coming to the States. It is clear that U.S. law enforcement in general has been under worldwide public scrutiny in the aftermath of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
A discussion for another day will have to focus on why it is unfair—and both misinformed and unhelpful—to lump all U.S. law enforcement into one group. For now, consider the case of police in Richmond, California. Richmond is a city of 106,000 people near San Francisco, and an example of how leadership and accountability can prevent fatal police incidents.
…in Richmond, historically one of the most violent cities in the Bay Area, the Police Department has averaged fewer than one officer-involved shooting per year since 2008, and no one has been killed by a cop since 2007.
That track record stands in sharp contrast to many other law enforcement agencies in the region, according to a review of data compiled from individual departments.
Many observers and police officials attribute Richmond’s relatively low rate of deadly force to reforms initiated under Chief Chris Magnus, who took over a troubled department in this city of 106,000 in 2006. Magnus implemented a variety of programs to reduce the use of lethal force, including special training courses, improved staffing deployments to crisis situations, thorough reviews of all uses of force and equipping officers with nonlethal weapons such as Tasers and pepper spray.
The American public needs to take lessons like this to heart, and to call on our leaders for real change. If you’re not convinced, read this Op-Ed on The Washington Post from December 2014, entitled “What America’s police departments don’t want you to know.”
These issues reach the heart of our mission at The Goodis Center. While we are working to expand our research on law enforcement, and to develop educational and training materials for law enforcement in the U.S., the time for a national discussion—and for meaningful reform—is now. Let Richmond be an example of what can be accomplished with the right leadership, training, and mentality, and start calling on your local police to respect human rights and uphold their sworn duty to protect and serve.
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