Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Did a Houston cop set up George Floyd years before Minnesota cops killed him? How militarized policing escalated protests; 50 years of ignoring 'accumulated grievances,' and other stories

It's been a crazy few days for those of us who work on criminal-justice reform. The news right now is filled with analysis and accounts of all the protests, so I won't rehash it all. But here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention:

George Floyd in Texas
We've been learning more about George Floyd, who died in Minnesota at the hands of police but grew up in Texas and was a victim of corrupt police here, as well. Mike Hall at Texas Monthly wrote a brilliant profile of Floyd's time in Houston. In the 2nd grade, he wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice. As a young man, he rapped on one of DJ Screw's famous mixtapes. One thing Mike didn't catch, though, was that Floyd was one of the people potentially set up for a drug conviction by corrupt Houston PD narcotics officer Gerald Goines. (The Houston Chronicle first reported this last week in an addendum to an AP story; see the letter to Floyd here.) Harris County DA Kim Ogg sent him a letter last year informing him his case was one of those where Goines' uncorroborated testimony was the basis for his conviction. It was sent to an old address in Houston, so it's unclear if Floyd ever received it.

Militarized police response needlessly escalated things
Police didn't have to respond to protests in a militarized way, and doing so escalated the situation needlessly. This article from the Marshall Project made the case. 

'An accumulation of unresolved grievances'
More than 50 years ago, the Kerner Commission report identified a dozen fundamental "grievances" underlying 1967 riots in Detroit, Newark, and elsewhere and recommended changes to address them. They concluded that, "virtually every major episode of violence was foreshadowed by an accumulation of unresolved grievances and by widespread dissatisfaction among [black people] with the unwillingness or inability of local government to respond." All 12 grievances still apply today, but so does the observation that the most extreme protests stem from an "accumulation" of grievances. This is certainly the case with protests over the last week. For example, Grits has been documenting the local list of grievances here in Austin that led more than two dozen community groups to call for the firing of the police chief. Nobody listened. Maybe they'll listen now.

End qualified immunity
As people search for effective reforms in the wake of recent events, Grits keeps coming back to the issue of qualified immunity which keeps officers from being held accountable. The best thing would be for the US Supreme Court, which created it, to get rid of it. But state legislators could eliminate it in their own jurisdictions via legislation.

Bodycam footage from Midland released
The city of Midland released bodycam footage from the Tye Anders arrest, in which his 90-year old grandmother intervened to keep the 19-year old from getting shot. As mentioned last week, Grits sees parallels between the Midland episode and the Mike Ramos shooting in Austin. Both men had surrendered - Ramos with his hands in the air and Anders laying on the ground with his hands behind his head - but officers kept screaming at them to move toward them. Both men feared if they did, they would be shot, and indeed, many black men have been killed under such circumstances when officers claimed they made a "furtive movement." They were damned if they do, damned if they don't. Police and much of white America appear utterly clueless about the differences in perceptions of law enforcement among white and black folks. I feel like the Anders and Ramos incidents largely resulted from those differing perceptions: Those two unarmed men considered their situations and available options in a far different light than the officers pointing their guns at them.

Friendly fire episode recalls botched Houston narcotics raid
A Fort Bend Sheriff's deputy accidentally killed a deputy from a Fort Bend constable's office in a friendly fire incident, the Houston Chronicle reported. This episode reminds Grits that we've never seen the ballistics report from last year's botched narcotics raid based on Gerald Goines' fabricated probable cause that left a Houston couple dead and four officers wounded. I still very much want to know who shot whom in that case.

Use of force against inmates rises as TX prison pop dwindles
Even as the Texas prison population dwindles, use of force against inmates has risen inside TDCJ facilities, reported the Texas Tribune. This report was from February but I'd missed it because of my recent illness, so I wanted to record the link here.

Ranger revisionism
The San Antonio Express News ran a review of a new book on the history of the Texas Rangers by Doug Swanson which includes this remarkable passage:
“They were the violent instruments of repression,” he writes. “They burned peasant villages and slaughtered innocents. They committed war crimes. Their murders of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans made them as feared on the border as the Ku Klux Klan in the Deep South. They hunted runaway slaves for bounty.”

In addition, “they violated international law with impunity. They sometimes moved through Texas towns like a rampaging gang of thugs. They conspired to quash the civil rights of black citizens. They busted unions and broke strikes. They enforced racial segregation of public schools. They botched important criminal investigations.”

In sum, according to Swanson, the Texas Rangers “served the interests of the moneyed and powerful while suppressing the poor and disenfranchised. They have been the army of Texas’s ruling class. And they have consistently lied about it.”


jdgalt said...

Police didn't have to respond to protests in a militarized way,

Spare me. Looters and arsonists are not protesters, and conflating the two only discredits you.

The rest of us also have "accumulated grievances," but we haven't acted like barbarian hordes.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

JDG, the overwhelming number of protesters weren't looters and arsonists and Austin cops shot rubber bullets indiscriminately into crowds. All over the country, the militarized response by cops goaded folks into violence, and more often than not police initiated the violence, with "riots" ensuing in response. That's the truth whether you're willing or able to admit it or not.

There were no doubt anarchists who showed up intending to engage in violence, but that's simply not true of the overwhelming number of protesters in the streets over the last week.

JCuellar said...

Scott: I am a long-time lurker at this blog and appreciate the good work that you are doing. However, this post and your May 23, 2020 post regarding qualified immunity show a misunderstanding of the law regarding qualified immunity. Qualified immunity as created by the Texas Supreme Court is a defense to a cause of action under section 1983 of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1871 and also to Bivens lawsuits, both of which basically allow a plaintiff to pursue damages for violations of the US Consitution. The states, whether through legislatures or courts, have no authority to expand/limit the defense of qualified immunity in these cases; they have to apply it as proclaimed by SCOTUS (I suppose state legislatures could prohibit the defense from being raised by a state defendant, but that seems unlikely). To the extent that there is qualified immunity under state law for state law causes action, yes the state legislatures and courts could limit, expand, or abolish that defense as to those causes of action.

JCuellar said...

To continue, qualified immunity was not the issue in the Cameron Reedus case, but sovereign immunity. Under Texas law, state actors are immune from any cause of action, except to the extent that the legislature has waived immunity under prescribed circumstances. The basic cause of action in the Reedus a wrongful death claim under state law against the private university's police department. The question was whether sovereign immunity should apply to a private entity that exercises police authority that is specifically permitted under state law. The Court held the private university police department could not claim sovereign immunity.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know we needed paramilitary police to stop looters

JCuellar said...

To wrap up quickly, these types of immunity have differing policy histories, costs, benefits, etc. Qualified immunity is by far the more expansive and less justified of the two.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's time to end immunity: sovereign, qualified, unqualified or other, period.




Steven Michael Seys said...

I met Big Floyd while I was in TDCJ. I can assure all that he would be aghast at the way his name is sullied by people who seek an excuse to vandalize, loot and pelt law enforcement officers while the majority of the protesters take the blame. The people who are protesting peacefully and properly ought to join the rest of us in condemnation of the violence on both sides. While I am enraged that so called "peace officers" in MN deliberately and intentionally took the life of Big Floyd for a false accusation, I do not feel the urge to attack innocent businesses or LEOs who had nothing to do with it and do not really condone Big Floyd's murder. For the sake of God and in memory of a Man of God, Big Floyd, stop the madness!

Oil Lease said...

The FACT that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail policing is due to courts and legislature. If the non-badged person in question isn't using deadly force, then using deadly force is obviously not needed.

Twice as many white people are killed by cops as are blacks. But don't let facts get in the way.

I've been passed over for positions simply because I was white and male and the company had to hire someone who belonged to a minority, be it female, hispanic or black or the best of both, female and hispanic/black.

Is that a main complaint of Black Lives Matter? Do they complain they get into colleges while Asians are kept out at the expense of being better educated but the wrong ethnicity?

The courts and legislatures, esp. the congress in the district of criminals, are responsible for a plethora of disparities. Affirmative action is clearly unconstitutional.

The Just Us system needs to be purged as badly as police dept's and lawmakers(sic).

Anonymous said...

How can qualified immunity be ended? Section 1983 clearly states police (and others) are liable for their actions. The courts "interpreted" the plain langauge into what we have now.

Gadfly said...

Grits likes to bemoan people like me who vote outside the duopoly. He either surely knows, or else should learn, that the "librulz" on today's SCOTUS, with the possible exception of Sotomayor, SUPPORT qualified immunity as much as most Republican-appointed justices.

And, that's always been the case. The 1982 ruling establishing it was 8-1, with librul titans such as Thurgood Marshall and Bill Brennan voting FOR. FOR. https://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2020/06/george-floyd-scotus-and-wall-street.html

Anonymous said...

I never thought I'd be giving even a qualified defense of qualified immunity, but here I am--
I'm not sure anyone would want to live in a regime where officers could be bankrupted anytime they guessed wrong with regard to a hypothetical Fourth Amendment issue that different courts can't agree about. Police salaries are simply too low to justify that kind of gamble by an ordinary person looking for a job as an officer.
Having said that, the legal system of QI should be changed. Right now, for an officer to be liable, a plaintiff essentially has to show that (1) he violated a constitutional right (based on his very specific conduct); AND (2) that right was "clearly established" in his jurisdiction. The problem is that courts can sidestep (1) by just going to (2). The result of that, of course, is that you never get an appellate opinion saying that the conduct of the officer violated the constitution (or not). Thus, even what laymen would think are egregious violations of constitutional rights will NEVER be considered "clearly established."
So, if we keep QI, courts should be required to follow both steps, not just the second.

James S.

Tom said...

JCueller is wrong as heck about qualified immunity and the Texas Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court created the doctrine. Yesterday, the Court considered in conference doing, among other things, deciding whether to consider changing/revoking the doctrine. Clarence Thomas, arguably the most conservative justice, and Sonia Sotomayor, one of the most, have both been highly critical of the doctrine. The Court's decision on whether to consider the cases could be released Monday.
FYI: the Texas Supreme Court cannot create defenses to federal causes of action which apply nationwide. It can create defenses to state causes of action.
If you really want to decrease police misconduct, make governments liable for the acts of their employees that violate citizens' constitutional rights. Right now, they aren't.
You could add an affirmative defense to respondeant superior that cities are not liable if they have training and policies to protect constitutional rights and if they strictly enforce those policies.

Karla Floquin said...

Good post, there are forces at play out to discredit, divert and downplay the real issues, and to hijack peaceful protests in order to construct a false narrative of "black violence." The militarized response is not unexpected, given the large number of white agent provocateurs, looters and joyriders. As one news article put it:

"Drifting out of the shadows in small groups, dressed in black, carrying shields and wearing knee pads, they head toward the front lines of the protest. Helmets and gas masks protect and obscure their faces, and they carry bottles of milk to counteract tear gas and pepper spray. Most of them appear to be white. They carry no signs and don't want to speak to reporters. Trailed by designated "medics" with red crosses taped to their clothes, these groups head straight for the front lines of the conflict.

Night after night in this ravaged city, these small groups do battle with police and the National Guard, kicking away tear gas canisters and throwing back foam-rubber projects fired at them. Around them, fires break out. Windows are smashed. Parked cars destroyed.. reporters have witnessed the groups on multiple nights, in multiple locations. Sometimes they threaten those journalists who photograph them destroying property".


Anonymous said...

When I worked in aircraft maintenance I'd be willing to bet my non-union maintainers earned as much or less than a police officer and they all carried liability insurance no problem.

It's about time cops learned to work like the rest of us.

JCuellar said...

Tom: One can never do enough proofreading. I did mistakenly type that the Texas Supreme Court created QI, not SCOTUS. I think the context the rest of my posts--especially the sentence explaining that QI has to be applied as proclaimed by SCOTUS--make it clear that my brain meant SCOTUS although I wrongly typed Texas Supreme Court. The rest of my posts explaining the difference between QI and sovereign immunity and the Reedus case were accurate.

Apologies to all for the brain fart.

Jackie Buffalo said...

My son’s father’s pawn/gun shop was just looted and damaged badly but I still applaud the waaaaay overdue movement to reform the justice system and police. No justice no peace!!
For 20 years I lived in Garland and Dallas and the way I was harassed by GPD & DPD after a SIDS death in my home was unbelievable, shocking. The stress of the events lead to my son’s protracted Crohn’s and we were harassed right inside Children’s Medical Center of Dallas!! I was a single parent fighting for my son’s life while these grown men stalked, harassed and intimidated me on a daily basis. I filed complaint after complaint after complaint. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the system set up was in place long before I was targeted and that if I were a poor black women I would not have survived. I had solid support and understood the tactics used by these many former military individuals since I was raised in the Army by a master sergeant. My daddy didn’t raise me to be another candy ass that those criminals could just walk all over.

Immunity has to be the first to go! Our justice system is a broken running joke.... meanwhile - streaming on Netflix: Jeffrey Epstein Filthy Rich.

Jackie, happy and home in NC