Black lives, blue lives, and police incompetence: connecting the awful dots

There’s something wrong with these scenarios, and it’s the same thing:

1) Michael Brown’s body was left in the middle of Canfield Drive for four hours after he was fatally shot.

2) A crime scene investigator told the St. Louis County grand jury that he didn’t take measurements of the blood spatter at the site where Brown had been shot because the distances were obvious and that he didn’t take his own photographs of the crime scene because the battery in his camera had died and he didn’t have a replacement battery on hand.

3) Police and EMT’s failed to perform CPR on Eric Garner after he became unresponsive, even though a bystander was openly asking why they weren’t doing so.

4) After NYPD Officer Peter Liang shot Akai Gurley during an unauthorized vertical patrol of a housing project apartment tower, he and his partner, Officer Shaun Landau, maintained complete radio silence for six and a half minutes, failing to report the shooting or respond to radio calls about the shooting, which a neighbor had reported to a 911 operator. Instead, Liang texted his union representative while Gurley lay dying. Neither officer administered first aid or requested an ambulance.

5) Bosnian residents of the Bevo neighborhood in St. Louis have held protests asking for a stronger police presence in the aftermath of a series of vicious, unprovoked, ethnically motivated attacks by black assailants, one of them fatal.

6) It took half an hour for an ambulance to reach the gas station in Berkeley, MO, where Antonio Martin had been shot by police. Police on the scene did not administer first aid in this time and refused to let Martin’s mother and girlfriend come to his side while he died.

7) A community group in a violent part of Baltimore has effectively taken over basic peacekeeping duties that the Baltimore Police have chronically failed to properly discharge at great public expense.

8) Nearly nine hours before he fatally shot NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn, Ismaaiyl Brinsley nonfatally shot an ex-girlfriend, Shaneka Thompson, after letting himself into her apartment in Owings Mills, MD. When Baltimore County police responded, she immediately identified Brinsley as her shooter and said that he had stolen her cell phone. It took forty minutes from their arrival on the scene for police to start tracing the stolen phone. Over the next four hours, Baltimore County police tracked the stolen phone north to Midtown Manhattan; Brinsley, remorseful about having shot Thompson, was using it to try to contact Thompson’s mother to inquire about her medical condition. They did not, however, contact other agencies along Brinsley’s route to ask for mutual aid in arresting him, even though he was believed to be armed and dangerous and had been identified by a victim who knew him well as the suspect in a domestic burglary and attempted murder. It took more than three hours after Brinsley arrived in Manhattan and two hours after he abandoned the stolen phone in Brooklyn for Baltimore County police to alert their counterparts at the NYPD 70th Precinct that Brinsley was likely in their jurisdiction.


Pat Lynch, the bombastic president of the NYPD Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, is completely off-base to accuse the Eric Garner protesters of having “blood on their hands.” A few of them wanted to avenge violence with violence, at least in theory, but what the vast majority of them want is for the police to stop killing people without provocation. Only a tiny, deranged fringe is not saddened to hear about the cold-blooded executions of Ramos and Liu or the grieving widows, children, and parents that they left behind. Neither of them had done anything to Brinsley. He murdered them because he was angry, ill-adjusted to life, and mentally ill, and regarded them as ciphers standing in for all American police officers. Brinsley was a Looney Toons who was wanted in the recent shooting of an ex-girlfriend hundreds of miles away. He didn’t represent the #BlackLivesMatter protesters any more than Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu represented Daniel Pantaleo in the minds of any sane person.

Ironically, the Baltimore County cops who tried to stop Brinsley from a distance over the course of eight hours probably feel that they have Ramos’ and Liu’s blood on their hands because they failed to stop him. In a rough practical sense, they do, but of course they didn’t want their suspect in a shooting investigation to butcher two innocent cops in another state. Even though they were incompetent in failing to immediately alert other police agencies about Brinsley’s whereabouts, I have no doubt that they made a good-faith effort to catch Brinsley. It’s wrongheaded to blame them for failing to show the foresight of Nostradamus and the snap judgment of Jack Bauer in pursuit of a suspect who was unhinged and had a lengthy record of impulsive crime but wasn’t hardened by Baltimore standards. The Baltimore County Police Department and the NYPD got caught up in the same Shakespearian tragedy. The tragedy will only deepen if officers who failed to stop Brinsley take their own lives in grief or guilt.

The violence has to stop, and the police incompetence has to stop. These things are related. Operationally, American police are less like Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson than the cartoon sheriffs on Family Guy. The failure of police in Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Manhattan, and Brooklyn to intercept Brinsley before he murdered Liu and Ramos is horrifying, but these are negligible sins of omission compared to the aggressive corruption and brutality and ramshackle incompetence with which many law enforcement agencies conduct business as a matter of course. It looks worse because two innocent cops got murdered by a mentally ill lifelong criminal as a result. The shooting of two cops in cold blood is more spectacular than the wrongful imprisonment of innocent defendants due to official incompetence and perjury, or the failure to bring actual violent criminals to justice because forensic crime labs are in total disarray and the detectives responsible have impossible back workloads, or the failure to deploy enough patrol officers to protect the public from black-on-black ghetto violence, “knockout game” attacks, and white-girl-bleed-a-lot racial murders. Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s one-off murder-suicide rampage is much more spectacular than the diversion of patrol and investigative resources away from the protection of vulnerable populations in dangerous neighborhoods so that the police can put down another protest at the site of another white-on-black police shooting or carry on with an entrenched municipal tax-farming racket.

Ismaaiyl Brinsley had the blood of two innocent Brooklyn patrolmen and an ex-girlfriend on his hands, but he was just one violent, mentally ill, unemployable drifter that the police tragically didn’t catch in time. Pat Lynch, Jeff Roorda, and their colleagues are covering for bad, incompetent, and poorly trained cops in the deaths of Michael Brown, Kajieme Powell, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, John Crawford, Zemir Begic, and Antonio Martin. Yes, I included Begic in this list. If the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department hadn’t been deploying so many officers to suppress protests against the police in two counties, it might have been able to deploy enough patrolmen and detectives to keep black underclass thugs from running amok in Bevo. There aren’t any assurances, but “might” is a lot better than “didn’t.” The SLMPD owed Begic and his survivors better than that. When racist thugs are targeting Bosnians on account of their national origin within the St. Louis city limits and municipal, county, and state police are rioting against peaceful protesters in Ferguson, the SLMPD’s duty is to protect its own constituents from violence, not to provide mutual aid to violent police in another jurisdiction, or even to clear sit-in protesters out of buildings within the St. Louis City limits.

Getting Kajieme Powell into a mental hospital alive and intact and keeping black thugs from running campaigns of racial violence against their Bosnian neighbors should not be mutually exclusive goals. Both would have been instances of good policing. Instead they were failures of policing that got two men killed.

We’ve had quite a few of these lately. Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who might otherwise have directed his violence and anger exclusively at friends and relatives, took note of the trend and directed his penultimate act of violence against two innocent cops, before committing one final act of violence upon himself. Christopher Dorner acted in a similar, but much saner and more competent, fashion, waiting to pull the trigger one last time until after he had lured San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies into a residential arson honeypot. Eric Frein is in pretrial detention, having led police on a major manhunt through the woods of Eastern Pennsylvania.

I’d be surprised if we’ve seen the last of this carnage. May the circle be unbroken.


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