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  • When Police Violence Is More Than Violent Policing
  • Robert Bernasconi (bio)

Police, Terrorism, Race, stop and frisk, stand your ground, war on crime, war on terror

When in December 2012 Jamaal Moore, a 23-Year-old African American, was shot to death by police at a busy intersection in Chicago, it was in broad daylight and the incident was captured on the videotape of the gas station where the incident took place. The police quickly confiscated the videotape and, so far as I am aware, it has not resurfaced. A police spokesperson said at the time that Jamaal was armed, but that claim was subsequently withdrawn. The police officer who shot him claimed that he was charging at her, but the two bullets that penetrated his body entered his back. Eyewitnesses reported seeing Jamaal lying face down in handcuffs with nobody attending to him, even though he was perhaps still alive. Whether he was handcuffed before or after he was shot is not clear. What some called a riot broke out at the scene among those who had witnessed the incident. Eight or nine were arrested, one of them accused of “clenching his fists as if he intended to strike an officer” [End Page 145] (Smith et al. 2012). None of the police was arrested either in connection with the death of Jamaal or, again as far as I am aware, the disappearance of evidence. One reads of numerous police shootings in cities throughout the United States in short paragraphs in the newspapers or hears about them in isolated sentences in news reports, but one rarely discovers the details unless one has a personal connection with the victim, as I did with Jamaal. The public indifference contrasts with the pain faced by the relatives. Jack Bouboushian of the Courthouse New Service reported that, when Jamaal’s mother, Gwendolyn Moore, arrived on the scene, the white police officer told her it was “just another nigger dead” (2013). Regrettably, that seems also to have been the attitude of the Chicago political establishment and the national media.

Outside of the local African American community, there was no public outcry over Jamaal’s killing. It did not fit the media’s narrative at the time. The incident happened when there was a national uproar over the number of homicides in Chicago, and this may have contributed to a general reluctance to focus on an incident that would have introduced a new level of complexity into the discussion. Certainly the proponents of “tougher policing” as a potential solution to violent crime had no reason to want the focus to shift to Jamaal. But there is an inevitable question over whether the anxiety the media promoted over violent crime contributed to Jamaal’s death. The anxiety not only works to empower police officers on the street, but it also probably exaggerates the fear that individual police officers might experience, thus leading them to overreact or make mistakes, especially where race intervenes.

There is a clear association between criminalization and racialization. The criminalization of members of a race, especially males of a certain age, constitutes them as threatening and thereby appears to excuse certain forms of violence being used against them. Nobody in the United States today would give the police the authority to shoot unarmed civilians without fear of recrimination or public investigation, even if it does promote law and order, but that is the justification that is sometimes made for the notorious stop-question-and-frisk program in New York City. The police are authorized to stop and question only those who are suspected of being about to commit a felony or misdemeanor. Furthermore, frisking is only permissible if the police officer suspects that he or she is in danger of being physically attacked. The [End Page 146] object of the law is to disarm the suspect, but the police have used it as a way to search people for drugs, which was not what the program was originally intended to allow. Weapons are found only very rarely; drugs are found more frequently. It is an effective way of searching minorities for drugs and thus getting them...


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pp. 145-152
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