Thursday, October 29, 2020

An experience uncommon for most Americans, except other Black men, 'A Knee on His Neck'. Washington Post. October 2020

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, right, kneels as the hearse carrying George Floyd's body arrives at North Central University for a June 4 funeral. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
Oct. 26, 2020
HOUSTON — From the day George Floyd moved to Texas as a child to the day he was killed in Minneapolis, the police were omnipresent in his life.
They were there when Floyd and his siblings played basketball at the Cuney Homes housing project

, driving their patrol cars through the makeshift courts. They were there when he walked home from school, interrogating him about the contents of his backpack. They were there when he went on late-night snack runs to the store, stopping his car and throwing him to the ground. They were there, surrounding his mother’s home, as his family prepared for their grandfather’s funeral.
They were at the bus stop, on the corner, and on his mother’s front porch. And they were in Minneapolis — 1,200 miles from where Floyd first said “Yes, officer,” to a patrolman — when he took his last breath in handcuffs.
The frequency of Floyd’s contact with police during his 46 years of life is an anomaly for most Americans, except for other Black men. While the majority of public interactions with police begin and end safely in the United States, according to 2015 survey data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, for Black Americans, those encounters are more likely to happen multiple times in a year, more likely to be initiated by police and more likely to involve the use of force.
The constant presence of police meant minor violations such as trespassing led to jail time. Drug addiction and mental health problems that Floyd suspected he suffered from resulted not in treatment or diversion programs, but in felony convictions and a lifetime of indigence.
Over time, Floyd’s convictions escalated to theft and ultimately armed robbery of a woman who was pistol-whipped by a group of men while at home with her children. Even when asserting innocence, though, Floyd and his neighbors learned to take plea deals to avoid a court system that they concluded would not give them a fair shot.
Floyd was stopped by police or charged at least 19 times in his adult life, according to records, friends, and family. In a handful of encounters, he was let go. Other times, the charges were serious and shaped the trajectory of his life.
Meanwhile, officers in the police department that funneled Floyd into the system had been given probation for homicide and civil rights violations. The Houston Police Department remained mired in accusations of corruption and racism into the 1990sas it leaned on policing tactics that are now considered unreliable and prejudicial.
One officer, who claimed to have witnessed Floyd selling crack in 2004, is now being investigated for using false evidence in another case. Two former Houston police chiefs said they struggled to reform the department against an entrenched culture of bias and excessive force, but left feeling only moderately successful.

Floyd’s persistent cycle through Harris County’s criminal justice system during the War on Drugs was remarkably routine for Black people like him.

“Nobody is going to look out for you,” Floyd’s siblings recall their mother, Larcenia Floyd Jones, saying as she admonished them about how to survive an interaction with police.

The rules were: Speak the King’s English. Try to comply. Don’t give White folks an opportunity to think you did something wrong.

And perhaps most critically: Respect the police.

Sports kept Floyd out of trouble during his youth, friends and relatives said. But as he aged into adulthood, that changed. His friend Travis Cains struggles to distinguish their many encounters with police during their time in Cuney Homes. But he does recall the pebbles of broken street gravel that stung his cheek when police pushed him and Floyd to the ground. He remembers the “jump-out boys,” a plainclothes Houston Police unit of the gang squad known for flying out of cars after a drug transaction and pouncing on anyone they could arrest. He recalls officers finding drugs where there had been none.

Injustice has been happening to us all our life,” Cains said.

Show-ups and throw-downs

The year Floyd’s family moved to Houston in 1977, city police officers faced murder charges in the slaying of a Mexican American war veteran who was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct at a bar, then tortured and pushed into a bayou to drown. A judge sentenced the offending officers to probation and issued a $1 fine for negligent homicide in the killing of Joe Campos Torres. Protesters chanted, “A Chicano’s life is only worth a dollar!”

Tensions exploded on the first anniversary of Campos Torres’s arrest at Moody Park, when officers arrived to break up a fight during a Cinco de Mayo celebration. The crowd retaliated, invoking Campos Torres’s name. People ransacked stores, torched police cars and threw rocks at officers in bloody bedlam.

Months later, police fatally shot a White teenager who allegedly stole a van and were convicted of planting a gun to justify the killing as self-defense. The officers were sentenced to probation, infuriating the teen’s family and reigniting calls for reform. The “throw-down,” or the practice of planting a gun or drugs at a scene, came into popular parlance when talking about Houston Police misconduct.
By 1982, when future police chief C.O. Bradford was a young officer, the department’s reputation had been corroded by allegations of corruption and racism. During one of Bradford’s training classes that year, a White officer burst through the lecture room doors to announce that the mayor had brought in an “n-word” police chief from Atlanta. Chief Lee P. Brown was appointed as the first Black man to lead the Houston Police — a development that so divided the Black and White officers in Bradford’s class that the instructor ended class early.
Brown came in to shift the policing paradigm through a neighborhood-oriented model that put officers in precincts inside communities, including Third Ward. Floyd’s neighborhood was an easy target for “bean-counting officers,” said Bradford. Federal grants provided perverse incentives for locking up people, doling out overtime money based on the number of arrests, tickets and calls.
“You had a lot of crack in Houston and officers that needed hours or numbers,” said Bradfordwho is Black. “They would swoop through the neighborhood and make these low-hanging fruit arrests to keep numbers up. They picked up the same person over and over again.”
Charles McClelland Jr., who patrolled Third Ward as a rookie officer and later became police chief, said the attitude among the rank-and-file was “we’re going to do whatever is necessary to stamp out crime, suppress crime in pretty much any way that we saw fit as a police department. And sometimes that means using force. And sometimes that meant using extreme force.”
“There was no police-community relations,” he said.
Being an officer in Texas was like “a Black man joining the Klan” in the eyes of many, McClelland said. It made little sense to the Black residents of areas such as Cuney Homes to see a Black face in uniform when they viewed police as the state’s instrument of oppression. He remembered feeling the same way growing up in East Texas, where police enforced Jim Crow laws and kept people from voting.
On Third Ward’s streets, McClelland noticed a common reflex among his colleagues.

“They overreacted, sometimes, out of fear,” he said. “They didn’t understand Black people or minorities; they didn’t understand their culture; they didn’t grow up around Black people or minorities and they always felt a greater threat when we would engage minorities. They always had a sense that they would get hurt or killed, and I rarely felt that.”

Parts of Third Ward were simultaneously over-policed and under-policed, said Scott Henson, a Texas criminal justice reform researcher. While officers were incentivized to aggressively police low-level crimes, “if someone was shot or threatened, Black folks were not finding police at their beck and call,” said Henson, who also worked on police accountability for the ACLU of Texas and was a policy director for the Innocence Project of Texas.

Brown, tried to stop the racially disparate treatment of Houston residents, or at least curtail it, former officers said. He recruited and promoted Black and Hispanic officers, developed youth programs and brought citizens — including local ministers — into the public safety strategy.

But little had changed by the time Bradford, an acolyte of Brown’s, became chief in 1996. He took a similar approach, wanting his officers to be problem-solvers who help prevent crime and not just enforce the law. He fired criminal officers, opened a victim services unit and encouraged de-escalation training.

Bradford said he had marginal success fighting an intractable police culture and accusations that he was “soft on crime.” Later, scandals at the city crime lab, internal department strife and botched police operations marred the end of his tenure.
[Who was George Floyd? Post Reports explores the experiences of the man who sparked a movement.]
A year into Bradford’s tenure as the head of Houston Police, Floyd was charged with his first drug offense.
The 23-year-old was back where he had started after a promising collegiate athletic career disintegrated, and he came home from college with nothing to show for it. He was charged with selling less than a gram of cocaine, a state jail felony. After a 10-month sentence at Lychner State Jail, Floyd returned to Cuney Homes with a couple hundred dollars in court debt and few ways to pay.
“Now he’s walking the street, he can’t get an education, he can’t get a job, he can’t get a place to live. So what is he going to do?” said longtime activist James Douglas, who leads the Houston NAACP and is a Texas Southern University law professor.

Cains, Floyd’s longtime friend, said he and Floyd were harassed regularly by police who knew they had records. One night, officers detained them during a trip to the corner store on suspicion of driving a stolen car, and threw the pint of ice cream they had bought to the ground. The officers’ suspicion was unfounded, Cains said.

Floyd was incarcerated in state jail months later, accused of holding a gun to a man’s head and demanding his keys and wallet, according to Harris County records. His court-appointed attorney fought the charges, alleging Floyd had been unlawfully arrested and identified in a “one-man show-up” in which police presented Floyd alone to the victim for identification on the spot. Show-ups are a standard tactic in police work, but studies show they can be highly suggestive.
Prosecutors ultimately reduced the charges to theft, leaving out the firearm charges. Floyd took the deal, but it would not be the last time he would serve time based on questionable eyewitness identification.
Police were operating on a belief that the more arrests they made, the safer the community would be, McClelland recalled. They believed that locking up young offenders for a long time and releasing them as older adults would push them to age out of crime.
“But we didn’t understand — and I don’t know if people in Houston Police management, at that time, understood — the long term consequences of that type of philosophy,” he said.
As a result, a generation of young Black Americans could never fully return to society......
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