Written by MC alumni Eric Cooper
To: Johanne Milios, Staff Writer at The Sun (MCHS)
I am writing this letter referencing your opinion article “Police Brutality: Who can we call for help when the help is the problem” you wrote in the MCHS Sun. A little background on me: I am a former MCHS student and I graduated in 2004. I wrestled for Coach Campo and Coach Miller, both of whom I still revere to this day. I am a diehard Sun Devil fan, and I am extremely proud of my high school experience. Today I have a career, I am married, and I have a child on the way. I never went to a four-year college; I only have my high school diploma.
I understand you are a high school student writing for your paper as preparation for a career in journalism. I also understand that your piece was tabled as an opinion piece. I feel you should know that currently a large portion of your audience receives their information in the form of editorials, tweets, FB posts, Reddit, etc. and you (as a budding journalist) should appreciate the power of the printed word.
I am writing to you because I am disappointed in the facts that you represented in the article. I noticed you credited copcrisis.com as your main source. I also noticed the lack of statistics from the Federal Bureau of Justice (FBI) and Department of Justice (DOJ) in your article. In the spirit of a true debate, I would be happy to provide you with my opinion as well.
In page 7, you listed the death of eight persons at the hand of Law Enforcement. You provided a small blurb on the circumstances of their deaths meant to incite emotion from your readers and referenced some fact to support it. I just wanted to go over a few of the details that I feel were neglected in your article.
You stated the following:
“Michael Brown, Jr. (18) August 9, 2014 Ferguson, Missouri Brown was suspected of robbing a convenience store. During an altercation, Officer Darren Wilson shot at Brown 12 times, resulting in Brown’s death. Brown was left lying in a street for four hours after being shot.”
Here are several facts that you have left out, that I feel obliged to point out to you. There is video evidence showing and confirming Michael Brown had just robbed a convenience store just prior to his encountering Officer Darren Wilson. Robbery (a felony) is the taking of money and goods by force, threat of force, or fear. Michael Brown then attacked Police Officer Darren Wilson with overwhelming force. Brown was shot and killed because the officer feared for his life. These are articles of evidence which were proven in the widely-publicized investigation. I invite you to read the investigation in its entirety at (link). The investigation sums in its conclusion: “As discussed above, Darren Wilson has stated his intention in shooting Michael Brown was in response to a perceived deadly threat. The only possible basis for prosecuting Wilson under section 242 would therefore be if the government could prove that his account is not true – i.e. that Brown never assaulted Wilson at the SUV, never attempted to gain control of Wilson’s gun, and thereafter clearly surrendered in a way that no reasonable officer could have failed to perceive. Given that Wilson’s account is corroborated by physical evidence and that his perception of a threat posed by Brown is corroborated by physical evidence… there is no credible evidence that Wilson willfully shot Brown as he was attempting to surrender or otherwise not posing a threat”. But what does this all mean and why does it matter? It means that Officer Darren Wilson was investigated by Department of Justice for 18 USC 242 (civil rights violations) and was cleared.
I feel it necessary to point out that moving Mr. Brown’s body sooner than necessary would have compromised evidence necessary to a fair and unbiased investigation. Although it may seem cold to leave the deceased at a scene for what may seem like a long time; it is a necessary part of investigating a crime.
I would also like to notate that the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pose shown on your article was manifested by the subsequent shooting and death of Michael Brown.
Keith Lamont Scott
You stated the following:
“Keith Lamont Scott (43) September 20, 2016 Charlotte, North Carolina Scott suffered a traumatic brain injury from a previous accident and as a result could not communicate with the officers when they fatally shot him.”
Here are some facts that you left out:
Keith Lamont Scott suffered a traumatic brain injury in an unrelated motorcycle accident in October 2015. He was still able to move, speak, and had full use of his faculties. Scott was seen entering a convenience store shortly before the shooting. There is video evidence of a bulge in Scott’s lower right pant leg consistent with the holster and gun found at the scene. Scott was observed smoking marijuana in a parking lot (still a felony in North Carolina) while waiting for his child’s school bus. After seeing Scott brandish the handgun, law enforcement officers asked Scott to drop the gun at least 10 times. This is corroborated by the video his wife took during the tense standoff. Ultimately, Scott did not comply, presented the officers at the scene with a threat, and was shot and killed. The gun was not planted as Scotts DNA and fingerprints were also found on the firearm. Consequently, the Charlotte District Attorney will not be filing charges against Officer Brent Vinson (a black police officer).
You stated the following:
“Tamir Rice (12) November 23, 2014 Cleveland, Ohio After police reports of a suspect with a gun, officer’s showed up to the scene and within two seconds, officers fatally shot Rice, who was playing with a toy pistol.”
Here are some facts that you left out:
Officers Loehman and Garmback were dispatched to a call regarding a black male subject pointing a gun at people. Although the dispatcher was given information that the gun Tamir had in his possession was likely a toy, and Tamir was likely a juvenile; the information was not provided to the responding officers. At the time of the shooting, Officer Loehman was not a seasoned officer – he was in training. Officers Loehman and Garmback drove into the parking lot and saw a few people sitting underneath a pavilion next to the center. Officer Loehmann saw a black gun sitting on the table, and saw Tamir pick up the gun and place it in his waistband. Officer Loehmann got out of the car and told the boy to put his hands up. The boy reached into his waistband, pulled out the gun, and Officer Loehmann fired two shots.
Due to the totality of the circumstances including the information he was provided with: Officer Loehmann believed Tamir presented a deadly threat when he reached into his waistband and grabbed a realistic replica of a firearm. Although no criminal charges were filed against Officer Loehman and Garmback, a civil lawsuit was filed against the city and settled out of court. The City of Cleveland will be paying the Rice family approximately $6 million dollars as a result of the suit.
Here is a copy of the court photo of the gun:
I do not condone the shooting of persons in any way, particularly children. I also recognize that an officer has the right to protect his/her safety in the course of their duties. I can only say this was the culmination of what appeared to be bad training, practices, and tactics. But to say that an officer purposefully shot a 12-year-old without any regard is a misleading statement to provide to your readers.
You show what appears to be a Black Male between the ages of 14-25 that has his hands up with a title of “Hands Up Don’t Shoot”.
As I said before, the #BlackLivesMatter was manifested as a response by the shooting of Michael Brown. Much of what was reported prior to the completion of the investigation was false and circulated via social media in a matter of seconds. Again, I feel I must impress upon you the concept of responsible journalism. As such, I have come to see this pose as the product of a false narrative since Michael Brown was not trying to surrender peacefully to Officer Wilson at the time of his death.
You are kind enough to mention Tennessee v. Garner (1985) in your article to cover the fleeing felon rule. It seemed as your mention of the case was a warning to your readers that law enforcement can shoot fleeing felons – but you failed to exemplify the circumstances needed for a trained law enforcement officer to utilize such force. I give you this scenario: A man kidnaps a woman and rapes her at gunpoint, the man is spotted by police officers, and runs towards an elementary school just as the final bell rings. Does this seem an appropriate situation for an officer to shoot the fleeing felon? Does a potential hostage situation exemplify a greater danger to the public?
Instead you offered your readers the following: “In recent stories of unjust police violence, suspects have been reading, walking, or causing concern due to having an illness or disorder. They weren’t reported for threatening the lives of others, yet cops responded as if they were.” Can you please point out the case where a person was shot and killed for reading or walking?
As far as your statement regarding police contacting persons who were causing concern due to an illness or disorder – are officers not supposed to contact persons who are causing concern? I present you with the following questions and invite you to delve into them freely:
- What is the percentage of radio calls for persons with mental disabilities?
- Is it increasing/decreasing each year?
- Is a person with a mental/physical disability incapable of committing crime?
- Is a person with a mental/physical disability incapable of presenting a deadly threat?
- Should a person be treated differently because of a mental or physical disability?
- Should Law Enforcement stop all proactive policing efforts?
- What kind of training is provided to law enforcement officers to properly diagnose persons with mental or physical illness or disorders?
- Should officers be able to diagnose persons with a mental or physical illness
- Should law enforcement only contact persons when responding to radio calls?
You referenced precedent cases regarding use of force. If your intent was to speak to the utilization of force in law enforcement, I think it would have been valuable for you to speak about the United States Supreme Court ruling Graham V. Connor (1989). I mention it because the case outlined a non-exhaustive list of factors for balancing an individual’s rights and an officer’s right to protect him/herself. These include: the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officer or others, and whether the person is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. The Graham case also set forth the “reasonableness officer standard”. That is the use of force an officer utilizes must be judged from the same perspective of an objectively reasonable officer rather than that of a person with a 20/20 hindsight perspective. The reason the precedent exists is because law enforcement officers are often forced to make split second decisions in a tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving environment.
In your article, you state “If cops aren’t capable of making quick rational decisions, then perhaps they aren’t suitable for such a demanding occupation…A cop can give ceaseless arguments as to why they shouldn’t be blamed for on-the-job misfortunes, but at the end of the day it is the officer’s own choice to put their safety at risk by taking up the duty to protect and serve.”
An officer is human. They are trained to make a rational split-second decision under extreme duress. The question to ask is was the situation handled in the best way possible? Sometimes a situation cannot be improved regardless of what decision an officer takes. Alexander Pope said it best, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” I understand that to you it may seem unfathomable for any person to make a decision in two seconds, however that is the reality of law enforcement. In your editorial you make it sound as though an officer must entirely sacrifice their life and safety because they chose a career in law enforcement. Police officers willingly place themselves at risk to protect and serve. Throughout the last year, I have heard a wide variety of theories including that officers should let themselves be shot because they wear body armor and can take it. At the end of the day, a police officer is a person and has the right to protect themselves regardless of their title.
I highlighted three cases for you above. Apply those cases to these questions – At which point is it okay for a person to carry a firearm during the commission of a crime? At which point is it okay to give a twelve-year-old a replica firearm to play with? At which point is it okay to rob a store through threats and force and then attack a police officer? When do we start talking about common sense and personal responsibility? When do we stop playing the blame game?
You mentioned #BlackLivesMatter and showed a photo of a black male with his hands up. You spoke to police brutality and listed 8 Officer Involved Shootings (OIS) and listed only black persons as the victim. Since you have opened the door to race in this article, I will lay out additional facts on the information being spread around.
Black or African American make up 13.3% percent of the United States Population (link)
According to the US Department of Justice, blacks accounted for 52.5% of homicide offenders from 1980 to 2008, The offending rate for blacks was almost 8 times higher than whites, and the victim rate 6 times higher. (link)
In 2012, white males were 38 percent of the population and committed 4,582 murders. That same year, black males were just 6.6 percent of the population but committed a staggering 5,531 murders.
In other words: black men–at just a fifth of the size–committed almost 1,000 more murders than their white counterparts. (link)
This unfortunately comes down to that black Americans who commit crime, young black males particularly, put themselves in close proximity to (mostly white male) police officers at rates sometimes five to 10 times higher than whites per capitia.
Here are some additional statistics to put it in perspective for you:
It would take Police Officers in the USA 40 years to kill as many black men as have died at the hands of others black men in 2012 alone.
University of Toledo criminologist Dr. Richard R. Johnson examined the latest crime data from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports and Centers for Disease Control and found that an average of 4,472 black men were killed by other black men annually between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2012. Professor Johnson’s research further concluded that 112 black men died from both justified and unjustified police-involved killings annually during this same period. (link)
Did you know Blacks are the only race where the leading cause of death between age of 15-34 is homicide. The majority of homicides inflicted upon a black person are by other blacks (link). So yes, Black Lives Matter and we need to fix this endemic.
If you really believe “Black Lives Matter” why not report on statistics that illustrate that Officer involved shootings (OIS) account for less than 1% of all black deaths? If your article focused on your argument regarding police brutality page 9 and pages 7 and 8 did not exist, I could see your perspective being a valid honest argument for blind police brutality, although I think I would have solid ground to debate this.
Since you included race into argument by referencing #BlackLivesMatter in pages 7 and 8, I feel we need to cover the real problem. I believe black lives matter as I believe that everyone’s life matters. Instead of blaming Police Oficers of hunting black persons and purposefully killing blacks, I would like to find a solution on how to decrease the homicide rate of blacks. I ask you, what is best way to stop black men from dying at the hands of other men?
Here are a few questions: Statistically blacks have a disproportionate rate of crime to the rest of the population, particularly regarding violent crimes like homicide. Do you think that is solely attributed to a higher amount of police contacts than any other race? The duty of a police officer is to protect the general public from crime including homicide. If blacks are overwhelmingly the perpetrator of homicide does it not make more sense for blacks to be contacted more often by police officers? Do you think the disproportionate amount of murders commited by blacks should match the disproportionate amount of contacts by the police as these go hand and hand.
Lastly, your source of ‘copcrisis.com”. Let me give you a parallel example of how bias this source is. If I was writing a paper about the high level of blacks committing murder and I linked something that reference the KKK as the source. This is obvious a glearing example I used to give you an idea of where i’m comming from on how silly your source is. Even a legimiate news agency like FOX or CNN wouldnt even be considered a legmiate souce on this topic compared to the FBI and DOJ who have 30+ years of documented evidnece.
In conclusion, if you are going to write an article about police brutality, that’s a fair topic. Use legitimate sources like the DOJ and the BJS. If you want to write an article about race, then stick to race. If you plan to mix the two topics, make sure your statistics are not only correct but the cause and effect statistics also add up. Personally, I think this was the fatal flaw in your article, you went for the cheap sensational journalism bit, and failed to find accurate facts in your article. In summary you damaged the integrity and reputation of the Sun Paper.
Soon you will graduate high school and come into the adult world where your word and reputation is everything. I hope you learn a valuable lesson and I sincerely wish you the best with your journalism career. When I attended MCHS writing papers was based on a 1-6 grade. I was never a good writer and never got above a 3+. So I apologize for my grammar and spelling errors. I look foward to your reply, and enjoy honest open dicusssion and debate.
Thank You for taking the time to read my letter,
Mr. Cooper MCHS Class of 2004
Go Sun Devils!