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Aurora Gets the Attention, But Guns Are Going Off Everywhere

The weekend of July 20th became all-Aurora-all-the-time, but what about the shootings, happening around the country, of young men of color by police?

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The newspaper, which analyzed court cases, police data, and other documents, determined that there had been 378 victims of police gunfire in the Las Vegas area since January 1990; 142 of the shootings were fatal.  And deaths from police gunfire, the paper found, had risen from two in 1990 to 31 in 2010.

Over the entire period of the study, the paper found that “blacks, less than 10 percent of Clark County's population, account for about 30 percent of Las Vegas police shooting subjects. Moreover, 18 percent of blacks shot at by police were unarmed.”

A joint study carried out by the Chicago Reporter and the online news site Colorlines in 2007 determined that “about 9,500 people nationally were killed by police during the years 1980 to 2005 -- an average of nearly one fatal shooting per day.” African-Americans “were overrepresented among police shooting victims in every city” investigated (the nation’s 10 largest).

African-Americans would not be surprised by this finding; nor would it come as a surprise to Hispanics to learn that they are increasingly at risk of police gunfire. Bureau of Justice statistics show that 949 Hispanics suffered arrest-related deaths from 2003 to 2009 (out of the total of 4,813 such deaths noted above). The numbers have bounced around over the years, but are trending up from 109 in 2003 to 130 in 2009.

Certainly, the Latino community of Anaheim is familiar with this territory. Orange County and Anaheim authorities have promised investigations of the two recent police shootings. The FBI is reviewing the shootings and the U.S. Attorney’s office has agreed to conduct an investigation at the request of Anaheim’s civilian authorities. Those authorities -- the mayor and five-member city council -- are all Anglo, while Hispanics constitute about 52% of that city's 336,000 residents. There is no civilian complaint review board in place to conduct any probe of police actions, no independent group gathering information over time. The family of Manuel Diaz has filed a federal civil rights suit in the case and called for community calm as protestors become increasingly restive.

“There is a racial and economic component to this shooting,” said Dana Douglas, a Diaz family attorney. “Police don’t roust white kids in affluent neighborhoods who are just having a conversation. And those kids have no reason to fear police. But young men with brown skin in poor neighborhoods do. They are targeted by police.”

Post-9/11 Money Is No Help

The last decade, of course, has seen an enormous flow of federal counterterrorism money to local police and law enforcement agencies. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security has allocated $30 to $40 billion to local police for all manner of training programs and equipment upgrades. Other federal funding has also been freely dispensed.

Yet for all the beefing up of post-9/11 visual surveillance, communications, and Internet-monitoring capabilities, for all the easing of laws governing searches and wiretaps, law enforcement authorities failed to pick up on the multiple weapons purchases, the massive Internet ammo buys, and the numerous package deliveries to the dark apartment in the building on Paris Street where preparations for the Aurora massacre took place for months.

Orange County, where Manuel Diaz lived, now has a fleet of seven armored vehicles. SWAT officers turn out in 30 to 40 pounds of gear, including ballistic helmets, safety goggles, radio headsets with microphones, bulletproof vests, flash bangs, smoke canisters, and loads of ammunition. The Anaheim police and other area departments are networked by countywide Wi-Fi. They run their own intelligence collection and dissemination center. They are linked to surveillance helicopters.