Why Black America Is Right to Doubt the Police's Account of St. Louis Teen's Killing
We are still learning the details of Vonderrit Myers' fatal shooting by a white St. Louis police officer, but one thing is clear: Many African Americans question the police version of events. Given the history of police officers across the country falsifying evidence against those they arrest, African Americans have every reason to view police justification of deadly force with a suspicious eye.
According to St. Louis Police Department Chief Sam Dotson, a 32-year-old St. Louis police officer, who has not been identified, was working a secondary job for a private security firm when he encountered Myers last Wednesday evening. Dotson claims Myers shot at the officer, forcing him to return fire that fatally wounded the 18-year-old. Police said the officer fired at least 17 rounds; Myers was hit seven or eight times, according to St. Louis city medical examiner Michael Graham.
Relatives of Myers claim he wasn't armed and was holding a sandwich in his hand at the time of the shooting.
The whole truth will take some time to come to light, but there's obviously a wide gulf between how many black and white people view the few facts that are available. Many have immediately accepted the police version of events, believing the teen opened fire on the cop and died as a result of the officer defending himself. African Americans, on the other hand, simply aren't ready to believe that yet. And can you blame them?
Back in March, Terry Robinson video-recorded a St. Louis police officer threatening to jail him if he didn't give up the names of people he could plant a gun on. The officer is currently being investigated. Last October, the Sacramento DA's office was forced to dismiss 79 cases involving an officer who was convicted of falsifying drunk driving reports. In 2013, an Ohio man who spent 13 years in prison was awarded $13.2 million after "a federal jury found that two Cleveland police detectives violated his civil rights by coercing and falsifying testimony and withholding evidence that pointed to his innocence." In 2012, Marcus Jeter of New Jersey faced years in prison after Bloomfield PD officers falsely accused him of resisting arrest, assault and eluding police. After the officers' dashcam video revealed that the officers lied, the charges against Jeter were dismissed. Two officers were later indicted on conspiracy, official misconduct and other charges in connection to the case.
A Google search of "Police officers falsifying evidence" returns dozens of stories of officers convicted of tampering with evidence during arrests in the past four years alone. Most of the cases involve African Americans.
In the state of New York, Newsday reported that many police departments on Long Island attempt to cover up police misconduct. During its investigation, Newsday "identified more than 200 officers linked to misconduct cases by departmental charges, jury verdicts or multiple court settlements" between 2008 and 2013. And in Central New Jersey, 99 percent of the police brutality cases filed against officers weren't investigated between 2008 and 2012.
When African Americans take to Twitter in disbelief over Dotson's account of why the police officer shot Myers, their opinions aren't based solely on emotional outrage and grief. Between 1968 and 2011, blacks were four times more likely than whites to be killed by police. And according to a recent Gallop Poll, 59 percent of white people in America have a great deal of confidence in the police compared to just 37 percent of African Americans. Blacks give police officers lower marks for honesty in the same poll.
Considering all of this, it's understandable that many white people wouldn't share black peoples' distrust of Dotson's account of Myers' death.
Technically, do these reports have any bearing on the facts surrounding Myers' death? No. But do they substantiate African American suspicions of the St. Louis Police Department's version of how he died? Absolutely.
We know that the vast majority of people who work in law enforcement aren't out to harm minorities and simply want to do their jobs. Still, many police officers have gotten away with killing unarmed black and Latino people, so any officer involved in the death of a minority will be pre-judged with suspicion until all of the facts are known. Given that people of color are historically the main targets of police brutality, their doubts about law enforcement's version of events in the Myers case are completely rational.