Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012, according to a recent study. This means a black person was killed by a security officer every 28 hours. The report notes that it’s possible that the real number could be much higher.

The report, entitled “Operation Ghetto Storm,” was conducted by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, an antiracist grassroots activist organization. The organization has chapters in Atlanta, Detroit, Fort Worth-Dallas, Jackson, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland, and Washington, D.C. It has a history of organizing campaigns against police brutality and state repression in black and brown communities. Their study’s sources included police and media reports along with other publicly available information. Last year, the organization published a similar study showing that a black person is killed by security forces every 36 hours. However, this study did not tell the whole story, as it only looked at shootings from January to June 2012. Their latest study is an update of this.

These killings come on top of other forms of oppression black people face. Mass incarceration of nonwhites is one of them. While African-Americans constitute 13.1% of the nation’s population, they make up nearly 40% of the prison population. Even though African-Americans use or sell drugs about the same rate as whites, they are 2.8 to 5.5 times more likely to be arrested for drugs than whites. Black offenders also receive longer sentences compared to whites. Most offenders are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.

“Operation Ghetto Storm” explains why such killings occur so often. Current practices of institutional racism have roots in the enslavement of black Africans, whose labor was exploited to build the American capitalist economy, and the genocide of Native Americans. The report points out that in order to maintain the systems of racism, colonialism, and capitalist exploitation, the United States maintains a network of “repressive enforcement structures.” These structures include the police, FBI, Homeland Security, CIA, Secret Service, prisons, and private security companies, along with mass surveillance and mass incarceration.

The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement is not the only group challenging police violence against African-Americans. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network has been challenging the policy of stop-and-frisk in New York City, in which police officers randomly stop and search individuals for weapons or contraband. African-American and Latino men are disproportionately stopped and harassed by police officers. Most of those stopped (close to 90%) are innocent, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. Stop Mass Incarceration alsoorganizes against the War on Drugs and inhumane treatment of prisoners.

Along with the rate of extrajudicial killings, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement report contains other important findings. Of the 313 killed, 124 (40%) were between 22 and 31 years old, 57 (18%) were between 18 and 21 years old, 54 (17%) were between 32 and 41 years old, 32 (10%) were 42 to 51 years old, 25 (8%) were children younger than 18 years old, 18 (6%) were older than 52, and 3 (1%) were of unknown ages.

A significant portion of those killed, 68 people or 22%, suffered from mental health issues and/or were self-medicated. The study says that “[m]any of them might be alive today if community members trained and committed to humane crisis intervention and mental health treatment had been called, rather than the police.”

43% of the shootings occurred after an incident of racial profiling. This means police saw a person who looked or behaved “suspiciously” largely because of their skin color and attempted to detain the suspect before killing them. Other times, the shootings occurred during a criminal investigation (24%), after 9-1-1 calls from “emotionally disturbed loved ones” (19%) or because of domestic violence (7%), or innocent people were killed for no reason (7%).

Most of the people killed were not armed. According to the report, 136 people or 44%, had no weapon at all the time they were killed by police officers. Another 27% were deaths in which police claimed the suspect had a gun but there was no corroboration to prove this. In addition, 6 people (2%) were alleged to have possessed knives or similar tools. Those who did, in fact, possess guns or knives were 20% (62 people) and 7% (23 people) of the study, respectively.

The report digs into how police justify their shootings. Most police officers, security guards, or vigilantes who extrajudicially killed black people, about 47% (146 of 313), claimed they “felt threatened”, “feared for their life”, or “were forced to shoot to protect themselves or others”. George Zimmerman, the armed self-appointed neighborhood watchman who killed Trayvon Martin last year, claimed exactly this to justify shooting Martin. Other justifications include suspects fleeing (14%), allegedly driving cars toward officers, allegedly reaching for waistbands or lunging, or allegedly pointing a gun at an officer. Only 13% or 42 people fired a weapon “before or during the officer’s arrival”.

Police recruitment, training, policies, and overall racism within society conditions police (and many other people) to assume black people are violent to begin with. This leads to police overacting in situations involving African-American suspects. It also explains why so many police claimed the black suspect “looked suspicious” or “thought they had a gun.” Johannes Mehserle, the white BART police officer who shot and killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant in January 2009, claimed Grant had a gun, even though Grant was subdued to the ground by other officers.

Of the 313 killings, the report found that 275 of them or 88% were cases of excessive force. Only 8% were not considered excessive as they involved cases were suspects shot at, wounded, or killed a police and/or others. Additionally, 4% were situations were the facts surrounding the killing were “unclear or sparsely reported”. The vast majority of the time, police officers, security guards, or armed vigilantes who extrajudicially kill black people escape accountability.

Over the past 70 years, the “repressive enforcement structures” described in the report have been used to “wage a grand strategy of ‘domestic’ pacification” to maintain the system through endless “containment campaigns” amounting to “perpetual war”. According to the report, this perpetual war has been called multiple names — the “Cold War”, COINTELPRO, the “War on Drugs, the “War on Gangs”, the “War on Crime”, and now the “War on Terrorism”. This pacification strategy is designed to subjugate oppressed populations and stifle political resistance. In other words, they are wars against domestic marginalized groups. “Extrajudicial killings”, says the report, “are clearly an indispensable tool in the United States government’s pacification pursuits.” It attributes the preponderance of these killings to institutionalized racism and policies within police departments.

Paramilitary police units, known as SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, developed in order to quell black riots in major cities, such as Los Angeles and Detroit, during the 1960s and ’70s. SWAT teams had major shootouts with militant black and left-wing groups, such as the Black Panther Party and Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in 1969 and 1974, respectively. SWAT teams were only used for high-risk situations, until the War on Drugs began in the 1980s. Now they’re used in raids — a common military tactic — of suspected drugor non-drug offenders’ homes.

The War on Drugs, first declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971, was largely a product of U.S. covert operations. Anti-communist counter-revolutionaries, known as the “Contras”, were trained, funded, and largely created by the CIA to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua during the 1980s. However, the CIA’s funding was not enough. Desperate for money, the Contras needed other funding sources to fight their war against the Sandinistas. The additional dollars came from the drug trade. The late investigative journalist Gary Webb, in 1996, wrote a lengthy series of articles for the San Jose Mercury News, entitled “Dark Alliance,” detailing how the Contras smuggled cocaine from South America to California’s inner cities and used the profits to fund their fight against the Sandinista government. The CIA knew about this but turned a blind eye. The report received a lot of controversy, criticism, and tarnishing of Webb’s journalistic career, which would lead him to commit suicide in 2004. However, subsequent reports from Congressional hearings and other journalists corroborated Webb’s findings.

Moreover, major banks, such as Wachovia (now part of Wells Fargo) and HSBC have laundered money for drug dealers. Therefore, the very threat that the Drug War claims to eliminate is perpetuated more by the National Security State and Wall Street than by low-level street dealers. But rather than go after the bigger fish, the United States has used the pretext of the “war on drugs” to implement draconian police tactics on marginalized groups, particularly poor black communities.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan passed the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act, which provided civilian police agencies equipment, training, and advising from the military, along with access to military research and facilities. This weakened the line between the military and civilian law enforcement established by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, a Reconstruction-era law forbidding military personnel from enforcing domestic laws. Five years later, in 1986, Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive 221, which declared drug trafficking a national security threat to the United States. This militarized the U.S. approach to drugs and overall policing. Additionally, the global war on terror and growth of the National Security State expanded this militarization of domestic policeunder the guise of “fighting terrorism.”

The adoption of military tactics, equipment, training, and weapons leads to law enforcement adopting a war-like mentality. They come to view themselves as soldiers fighting against a foreign enemy rather police protecting a community. Nick Pastore, a former Police Chief of New Haven, Connecticut from 1990 to 1997, turned down military equipment that was offered to him. “I turned it all down, because it feeds a mind-set that you’re not a police officer serving a community, you’re a soldier at war,” he told the New York Times. He said “tough-guy cops” in his department pushed for “bigger and more hardware” and “used to say, ‘It’s a war out there.'” Pastore added, “If you think everyone who uses drugs is the enemy, then you’re more likely to declare war on the people.” Mix this war-like mentality with already existing societal anti-black racism and the result is deadly. Black people, who, by default, are assumed to be criminals because of their skin color, become the victims of routine police violence.

The fact that a black person is killed by a police officer, security guard, or vigilante every 28 hours (or less) is no random act of nature. It is the inevitable result of institutional racism and militaristic tactics and thinking within America’s domestic security apparatus.




Joe Debro

I am an angry Black man

I am an 84-year-old angry Black man. I am Mississippi born, Mississippi bred and Mississippi fled. I am the son of former slaves. My parents and I rode in the back of the bus. We rode in the front of the trains. We drank from water fountains designated for coloreds only. We picked cotton in fields owned by White people.

My parents attended separate but equal schools in Mississippi. I attended separate but equal schools in Mississippi and in Oakland, California. My wife was educated in Oakland public schools and at the University of California at Berkeley. She could not get a job teaching in Oakland Public schools in Oakland in 1954. I hold an undergraduate and a graduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley. I was profiled at a Washington, D.C., hotel in 2010, forced to sleep in a homeless shelter overnight.

I saw nothing in the Zimmerman case that surprised me. The system worked as it was intended. Zimmerman, a White man, was tried by a White justice system for killing a Black boy. The outcome was predictable. Many White people saw this as a non-racial event.

The O.J. Simpson jury found for the defense. The jury found reasonable doubt. The George Zimmerman jury found for the defense. The six White women on the jury found reasonable doubt. Zimmerman admitted that he killed Trayvon Martin. Simpson denied that he killed anyone. The press excoriated the Simpson jury. The Zimmerman jury was praised.

In both cases, the state presented weak cases. There are lessons to be learned from both cases. Laws are made to control the actions of people who can’t afford to break them. Both Simpson and Zimmerman bought as much justice as they needed. Their jurors were presented with reasonable doubt.

In the Zimmerman case, there are some facts that concerned citizens should understand. George Zimmerman is White. The juror of unknown ethnicity is White. The police who refused to arrest Zimmerman and who testified for him were White. The judge, and the prosecution were White. Every critical function carried on in that justice system was performed by a White person. Such is the case in almost every trial or plea bargaining case involving a Black man in this country.

George has been described as Hispanic. That does not mean that he is not White. The term Hispanic is a political designation that describes national origin, not race. Hispanic is a protected designation under our civil rights laws, but the term is not racial. I would guess that George Zimmerman, on his driver’s license under race, is designated White.

The most important fact to know is that the prosecution worked as hard for George Zimmerman as they did for the state of Florida. The prosecution did not challenge the lack of Afro Americans on the jury. The prosecution did not present its own theory of the case; it reacted to Zimmerman’s story of the case.

The prosecution’s case should have been presented on the theory that the wounds displayed by Zimmerman were self-inflicted. Zimmerman inflicted those wounds on himself. Zimmerman knew enough about the law to know he needed such wounds. Such a prosecution theory would have forced the defense to defend against this theory, and it might have caused Zimmerman to testify.

Instead, the prosecution introduced a tape made by the Zimmerman defense. The prosecution should have fought to keep that tape out of the trial. In a just world this prosecutor would be disbarred for malpractice.

The second worst flaw in the prosecution’s case was their failure to challenge Zimmerman’s voice recognition by his friends and relatives. The prosecution needed to recode several voices saying what Zimmerman was alleged to have yelled on the 911 tapes, replay them and ask each of the witnesses to identify the Zimmerman voice.

The third flaw by the prosecution was to bring in a skinny dummy. They should have brought in a live person of the same height and weight as Zimmerman and required that person to pull his gun with Trayvon on top of him. The prosecution should have punctured a heart with Trayvon on top to test blood spatter. If Zimmerman had a broken nose, who repaired it?

Finally, if Trayvon was on top of Zimmerman when he was shot in the heart, why was there no blood of Martin’s on Zimmerman’s clothes? Why was this question not asked at trial?

The justice system worked as it is designed to do. The system exonerated a White man who admitted killing a Black boy. The Justice Department will not bring an action in this case. Just because the man who heads it is Black does not mean he runs it. DOJ is a system that runs the same no matter who is at the top.

Racism is structured into most of the important systems in this country.
1.Communications – 99% of the TV, radio and print media properties are owned by White people.
2.Construction – 99% of the construction in this country is done by White people.
3.Education – 99% of all educational resources are allocated by White people.
4.Transportation – 99% of all transportation is controlled by White people.
5.Justice – this system is 99.9% controlled by White people.
6.Financial – this system is 99.9 % controlled by white people.

When Congresswomen Maxine Waters asked that 0.000001 percent of the $700 billion bailout money go to banks owned or controlled by descendants of former slaves, they tried to put her in jail.

If we think that we get fair treatment in any of these systems, we must re-examine our definition of fairness.

As an angry old Black man I have seen the diminution of racism in my lifetime. We are not there yet. It is unlikely that we will get there in the lifetime of my grandchildren.


Joseph Debro is president of Bay Area Black Builders and of Transbay Builders, a general engineering contractor, former director of the California state Office of Small Business, co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors and a bio-chemical engineer. He can be reached at transbay@netzero.com.




#Ferguson…The Exercise That Opened My Eyes to White Privilege…continues

I didn’t know that much could affect me after this exercise. My world had just been rocked. I felt as though I had been blind for 29 years, yet I hadn’t known it. There was such a huge divide, and I had been living life ignorantly thinking that we were all equal. In fact, I had prided myself on that, that I was on my black friends’ level. I felt like such a fool.

Sadly, this exercise was just a primer for the pain that I was about to take in. Over the next few weeks, I sat as my peers and elders of color told me stories that I could not fathom. I heard about the training black men receive as adolescents. How they are taught not to scare or intimidate white women. I sat in shame as men that I looked up to informed me that their fathers taught them to slouch around women who looked like me. One young man’s father instructed him never to get on an elevator with a white woman, so that there could never be a chance for allegations. These men—good, Christian men—had lived their entire lives tiptoeing around the Caucasian race. It was ingrained in them to take extra steps so as to not set off fear. It was all so foreign to me. Unfathomable. Every cell in my body wanted to believe it was untrue. How I could I have lived in close community with a whole race of people and been completely oblivious that this was happening? That’s not possible, right? So I set out to seek truth.

I started contacting all of my black childhood friends I could find. I even found my friend who lived in that big house in my old neighborhood. Surely, their experiences weren’t the same! We grew up together; we played in each other’s homes. I would have known if these guys had been getting messages like I was learning about. The Lord must have heard me when I asked for truth, because I got it. Without fail, every friend that I contacted told me the same thing. This crushing message was stuck on repeat, and it echoed eerily similarly every time.

To top it off, I heard more stories. The police profiling my friends; store clerks following them for no reason. Ludicrous! These are some of the most gentle and kind guys I have ever known! When I tried to add in the history that we all know, that got us here in the first place, and then the history that has never been taught, it was just too much. The curtain had been lifted, and my world was permanently shifted.

I spent months after this experience being angry. And I spent months more second-guessing every single thing I did with every African-American I came in contact with. Like I said before, I had always been so comfortable and confident with all races, I really never thought much about it. I guess you could say I went through a phase of white guilt. Now, it’s settled in more. I can’t blame myself for not knowing the truth before I did, because there’s really no way I could have. But I know now, and there is definitely no arguing it, so I have an obligation to my brothers and sisters to speak up.

I think that people try to deny or ignore this issue, mainly because it’s just too big—it’s too painful—and as white people, we just can’t wrap our minds around it. It’s not our reality, so it’s easier to dismiss it, or to say it’s not real, than to fight a fight that’s not technically ours. But if I had a friend who came to me and said she was struggling with something I had never been through, it would be cruel if I ignored her, or told her she was overreacting, or told her it didn’t involve me, so I didn’t want to hear about it. No true friend would ever do that! But that’s what we as a people are doing to our brothers and sisters!

And it absolutely kills me the most when I see it from people that call themselves Christians. Because here is the newsflash: We all have racism. We all have judgments based on skin color or ethnicity. We are fallen, and worldly. But the point of striving to be more like Jesus is to pick ourselves up, swallow our pride, trust His word and take care of our neighbors. We are going to have conflict. There are going to be things I don’t understand about other people. I am going to mess up and offend someone, and people are going to offend me. But the day that I leave my brothers and sisters stranded… the day that I allow them to be mistreated and abused, and I don’t do anything about because it makes me uncomfortable? That’s on my head.

We have got to get out of our comfort zones. I truly believe that it is going to take more white people speaking up to fix this sick and terrifying pattern of violence. We have to say, “Enough is enough!” Just thinking it doesn’t count. At this point, not saying anything is just as bad as being on the same side of the barricades as the tear gas and the attack dogs.