New York police probe amid “alarming acts” of racial misconduct

December 5, 2021 - 18:23

TEHRAN - Another civil rights inquiry in the United States has highlighted the ongoing pattern of racism against black Americans arising from senior levels of authority. Federal investigators have launched a probe into an entire police department’s treatment towards black Americans; this time the Justice Department is investigating New York’s city Mount Vernon to find out if officers are engaging in a pattern of discriminatory policing against Black Americans using “excessive force.”

The assistant attorney general for the civil rights division Kristen Clarke says investigators will look at evidence suggesting that black residents are being targeted for "abuse and excessive force.” She also pointed out that the probe will investigate whether Mount Vernon’s police supervisors are teaching their own police force on how to target the black community. The Mount Vernon investigation was initiated following a wide-ranging review of publicly available information and will include a dangerous of issues including the police department’s policies and how officers are being trained. The third matter of investigation will be how internal probes within the department are being handled, in what critics say is a sign of corruption.

Another aspect of the investigation will focus on illegal police practices, as Clarke says "we have received information about the repeated use of excessive force, often against individuals who are handcuffed.” She adds that “similarly, reports indicate that officers routinely conducted searches without sufficient legal basis, including strip searches."

As part of the investigation, the city’s municipality officials will also be under investigation. In a statement, a spokesperson for the city’s mayor says local officials will cooperate with the probe. The statement claims that since taking office in 2020, Mayor Patterson Howard has "demonstrated her commitment to transparency and transformation" by launching an internal investigation into past allegations of abuse and corruption within the city's police department. It added that the information from the internal probe has been turned over to local prosecutors and the U.S. Justice Department.

Federal prosecutors say the reports of excessive force by officers often involve people who are handcuffed, already in custody or suspected of non-violent offenses. The fact that the Justice Department has to be made aware of accusations that officers “target Black residents for abuse and excessive force, including information suggesting that supervisors teach this targeting to their subordinates” will be met with much anger among civil rights groups and leaders as it suggests racism against black Americans is rooted from the higher chains of command who are passing and overseeing discrimination against the black American community instead of eradicating the extremist ideology. 

According to a local media outlet, in hours of secretly recorded phone conversations, officers in the city speak of widespread brutality, corruption as well as other issues of misconduct within the police department. A police whistleblower revealed the conversations caught on tape that expose officers as reportedly saying they either witnessed or took part in “alarming acts” of racial misconduct that include framing the victims and beating them. The tapes also reveal officers have reportedly been collaborating with drug dealers in what was part of “a culture of impunity within the department’s narcotics unit.” The police tapes have been reportedly recorded since 2017 until this year by a veteran police officer who has been stationed at the department for 12 years. He noted that he wanted to compile solid evidence as previous complaints of such practices fell on deaf ears.

Civil rights activists say nothing has changed on the ground, despite officials previously pledging to crack down on police misconduct as a priority.President Joe Biden made the issue of racial justice a priority in the aftermath of the police killing of a Black man named George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer. In an arrest captured on video, Derek Chauvin, a white veteran of the police force, pushed his knee into the neck of Floyd, the 46-year-old Black man who was in handcuffs, for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020.

However, civil rights activists say nothing has changed on the ground. This is despite officials previously pledging to crack down on police misconduct as a priority.

It is not the first time the justice department has been forced to launch investigations into police discrimination as angry protesters flooded many U.S. cities last year against racism and police brutality. In April, the department launched a sweeping civil investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis following the jury’s verdict that former city police officer Chauvin murdered Floyd. The probe looked into whether the department engages "in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests.” It also examined whether the Minneapolis’ police department "engages in discriminatory conduct and whether its treatment of those with behavioral health disabilities is unlawful.” Officials spoke with police officers about what kind of training and support they had been receiving. Activists say black communities in Minneapolis have long complained about problems with over-policing.

In August this year, the Justice Department opened an investigation into whether police in Phoenix illegally used deadly force, retaliated against peaceful protesters and violated the rights of homeless people. Attorney General Merrick Garland alleged such probes are "aimed to promote transparency and accountability." Racial justice activists have accused Phoenix police of carrying out unlawful surveillance, arrests and malicious prosecutions of anti-racism protesters. In July for example Phoenix police responding to a mental health call shot and killed a man who pointed at an object that quickly turned out to be a water pistol.

The U.S. police’s use of force has - on and off - been in the spotlight and under strong scrutiny amid a vast number of fatal incidents over the decades in various cities, with protests ensuing across the country.

In April, the Justice Department launched a civil probe of the Louisville, Kentucky police department whose officers fatally shot Breonna Taylor last year, an unarmed black woman, during a botched police raid. Taylor’s murder again sparked angry street protests against police violence. Garland said the probe will focus on the police department and the Louisville-Jefferson County government will evaluate whether the police routinely use unreasonable force, including on protesters, as well as if they routinely conduct unconstitutional searches. He said the investigation would look at whether Louisville police regularly engage in racially discriminatory practices or deny access to public services for people with disabilities.

The Louisville Police Department Chief acknowledged the department has to "rebuild our product."

According to the U.S. Justice Department’s Website, the investigations in Phoenix, Louisville and Minneapolis, lawyers have had in-person and virtual meetings with close to more than 1,000 community stakeholders. Hundreds more have submitted messages to the department. Despite that, the investigations are ongoing.

The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in particular helped trigger one of the largest nationwide protest movements against racism and police violence against black Americans in decades that soon spread beyond the United States. Despite, Chauvin being sentenced to 22-1/2 years in prison for the murder of Floyd, civil rights leaders say too many other cases are not receiving the attention they deserve and black American victims rarely see the justice that they deserve.

Racial disparity is widespread in the U.S. and not just limited to police killings, arrests and violence against black Americans. For example, research last year, that analyzed 100 million traffic police stops, showed black drivers are less likely to be stopped after sunset when “a veil of darkness masks one’s race.”

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