Utah’s homicide by police epidemic

Utah seems like a pretty safe state in general. The murder rate in 2013 was 1.7 per 100,000 people, compared to a national average of 4.7 per 100,000 — or 3.9 in Kansas and 5.4 in Arkansas, the states directly below and above Utah respectively in terms of population size.

However, of the relatively small number of murders that do happen in Utah, a heck of a lot of them occur at the hands of law enforcement officers, according to the Salt Lake Tribune:

In the past five years, more Utahns have been killed by police than by gang members. Or drug dealers. Or from child abuse.

Through October [2014], 45 people had been killed by law enforcement officers in Utah since 2010, accounting for 15 percent of all homicides during that period.

A Salt Lake Tribune review of nearly 300 homicides, using media reports, state crime statistics, medical-examiner records and court records, shows that use of force by police is the second-most common circumstance under which Utahns kill each other, surpassed only by intimate partner violence.
Nearly all of the fatal shootings by police have been deemed by county prosecutors to be justified. Only one — the 2012 shooting of Danielle Willard by West Valley City police — was deemed unjustified, and the subsequent criminal charge was thrown out last month by a judge.

For comparison on the other side of the equation — risk to officers — I looked through the FBI statistics that are available so far for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. In that period, just 3 Utah law enforcement officers were killed feloniously in the line of duty (i.e. not in an accident). Again, the overall situation in Utah is much safer than many places. Nationally, in the same span, 203 officers (including the 3 from Utah) were killed feloniously in the line of duty.

Now it may be that in some or even many of the Utah deaths by police, it was in fact a dangerous situation and the use of deadly force was the right call. Maybe there were a lot of near-misses that could have killed the officers and did not. But 15% of all homicides in the state in a five year span being caused by police seems pretty darn high.

Additionally, recent cases indicate there are at least some pretty serious questions that need to be asked. For example:

Prosecutors in Utah have determined that two police officers were justified in the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Darrien Hunt.

The Saratoga Springs police officers — Cpl. Matt Schauerhamer and Officer Nicholas Judson – shot Hunt six times Sept. 10 after responding to two 911 calls about a man walking with a samurai-style sword along a commercial boulevard.

An autopsy revealed that Hunt, who was carrying a katana sword his family said was used for cosplay, had his back turned to the officers when all six shots were fired.

An attorney for Hunt’s family said they still don’t know how many shots were fired and in which direction, reported The Salt Lake Tribune, but he noted that Schauerhamer paused to reload his weapon during the shooting.

Darrien Hunt was 22, Black, and carrying a pretend katana for cosplay. That’s probably not a common sight in 93% white Saratoga Springs, Utah, but it certainly doesn’t seem to suggest justifiable homicide. (Side bar: I would also point people toward the town’s nearly eighteen-fold growth the decade following the year 2000, which was accompanied by a 2% drop in the White share of the population, as a possible additional troubling factor for why the officers might have reacted so aggressively in that case.)

Despite such incidents — along with the state’s oddly higher than proportional figures compared to the national occurrences — calling into question the high number of officer-involved shooting deaths, Utah police don’t seem to see the issue. In response to the statewide Salt Lake Tribune investigation, this was the official explanation given to the paper:

“Police are trained and expected to react to deadly threats. As many deadly threats emerge is the exact amount of times police will respond,” wrote Ian Adams, a West Jordan police officer and spokesman for the Utah Fraternal Order of Police. “The onus is on the person being arrested to stop trying to assault and kill police officers and the innocent public. … Why do some in society continue to insist the problem lies with police officers?”

Let’s temporarily side-step the absurd premise that every single case involved a deadly threat with not one single mistaken threat assessment. Let’s just focus on everything else he said, for now.
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Globalist Paper: The U.S. Torture Report and White Supremacy

This essay originally appeared at The Globalist, where I am a Senior Editor. It was also republished at Salon.


The United States already decided decades ago that no human deserved to be subjected to the treatment after September 11th described in the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogations. Such torture – which included sexual assault and partial drowning – was not to be employed by the United States (or any) government.

The United States suddenly restored these horrific tactics in 2001. It did so not just for known terrorists, but also for people mistakenly detained. This decision would supposedly “protect the American people.”

Many in Washington and beyond have continued to insist that the methods employed were effective at promoting national security (and thus self-justifying), despite the report’s findings — and centuries of evidence — to the contrary.

Asking a morally wrong question

But the very debate on the “effectiveness” of immoral methods is itself immoral. Ignoring the taboo on torturing captives necessarily implies that some people are worth so little – when they might possibly pose a threat – that they do not count as humans.

The moment one asks of an immoral action “Did it work?”, the asker has rejected the humanity of those whom it was used upon. And the matter of whose humanity “counts” or is arbitrarily conditional is a major factor behind this efficacy debate’s existence at all.

When effectiveness is considered instead of the morality of abusing or killing fellow humans, such crimes can and will reoccur.

The question Americans must ask themselves and each other is not “Did it work?” – of course it did not, but that is beside the point. It was known full well at the time that they would not. And so the real question is: “Why did we illegally and deliberately decide to perpetrate ineffective war crimes, including torture, in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001?”

When one considers specifically who was subjected to these war crimes, the path to the answer inevitably turns in one direction: racial supremacy and the prioritization of White America’s safety above all else.

Dehumanization abroad

In short, the Torture Report is really about how the United States chose once again, as official post-9/11 policy, to debate the efficacy (not the morality) of doing harm to those bodies deemed sub-human, specifically non-white bodies, in a drive to protect White America.

As it stands, the “efficacy” question itself appears to mask an inexcusably primal desire to seek revenge against the non-White communities from which the terrorists happened (that time) to have come.

The suspension of full human status – and the legal protections that go along with that – for Muslims suspected of terrorism after 9/11/01 is at the core of the CIA’s actions. Sadly, it fits into a broader pattern in American history. It is the same logic that allowed early U.S. leaders to count enslaved Black laborers as constitutionally 60% human.

Nineteen attackers and their supporting network were made to represent an entire people, whose humanity was then stripped away as official policy. Such a broad-brush response did not occur six and a half years earlier when two White Christian extremists with ties to various shadowy anti-government networks destroyed a federal building in Oklahoma City.

The former was an attack by the “Other,” the latter was deemed an in-group attack. The fact that those received two entirely different treatments is a testament that the reaction was a matter of race. It is a primordial fear-response befitting a skirmish between prehistoric clans crossing paths, not a 21st century global superpower encountering an aggressive band of malcontents.

Such “Us vs. Them” taxonomies are dangerous. To protect the innocent lives of some, the innocent lives of so many others become purely expendable.

The argument simply boils down to asserting in stark terms: “Our lives are worth ending or abusing yours, even by mistake, just to be 100% sure ours remain safe.”

This is about race

But perhaps this division is just a case of misguided hyper-nationalism or ultra-patriotism by the United States? Perhaps the “Us vs. Them” division is not racially, ethnically or religiously motivated, as I have suggested?

Unfortunately, that does not seem to hold up to scrutiny. For one thing, the United States has acted much more leniently toward terrorists and mass murderers who are White and/or Christian, both at home and abroad.

Instead of being summarily killed or tortured by law enforcement, White mass shooters (in Tucson, Aurora, etc.) and White anti-government bombers (Oklahoma City, Unabomber, Weather Underground, etc.) are often arrested and tried normally.

For another, consider the current “targeted airstrikes” that keep raining down on Arab and Muslim populations, from Africa to South Asia, as encapsulated so neatly in Akbar Ahmed’s parable of “The Thistle and the Drone.” The logic of illegal torture of detainees – from the same populations – was framed in the same terms as the ongoing drones debate: “Does it work?” – instead of “Is it wrong?”

Drones instead of torture?

Indeed, it seems quite possible that drone strikes, with an extreme level of remove from the situation, have replaced torture fairly directly in the counterterrorism toolbox.

According to The Atlantic, the “CIA began moving away from capturing and detaining suspected terrorists in favor of killing them via drone strikes.” There have been around 490 targeted drone strikes, which have been mostly performed by the CIA.

President Obama is not relieved from responsibility simply because he banned (already illegal) torture, since those interrogations had already been replaced by the terminal actions of drone strikes. In fact, 90% of U.S. “targeted strikes” have occurred under the Obama Administration, not the Bush Administration.

Finding oneself accidentally in the wrong place can lead to execution by drone. (Previously the result was extraordinary rendition and torture.)

And that victim will not even be counted as a mistake. According to a New York Times investigation in 2012, under official U.S. policy, “all military-age males in a strike zone [count] as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

Read that last half-sentence again – and again. Their lives are devalued until they are not even dignified with the status of accidental death. Instead, they are chalked up as a win.

The bigger picture

But this trouble made in the U.S.A. does not end with torture and drones. It also includes – closer to home – police brutality and excessive use of deadly force by law enforcement or Stand-Your-Ground vigilantes. What unites all of these tactics is that they have that “Does it work?” calculus in common when deployed by the United States. Morality is out of the picture.

The so-called “post-9/11 environment” – so often touted as a justification for torture and other hysterical overreactions of the era – existed within a wider, darker context.

On a micro level, we hear the same justifications from police and vigilantes who use lethal force by mistake on an unarmed person: I was afraid, and therefore I am not responsible for my actions. In 51% of police shootings, that unarmed victim is Black or Latino, despite those combined groups representing just 29% of the total population.

In truth, that environment beginning in late 2001 was simply American racial and ethnic paranoia writ large, the same as it as always been.

The high toll of White supremacy

In the pursuit of extreme counterterrorism methods, and in police/vigilante shootings, U.S. leaders and their most aggressive defenders have endorsed a view that at its core insists the bodies of (White) Americans must be so priceless that everyone else’s bodies are expendable in the effort to protect the first group.

There is no other way to explain writing off so many innocent lives because someone looked like a threat. There is no other way to explain applying a different set of rules for treatment of White attackers and non-White attackers.

Whether or not that is consciously intended, it is the effect. And it is the most reduced and unadorned version of the arguments offered to justify such policies.
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December 17, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 111


Topics: Torture Report, CRomnibus spending package, video game review – This War of Mine. People: Bill, Nate. Produced: December 15th, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– Torture Report: Why US actions after 9/11 are symptomatic of a wider unresolved White Supremacy in American policymaking and society — and why torture and drones are the logical extension of daily police brutality and accidental shootings.
– CRomnibus Spending Package: Should Democrats and President Obama have stood more firmly on principle against the new funding measure even at the cost of a shutdown?
– Political Pop Culture: Nate reviews “This War of Mine,” a survival game set in the Siege of Sarajevo

Episode 111 (53 min)
AFD 111

Related links
Segment 1

Boston Globe: 20 key findings of Senate’s CIA torture report
Arsenal For Democracy coverage of the 2014 Torture Report
Arsenal For Democracy archive coverage of the 2009 Torture Memos

Segment 2

AFD: The Terrible CRomnibus
NYT Dealbook: Wall Street Seeks to Tuck Dodd-Frank Changes in Budget Bill
Huffington Post:The Levee Breaks: Democrats Rage Against Obama Over Wall Street Giveaway
AFD: US prepares to give sacred Native land to Australian mining firm
AP: Federal budget would raise limits on big donors in campaign finance

Segment 3

AFD Review by Nate: My War
Steam: “This War of Mine”


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

In support of the youth-led movement after Ferguson

The tagline for Arsenal For Democracy is “a new generation in democratic leadership.” Not the “next” generation, which would imply leadership later, but the “new” generation — the one that is already here.

I’ve been rattling the bars of the cage here and there for the past four years, as I’ve gotten increasingly tired of being told by grindingly-slow-moving (and often unrepresentative) “movement” leaders to “wait your turn” and the like, while they continually pre-compromise and reach for nowhere close to the stars.

Unsurprisingly, I’m 100% on board for my fellow young people taking charge of a political movement the way we’ve seen young people seizing the reins of the new wave of civil rights action after Ferguson — even if they have to physically grab the microphone from people who refuse to accept that their own time (and credibility) to lead has passed. I stand behind young leaders — people like Johnetta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson and so many others — in these efforts, on a range of issues.

I’m not saying there’s no value to folks with more experience, but sometimes that means advising rather than insisting on leading. Why? We need young people leading movements for change because we haven’t yet been defeated by “The Way Things Are” and because we aren’t resting on old wins. We’re still able to re-imagine what is possible and achievable and to try to get farther than those who came before us. We need to move past the paradigms of “Once Upon A Time We Took A Step Forward” & “Why can’t you just be grateful you got one thing a while ago?”

We need to stop saying “Why can’t you ever be happy with what we’ve achieved?” and listen when people say “I can’t accept partial-progress.” Not because they’re picky or overly demanding but because their lives depend on not accepting half-measures that still leave them in danger.

Compromise has its place but it’s not the end goal. And it’s ok to point out what else needs to be fixed. How else would more get done? Not everyone who is unhappy with past compromises and past steps forward is a mean complainer. Most are just ambitious for more.

AFD Radio Special: Black Lives Matter Protests


Topic: Ferguson and Beyond — What happens next in the growing movement? Panel: Jamie Nesbitt Golden, Ama, and JP. Host: Bill. Recorded: December 7th, 2014.

AFD Episode 110:
Ferguson Special II

Panelist bios

Jamie Nesbitt Golden, from Chicago: Freelance writer, participant in the August rallies in Ferguson and the November rallies in Chicago
Ama, from St. Louis County: Lives next to Ferguson, wife owns a business there, 12 year county resident, participant in the August rallies in Ferguson
JP, from St. Louis County: Lives near Ferguson, 10-year U.S. military veteran, 20 year county resident

Related links

Black Lives Matter official website
Hood Feminism
Jamie’s Twitter
STL Public Radio: St. Louis County Emergency Fund Tapped for Police
The Atlantic: How Police Unions and Arbitrators Keep Abusive Cops on the Street
Jacobin: The Bad Kind of Unionism
Daily Camera / Boulder News: Sam Carter, ex-Boulder cop, convicted on all counts in Mapleton elk trial


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Phoenix: Another unarmed Black person killed by a White officer

Police account:

“Witnesses indicated to us that the suspect was verbally challenging to the officer”

As noted last night, White police officers can apparently legally put Black people to death for talking back to them. This is the same as the heyday of lynching in the American South.

The victim here will be smeared and painted as a dastardly criminal because of his various minor charges, convictions, and prison time in previous cases, but whatever his history might be, he didn’t deserve to die for it.

Witness account, saying victim did not argue:

“Who’s gonna argue with police?” Dickerson said. “He had no death wish yesterday.”

Ann Hart, chairwoman of the African American Police Advisory for South Phoenix:

“We need to take a deeper dive into why police officers are feeling compelled to shoot and kill as opposed to apprehend and detain, arrest and jail.”

Yep. That is the million dollar question. I think we know the answer but too many Americans want to live in their post-racial fantasies (or are just straight-up racists who assume it’s justified unless proven otherwise … which is never, in their minds).

America loves its sidewalk executions

Excerpt from a comparison of US police use of deadly force to other countries (and the racial influences in those differences):

Worse, police in the U.S. expect to be shown special deference by members of the public at large. Noble sounding as that idea is in the abstract, in practical terms it has devastating results. Given that doctrine of “respect,” any hint of disrespect or disobedience during a routine encounter – even completely imagined – can escalate into a sidewalk execution.

Combined with an ongoing legacy of historically charged, extraordinary demands of respect from racial minorities by law enforcement, such situations become exceptionally dangerous for non-White citizens.

Since a policeman can expect total deference, all it takes to legitimize a shoot to kill action is feeling threatened. The doors to playing God and/or cowboy are wide open. This legal derivation, perverted as is sounds, is no accident. It is a full reflection of American culture and mythology. Today’s shooting practices and incidents allow the police to tap into the imagery of the Lone-Ranger sheriff establishing justice in a lawless landscape.
In an international context of other civilized countries, though, U.S. practices are clearly outside the bounds of what is seen as legally permissible.

Eric Garner was street-executed by the NYPD on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. They were filmed on a bystander’s camera. There won’t be a trial.

An initial version of this post was corrected for factual accuracy.