I just got home from a demonstration in front of the Phoenix Police Department downtown. Danny Rodriguez' mom was among those leading the chant, "Justicia Ahora". Her heart must be absolutely shredded. I got there pretty late, but there were still about 50 people of all ages protesting, most of whom were Latino. There was a feeling of a pretty tight community there, and with the candles and photos of Danny, it was as much a vigil and memorial service as it was a protest.
I've never before heard of someone shooting an unarmed person to death in front of witnesses and just being charged with assault and given a bond - that's extremely dangerous behavior. I see mentally ill people detained in jail for months for competency exams for little more than trespassing - even sent to prison for criminal damage - but the guy who killed Danny made bail in a day.
Understandably, the Maricopa County Attorney's office wants to be sure they have all the facts before leveling more serious charges against Chrisman - but all the facts that are out thus far suggest that the only time murder is called an assault is when the accused is a cop. I really don't believe that it would take them more than a couple of hours to decide to charge a civilian with some form of murder if he forced his way into someone's home at gunpoint, got into an argument, and took his life when he tried to run away from the confrontation. I don't even think they could get away with calling that manslaughter. That all happened in front of an armed law enforcement officer, too - one who would have drawn his own gun and fired at one of us right there if we did what Chrisman did to Danny. Actually, his gun and handcuffs would have been out as soon as the dog got it, and Danny would still be alive.
If Romley's caution and desire to be responsible about charging this guy readily applied to the rest of us, I could be more patient. But there are still innocent people in prison his office should be saving, defendants too incompetent to stand trial being incarcerated for petty crimes secondary to the symptoms of their mental illness, and graffitti artists facing over 6 years in prison because the MCAO has decided that's a priority crime which needs to be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law". That's more time for vandalism than this cop will likely ever get for killing someone, though. In fact, a lot of people get more time for hurting themselves than most cops ever get for assaulting, maiming, or killing unarmed civilians in irresponsible exercises of power.
All of that suggests that double standards still exist in the MCAO - which is par for the rest of the country, unfortunately. Oscar Grant was on the ground on his stomach with his hands visible and his killer still only got 4 years in prison - which will undoubtedly be knocked down to nothing on appeal, because while it's okay for the rest of us to face being raped and murdered when locked away, it's not okay to put a cop in that position. No matter how criminal their conduct, cops in this country are supposed to be protected from the consequences of incarceration. Meanwhile, Americans execute the mentally retarded when they take responsibility for their crimes, and people with psychiatric disabilities are three times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized (and it's not because we're all criminally-inclined). I find that very troubling.
Danny must have feared for his life after Chrisman put that gun to his head then killed his dog - no wonder he went for his bike. As far as I can tell, he hadn't even committed a crime before the scuffle with the cop. What a disturbing message to send the rest of us: "criminal" or not, if you run from the cops they can pepper spray, taser, arrest or even shoot and kill you without consequence. If you don't get away they might still shoot you dead - even if you surrendered peacefully. What are we supposed to do?
Putting on a badge and a uniform alone does not make a person honorable or a champion of justice - SS officers did that all the time, in service to their country. And firing weapons at unarmed civilians is by no means a sign of courage. Other cops should be ashamed of Chrisman wearing their uniform and join us in protest. Instead, of course, they apparently helped bail him out last night, and we've all learned to expect them to persecute his partner for telling the truth. What a sad thing that it's so exceptional for a cop to tell the truth when they witness a another officer commit a crime that the public takes it as commonplace and even has a term for it.
In light of all that, why do the boys in blue get any more the benefit of the doubt than the rest of us in situations like this? We aren't ever really "presumed innocent" by the courts until proven otherwise - as soon as the police decide to charge you, you're pretty much done with and will be coerced into a plea deal - their word, even if it's just an opinion - carries more weight than ours ever does.
If Danny had survived, they'd be charging him with assaulting Chrisman and resisting arrest right now (none of which may have happened if the cops hadn't entered his home in the first place). Then they could have locked him up and he could be tortured and killed by deputies or prison guards, instead, who may not even be charged with a misdemeanor in the aftermath. This is one reason I was so troubled that no charges were brought against those responsible for Marcia Powell's death - even more so that some of those people are getting their jobs back from the State. It emboldens officers of the law all the more to feel free to abuse us, whether we're prisoners, suspects, or even just witnesses.
As Chrisman told Danny when he put the gun to his head to get in the door, they don't really even need warrants. They clearly have plenty of power to do as they please without one. One f my anarchist friends noted that it seems as if police are becoming more violent these days. I think so as well, and that it coincided with "non-lethal" weapons hitting the market and police consequently choosing to assault people (including those who are suicidal) instead of talking to us when there's a problem. No matter how trivial the reason we were originally questioned we can't even argue with them when they cross the line without risking serious repercussions. We have to fight out the legalities of police conduct in court and just hope they don't damage us or our lives too much before we get that far.
It seems increasingly as if we are at the mercy of everyone wearing a badge - some of us more than others, of course. Since I have freckles and no color and am not living on the street or visibly impoverished, I doubt I'd get shot for refusing to put down my sidewalk chalk when ordered to do so. I drop it as soon as they tell me to, though, because you just never know what will scare or piss one of them off enough to really do harm. Uninitiated citizens who expect the police to be professional and courteous when they become a suspect are in for a rude awakening; they tend to be the ones who get into arguments with bad cops because they make the mistake of expressing indignation over not being treated better. So do folks who have decided they just aren't going to be violated anymore. The cops can violate us all they want - they have us outgunned. Ironic that we're the ones who pay for those weapons, too.
There should be a higher standard of conduct expected of law enforcement officers than the rest of us, not a lower one. They're supposed to be the ones who are trained and paid to keep the public safe - they work for us, but we're supposed to be subservient and submissive, under penalty of death. There's something wrong with that which most people don't seem to notice. That's how fascists gain power - we willingly surrender it to them in exchange for the promise of protection, denying that the scope of power we've given them may come at someone else's expense because we never think it will be ours.
Danny's family and friends plan to be in front of the Phoenix Police Department for the next 7 days, demanding that his killing be treated as such, not just as an assault. Even though I just posted one on this yesterday (at Prison Abolitionist - for some reason I didn't get it up here), I'm posting the article below because it goes into greater depth about other police shootings in the Valley, as well as the commission that's been looking at police brutality. It's actually better than most AZ Republic articles - though that bit about Phoenix Councilman Michael Johnson being "detained" was downplayed - I thought that cop cuffed him and actually put his boot on his head until he found out who he was.
Please drop by the PHX PD HQ at 7th Ave and W. Washington Friday, October 8, at 6pm for the next protest. Come again the next day. And the next. Bring chalk. Also mark October 22 on your calendars - that's National Police Brutality Day. If you can't make it to an organized demonstration that day, then chalk some public sidewalks, paint your car's rear window, or write to the County Attorney, Rick Romley, at 301 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix, AZ 85003. A simple "Justicia Ahora" will probably be well understood by then.