By Doug Porter
Chief Shelly Zimmerman, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s choice to instill public confidence in the San Diego Police Department, has pulled “the boogie man” out of her bag of tricks in an attempt to justify less transparency with the public.
She told a federal court last week, according to NBC7, “the release of video showing a fatal, officer-involved shooting could jeopardize that officer’s life and provoke violence against his law enforcement colleagues.” Meeting with Union-Tribune editorial board on Tuesday in advance of releasing statistics about body camera use, Chief Zimmerman said the department doesn’t plan to release video footage in most cases.
Today we’ll take a look at Zimmerman’s claims and match them up against reality. My analysis of this situation suggests she’s just part of the ‘same old, same old’ game wherein misdeeds by police are kept hidden from the public behind a blue curtain of silence and misdirection.
The Ferguson Effect
Following a year of protests, law and order conservatives (libertarians who disagreed got labeled as leftists) rolled out a public relations campaign defending the status quo in law enforcement back in May with the publication of an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal penned by the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald.
The gist of her argument was that, after two decades of falling crime rates nationwide, anti-cop sentiment was boosting crime rates. This sentiment, dubbed the Ferguson Effect, quickly became a favorite of talking heads on Fox News and other conservative outlets.
This fear meme has, of course, become front and center “truthiness” for GOP presidential candidates like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker looking to burnish their tough-on-crime credentials.
It didn’t take long for Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post on the left and Jesse Walker of Reason on the right to expose this word salad for the cherry-picked data and the deliberate misrepresentations it presented.
As Ta- Nehisi Coates noted at The Atlantic:
If the “Ferguson Effect” is real, how can it be that it started before the Ferguson protests?
There are some cities where crime has gone up. There are some cities where crime has gone down. And there is zero evidence tying changes in crime rates to protests against police violence.
As Linkins points out at the Huffington Post:
For instance, as you go through that three-paragraph flurry [in the WSJ op-ed] of frightening statistics slowly, you become aware that there’s a lot of mixing and matching happening. Homicides are compared to shootings. Robberies are broken out in one instance, while in another instance, the whole of one city’s violent crimes are bundled together under the banner of “other violent felonies.”
“The bottom line is that across the largest 15 cities in the US the murder rate has fallen by 43 from 871 to 828, a 5% drop.”
The United States is on pace to see a drop in police officers been shot and killed in the line of duty in 2015 compared to 2014. Also many of the stories about police officers dying in the line of duty (83 total as of Sept 1) neglect to separate out fatalities from other causes, like car crashes (19), heart attacks (13) or even 9/11 related illnesses (3).
Those numbers haven’t stopped publications like USA Today from running stories suggesting otherwise. Here’s a nugget from today’s sermon:
Police officials are voicing fear that anti-cop protests across the country have sparked shootings of law enforcement officers and created a climate of distrust between the public and police.
Don’t get me wrong here; it is a tragedy every time a police officer is killed in the line of duty. There have been incidences of police officers being ambushed. But there have been no indications these incidents are connected to protests, except delusional claims by the very same people who take exception to protests occurring in the first place.
It’s also fundamentally wrong to use these tragedies to justify or hide misconduct.
Nationwide, according to the Washington Post, 678 people have been shot and killed by law enforcement in 2015, a number that is increasing compared to 2014.
Chief Zimmerman’s Anonymous Boogie Man
So NBC7 reports SDPD Chief Zimmerman claims that public release of video (taken on privately-owned cameras) of the April 30 shooting of Fridoon Nehad could “inflame violent and unstable elements, leading to threats and violence in San Diego.”
The dead man was a homeless 42 year old Afghan with history of mental illness. The family has filed a $20 million lawsuit against the city and the officer who pulled the trigger, claiming the officer used excessive and unreasonable force in the deadly confrontation.
There have been no known threats or protests from Afghans living in the area. Various media organizations are asking the court to release the video.
Apparently the claim about “violent and unstable elements” stems from an Anonymous video published back on May 12th, two weeks after the shooting.
As far as I can tell, no act of violence has ever been attributed to Anonymous, which has uploaded videos denouncing everybody from the Zeta cartel to the Westboro Baptist Church. The group has been blamed for various denial of service attacks, website hacks and the release of personnel information from targeted groups (including police).
Here’s the video, which sounds menacing, to be sure:
The Terrorists Win
So, in Chief Zimmerman’s world, we must give up our right to transparency.
A young man who works for the company whose security camera took the disputed video claims to have viewed it numerous times and asserts that what he saw is at variance with the police department’s official account.
From the NBC7 account of May 6th, posted after evidence came to light that the dead man was unarmed:
It later came to light that Browder did not hit record on his body camera before the encounter, so police have no officer video of the shooting. The fact prompted the local ACLU to raise concerns about police accountability.
Detectives discovered surveillance footage of the incident, which investigators will turn over to the District Attorney’s office “at an appropriate time” for review, [SDPD Homicide Lt. Paul] Rorrison said.
The SDPD policy concerning body cams was changed following this incident to insist officers turn on their cameras prior to encounters.
At various times the claim has been made that there is an ongoing investigation. The officer involved in the shooting is back on duty, so the likelihood of any prosecutorial action is slim and none.
And now, according to a Union-Tribune editorial arising out of the meeting with the chief, all videos are off-limits:
And in a discussion of when she would release body camera evidence – with the crucial backdrop being her department’s opposition to release of private-security video of an April incident in which a San Diego officer fatally shot an unarmed man he thought had a knife – Zimmerman made an eyebrow-raising observation. She said that to preserve due process rights for accused individuals, she would withhold evidence from public review not just if a criminal investigation were under way but if there were the possibility of related civil litigation.
But withholding evidence on the grounds it might be used in hypothetical civil litigation gives police an infinitely elastic rationale for keeping information from the public. In an interview, Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said such a standard “probably went too far” and “doesn’t sound like an approach that’s designed to build credibility with the public.”
The Reasoning Behind This
The SDPD’s “we know what’s best” policy is contrary to public opinion on the issues associated with police videos.
From The Atlantic:
On Wednesday, the ACLU of Southern California released the results of a statewide survey that it commissioned to gauge the attitudes of likely voters toward policing reforms.
The results were overwhelming:
84 percent favor requiring police officers to wear body cameras.
74 percent of survey respondents believe the public should have access to footage from those body cameras any time that a police officer stands accused of misconduct. A narrow majority believes that the public should have access to all footage.
As for investigations into misconduct by police officers, 79 percent believe the public should have access to the findings if there has been wrongdoing, and 64 percent believe the public should have that same access anytime a cop is even accused.
Faced with this kind of public sentiment, Chief Zimmerman has opted to play the Fear Card. The great thing about the Fear Card is that it can be anything the public wants it to be. Who can forget the “crack babies” lurking in our cities, or the “knockout game.” or “sharia law/no-go zones?”
Since the current Ferguson Effect version of the Fear Card just happens to include a racial element (#BlackLivesMatter) the chief of police is able to –without even trying–tap into the deepest fears of too much of the public.
As Adam Johnson , writing about the Ferguson Effect at Alternet puts it:
Since the Salem witch trials, moral panics have been a staple of American society. We love a good morality tale and we love a good scapegoat. It’s only fitting this unique puritanical impulse would combine with America’s other favorite pastime: mindless racism.
Footnote: Bonnie Dumanis Loses One
The County District Attorney’s crusade to have entire neighborhoods in San Diego criminalized due to gang influence failed yesterday.
A jury found Justin Anderson guilty of conspiracy to commit murder for the benefit of a criminal street gang. He faces 25 years to life in prison on that charge.
The jury didn’t find Anderson guilty of violating Penal Code 182.5, a law that makes it illegal for a member to promote or benefit from a gang’s criminal activity.
From the Union-Tribune:
Anderson was one of 15 defendants who made headlines earlier this year for the District Attorney’s Office’s use of the gang conspiracy law, Penal Code 182.5.
The case garnered criticism from around the country because some of the people charged — including rapper Brandon “Tiny Doo” Duncan — were accused of promoting or benefitting from the Lincoln Park gang’s crimes through rap lyrics or social media postings.
The law, passed in 2000, says gang members with general knowledge of a gang’s criminal activities can be prosecuted for crimes others commit as long as they willfully benefited from, furthered, promoted or assisted. Critics say the law promotes guilt by association while law enforcement officials call it a powerful tool to break up gang networks.
The DA’s initial wide reaching indictments brought together a community coalition, Justice4SD33, to fight what they saw as an attack on any young Black or Brown person living in certain San Diego neighborhoods. Their testimony brought to light incidents where police officers without cause or arrest named individuals as gang members.
On This Day: 1850 – California became the 31st state to join the union. 1956 – Elvis Presley made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show “Toast of the Town.” He was shot from just the waist up during the performance. Elvis would make a total of three appearances on the show. 1973 – United Auto Workers President Leonard Woodcock is named in Pres. Richard Nixon’s “Enemy’s List,” a White House compilation of Americans Nixon regarded as major political opponents. Another dozen union presidents were added later. The existence of the list was revealed during Senate Watergate Committee hearings.
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bob dorn says
Thanks, Doug P., for showing that the number of fatal shootings of police has gone down, and the number of police shootings of citizens has gone up.
Michael K Rohde says
Bravo Mr Porter. I have watched law enforcement dominate the city council and state legislature for decades and they follow the formula you cite. Ms Zimmerman is just the latest chapter in that story and she is no friend to civil liberties. She came to power under a cloud of corruption at the department that exploded with the officer being arrested for the sex crimes while working traffic. That department within the department was crucial in allowing the sexual assaults to continue and one of the supervisors disappeared . I think there is still issues to be settled with Traffic and the supervisors that allowed that to happen. Maybe you could answer that question for us Doug.
First Chief Zimmerman says SDPD won’t make video public because it could incite violence. Then, just a couple of days later she says, well… except in cases where releasing video might quell rioting.
Wait, WHAT?! Does she think we’re all stupid, or just not paying attention?
C’mon mainstream media — get on this!
General personal opinion: could somebody nominate Doug Porter for a global peace prize? Thanks for the info and perspective always . Knowledge is power, power of good. The word, man, the word…