on human rights day, let’s talk about…

…the right to not get fucking killed by a cop. I’m not being needlessly profane; that’s taken verbatim from the universal declaration of human rights. But before i get to killer cops, some thoughts on the the day itself:

Bub says that international human rights day was invented by hallmark to sell more cards. Always more cards. And i’m inclined to believe him, since i’d say i get 20-30 cards every year, ranging from the classic “Season’s Greetings” on a tasteful watercolor background of refugees lined up to collect their rice and oil allotments, to the inevitable gary larson cartoon about arbitrary arrest. In fact, as far as consumer holidays go, i think it’s second only to international parsnip month.

…so now that that’s out of the way!

I don’t especially care for the “rights” framework–state-oriented as it is–and yet here i am blogging about it. Semantics aside, i can get behind the idea that there are certain things all people are entitled to, and i can especially get behind the idea that this entitlement supersedes any written law stating otherwise. I spent all weekend pondering what i’d focus this post on, and then a link i happened to follow this morning answered the question…

On December 6, Sherry Frey was murdered by an off-duty cop/Walmart security guard in Houston.

Frey and two friends were suspected of shoplifting from the store, and ensuing events led to her murder by a cop. To be clear, it sounds like she was shot in her car as she attempted to get away, not, as some news coverage makes it sound, in the midst of the shoplifting itself. The cop claims she tried to run him down (as he was holding the car door open), and that’s why he fired his gun. (I’ve seen movies, so i know that at best that would have called for shooting out her tires, not her.) Frankly there’s little reason to believe this, given the cop’s interest in laying a foundation for a finding of “reasonable force.” But even if the claim is true, the question is still, why did this fucking cop decide to escalate a confrontation to the point of physical threat to address a simple act of shoplifting? Frey and her friends, after all, didn’t come into the store shooting. Nor did they leave shooting. If a life-threatening situation existed, it was of the cop’s own creation.

Of course, we know the answer to the question. The cop escalated the situation because his employer believes that avoiding any loss of profit, no matter how negligible it may be to a corporation worth hundreds of billions of dollars, is primary over human life and well-being. And he escalated the situation because he’s a cop: somebody trained and allowed to use excessive force in the service of ruling-class interests, particularly against people of color, under the thin veil of “maintaining law and order.” There are no bad apples in the equation–this is a cop doing what cops do. There isn’t a version of this story in which shooting this woman was justifiable. Even if i thought shoplifting was wrong (and I DON’T), i wouldn’t think it merited getting into any kind of physical altercation to stop, as the cop did.

Here’s what actually happened: some lady and her friends decided to go steal some stuff from Walmart. Walmart’s armed security decided to escalate the situation into one where the women (reasonably, as it turns out) felt their safety was seriously threatened. They fled, the cop pursued them, and then he shot and killed Frey, with her two children in the back seat. The alternative would have been: to let the shoplifters go. With or without the initial confrontation, they could have just been allowed to leave. It’s actually that easy for cops not to kill people, but they do it all the time anyways.

And of course, this sort of killing isn’t an anomaly. In 2012, police officers across the US killed at least 520 people. That includes:

  • Guillermo Arevalo Pedroza, shot and killed by Border Patrol agents while at a family barbecue (in Mexico); agents claim rocks were thrown at them
  • 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, also shot by Border Patrol agents on the pretext of rock-throwing; he was fired at 14 times and hit 6
  • Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man savagely beaten into a coma by police in Fullterton, CA
  • Brian Claunch, a wheelchair-bound mentally ill man shot to death in Houston because he was attacking an officer with a pen
  • Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, shot 23 and 24 times respectively, basically for speeding while black in Cleveland
  • Henry Lee Sr, a 77-year-old with dementia; he called 911 reporting a possible intruder, and then went outside to find police in his yard
  • Kenneth Chamberlain, a 68-yr-old who refused to let police into his home after they responded to an accidental call from his medical alert bracelet
  • Reynaldo Cuevas, killed by responding police officers as he attempted to escape an armed robbery
  • 16-year-old Andrew Messina, killed by a police sniper after his parents called the police because he was threatening suicide
  • Obviously the list goes on, but i’ll end with this: a report prepared by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement documenting 120 “extrajudicial killings” of black people by “police, security guards and self-appointed law enforcers” in first half of 2012.

Cops kill people. All the time. And they do it with impunity. There is no “reform” that can fix this, because the truth is that a certain amount of terror is needed to keep people down, and a system that didn’t offer cops impunity would soon find itself lacking enough people willing to do the dirty work necessary to maintain the existing social order.