Denver Police Brutality Sparked New Police Chief Hire
On May 6, 2011 a group of local citizens in Denver held the March Against Police Terror in reaction to the brutal and senseless murder and injury of citizens over the past decade.
The protesters cited the killings of Marvin Booker on July 9, 2010, and Oleg Gidenko as two of the most recent and outrageous. I’ve written about a number of deaths-by-police over the years, but this one has really stuck with me for several reasons, not least because Mr. Booker was murdered inside the police department for simply wanting to retrieve his shoes before his arrest was processed.
Please allow me this brief detour into the past; and if you have a couple extra seconds, please do click into the diary and look at Marvin’s sweet face. You may be unable to forget it, and that will be a good thing for us all. The post indicates that it was hard to find reports of his death at the time; I had forgotten that. After the May 6, 2011 march, police apparently released video of the cruel killing. I’d be unable to watch. I want you to know him, even just a little bit.
“Marvin Booker, 56, was a homeless ordained street minister. He’d spent the last several decades living back and forth between Denver and Memphis. He had a string of crimes in his past: loitering, carry a concealed weapon, disturbing the peace, threatening assault, and so forth; all probably par for the course for homeless people.
He was the son of a prominent Memphis minister, and once wrote a small book on Martin Luther King, Jr., which he sold on the streets of Memphis as he recited parts of King’s I Have a Dream speech. Local folks had nicknamed him ‘Martin’.
He helped out in soup kitchens, and friends said he was turning his life around.
“If you closed your eyes, you would think you were in the presence of Martin Luther King,” said Memphis Pastor Andrews R. Smith. People would cry. He was always smiling. His eyes would just shine like a chipmunk. Marvin is such a kindhearted person,” Smith said. “His sweet demeanor makes the circumstances of his death seem suspicious,” he said.
Marvin returned to Denver a year or two ago when Memphis cracked down on panhandling. On July 9 he was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia; he fell asleep at the station house while waiting to be processed. When his name was called at 3:00 a.m., he went to the desk, and was ordered to sit down. The female duty officer asked him to sit; he declined. The officer told him if he didn’t sit, he would be placed in a holding cell; he chose that option. When he realized that he had forgotten to put on his shoes, he told the deputy he would retrieve his shoes, and walked toward them. The deputy yelled repeatedly at him to come back; he didn’t. He apparently really wanted his shoes. The homeless are attached to their possessions, and shoes are a big deal to them.
The female deputy followed him, grabbed his arm, and put a hold on him; he shoved her away. Four other deputies wrestled the 5’5″ 175-pound man to the floor, a deputy held each of his legs and arms. One deputy yelled, “Get the Taser; get the Taser.” Someone did, and a fifth put his head in a lock-hold as the Taser crackled repeatedly, while one deputy yelled, “Probe his _____.” (unknown destination)
“I can’t breathe…” Booker said, and went limp. The deputies handcuffed his hands behind his back, and carried him to a holding cell facedown, by the arms and legs, and deposited him facedown on the floor, un-cuffed him, and without checking his pulse, left the room. The deputies high-fived each other, and laughed.
A nearby witness who was waiting to be processed yelled out that Booker was not breathing. An officer called for help; when they checked, Marvin Booker was dead.
He was buried in Memphis on July 16 at the Cathedral of Faith Community Church where his brother C.L. Booker is the pastor.”
On May 9, 2011, all of the officers ‘involved’ with Mr. Booker’s murder were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Again: Godspeed, Marvin Booker. And Godspeed to all other victims of the Denver (and all other) police departments who’ve been killed without provocation or absolute necessity.
In a recent lawsuit brought by alleged victim James Moore, the department failed to comply with orders to turn over documents relevant to establishing a clear pattern and history of DPD’s use of excessive force to Moore’s attorney. The federal judge hearing the case threatened the Denver Police Department in September that if they did not turn over the 300,000+ citizen complaints of excessive force by police that had been filed over the past eight years, plus the 7500+ videos showing police brutality, he would fine them $5000 a day until they did.
A police spokesperson apparently claimed that producing them would cost the department $85,000; that claim caused a local criminal defense attorney to quip, “That’s an interesting defense…so many records of police brutality…they just can’t possibly comply with the judge’s orders…”
Westword has a multimedia timeline of the Denver police brutality scandal here.; it’s on the edge of being too much horrid information at once. Denver has paid out millions in awards from lawsuits. You can watch videos of some of the victims here:
While campaigning for the mayoralty last spring, recently elected Denver Mayor Michael Hancock promised he would replace Chief Jerry Whitman who’s held the job since 2000. His search ended with the choice of Louisville, KY Police Chief Robert White, who will start his new job next week. Hancock claims that he has a great track record for restoring community relations between police and African-American citizens and holding police accountable. This piece from The Denver Post says that during his eight year tenure in Louisville he won the respect of the community after a long history of contentious enmity on both sides of the ‘thin blue line’, which line White says he’d like to erase. The Post piece calls him a “disciplinarian and a diplomat” and cites this record:
“White didn’t mess around with cops who, in his view, crossed the line.
In his eight years in Louisville, White fired 28 officers, and in 25 other cases the cops retired or resigned while under investigation, according to an investigation by the Louisville Courier- Journal. In all, White disciplined 755 officers during his tenure.
In the 2004 shooting, White refused to defend his officer [a white officer killing a 19-year-old black man] — and fired him after concluding that the shooting wasn’t justified.
It was the first case, but not the last, in which White took decisive action against a cop he concluded had crossed the line.
“I think that helped to define his ability to police as well as who he was as a police chief,” said Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
According to the website officer.com, White has also opined that the public perception of the department’s excessive use of force is justified in his opinion. He said he googled the department and Chief Whitman’s name before accepting the job, and saw reports and videos that informed his opinion.
“Decisions for me would be a lot less tougher than they would be for an insider because I don’t have a history with any of these individuals,” said White. “I can clearly make those decisions without necessarily being tied to how individuals are going to feel based on the relationship that we had.”
“To some degree it’s irrelevant if I believe that or not. There is a perception that there is one so that has to be addressed,” said White. “When you talk about the discipline as it relates to the officer, whether it is a reality or whether it is a perception, the bottom line is it’s a problem and it’s a problem that has to be addressed.”
In a related issue, officer.com also reports that Denver Police are testing officer-worn video cameras that digitally film interactions between police and citizens. Denver police spokesman Lt. Matt Murray said in a news release on Monday said the devices are “essentially portable camera systems that record officer interaction with civilians, and that [the nearby town of] Lafayette (Colo.) Police Department switched from patrol car dash cameras to inexpensive officer-worn cameras in 2009.”
Officer.com also quotes Lafayette police Sgt. John Sellers, “Reasons to use officer-worn cameras are to increase officer safety, reduce agency liability, reduce officer complaints and improve the public perception of police.”
I wish Chief White luck, as we all do, in controlling his officers, and hope that if they purchase and use the officer-cams…they will show a drastic reduction in ‘excessive force’ by his officers. And I hope he is watching the videos of the brutality perpetrated upon protesters at Occupy Denver and reminding them of our First Amendment Rights and Duties.
(cross-posted at www.kgblogz.com)
Some Sweet Honey in the Rock as an antidote to this vileness: