Friday, February 17, 2012

When Police Kill

Two weeks ago New York City police shot and killed an unarmed man inside of his home and in front of his family.  The victim, eighteen year old Ramarley Graham, was unarmed.  Apparently the police had been observing a local convenience store that had been suspected as being a hub for drug activity when Graham became a person of interest.  Initial reports stated that Graham ran from the police but one has to question those reports as the security camera footage from Graham’s home that was released later clearly shows that he was walking at a casual pace as he approached the building.  Police forcefully entered the building without warrant and shot Graham as he was attempting to flush some marijuana down the toilet.  The police say that they announced themselves as police officers upon entering the Graham home and that the officer who fired the shots yelled “gun, gun” before pulling his trigger.  Graham’s grandmother, who was present during the encounter, says otherwise.  Another interesting conflict in the polices’ story is the fact that on the day of the incident NYPD spokesman Paul Browne stated that there was a struggle between officers and Graham prior to the shooting but on the following day the Commissioner denied any such struggle.

To be fair, it should be noted that Graham did not have a clean record.  He had been arrested eight times with charges ranging from robbery on down to assaulting a police officer.  Still, it is hard to justify the warrantless killing of an unarmed young man in front of his grandmother and six year old brother.  Especially when the only wrongdoing police can point to is the fact that Graham was flushing marijuana down the toilet.  I recognize the fact that police work can be extremely dangerous and that Graham was certainly no angel but the conflicts in the story just do not sit well with me.  The idea that Graham lost his life over a flushable amount of marijuana when just last month a New York City photographer who got busted with ten pounds of marijuana in her apartment was set free without jail time or probation.

Unfortunately police killings are not all that rare.  NYPD officers shot and killed two other young men the same week of the Graham incident.  The NYPD seems to have a history of killing unarmed civilians.  The most recent high profile case was that of Sean Bell.  Bell and his friends were leaving a club after a bachelor party celebration for Bell.  NYPD fired upon Bell’s vehicle 50 times.  The common thread in these cases seems to be that police thought that the victims were armed but the reality is that in many cases they are not.  Most of these incidences do not make the national news and if we use history as an indicator the officers involved in Graham’s killing will be acquitted.

I chose this topic because I anticipate that a riot or an uprising as a result of one of these killings.  These incidences are not exclusive to New York.  The video below shows Oscar Grant being killed by a law enforcement officer in Oakland.  A year or so prior to this a seven year old girl in Detroit was killed by an officer when police raided the wrong house.  Just last year in London riots did happen in protest of the police killing of Mark Duggan.  Our criminal justice classes teach us that community policing is an effective model but only if the community believes in the system.  One of the criticisms of community policing is that in some areas citizens will not cooperate.  How can you blame them when they see police get off with slaps on the wrist for taking a life of innocent civilians?



  1. I feel as though there are always going to be accidents with law enforcement and civilians. I do think that there are precautions that can be taken to help alleviate the chances of these accidents, however no matter what there are going to be conflict of interests between authority and society. The officers should be reprimanded, do some prison time, and have a permanent tint on his criminal record. He however should not be charged as heavily. It is the officers duty to protect society and use his own judgement in determining how to do so. No officer is perfect and makes the best decisions all the time, which in my opinion, is very common. Very interesting points and cases that are pointed out!

  2. Reading this i was just kind of going along thinking about what i thought about these situations, and then i watched the video and was absolutely shocked. That right there was a completely unnecessary use of force. I feel that officers sometimes just don't think and pull their gun. I know everyone has their moments and don't think the situation through but not everyone has a gun at their hip. I think that shooting someone for flushing marijuana down the toilet is ridiculous. Is the first thing they think of to stop someone is to shoot them? The victims here were not harming anyone yet they were shot and killed by the police. Quite frankly it disgusts me.

  3. I cannot believe this! Even if Graham was involved in the alleged drug activity, that is a non-violent crime! They shot him dead for flushing marijuana down the toilet.. How could he have been holding a gun at the officers at the same time that he was flushing the marijuana down the toilet? I want to know if the cops got reprimanded for this? They busted into a house without a warrant, and shot someone dead for a non-violent crime… do they still have their jobs?
    And as for the BART video… that is absolutely insane! They had him constrained on the ground, he obviously was not getting away or hurting anyone, how could they do that??!

  4. I thought in policing you have to do everything before you can shoot. I cannot believe this.Reading about Graham is unbelievable. Bad record or not no one deserves to lose their life over flushing weed. I believe that some officers are power hungry and they don't care the effect some decisions will have on others. Shooting him specailly in front of his grandmother and little brother? No one should have to see that. Then I read how the little 7 year old girl got shot and that just made me extremely mad. How many years of that little girls life did that officer take? Also how many years did that officer NOT get sent to jail?

  5. Its a shame when these types of events take place and i feel like justie should be give to the people who loose their lives and maybe the departments need to make better poliies to deal with problems such as this