It’s happening in city after city: Cops arrive at the scene, some
words may or may not be said, many shots are fired, and a person lies
dead — gunned down in a hail of bullets. The most recent incident, but
not the last, is the case of Amadou Diallo,
a 22-year-old immigrant
Muslim street peddler in New York City, from Guinea, who was shot to
death in the hallway of his apartment building in a hail of 41 bullets
fired by four officers from the elite Street Crime Unit. As it turns out
he was just an innocent person who failed to “freeze” when ordered by
those plain-clothes officers.

In Washington, D.C., Joseph Durant Sr. is very bitter about the
manner in which police came when they were called to help him remove his
drunk son from his house. Twenty bullets later, Joseph Jr. lay dead. In
a CBS interview the distraught father stated, “They didn’t have to shoot
him like that because … he didn’t have no gun.”

While in Riverside, California a young black woman, Tyisha Miller,
age 19 was shot 12 times by police who, were unable to awaken her as she
lay with a gun in her lap in her locked and idling car, broke the car
window and began firing. The original police statement alleged that
Miller had reached for her gun.

In all three cases there have been cries from activist groups calling
for federal investigations, if not a federal intervention. But in the
Amadou Diallo case the four officers who participated in the shooting
are demanding no federal involvement as a condition of their cooperation
with city and state investigators. It appears that in New York
investigations of police brutality are usually resolved in favor of the
police officer. The day after Joseph Durant, Jr. was killed the police
chief begged for help from the U.S. Department of Justice as he admitted
that the D.C. Police Department was unable to clean up its own house.
Six weeks after her death, Tyisha Miller’s family is still waiting for
an official explanation of what happened that fateful night in January.

The pattern is the same: a hail of bullets, police promises of a
swift and fair investigation, community activists calling for federal
involvement, community leaders asking for calm and patience, and then a
long silence “pending the results of an investigation.”

According to the New York Post,
“police department records show there were 111 incidents in which cops
fired at ‘offenders’ last year.” In 1997 alone New York City paid $27.5
million as a result of police misconduct. Last Monday, the Los Angeles
County Supervisors were debating spending $2.5 million of taxpayer money
to settle lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Department. That sum would be
in addition to the $8.8 million they spent in fiscal year 1998 and the
$12.5 spent the previous year for payouts and settlements. In the
November 19th column for WorldNetDaily, “More Cops, Less Training

I wrote “Unjustified police shootings, according to the Washington Post,
have cost the district over three-quarters of a million dollars in the
past few weeks and over $8 million in the past half-year.”

Why are these incidents happening more and more? It all began under
the leadership of the famed “law and order” administration of President
Richard Nixon. Under the leadership of then Attorney General John
Mitchell federal funds began pouring into local police departments.
Ostensibly the purpose was to keep crime statistics for the FBI. Yet, as
the years passed and
the program grew, the federal dollars were funneled into hiring and
training, with, of course, federally mandated training standards.

Today under the Clinton administration’s 1994 Crime Bill, federal
mandates have ballooned to new heights. Now federal dollars provide
local police departments with tanks, helicopters with guns, military
firearms, and military style training.

According to a retired member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s
Department, most of these young cops have no military experience, have
no comprehension of the difference between police and military tactics,
yet they are being militarily trained to assume a “siege mentality”
atmosphere. They are not being schooled in what differentiates military
and police duties: the
military is trained to shoot first, but the police must be reactive and
wait for the visible, clear and present danger.

Too many Rambo movies, too much adrenaline and a federally mandated
training program that emphasizes firepower results in tragedy. Yes,
murders, drug addicts, rapists are on the streets of not only our major
cities but smaller towns as well. Yes, police officers spend most of
working lives experiencing the dark and seamy side of society, and
everyone does agrees that police work is a hazardous occupation. But
there are still many, many more non-criminals on our streets than
criminals. Therefore it is still necessary for police departments to
train their officers that their job is to “protect” and to “serve,” not
to kill and destroy.

Police training must regain its civilian focus. Swat teams, such as
New York’s Street Crime Unit or the Los Angeles Police Department’s
Special Investigation Section (called the “Death Squad by critics), and
other elite militaristic police programs must be scaled way back.
Everyone from Mayor Giuliani to President Clinton talks about
neighborhood policing. But for
neighborhood policing to work, the police officers must know the
neighborhoods, not consider the neighborhood a war zone. The allure of
federal dollars must be tempered with the cost of lost lives as well as
the cost of payouts and settlements. Let’s demilitarize our police
departments and better train our police in protecting our citizens. We
need fewer headlines that begin with “gunned down in a hail of bullets.”

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