Field Negro: Sorry is the easiest word to say

The Field Negro education series continues.

Shout out to Philly’s own David Love for giving us this thought provoking article.

“Is the policing of black men the new sport for white officers and wannabe cops?

This is a question worth asking, in light of this season of police killings, particularly the April 2nd fatal shooting of a black man named Eric Harris, 44, by Reserve Deputy Robert Bates. After officers brought Harris to the ground, an officer yelled “Taser” twice, after which Bates shot Harris with his gun and said, “Oh! I shot him. I’m sorry.” Apparently, Bates meant to shoot the man with his Taser rather than his gun.

As Harris yelled that he was shot, he said, “I’m losing my breath,” to which the officer responded, “f*** your breath.”  Harris died an hour later.

But oh well, what difference does it make, right? Whether it’s a Taser or gun, it’s just another dead black man we’re talking about. Plus, the man said he was sorry.

Robert Bates, 73, who has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in Harris’ death, is a prime example of someone who went out of his way looking for trouble. To put it another way, he volunteered to be in that situation, or rather, he paid a lot of money to volunteer. Now a man is dead from a situation that did not warrant using a Taser, much less a gun.

But who gave Bates this authority?

One has to ask why the 73-year old CEO of an insurance company — with one year of full-time experience as a cop back in the 1960s — would be allowed to be in the thick of it, in a major, high-stakes operation where he had the power of life or death over Eric Harris.

On the surface, it would appear Bates was a “pay-to-play” wannabe cop. It turns out Bates had donated video equipment, weapons and cars to the Sheriff’s Office, not to mention $2,500 to Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s reelection campaign in 2012. And he even served as the sheriff’s campaign chair. As Vox reported, as many as 130 reserve deputies in Tulsa are “wealthy people,” and it is not unusual for them to make donations. And as Salon had reported last year, some police departments openly ask for donations for a badge and gun permit.

Auxiliary police are nothing new. There are around 400,000 volunteer officers across the nation who, in a time of cash-strapped police departmentshelp fill in the gaps. But apparently, there is a wide discrepancy when it comes to what reserve cops can do. For example, in Los Angeles, they are allowed to do community relations and desk duty, while in the NYPD they are unarmed.

This state of affairs would give us the impression that anyone, at least in a department such as the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, can play cop—at least if the price is right. It is also painfully evident that some individuals are all-too-eager to become police officers Just to take it a step further, it is exceedingly difficult to fathom that these folks would be allowed to carry on in white communities and “accidentally” fatally shoot white citizens the way this reserve deputy killed Mr. Harris. It would not be allowed.

It is a little harder to wrap one’s head around this Tulsa incident unless we understand this country’s history concerning the policing of black people. Some would suggest the concept of police volunteers goes back to the Wild West, when common folk were deputized to fight crime and catch the bad guy. Although this is a valid assertion, there is also another troubling legacy of policing in America that is implicated in the shooting of Eric Harris.

As for black people, our first experience with police were the slave patrols. As Brittney Cooper reminds us in Salon, American policing traces its origins to these patrols.

During slavery times, all whites were encouraged and sanctioned to exert control over blacks. White men were deputized as members of the slave patrols — both slave masters and non-slaveholders alike — which were a crucial part of the slavery police state and economic order maintained by wealthy whites to maintain control over blacks. According to Professor Carl T. Bogus of Roger Williams University School of Law, these patrols were militias under the Second Amendment, designed to protect whites against slave rebellion.

“Virtually all able-bodied white men were part of the militia,” Bogus notes of Southern men, “which primarily meant that they had slave control duties under the direction and discipline of local militia officers.” [Read more here]

Shooting: Deputy Thomas Gilliland, said that after the chase, two Houston police officers told the suspect to show his hands, but as they approached his car he reached back into his vehicle. Suspecting that he was reaching for a weapon, both officers opened fire multiple times, killing the man. (Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle via AP)

So yesterday it was Tulsa, and today it’s Houston.  Eh.

The police say that they feared the  man in Houston was reaching for a gun. But as of me writing this post they have not said whether a gun was actually “found at the scene.”

Of course that incident was not all caught on video tape, soo…….oh look, there is a Glock under his seat.

Stay tuned.

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