Jaeah is a former reporter at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, the Guardian, Wired, Christian Science Monitor,Global Post,Huffington Post,Talking Points Memo, and Grist. She tweets at @jaeahjlee.
A new Justice Department report details the use of deadly force by Philly police officers.
Jaeah LeeMar. 24, 2015 6:00 AM
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey holds the DOJ report during a news conference on Monday.
Philadelphia, a city with a vastly smaller population than that of New York City, has seen a much higher rate of police shootings in recent years. According to a new report published on Monday by the US Department of Justice, police violence disproportionately affects Philadelphia's black community, and officers don't receive consistent training on the department's deadly force policy.
The 174-page report results from an investigation the DOJ launched in 2013 at the request of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, during a time when officer-involved shootings, including fatal incidents, were on the rise, even as violent crimes and assaults against the police was on the decline. "Police carry baggage and lack legitimacy in some communities," Ramsey, who has been appointed to chair the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing, recently told the New York Times. "And for us to change the paradigm, we have to understand why we are viewed in this way."
The DOJ's Philadelphia investigation, which examined nearly 400 deadly force incidents between 2007 and 2013, provides a rare close-up of the patterns of officer-involved shootings. The report follows on the heels of another damning report the DOJ published on the city of Ferguson, where federal investigators found systematic racial discrimination among public officials and police.
While it's nearly impossible to know how much the findings in Philadelphia represent police practices across the country—there is no comprehensive national data on police officers' use of force, as we reported last year—the DOJ probe does reveal an alarming rate of shootings when compared to other large departments. Philadelphia's police force, which is one-fifth the size of the NYPD, saw dozens more officer shootings resulting in deaths and injuries than those by the NYPD over the same period.
Here are a few key findings from Monday's report:
In a city where blacks and whites each make up about 45 percent of the population, almost 60 percent of the officers involved in shootings between 2007 and 2013 were white, while 81 percent of suspects involved were black.
Black suspects were the most likely to get shot because of a misidentified object. White suspects were the most likely to be involved in a physical altercation that resulted in the officer shooting.
Among officer-involved shootings in which the victim was black, black and Hispanic officers were more likely than their white counterparts to have shot at a suspect after mistaking a plain object for a gun.
While the overall number of officer-involved shootings declined between 2007 and 2013, the share of victims who were unarmed during those incidents more than tripled, from 6 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2013.
Officers initiated the encounter in 43 percent of officer-involved shootings in 2013, down from nearly 60 percent in 2007 and nearly 70 percent in 2008.
Out of 382 suspects involved in the shootings between 2007 and 2013, about 88 were killed, 180 injured, and 115 unharmed. The majority of suspects brandished a weapon but did not shoot, held a weapon other than a firearm, or were unarmed. Forty-nine suspects (13 percent) shot at the officer, injuring six and killing one.
The average time spent on investigating an officer involved shooting has declined from 417 days in 2007 to 264 days in 2013.
Out of 88 officers who were found to have violated department policy during a shooting incident, 73 percent were not suspended or terminated. Some interviewees told the Justice Department they believed that the department's board of inquiry undermined findings from internal reviews of officer shootings, resulting in "too little discipline."
"You can't generalize about protestors who, it turns out, had some very legitimate grievances."
Jaeah LeeMar. 14, 2015 1:04 AM
During his appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show on Thursday night, President Obama perfectly distilled what's at stake in Ferguson, and what needs to be done next. "In the same way that you can't generalize about police officers who do an extraordinarily tough job—overwhelmingly they do it professionally," he said, "you can't generalize about protestors who, it turns out, had some very legitimate grievances."
Some of the key evidence Justice Department officials cited in their report on Ferguson.
Jaeah LeeMar. 4, 2015 4:40 PM
A Ferguson police officer mans the door to a town hall style meeting, Sept. 22, 2014.
Today the Justice Department released its scathing 105-page report on Ferguson's pervasive discrimination against black residents. The report included references to blatantly racist emails from local officials: One said Obama wouldn't last in office because he's black; another attached a photo of bare-chested group of women, apparently in Africa, captioned "Michelle Obama's High School Reunion." The DOJ found plenty of other evidence of racial bias; below are a few examples. (We're making our way through the report and will add to the list.)
One black Ferguson resident told Justice Department officials about his interaction with a Ferguson police officer, in which the officer told him "N*****, I can find something to lock you up on":
Ferguson city officials and police interviewed by the DOJ "nearly uniformly" said that it was due to a lack of "personal responsibility," not the failure of the law, that African-American members of the Ferguson community were disproportionately targeted by law enforcement:
The DOJ found that Ferguson officials commonly dismissed tickets for friends, showing a "double standard grounded in racial stereotyping":
Ferguson police routinely used Tasers "where less force—or no force at all—would do." Almost 90 percent of the time cops used force, it was against African Americans, and often they used unnecessary force against people with mental health disabilities:
All of the police canine attacks reviewed by the DOJ targeted black residents, including a 14-year-old boy who was hiding in a storage closet. The dog bit his arm, causing puncture wounds:
A white resident who has lived in Ferguson for 48 years told DOJ officials that it felt like Ferguson's policing and court system is "designed to bring a black man down." In other interviews, several black residents talked about Ferguson's "long history of targeting blacks for harassment and degrading treatment"—some talked about changing their commute to work to avoid Ferguson or moving out of the state altogether as a result:
The DOJ called out the following emails sent by Ferguson officials as "illustrative" of racial bias:
Justice Department officials also found evidence that the Ferguson Police Department tolerated sexual harassment by male officers (h/t River Front Times):
More details emerge from the Justice Department's investigation into Ferguson.
Jaeah LeeMar. 3, 2015 10:15 PM
Police watch as protesters marched on Aug. 19, 2014, for Michael Brown.
New details have emerged about the Justice Department's forthcoming report finding patterns of racial discrimination among officials and police officers in Ferguson, Missouri. Among the findings is an email saying that Barack Obama wouldn't last long as president because he's black and data showing that for years, traffic stops, use of force, petty crime charges, and affronts by police canines disproportionately targeted the city's black residents.
Ferguson's black drivers were more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to be stopped and searched, according to records over two years. Black drivers were also 26 percent less likely to be found in possession of contraband.
According to the police department's internal records concerning force, 88 percent of those cases involved force against blacks. All 14 canine bite incidents involved blacks.
Blacks were 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed in municipal court. An arrest warrant was more likely to be issued for blacks.
The Justice Department found that the court uses petty crime charges to pad the city's budget. As of December 2014, 16,000 out of Ferguson's 21,000 residents have outstanding warrants for minor violations, including traffic tickets.
A 2008 message in a municipal email account stated that President Barack Obama would not be president for very long because "what black man holds a steady job for four years."
Over a six-month period in 2014, 95 percent of inmates who spent more than two days in the Ferguson jail were black.
Petty offenses disproportionately target black citizens. 95 percent of all "Manner of Walking in Roadway" charges were against blacks.
The DOJ's full report is expected as early as Wednesday.