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.
On Wednesday, David Bowers, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, piled onto the backlash against Syrian refugees led by state governors, in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people. Bowers requested that all local agencies "suspend and delay any further Syrian refugee assistance until these serious hostilities and atrocities end…and normalcy is restored." Then he attempted to draw this historical parallel:
I'm reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.
Within hours, Bowers's statement drew fierce criticism from several Roanoke city council members—who called his remarks "narcissistic" and "unrepresentative" of the local community. And then actor and social media sensation George Takei weighed in. The Star Trek cast member has long been outspoken about his family's history inside American-held Japanese internment camps, a story chronicled in his Broadway musical, Allegiance.
In a searing open letter to Bowers on Wednesday afternoon—posted to Facebook—Takei called the remarks a "resort to fear-based tactics" and a "galling lack of compassion for people fleeing from these same terrorists." The post received more than 9 million likes in one day.
Mayor Bowers, there are a few key points of history you seem to have missed:
1) The internment (not a "sequester") was not of Japanese "foreign nationals," but of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. I was one of them, and my family and I spent 4 years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. It is my life’s mission to never let such a thing happen again in America.
2) There never was any proven incident of espionage or sabotage from the suspected "enemies" then, just as there has been no act of terrorism from any of the 1,854 Syrian refugees the US already has accepted. We were judged based on who we looked like, and that is about as un-American as it gets.
3) If you are attempting to compare the actual threat of harm from the 120,000 of us who were interned then to the Syrian situation now, the simple answer is this: There was no threat. We loved America. We were decent, honest, hard-working folks. Tens of thousands of lives were ruined, over nothing.
Mayor Bowers, one of the reasons I am telling our story on Broadway eight times a week in Allegiance is because of people like you. You who hold a position of authority and power, but you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons. So Mayor Bowers, I am officially inviting you to come see our show, as my personal guest. Perhaps you, too, will come away with more compassion and understanding.
-- George Takei
For more Takei greatness, read our 2012 interview with him, here.
Screen shot taken from surveillance footage of the shooting.
A newly released report examining the actions of the Cleveland police officers involved in the November 2014 shooting death of Tamir Rice concludes that the call taker who handled a 911 call about Rice failed to relay significant details to the officers about the 12-year-old boy. The report also offers new information on why the officers pulled their car to within 10 feet of Rice, just seconds before he was fatally shot. And similar to two other reports made public from the ongoing grand jury investigation, it reaches a conclusion sure to continue stoking controversy about the case—that officer Timothy Loehmann, who fired the fatal shots, made "the only objectively reasonable decision" possible in gunning down Rice point-blank.
The independent analysis, released on Thursday afternoon by the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office, is part of ongoing grand jury deliberations on whether Loehmann should face criminal charges. It was authored by W. Ken Katsaris, a Florida police officer and training instructor tapped by the prosecutor's office.
"The dispatcher should have provided additional information to the officers, including details that the 'guy with the gun' is 'probably a juvenile,'" wrote Katsaris. He added that while the caller described the weapon as "'probably a fake,' he also clearly reported 'I don't know if it's real or not.'" Yet Katsaris also notes that the call taker "did gather sufficient information from [the caller] and handled the call appropriately."
The county sheriff's investigation revealedin June that a call taker at the Cleveland police dispatch center entered the 911 caller's information into a computer system and assigned it a "code one," the highest priority emergency. But, as Mother Jonesfirst reported in June, that call taker never entered the additional details about Rice probably being a juvenile and the uncertainty about his gun, and that information was not relayed by another dispatcher to the officers headed to the scene.
Katsaris says that while these additional details should have been provided to the officers, they "would not be very helpful to the officers in terms of decision making," because they do not "in any way diminish the threat potential, and the statements about the firearm are far too ambiguous to be taken as relevant unless the circumstances were clearly different than this situation unfolded." He concludes, "the only objectively reasonable decision to be made by Loehmann was to utilize deadly force and deploy his firearm."
The report also focuses on the actions of officer Frank Garmback, who drove the squad car directly up to Rice: "It appears that the officers were heading for the area of the swings, where the 'guy with the gun' was last reported being seen." When the officers instead spotted Rice under a nearby gazebo, this sighting "was not expected," according to Katsaris, "causing Officer Garmback to apply the brakes suddenly, and hard, skidding for forty feet and ten inches." Katsaris adds that "it is obvious to me, from the totality of the circumstances, that the vehicle stop position was not by choice, but by necessity."
Policing experts including former officers have told Mother Jones that the officers' actions leading up to the shooting of Rice was "a use of horrible tactics" and that they warrant further investigation.
Katsaris's report marks the fourth one made public by county prosecutor McGinty. The release of various analysis ahead of a grand jury decision suggesting that the officers may not be charged has drawn criticism and prompted Rice's family and supporters to demand a special prosecutor.
Update, November 13, 2015 12:34 a.m. ET: In a statement to Mother Jones, Subodh Chandra, an attorney for Rice's mother and sister, said that the family "has lost confidence in the prosecutor," calling his handling of the case "a charade." The family did not know about the report released on Thursday until learning about it from media reports, Chandra said. "And this report is just as flawed as the previous ones. The report assumes non-existent facts—like what the officers were thinking when the officers have never testified, and it ignores other critical facts—including the fact the officers rushed up to Tamir and fired immediately, the fact that Ohio is an open-carry state, and that the officers left a 12-year-old boy bleeding and dying on the ground without administering first aid. Judge Ronald Adrine has held that probable cause to charge the officers exists. Law professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich has opined that a jury must decide the issue of guilt or innocence. Yet the prosecutor has not committed to sharing their opinions with the grand jury."
Quentin Tarantino at a New York City protest against police brutality, October 24.
Amid the continuing national debate about policing, Thursday brought the latest batshit PR move from police union leaders. Their current target, Quentin Tarantino, found himself on the receiving end of a veiled threat when Jim Pasco, the head of the national Fraternal Order of Police, told reporters that "something is in the works" against the Hollywood filmmaker. The union's plan, Pasco said, "could happen any time" between now and the premiere of Tarantino's upcoming film, The Hateful Eight, on Christmas Day. Just what exactly did he mean? More from the Hollywood Reporter:
Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, would not go into any detail about what is being cooked up for the Hollywood director, but he did tell THR: "We'll be opportunistic."
"Tarantino has made a good living out of violence and surprise," says Pasco. "Our offices make a living trying to stop violence, but surprise is not out of the question."
The FOP, based in Washington, D.C., consists of more than 330,000 full-time, sworn officers. According to Pasco, the surprise in question is already "in the works," and will be in addition to the standing boycott of Tarantino's films, including his upcoming movie The Hateful Eight.
"Something is in the works, but the element of surprise is the most important element," says Pasco. "Something could happen anytime between now and [the premiere]. And a lot of it is going to be driven by Tarantino, who is nothing if not predictable.
"The right time and place will come up and we'll try to hurt him in the only way that seems to matter to him, and that's economically," says Pasco.
A boycott against filmmaker Quentin Tarantino launched in late October by the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association has been gaining steam with police unions across the country, with groups from Philadelphia to Los Angeles urging the public to reject the Hollywood director's movies. "New Yorkers need to send a message to this purveyor of degeneracy that he has no business coming to our city to peddle his slanderous 'Cop Fiction,'" PBA president Patrick Lynch said at the outset. The campaign is a response to remarks that Tarantino made while participating in a peaceful march against police brutality in New York City on October 24. "When I see murder I cannot stand by," Tarantino told reporters. "I have to call the murdered the murdered and I have to call the murderers the murderers."
As of November 2, the national chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police is onboard with the boycott, and the National Association of Police Organizations, which represents more than 1,000 unions, has also joined in. On Tuesday, Tarantino responded in the Los Angeles Times: "All cops are not murderers. I never said that. I never even implied that," he said, adding, "What they're doing is pretty obvious. Instead of dealing with the incidents of police brutality that those people were bringing up, instead of examining the problem of police brutality in this country, better they single me out."
He's just the latest. Ever since officer-involved killings became a major national issue, police union leaders have gone on the warpath, using odd boycotts and over-the-top incendiary statements to defend the ranks and push back on rising pressure for reforms. Tarantino joins a colorful list of people and places under fire from the unions. Here are six others:
Screenshot of Fairfax Fraternal Order of Police Facebook page Washington Post/Facebook
A pumpkin patch. In October, Brad Carruthers, the head of the Fraternal Order of Police chapter in Fairfax County, Virginia, called for the boycott of a local pumpkin patch after he spotted a Black Lives Matter sign in the business's window. "This is a time in which law enforcement is the target for criticism for almost everything they do and officers are constantly questioned by the public and the media without the benefit of all the facts," Carruthers wrote on his Facebook page, calling the display a "slap in the face" to the Fairfax County police. "The presence of this sign at Cox's Farm helps perpetuate this kind of behavior and judgment. I know you have heard it all about a million times but the truth is that 'All Lives Matter.'" Carruthers later took down the post, explaining that it misrepresented his intent. He told the Washington Post that he felt the Black Lives Matter movement had been "hijacked" by anti-police activists.
Arby's. In September, police unions in Florida called for a nationwide boycott of the fast-food chain, after an officer in Pembroke Pines claimed that she was denied service while going through an Arby's drive-thru. According to a police report on the incident, a manager told the officer that she was denied service because she was a cop. "In this case, after the clerk refused to serve the officer, the manager came up to the window laughing and said that the clerk had the right to refuse service to the officer," John Rivera, the president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, said in response. "This is yet another example of the hostile treatment of our brave men and women simply because they wear a badge." Another local union leader added, "I think the president needs to get to a podium and say 'This needs to stop,' that we need to put Ferguson behind us, Baltimore behind us, and we need to start treating officers with dignity and respect." The Arby's employee, Kenny Davenport, later explained to local reporters that he couldn't serve the officer because he was busy with other customers and had asked for his manager's help. The manager had made the remark as a joke. "We don't hate cops," Davenport said. "We don't hate anybody. We're just trying to get people out of the drive-thru."
New York City. In July, the Sergeant's Benevolent Association lambasted the city comptroller's office after it announced a $5.9 million payout to settle the wrongful death case of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a NYPD officer last December when police confronted him on the street for illegally selling cigarettes. Union head Ed Mullins called the settlement "obscene" and "shameful," arguing that a jury would have awarded a lower figure. "In my view, the city has chosen to abandon its fiscal responsibility to all of its citizens and genuflect to the select few who curry favor with the city government," Mullins told the New York Post.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Last December, after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the NYPD officer who choked Garner to death, de Blasio extended his sympathy for Garner's family and protesters, adding that he worried about the safety of his own mixed-race son. His comments were met with outrage from Patrick Lynch, the head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. "What police officers felt yesterday after that press conference is that they were thrown under the bus," Lynch told reporters. The group then encouraged officers to sign a waiver it posted on its website, entitled "Don't Insult My Sacrifice," asking de Blasio and a city council member to not attend the funerals of fallen officers. Tensions further escalated after two NYPD officers were shot execution-style by a gunman in Brooklyn that month. Speaking from the hospital where the officers died, Lynch again railed against de Blasio: "There's blood on many hands tonight," he said. "Those that incited violence on the street under the guise of protest to try to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. It cannot be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor." During de Blasio's visit to the same hospital, and the subsequent eulogies he gave at the officers' funerals, hundreds of NYPD officers famously turned their backs to the mayor.
The Cleveland Browns. Ahead of a Sunday football game in December 2014, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins entered the field wearing a shirt with the words "Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford," two young black men who were shot and killed by police in Ohio last year. During a pre-game warm-up a week earlier, Browns cornerback Johnson Bademosi had worn a shirt that read "I Can't Breathe" in protest of the Eric Garner decision. Cleveland Police Patrolman Union president Jeff Follmer sent a letter to a local TV station demanding that the team apologize: "It's pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law. They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium, and the Browns organization owes us an apology."
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, December 14, 2014. Tony Dejak/AP
The St. Louis Rams. During team introductions at a game last November, five Rams players ran onto the field with their hands up, in a sign of support for Ferguson protesters and Michael Brown, the black 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a police officer in August 2014. The St. Louis Police Officers Association condemned the display, demanding that both the Rams and the NFL apologize, and calling for the players to be disciplined. "It is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over and over again," the association's business manager Jeff Roorda said. "I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Well I've got news for people who think that way, cops have first amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours. I'd remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser's products. It's cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it's not the NFL and the Rams, then it'll be cops and their supporters."
St. Louis Rams players, November 30, 2014. L.G. Patterson/AP
Cory Shaffer, Northeast Ohio Media Group
Police unions have also worked to raise money for officers involved in deadly shootings, but some of those campaigns have stirred controversy for their insensitive tone and management. After then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was put on paid administrative leave for the shooting death of Michael Brown, Shield of Hope—a charity arm of the local Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 15—launched a GoFundMe campaign to accept donations from supporters. The page raised more than $234,000 before it was shut down due to a series of offensive comments posted by donors. In July, the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association launched a similar campaign for an officer who was placed on restrictive duty after shooting an unarmed 18-year-old over an attempted burglary. A flyer for the fundraiser advertised several raffle prizes, including a television and a Glock 26 pistol.
Tamir Rice's sister and mother at the park where the 12-year-old was gunned down.
On Saturday, October 10, the prosecutor overseeing the Tamir Rice grand jury investigation released two reports authored by independent experts and concluding that Timothy Loehmann, the cop who killed the 12-year-old African American boy in Cleveland last November, acted within the law. The Cuyahoga County prosecutor, Timothy McGinty, knew this was an unusual move to make during grand jury proceedings. "Historically, the norm in most places has been that there's an incident, and then a long investigation shrouded in secrecy, followed by a conclusion that sometimes mystifies large segments of the public," a spokesperson for McGinty's office told Mother Jones regarding the publication of the two reports. "We're trying to break that pattern."
But the reports have sparked outrage from Rice's family and supporters, who say the grand jury investigation amounts to "a charade aimed at whitewashing" and are demanding that a special prosecutor take over the case. Some legal experts suggest that the reports could improperly influence the pool of people serving on the grand jury, who began hearing evidence in recent weeks and will ultimately determine whether Loehmann should face charges. The development adds to a cloud of questions hanging over the case ever since Rice's death almost a year ago—including why Loehmann and his partner who drove the squad car, Frank Garmback, have never spoken to investigators.
"The idea that this is somehow making it more fair and transparent, I think, is disingenuous."
Delores Jones-Brown, a former prosecutor in New Jersey and a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says it was unusual that McGinty enlisted a Colorado prosecutor and a former FBI agent to analyze the evidence and then release their findings. "I have never seen an incident in which that happened before," she said, adding, "Normally it would be the defense attorney's responsibility to get those kinds of experts."
Tim Young, the director of Ohio's public defenders office, sees McGinty's release of the reports as "a measured attempt to try and reduce potential backlash" if the grand jury decides to not indict Loehmann. "The idea that this is somehow making it more fair and transparent, I think, is disingenuous. They're still going to present this case in a private proceeding that you may or may not get to see the transcript of. We won't know how they present Tamir."
As fatal officer-involved shootings have fueled a nationwide debate about policing and racial injustice in America, prosecutors and grand juries have come under scrutiny. Some prosecutors have taken unconventional steps in response to criticism; after a grand jury declined to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch released the evidence reviewed by jurors in that case. In August, California became the first state to ban the use of grand juries in officer-involved shootings.
Prosecutors are now in a tough position, says Dave Klinger, a former police officer and a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "No matter what happens, the prosecutor is going to get criticized," he says. The use of outside investigators by a prosecutor, he adds, is not unheard of in grand jury proceedings. "The goal in a situation like that is to explain to the grand jurors in detail about things that perhaps the prosecutor really doesn't know him or herself, about police training, practice, or tactics, so that the jurors can have a better understanding of what it is that officers are supposed to do."
The experts who reviewed Loehmann's use of deadly force, Colorado prosecutor S. Lamar Sims and former FBI agent Kim Crawford, emphasized that the circumstances leading up to and immediately following the shooting were not relevant to their findings. "To suggest that Officer Garmback should have stopped the car at another location is to engage in exactly the kind of 'Monday morning quarterbacking' the case law exhorts us to avoid," Sims wrote. Some policing experts have said that Garmback's pulling up to within 10 feet of Rice just seconds before Loehmann shot him was among glaring tactical errors made by the two officers. And neither Sims nor Crawford mentioned the fact that for several minutes following the shooting, Loehmann and Garmback stood around without administering first aid to Rice while he lay bleeding on the ground.
"To say that the actions were constitutional does not [necessarily] relieve the officers of negligence or recklessness," says Jones-Brown. That decision is ultimately up to the prosecutor and the grand jury, she says, adding that a special prosecutor should be appointed. "I'm afraid the damage may have already been done by disseminating these reports."
"My fear is that we'll never know the truth of Tamir Rice."
Klinger agrees that the officers' tactical mistakes warrant further investigation, but argues that they should be addressed in the Rice family's civil lawsuit against them. "We have a very robust civil justice system that is designed to take care of the legal questions about a wrong committed that does not rise to the level of committing a crime." The behavior of the officers after the shooting "was appalling," he adds, "that they are not trained in Cleveland to do a better job in terms of getting appropriate, potentially life-saving medical care."
In June, a Cleveland judge found probable cause to sustain charges against both Loehmann and Garmback, including murder and negligent homicide. Judge Ronald Adrine said his findings were "advisory in nature" and that the ultimate decision to charge the officers was up to the county prosecutor.
According to a report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Tuesday, "Cleveland police officers and Cuyahoga County sheriff's deputies have been called in to testify over the previous weeks." But they have not included Loehmann or Garmback, whose attorneys confirmed to Mother Jones that "it is unlikely that either of them will be testifying to the grand jury on this matter."
Young, the Ohio public defender, says the public deserves more transparency when it comes to scrutinizing police shootings. "I don't know if the officer in Michael Brown's case committed a crime or not. The problem is that we won't ever know, we didn't have a public trial. We'll never know what they did in Eric Garner's case. My fear," he adds, "is that we'll never know the truth of Tamir Rice."