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.
Two days after the mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Barack Obama continued to speak out about the politics of guns. Commenting in the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Thursday, Obama pointed out the failure of Congress to act after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut, which he cited last year as the "biggest frustration" of his presidency. On Friday, speaking in San Francisco at the annual US Conference of Mayors, Obama called on city leaders from across the country to address gun violence. This time, his frustration seemed tinged with a hint of anger. "At some point as a country we have to reckon with what happens," he said. "It is not good enough simply to show sympathy."
Here is the full transcript of his remarks on guns from the above video:
Obviously, the entire country's been shocked and heartbroken by what happened in Charleston. The nature of this attack in a place of worship, where congregates invite in a stranger to worship with them only to be gunned down, adds to the pain. The apparent motivations of the shooter remind us that racism remains a blight that we have to combat together. We have made great progress, but we have to be vigilant, because it still lingers. And when it's poisoning the minds of young people, it betrays our ideals and tears our democracy apart.
Whether it's a mass shooting like the one in Charleston, or individual attacks of violence that add up over time, it tears at the fabric of the community. And it costs you money, and it costs resources. It costs this country dearly.
But as much as we grieve this particular tragedy, I think it's important, as I had mentioned at the White House, to step back and recognize that these tragedies have become far too commonplace. Few people understand the terrible toll of gun violence like mayors do. Whether it's a mass shooting like the one in Charleston, or individual attacks of violence that add up over time, it tears at the fabric of the community. And it costs you money, and it costs resources. It costs this country dearly.
More than 11,000 Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013 alone. Eleven thousand. If Congress had passed some common-sense gun safety reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classrooms, reforms that 90 percent of the American people supported, we wouldn't have prevented every act of violence, or even most. We don't know it would have prevented what happened in Charleston. No reform can guarantee the elimination of violence. But we might still have some more Americans with us. We might have stopped one shooter. Some families might still be whole. You all might have to attend fewer funerals.
We should be strong enough to acknowledge this. At the very least, we should be able to talk about this issue as citizens without demonizing all gun owners, who are overwhelmingly law abiding, but also without suggesting that any debate about this involves a wild-eyed plot to take everybody's guns away. I know today's politics makes it less likely that we see any sort of series of gun safety legislation. I remarked that it was very unlikely that this Congress would act. And some reporters, I think, took this as resignation.
You don’t see murder on this kind of scale with this kind of frequency in any other advanced nation on Earth. Every country has violent, hateful, or mentally unstable people. What's different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns.
I want to be clear. I'm not resigned. I have faith we will eventually do the right thing. I was simply making the point that we have to move public opinion. We have to feel a sense of urgency. Ultimately Congress will follow the people. We have to stop being confused about this. At some point as a country we have to reckon with what happens. It is not good enough simply to show sympathy. You don’t see murder on this kind of scale with this kind of frequency in any other advanced nation on Earth. Every country has violent, hateful, or mentally unstable people. What's different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns.
And so I refuse to act as if this is the new normal. Or to pretend that it's simply sufficient to grieve, and that any mention of us doing something to stop it is politicizing the problem. [ Applause ] We need a change in attitude, among everybody. Lawful gun owners, those who are unfamiliar with guns, we have to have a conversation about it and fix this. And ultimately Congress acts when the public insists on action. And we've seen how public opinion can change. We’ve seen it change on gay marriage. We've seen it beginning to change on climate change. We've got to shift how we think about this issue. And we have the capacity to change. But we have to feel a sense of urgency about it. We as a people have got to change. That's how we honor those families. That's how we honor the families in Newtown. That's how we honor the families in Aurora.
State Sen. Clementa Pinckney speaks at the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., June 3, 2014.
One of the victims of Wednesday's horrific shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was state Senator Clementa Pinckney, the church's pastor. Much has already been written about Pinckney's dedication to public service from a young age, and his rich life in the church. My colleagues are updating a full list of the nine victims as more information becomes available. In the meantime, here's another memorable moment from Pinckney's leadership in the South Carolina Senate.
Back in May, the senator delivered this stirring (and now haunting) call to action following the death of Walter Scott—the unarmed black man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in North Charleston, just six miles north of where Pinckney and others were murdered. Here's Pinckney on the Senate floor, rallying support for the adoption of police body cameras. Watch and read below:
Today, the nation looks at South Carolina and is looking at us to see if we will rise to be the body, and to be the state that we really say that we are. Over this past week, many of us have seen on the television, have read in newspapers, and have seen all the reports about Walter Scott, who, in my words, was murdered in North Charleston. It has really created a real heartache and a yearning for justice for people, not just in the African American community, but for all people, and not just in the Charleston area, or even in South Carolina, but across our country.
...But the next week, Thomas was there, Jesus walked in, he said, "I won't believe until I see the nails. I won't believe until I can put my hand in your side." And it was only when he was able to do that, he said, "I believe, my Lord and my God."
Ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, when we first heard on the television, that a police officer had gunned down an unarmed African American in North Charleston by the name of Walter Scott, there were some who said, "Wow. The national story has come home to South Carolina." But there were many who said, "There is no way that a police officer would ever shoot somebody in the back 6, 7, 8, times." But like Thomas, when we were able to see the video, and we were able to see the gun shots, and when we saw him fall to the ground, and when we saw the police officer come and handcuff him on the ground, without even trying to resuscitate him, without even seeing if he was really alive, without calling an ambulance, without calling for help, and to see him die face down in the ground as if he were gunned down like game, I believe we all were like Thomas, and said, "I believe."
...We have a great opportunity to allow sunshine into this process. It is my hope that as South Carolina senators, that we will stand up for what is best and good about our state and really adopt this legislation and find a way to have body cameras in South Carolina. Our hearts go out to the Scott family, and our hearts go out to the Slager family, because the Lord teaches us to love all, and we pray that over time, that justice be done.
Samaria Rice center, the mother of Tamir Rice, and others, march during a protest in Washington, DC, Dec. 13, 2014.
The long-awaited findings of a probe into the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by a police officer in a Cleveland park last November, were finally released Saturday afternoon by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office.
The publication of hundreds of pages of documents marks a significant milestone in the long and complicated search for answers surrounding the boy's death. County Sheriff Clifford Pinkney's office took over the investigation from the Cleveland police department in January. Then, five months later, the sheriff's office handed over its findings to county prosecutor, Timothy J. McGinty, who has led the efforts since, and released today's findings. Next, McGinty's office will decide what additional investigation might be required, after which prosecutors will present evidence to a grand jury to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
"The death of a citizen resulting from the use of deadly force by the police is different from all other cases and deserves a high level of public scrutiny," McGinty said in a statement accompanying the trove of documents.
Here are some of the major findings contained in today's report. We're making our way through the report now and will update this list:
Sheriff's investigators interviewed 27 people, including the officers who arrived after the shooting, the 911 caller, paramedics, friends of Rice, and workers at at the Cudell Recreation Center, which is near the site of Rice's death.
Officers Timothy Loehmann, who fired the fatal shots, and Frank Garmback, who drove the squad car, have yet to speak to investigators, despite multiple attempts to interview Loehmann and Garmback since the Cleveland police department handed over the case in January.
Rice's mother, Samaria Rice, also declined to speak with investigators.
The 911 dispatcher who relayed the message to Loehmann and Garmback "refused to answer questions (per her attorney) about not relaying specific information related to the 911 call." A county official familiar with the case confirmed to Mother Jones that the dispatcher did not answer questions as to why she failed to mention that Rice was possibly a "juvenile" and that his weapon was probably "fake."
According to witness interviews, it remains unclear whether Loehmann shouted commands at Rice from inside the police car before firing his gun. A weapons inspection showed that Loehmann fired two shots at the boy within one to two seconds of exiting the vehicle.
One witness, who said she was about 315 feet from the scene, said she was getting into a car when she heard, "Pop pop...Freeze let me see your hands...Pop."
Saturday's release comes days after community leaders in Cleveland filed affidavits asking a municipal judge to seek charges against the officers involved. The judge responded on Thursday saying he believed there was probable cause to bring charges including murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Since Rice's death on November 22, 2014, questions have mounted about why it has taken so long to investigate the incident. As Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a former Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor, told Mother Jones, "Half a year is an extremely long time," especially given the video of the shooting, the details of the 911 calls, and "the questions raised about Officer Loehmann's fitness for duty."
Cleveland's police use of force report regarding an incident involving officer Frank Garmback.
The ongoing criminal investigation into the death of Tamir Rice has focused mostly on Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland police officer who shot and killed the 12-year-old in a park last November. Last month, a county official familiar with the case told Mother Jones that Frank Garmback, the officer who drove the police car to within a few feet of Rice moments before Loehmann stepped out and opened fire, was not under criminal investigation by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, which turned over its investigation to county prosecutor on Wednesday.
As Mother Jones and others have reported, prior records showed that Loehmann "could not follow simple directions" and that "his handgun performance was dismal." Garmback's past record has received far less attention, even though he was involved in a use-of-force lawsuit that was settled not long before Rice's death.
In 2012, Garmback was named in a civil rights lawsuit for allegedly using excessive force against a black woman named Tamela Eaton. Eaton, who was 39 at the time, had called Cleveland police in August 2010 to ask for help towing a car that was parked in front of her driveway. Garmback and another officer, Tim Guerra, were searching for a murder suspect nearby. When they tried to arrest a man walking down the street, Eaton heard the commotion and came out of her home, believing the officers were responding to her call. Eaton's lawsuit asserted that Garmback initially argued with her, then rushed toward her "and placed her in a chokehold, tackled her to the ground, twisted her wrist and began hitting her body. Officer Guerra rushed over and proceeded to punch Tamela Eaton in the face multiple times."
After the incident, county prosecutors charged Eaton for punching the officer and resisting arrest. In 2012, she filed suit against Garmback and Guerra; the case eventually moved to federal court. In 2014, Cleveland paid Eaton $100,000 to settle the case. The settlement did not appear on Garmback's personnel record, and was largely unknown to the public until the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on the settlement last December.
Below is the Cleveland police's use of force report on the 2010 incident, which Guerra and Garmback disclosed as part of their defense in Eaton's lawsuit:
Police stand outside the home of a Lacey, Washington officer involved in a shooting of two accused shoplifters, May 22, 2015.
Two major news investigations have shed new light onto who dies at the hands of the police—and how. Using public records, news coverage, crowdsourced databases, and old-fashioned reporting, reporters at the Washington Post and Guardian have published what are arguably two of the most extensive examinations of recent police shootings across the country. (Read more about how they compiled their data, here and here.) The two reports confirm and build upon what previousattempts to collect and examine this data have already shown: Police killings happen much more frequently than the existing official data shows.
There's a lot to digest, so we've pulled out some key takeaways:
Police officers kill suspects at about twice the rate calculated by the FBI. In the first five months of 2015, the Post documented a total of 385 people who were fatally shot by police officers, or 2.5 per day—a rate more than twice that tallied by the federal government over the past decade. The Guardian, which counted 467 deaths by police so far in 2015—including not just deaths from gunfire but those involving Tasers, vehicle, or other causes—arrived at a similar rate.
The majority of those killed are armed. Armed suspects primarily had guns, the Postreported, but were also armed with "potentially lethal objects" such as knives, machetes, and in one instance, a nail gun.
But a significant chunk of suspects were unarmed when they were killed. The Post found that nearly 13 percent of victims in its dataset were unarmed, while 22 percent of those counted by the Guardian were unarmed.
Officers involved are rarely charged. This is consistent with prior research on prosecutions in cases of officer misconduct and use of deadly force. In the Post's 385 cases, only three officers have faced charges: Michael Slager (for the death of Walter Scott in South Carolina), Robert Bates (for killing Eric Harris in Oklahoma), and Lisa Mearkle (who killed David Kassick in Pennsylvania).
There are significant racial disparities among the dead, particularly among unarmed suspects. While the majority of suspects in the cases the Post looked at were white, blacks and Hispanics made up two-thirds of those who were unarmed. The Guardian's reporting showed that about one-third of black suspects killed were unarmed, compared with one-fourth of hispanic suspects, and about one-sixth of white suspects. Racial disparities in police killings have also been documented in databases maintained by the FBI, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About a quarter of all suspects killed were reportedly mentally ill. According to both the Post and the Guardian.
Most of those killed are men. Five percent of suspects tracked by the Post were female, consistent with the Guardian's breakdown. While most of the high-profile officer-involved shootings since Ferguson have involved men, several ongoing campaigns are bringing more attention to the deaths of women.
The majority of suspects were between 25 and 44 years old. That's based on the Post's analysis. The three youngest victims identified by the Guardian were 16. The oldest was 87.
The deaths involved a small group of the nation's estimated 18,000 law enforcement agencies. Three hundred and six, to be exact. The Post found that 19 state and local departments were involved in three or more fatal shootings each, including the police departments of Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and Bakersfield, California.
Police officers are responsible for 1 in every 13 gun deaths. That figure, the equivalent of about 8 percent, comes from the Post's Christopher Ingraham. That's a lot more than suggested by other data on gun violence in America.
It's also worth noting what these investigations don't readily show. It's unclear, for instance, in how many cases police officers were known to have a history of misconduct or a questionable record. How many cases were captured on video? Are there notable racial disparities among mentally ill suspects? To what extent do the Post's and the Guardian's probes reveal incidents that weren't previously publicized?
These questions still linger. Still, for anyone who has been keeping an eye on police killings, these reports are a valuable start toward filling the gaping holes in the data.