SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- When historians reflect on the first generation of this century, they may write of an era punctuated by strife, with its hallmarks taking the forms of social unrest, divisive politics, crumbling race relations after decades of progress, economic ruin and unprecedented levels of gun-related violence. Of particular concern is the growing perception that police around the country have become militarized, reactionary, rash and belligerent, especially in their treatment of minorities. A sweeping 2014 study of law enforcement practices suggested that suspects may not be resisting police -- they just can’t hear the officers’ orders over the barrage of gunshots and baton blows. A new update to the research expands its findings, confirms the conclusions drawn, and offers practical advice on how police can revise existing policies to remedy the problem.
Deafening Gunfire and Baton Strikes Diminish Audibility of Police OrdersCitizens across the nation are questioning the increasingly aggressive tactics of police, particularly where minorities are involved. From the brutal 1991 suppression of Rodney King by Los Angeles police to this month's tragic shootings of Terrence Crutcher in Tulsa, Okla., and Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, N.C., the bullets keep flying and the bodies keep piling.
Families of the victims blame racist authorities who are growing more paranoid as the Caucasian population shrinks, along with the stronghold of white privilege. On the other side of the gun, officers claim that minority suspects have become more threatening and more defiant. According to researchers, however, the suspects in question may not willfully be resisting police. The report, compiled and funded by former federal regulators, found that nearly 90 percent of minority suspects killed or severely maimed in these confrontations couldn’t understand the directions officers were giving them.
“During our initial analysis, we looked into the possibility of certain races having hearing problems,” explained Sam Duntley, leader of the research team. “It seemed that, based on the extent of injuries sustained, whites had superior hearing, followed by Asians and very light-skinned Hispanics.”
“But we quickly ruled out congenital hearing impairment by race,” he said. “We’re now certain the problems are entirely caused by external factors -- the deafening noises produced by gunfire, the loud crunch of bones under multiple, continuous baton strikes, and even the electronic sizzling of a taser. The data were the same among all volunteer test subjects, regardless of race, whom we brutalized in a manner consistent with modern police procedures.”
The study further concluded that when officers emerged from their vehicles shooting, or pounced on subjects to clout them viciously with their batons, their questions became unintelligible background noise.
“Typically, a police officer will ask for a suspect’s name, address, the nature of his business in the area and an explanation of his actions,” Duntley said. “These are simple queries any person of interest could answer. But our studies demonstrated that they couldn’t make out the words when they were drawing heavy fire or being severely beaten.”
“The problem is greatly exacerbated when victims are bludgeoned about the ears or shot in the head,” he added. “In other situations, like a chokehold, we discovered that the individuals clearly heard the officers’ orders but couldn’t respond because their windpipes had collapsed.”
Miranda Rights Confusion: Police Not Sticking to the ScriptThe Miranda warning, enshrined in U.S. law following the outcome of a 1966 Supreme Court case, seeks to prevent the violation of a suspect’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights during an arrest. The Fifth Amendment protects individuals against compelled or coerced self-incrimination. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel for any citizen accused of a crime.
The standard language of the warning, sometimes called the Miranda rights, typically reads: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”
Yet as recorded video from the latest police encounters prove, most recently in the officer-involved shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, law enforcement personnel are deviating from the script.
“I watched the horrifying and heartbreaking cell phone video of Scott’s shooting,” Duntley said, referring to footage captured by Rakeyia Scott, the victim’s wife. “There was a great deal of noise. The cops were screaming, Mrs. Scott was shouting and, of course, all of this was drown out by the crackle of gunfire. What I did notice was how the police officers strayed so far from the accepted Miranda warning. I mean, the key points were there, but they were being improvised -- mostly through the use of profanity. Even I had difficulty making sense of it.”
After studying the video from Charlotte and similar events, Duntley’s point becomes clear. Consider this transcript of a police officer veering from standard Miranda language:
”Shut up! Shut the f**k up! Shut up now or I’ll f**king drop you!”
“Don’t you sass me like that or I’ll put you down. Shut the f**k up, n****r. One more word and I’ll make sure the judge fries you!”
“Let me get a f**king baton over here. What? You can call your lawyer when you get to hell!”
“Do you hear me, you piece of s**t? Do you speak English, mother f**ker?”
Duntley is correct. The essential elements of Miranda are present. Despite the offensive and unconventional nature of the speech, the officer does cover the warnings about silence, statements being used against the suspect, the right to trial, the provision of legal assistance where needed, and a confirmation that the accused understands the rights.
“I realize there’s no mandated script that officers must follow, but when they wander too far from common interpretations or familiar phrasing, how can suspects follow?” Duntley asked.
He also noted that these shifting law enforcement procedures could pose new legal challenges for prosecutors.
“Public defenders now have a huge advantage in proving that proper arrest procedures aren’t followed,” Duntley observed. “It’s not merely that suspects are having trouble understanding highly stylized Miranda warnings. A suspect also can’t comprehend his rights while he’s unconscious, in the process of blacking out, being resuscitated by paramedics or mortally wounded.”
A Simple Solution for Ensuring Compliance with Police
According to Duntley, the most practical solution for mitigating the friction between police and unarmed minorities may come from the procedures of the past. “Sometimes to move ahead, we have to look back,” Duntley said.
Prior to 1991, with various exceptions, general police protocols involved tailing a suspect, approaching and detaining the individual, asking investigative questions, validating identification and restraining the suspect should arrest become necessary. During the physical process of arrest, the Miranda warning would be read.
Since that time, standard protocol has become to identify the suspect and immediately club the individual or unleash a volley of gunfire, while screaming the obscenity laden version of Miranda over the noise. Duntley and the experts on his research team believe strongly that a return to the original procedures could reduce the shooting deaths of unarmed minorities by at least 85 percent.
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