A rising awareness of police shootings

Another non-indictment in an officer-involved death. Another fatal shooting involving a police officer and an unarmed man, this time in Phoenix.

Incidents such as those are playing out around the nation, inciting fury and anger on both sides of the divide with very little common ground to be found. But it did not start with the Michael Brown shooting this summer in Ferguson, nor will it end with the killing of Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix on Tuesday.

 

What is changing, though, is the attention being paid to the use of deadly force by police officers. And while much of the focus is on the race of the victims and the officers – the former mostly minorities, the latter mostly white – there is a growing concern about whether or not there is transparency and accountability when cops kill civilians regardless of the racial dimensions.

The violent protests following the decision by a St. Louis County grand jury last month not to indict police officer Darren Wilson was, in the minds of many, one more example of no justice when it comes to officers who kill in the line of duty. A similar decision Wednesday by a Staten Island grand jury in the chokehold death of Eric Garner – caught on tape, no less – triggered similar angry outbursts in New York.

In an editorial, the New York Times condemns the decision. But had either of the officers in New York or Missouri been indicted, let alone gone to trial and convicted, that would have been the outlier. Beyond the racial overtones of the deadly encounters, there is a growing awareness that no matter what the circumstances are surrounding a civilian death by cop or the color of the victim’s skin, the odds of the officer being brought to answer for the incident are stacked heavily in favor of the guy wearing blue.

The Times runs a piece on officer-involved deaths in New York City going back to 1990 and finds the majority of them led to no criminal charges. Earlier this year, CommonWealth reported on police use of deadly force in Massachusetts going back to 2001, a story that has been picked up recently by a number of outlets and bloggers around the country, that found no police officer was criminally charged in any of the 73 fatal shootings and only one received departmental discipline. Around the same time, the Boston Globe also ooked into police shootings, both deadly and non-fatal, and the lack of charges in those. In 2011, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran one of the most exhaustive investigations into police shootings under the tell-all headline “Always Justified.”

The conclusion in all the stories was that there is a built-in conflict in cases of police use of  deadly force. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler says the problem, laid bare most recently in Ferguson and now in Staten Island, is systemic, rooted in the fact that the prosecutors who investigate allegations of police wrongdoing also rely on those officers for assistance in all their other cases. The solution, he writes, is new laws that provide for independent, outside special prosecutors for all cases of alleged police wrongdoing.

There is another underlying issue here, and that is uncertainty about the extent of the problem. When CommonWealth ran the story earlier this year, one of the obstacles we found was that there is no central repository for information on officer-involved shootings. The federal government releases statistics on “justifiable homicide” but the data commingle police shootings with those by civilians, and it only includes those communities that voluntarily report. It is a wall that many reporters are coming up against as they seek to explore the issue.

It is estimated that more than 500 civilians are killed by police in the US every year, but no one knows for sure. Along with proposals for body cameras, civilian review boards, and ramped up police training, perhaps one question should be added: Just how big is the problem?

JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey wants to push through a budget balancing bill this month, but he is cool to pay raises for top officials, State House News reports.

It turns out Gov.-elect Charlie Baker established a small scholarship fund at UMass Amherst some years ago in memory of his grandfather.

Presumed incoming state Senate president Stan Rosenberg continued to work to mollify any concerns among colleagues about impolitic tweets and bragging of his State House influence by Rosenberg’s domestic partner Bryon Hefner. Rosenberg sent a letter to his 33 fellow Democratic senators saying there is a “firewall” between his legislative duties and personal life.

The Pioneer Institute’s Greg Sullivan points to lots of problems with a special commission’s recent report recommending big pay raises for legislative leaders and statewide officeholders, which he suggests was jury-rigged to produce that outcome.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Alyssa Haywoode explains how the Pine Street Inn’s focus is shifting from beds to housing.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh overhauls the city’s licensing board, State House News reports.

The value of all property in Lawrence rose 7 percent last year, spurred by investments by businesses, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation has awarded a $265,000 grant to Fall River to fix up basketball courts in the city’s parks.

OLYMPICS

Boston 2024 President Dan O’Connell defends the lack of transparency on the proof of concept submission to the US Olympic Committee.

Count Keller@Large as skeptical of the claim that a Boston Olympics would be debt-free.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Seventeen states sue to block President Obama’s immigration order, Governing reports.

Greater Boston takes a look at a case before the Supreme Court involving a woman who claims she was discriminated against by UPS when the company fired her for being pregnant.

ELECTIONS

Best candidate forum ever: Seven of the eight candidates in the Fall River recall election including the target of the recall effort, Mayor Will Flanagan, met at a sing-off in a local bar, with each candidate belting out a karaoke tune of their choice ranging from Barbra Streisand to Tom Petty.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Time explains the cyber-hack of Sony Pictures and explores whether North Korea was really involved.

EDUCATION

The Patrick administration provides a $250,000 grant to Shawsheen Tech in Billerica so the school can offer more welding classes to train workers for the state’s burgeoning manufacturing companies, the Lowell Sun reports.

HEALTH CARE

The growth in health spending nationally is the lowest in more than 50 years, Governing reports.

The Saugus selectmen come out against a methadone clinic, but their opposition is unlikely to prevent the facility from opening in a shopping plaza on Route 1, the Item reports.

TRANSPORTATION

Travelers are nervous about still-unconfirmed reports that airlines may ban carry-on luggage and electronic devices because of security concerns, the Gloucester Times reports.

The Pioneer Institute and the Kraft Group trade shots over expanded commuter rail service to Foxboro.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A regional water commission has ordered Brockton officials to cease diverting polluted water into the city’s public water supply from two ponds containing high levels of harmful algae,

Water testing in Ipswich finds lead in four homes, the Salem News reports.

Gov. Deval Patrick signs an executive order to ensure that state agencies consider environmental justice concerns when examining development projects.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A hefty raise for Massachusetts judges has prompted a sudden exodus from the bench of jurists who will enjoy a big bump in their retirement pensions as a result.

First Amendment and victims rights advocates are criticizing Bridgewater State University for refusing to release the name of a man accused of assaulting two women on campus last month.