Earlier this week we reported a stunning statistic: in July, the US police had killed 118 people mostly through gunfire, the highest number of police "induced" fatalities in 2015, and on pace for a record 1150 deaths for all of 2015.
To be sure, most of these deaths took place in the "ordinary course" of police business, primarily in self-defense. However, two things are troubling:
- first is that even after a surge in police violence and scandals involving on tape killings of innocent people, the US still has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement, which is why the Guardian tasked itself with its The Counted initiative;
- second, that on numerous cases, the killings took place in "less than ordinary course", usually involving the police officer making a rash judgment that cost the victim their life, and in many cases shooting without a clear cause.
But the worst example of what is increasingly, and broadly, referred to as "police brutality", are cases such as that of Alexander City officer Troy Middlebrooks, was, as NBC reports, was "caught on a secret recording discussing ways to kill a black man and cover it up" by planting bogus evidence.
Alexander City police officer Troy Middlebrooks. The secret recording of his comments was played to police chiefs and the mayor. Photograph: Alabama state bureau of investigation
The recording, which was first reported by the Guardian and subsequently by NBC News, captures Middlebrooks during a May 2013 visit to a home where the suspect, Vincent Bias, was visiting relatives. At one point, the officer pulls Bias' brother-in-law - who is white - aside and tells him he doesn't trust Bias. Middlebrooks had arrested Bias on drug charges weeks earlier, and was clearly frustrated that he had made bail.
Middlebrooks tells Bias' brother-in-law, that if he were the suspect's relative, he would "fucking kill that motherfucker" and "before the police got here I would put marks all over my shit to make it look like he was trying to fucking kill me. I god damn guarantee. What it would look like? Self-fucking defense. Fuck that piece of shit. I’m a lot different from a lot of these other folks. I’ll fucking tell you what’s on my fucking mind.”
At another point, Middlebrooks tells the brother-in-law that Bias "needs a goddamn bullet."
And since this is America, and since the entire episode was recorded, a month after that incident, Bias' lawyers told the city they intended to sue the city of 14,875 people for $600,000. They drafted a lawsuit that accused Alexander City police of harassing him, and included the contention that Middlebrooks also called Bias the N-word. Bias' legal notice was passed to the city's insurance company, which arranged a settlement of far smaller amount: $35,000, according to Alexander City's attorney, Larkin Radney.
With that agreement, Bias never sued and the incident was quietly settled out of court and ended with the officer keeping his job, according to legal documents and interviews with lawyers and officials involved in the case.
Middlebrooks, meanwhile, remains on the job. Chief Robinson, who is black, told the Guardian that Middlebrooks was disciplined, but he declined the paper's request for details.
Robinson defended Middlebrooks, saying, "He was just talking. He didn't really mean that."
The chief also told the paper that he personally disagreed with the city's decision to settle with Bias. "It's a whole lot different if you hear both sides," Robinson said. It also makes itt seem that the Chief was happy to admit guilt and settle for the smallest possible fine.
On the other hand, why did Bias rush to accept the judgment if he too thought he had a case? "Bias, 49, told NBC News that he took the money in hopes of moving away from Alexander City, where he claims he was unfairly targeted by police, in part because of his race." Well, sure, but he wouldn't have the money if he hadn't been unfairly targeted.
Then it got even more surreal: Bias said that after the recording surfaced, and he threatened a lawsuit, the police added to the drug charges against him until he felt he had no choice but to plead guilty. "They forced my hand," he said. Bias said he served 14 months in a county jail, and was released two months ago.
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Within months of the recording, Middlebrooks was the first officer to respond to a controversial fatal shooting by a colleague of an unarmed black man in the city. He was closely involved in handling the scene and gave a key account of what happened to state investigators. His fellow officer was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing and both men continue to police the city of about 15,000 people about 55 miles north-east of Montgomery.
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The biggest travesty in this episode is not the subsequent courtroom screw up, and who did what or why, but the fact that a cop, whether he meant it or not, made it very clear and and on the leaked record, that among the various other standard operating procedures in a policeman's arsenal, is to kill a suspect while fabricating evidence to stage an episode of self-defense, in this case with a racial bias. Whether he did mean it or not is irrelevant because this is precisely the ammunition the Louis Farrakhans of the world need when in their violent fire and brimstone sermons, they call on those present to "rise up and kill those who kill us", i.e., white people.
Because they can simply claim this is in retaliation to what "that guy" did, or said. And that is how race wars really start: not with one explicit catalyst, but with countless small but very meaningful escalations, until finally the shooting starts for real.
The Middlebrooks recording is below