Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department says it won’t strangle or choke people.
Or needlessly shoot or inflict violence on them.
Or shoot without warning.
Or jump straight to violence.
Or initiate violence.
Or allow officers to just stand there while their colleagues brutalize people.
Or usually shoot at moving vehicles.
These promises, we were told last week by City Councilman Larken Egleston, constitute “a hell of a good start” in achieving law enforcement reform in Charlotte. CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings echoed the sentiment.
Really, though, these “reforms” demonstrate just how abusive the relationship has been between the people and the police — and how abusive it will continue to be.
The campaign touts itself as aiming “to bring immediate change to police departments” and, as its name suggests, is comprised of eight policy changes that Campaign Zero claims will dramatically reduce police violence against the people. (Critics have debunked this claim, and Campaign Zero has itself retracted it.)
The eight “use of force” policies covered by the campaign include requiring de-escalation; imposing a duty to intervene; banning chokeholds and strangleholds; requiring a warning before shooting; banning shooting at moving vehicles; exhausting alternatives before shooting; adopting a use of force continuum; and imposing comprehensive reporting requirements regarding uses of force.
Jennings announced at last week’s meeting of the city’s safe communities committee that Campaign Zero has certified that CMPD is now fully compliant with the 8 Can’t Wait initiative.
He later said at a press conference that achieving compliance involved “a lot of back and forth” with Campaign Zero — a damning statement given the low bar set by 8 Can’t Wait’s plan of action, which includes just a small portion of the bare minimal requirements we should expect from agents of the state in a humane, civilized society:
Don’t cut off blood or air to people’s brains.
Don’t suddenly and senselessly fill people’s bodies with bullets.
Don’t pick a fight with people or inflict violence on them for no good cause.
CMPD deserves no credit for making these promises — just like an abusive husband deserves no credit for agreeing to stop battering his wife.
Furthermore, these “reforms” reserve for CMPD plenty of tools with which to continue to inflict brutality. At the top of the list are chemical weapons, which have been regularly used against citizen-protesters, most notoriously on June 2 in an attack coordinated by the department’s leadership.
Despite CMPD’s stated intention to abandon some methods of brutality under the 8 Can’t Wait banner, law enforcement still has at its disposal plenty of other options to inflict the same harm.
Even as to the tactics now prohibited under the 8 Can’t Wait “reforms,” CMPD can’t be trusted to honestly and faithfully enforce those policies because written policies, without more, are mere words on a page, meaningless in the hands of cops whose first instinct is to behave abusively and deceptively.
Let’s consider two examples.
We’ll start with the matter of Anthony Caldwell.
As reported by WBTV this week, Caldwell, accompanied by two passengers, was driving his automobile last December when an unmarked CMPD vehicle with three officers in it activated its blue lights to initiate a traffic stop.
Caldwell slowly drove into a hotel parking lot, pulling in just 45 seconds after the cops turned on their lights. Once parked, the three officers immediately leapt from their car and surrounded Caldwell’s vehicle with their guns drawn.
The instructions that cops shouted at the car’s occupants were instantly contradictory: “Hands up! Unlock the door!” A few seconds later, “Unlock the door! Everybody keep their hands up!”
It was literally impossible for Caldwell and his passengers to follow these commands.
As Caldwell’s car doors remained closed, the officers’ rage at being defied was plain.
“Open the goddamn door! Let’s go!”
“You’re going to jail!”
The cops continued to yell at the occupants to exit the vehicle, and then the officers started beating the car’s windows with batons. A plaintive cry came from inside.
The contradictory commands continued: “Let me see your hands! Open the door!” (Is there any question that if Caldwell had reached to open the door, the cops would have emptied their guns into the automobile and argued they were justified in doing so because of his furtive movements? After all, CMPD killed Keith Lamont Scott and Ruben Galindo while they were standing still.)
More screaming from the officers: “Open the fucking door!”
The cops eventually shattered the windows and opened the car’s doors, pulling the occupants from the vehicle and arresting them. They broke Caldwell’s arm when about a half-dozen officers pounced on him.
All because of suspected traffic violations.
One CMPD officer on the scene justified the cops’ actions by explaining they behaved as they did “because of the way [Caldwell was] acting” — forgetting that the cops initiated violence and escalated the encounter by starting their interaction with their guns drawn.
Caldwell filed a complaint with CMPD, which determined the officer who smashed in his driver’s side window, J. Rubino, engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer.
Another officer was disciplined for accidentally slamming Caldwell’s foot in the door and not reporting it, while a sergeant on the scene was disciplined for declining to talk with Caldwell when he asked to speak to a supervisor.
No officers were cited for using excessive force — despite the use of obviously excessive force and CMPD policies against escalating encounters and needlessly inflicting violence.
And then there’s the matter of Harold Easter.
In January 2020, five CMPD officers — Brentley Vinson, Michael Benfield, Michael Joseph, Shon Sheffield, and Nicolas Vincent — stood by as Easter pleaded for help while chained to the floor of a police station’s holding room.
When the officers took Easter into custody, they knew he had consumed significant amounts of cocaine as the cops arrested him. Jennings said last week the officers had “intimate knowledge” that Easter had swallowed drugs.
One of the officers at the scene of the arrest told Easter, “You have crack all over your tongue.” Another remarked, “Lips going numb, ain’t they, brother?”
CMPD policy required officers to immediately seek medical attention for Easter because he had consumed drugs. The policy was there, but the cops didn’t follow it.
Then, when Easter collapsed and medics arrived, officers immediately started lying to protect themselves.
“We stopped him for suspected drugs and he tried eating it when we walked up to the car, but we stopped him from eating it,” an officer explained to medical personnel.
This was a lie. They had not stopped him from eating the drugs. And they knew it.
A superior court judge recently ordered the release of video footage that captures officers’ treatment of Easter. The footage will be released October 1, which prompted Jennings to announce last week that the five officers have been “cited for termination” for violating numerous CMPD policies. Their terminations remain pending before the Civil Service Board.
Whatever comes of these five officers — and we know they face no risk of criminal prosecution because District Attorney Spencer Merriweather announced this week that he was declining to charge them — these incidents and others teach us that policy changes like those envisioned by the 8 Can’t Wait campaign won’t protect or save the next Caldwell or Easter or Scott or Galindo who finds himself on the receiving end of CMPD’s brutality.
Because policy isn’t the problem. Policing is.