Friday, July 25, 2008

Jim Crow Justice in Inglewood

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Nearly four months after the May shooting of four unarmed African American young men at the corner of Crenshaw and Manchester in Inglewood, the Inglewood Police have committed yet another heinous act of deadly force. As most of the city knows, the killing of Kevin Wicks, a postal worker who allegedly came to the door of his apartment with a gun after the police knocked on his door at 12:30 a.m., was committed by IPD officer Brian Ragan, the same officer responsible for the killing of 19 year-old victim Michael Byoune in the May incident. Ragan had recently returned to duty after being placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. After the Byoune killing, the community protested the department’s shoot first ask questions later stance and demanded accountability from a predominantly white police department that has consistently targeted blacks and Latinos as guilty until proven innocent. While the LAPD has made some progress on redressing its bloody history of police brutality due to unrelenting community pressure, the IPD has largely flown under the radar. The circumstances of the Wicks shooting smack suspiciously of countless other police invasions against victims of African descent such as the LAPD’s fatal 1979 shooting of Eulia Love in her apartment and the NYPD’s forty six bullet murder of Amadou Diallou at his apartment in 1999. In both instances the victims were dubbed as armed and dangerous. In both instances the official accounts of the police were then contradicted by witnesses and the evidence that emerged from the investigation of the shooting.

According to the Department of Justice, the number of officers who even use their guns in the line of duty is approximately 2 percent, a conservative estimate which nonetheless puts Ragan over and above official statistics for excessive force. The IPD quietly allowed Ragan to return to duty after receiving clearance from a staff psychologist. What specifically did the department conclude exonerated Ragan and his partner Roland Martinez, the other officer implicated in the May shooting? When questioned about the reinstatement, IPD chief Jacqueline Seabrooks provided no concrete criteria for his having been allowed back on the force. In the IPD officers are not required to await findings of a formal investigation and their actions are not subject to independent review. It is inconceivable that an officer accused of gunning down an innocent in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills would be returned to duty with such cavalier swiftness. Ragan’s return to duty and the IPD’s seeming lack of even basic standards of accountability is an outrage which demands investigation by the Justice Department for civil rights violations. Community activists have also called for a Christopher Commission style oversight review board as well as the resignation of Chief Seabrooks. Although the circumstances of the shooting remain unclear, what is clear is that the Inglewood police department has returned an officer with no regard for black life back to work and given him carte blanche to terrorize the citizens of Inglewood. The IPD’s sanction of officers like Ragan will only embolden those on this force and others who exercise Jim Crow justice against black and brown citizens with impunity.