17 Aug 2015

Without Release of Video, Police Shooting of White Driver Gets Less Publicity

To Zachary Hammond’s supporters, the shooting death of the 19-year-old man was yet another example of questionable police behavior that has shaken communities around the country.
In their view, the police in Seneca, S.C., falsely claimed Mr. Hammond was shot last month as he tried to drive his car over the officer who fired on him, when his wounds show he was actually shot from the side and back.
They also say the deadly confrontation, in which officers approached with their guns drawn and screaming profanities, evolved from an absurd sting effort to trap his date into selling a tiny amount of marijuana, a drug now decriminalized in much of the country.
Yet the case has not received as much attention as the officer-involved shooting deaths of Walter L. Scott in North Charleston, S.C., or Samuel DuBose, a motorist who was killed in Cincinnati. Like both of those men, Mr. Hammond was apparently unarmed. 
Unlike them, he was white. And his family’s attorney, Eric Bland, contends that is why most people have never heard of Mr. Hammond. 
“If Zachary were black, the outpouring of protest and disappointment from the public and the press would be amazing,” Mr. Bland said. “You wouldn’t be able to get a hotel room in upstate South Carolina.”
There are major differences aside from race — most notably, investigators have refused to release a police dashboard camera video that may show Mr. Hammond’s death, while graphic videos of the killing of Mr. Scott, Mr. DuBose and other African-Americans quickly went viral, galvanizing outrage. And in some cases, prosecutors have swiftly brought charges against officers; the local prosecutor in South Carolina, Chrissy T. Adams, said in an email that she would not decide whether to file charges until state investigators had completed their report on the shooting.
The Justice Department did not disclose its own investigation into Mr. Hammond’s death until Wednesday, 17 days after the shooting, which happened in a Hardee’s restaurant parking lot. Nor did the department say why it had opened the inquiry.
But a Fox television affiliate in Greenville, S.C., reported that the Hammond family’s lawyers had requested the investigation in a letter to the Justice Department. The letter suggested that a witness might have seen evidence planted on Mr. Hammond’s corpse, and that Seneca police officers had raised Mr. Hammond’s hand to “high-five” him after he had been killed. Mr. Bland did not return an email seeking comment on the report.
It is not clear how often the Justice Department investigates police killings of blacks compared with whites. A justice official said the department did not track civil rights inquiries or subsequent prosecutions related to the conduct of law enforcement officials or prison guards based on the race of the victims. That is because the two statutes that provide for such inquiries, which led to criminal charges in 47 cases against 70 defendants in the most recent fiscal year, do not require race to be a factor.
Regarding the level of attention given to Mr. Hammond’s death, a search of the Nexis news database showed that in the three weeks after he was killed, including the night of his death, there were 145 mentions of “Zachary Hammond” and “police” or “Zach Hammond” and “police” in United States newspapers and wire services. By comparison, there were 704 mentions of “Samuel DuBose” and “police” or “Sam DuBose” and “police” in the similar period after his death, and 1,593 mentions of “Walter L. Scott” and “police” or “Walter Scott” and “police” in the similar initial period. 
The lack of publicly disclosed video of Mr. Hammond’s death helps explain much of why it has not drawn more notice, said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a longtime civil-rights organization based in Montgomery, Ala.
Yet he added: “The reality is that this killing maybe doesn’t get quite as much attention because it doesn’t fit into the current narrative that’s sweeping the country.”
Mr. Cohen said Mr. Hammond’s death “reflects that police violence is not confined to one race of victims.”
Still, black Americans suffer disproportionate police violence. “And there is no doubt that police violence has racial dimensions, because communities of color are so much more heavily patrolled than white communities,” and because many officers — and many people generally — believe there is a greater presumption of danger with African-Americans, Mr. Cohen said.
David J. Leonard, an associate professor and chairman of the department of critical culture, gender and race studies at Washington State University, said that despite highly publicized cases like the deaths of Michael Brownin Ferguson, Mo., and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, many questionable deaths of minorities still received little attention.
“There are countless other cases involving African-Americans in the past year that have not received coverage anywhere near the level of Zachary Hammond,” Professor Leonard said. Yet he said much of the attention the Hammond case received on Twitter was spurred by Black Lives Matter activists.
While whites, who outnumber blacks in the United States more than 5 to 1, are shot and killed more often by police officers, African-Americans are proportionately much more likely to be killed, studies show.
Calls to the Seneca police, the Oconee County, S.C., coroner, and a lawyer for Lt. Mark Tiller, the officer who killed Mr. Hammond, were not returned. Ms. Adams, the local prosecutor, said she could not discuss the case.
Mr. Bland, the Hammond family’s lawyer, said a pathology report by private doctors contradicted the police account, finding that Mr. Hammond’s injuries were “from left to right and back to front” and were consistent with “being seated in a motor vehicle and being shot from the side of the vehicle through an open driver’s side window.” That means Lieutenant Tiller fired while standing near the side window, where he could not have been at risk of being run down at the time, Mr. Bland said.
“These aren’t magic bullets, and they don’t take left turns,” he said.
Lieutenant Tiller’s lawyer has said Mr. Hammond accelerated toward the officer, who had to “push off” the car to avoid being run over, and then fired two shots “to stop the continuing threat to himself and the general public.” The officer’s lawyer also said “a white powdery substance” had been found on Mr. Hammond.

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