Houston PD: Merciless Killers for a Merciless System

October 28, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On Monday, September 24, Christine Dobbyn of KTRK News in Houston reported that "a mentally ill double amputee was shot and killed by a Houston police officer this weekend after he refused to drop a pen." On October 11, the same station reported, "A Houston police officer shot and killed an unarmed man, whose family says he was mentally ill."

In less than two weeks, two unarmed men, one white, one Black, both suffering from mental problems, were murdered by the Houston Police Department. These are the latest in a string of killings and shootings by the HPD that the Houston Chronicle said "almost doubled" the pace they set in 2011.

Two Lives Brutally Ended

The brutal end of Brian Claunch's tormented life came shortly after 2:30 am on September 22, when two officers of the Houston Police Department responded to a call of a man in distress and entered the Healing Hands group home in Houston's East End. Moments later, the 45-year-old Claunch lay bleeding to death on the floor from one shot to the head.

The police report on Claunch's murder claimed he had waved a "shiny object" at the cops and refused to drop it. The report continued, "As the suspect backed one of the officers into a corner, he attempted to stab the officer with the object. Officer Marin, fearing for his partner's life, and his own safety, discharged his duty weapon one time, striking the suspect. The object was discovered to be a shiny ballpoint pen."

Brian Claunch, who had long suffered from bipolar disorder, was in a wheelchair. He had one arm and one leg—the others had been torn off when he placed himself on a railroad track in front of an onrushing train to "purge the devil" from the left side of his body. John Garcia, caretaker at Helping Hands, said Claunch often carried a pen because he "liked to doodle. He was always doodling at the table."

A little over two weeks later, police swarmed into a neighborhood of the Third Ward, one of Houston's oldest Black communities, just across the Gulf Freeway from the East End. 37-year-old Kenny Releford, a Navy veteran, had allegedly broken into the house of an elderly neighbor. The man's son called 911, something he now deeply regrets.

Police arrived after Kenny Releford had gone back home. KHOU News reported that "an officer with the Houston Police Department said he had no choice but to shoot and kill an assault suspect in the Third Ward Thursday morning. An officer ordered him to come out with his hands up. HPD said the suspect kept one arm behind his back while yelling at them, ignoring the officer's verbal commands. Police said Releford kept approaching the officer with one arm hidden, and the officer fired his weapon twice. He was rushed to the hospital where he later died."

Neighbors who witnessed the events immediately disputed the police story. One woman who lives across the street told the Houston Chronicle, "Releford exited his house with his hands in the air. She agreed that Releford continued walking toward the officer despite the policeman's order to stop. Releford fell to the ground after the first shot, she said, then rose. The policeman then fired a second shot. Another witness ... said Releford had both hands in the air as he walked toward the policeman. [She] said she and others watching the confrontation called to the policeman to alert him of Releford's perceived mental illness. 'We were saying, please don't shoot. He's mentally ill. I truly understand police concern. They want to go home after work.... They had no reason to shoot him.'"

An Epidemic of Police Murder

The murders of Brian Claunch and Kenny Releford are part of a nationwide epidemic of police brutality and murder, and an indictment of a heartless system. Even if everything in the stories of these cops is true—what does it say about a system that trains its armed enforcers to gun down unarmed people in severe mental and emotional distress, and then exonerates and justifies these killings before the facts are even investigated?

Bob Avakian wrote after Riverside California police shot and killed Tyisha Miller, a young Black woman suffering from a seizure, "If you can't handle the situation differently than this, then get the fuck out of the way. Not only out of the way of this situation, but get off the earth. Get out of the way of the masses of people. Because, you know, we could have handled this situation any number of ways that would have resulted in a much better outcome. And frankly, if we had state power and we were faced with a similar situation, we would sooner have one of our own people's police killed than go wantonly murder one of the masses...." (From BAsics 2:16)

We demand justice for Brian Claunch and Kenny Releford!

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