Documenting the hidden epidemic of police brutality
Revolutionary Worker #1026, October 17, 1999
"Opening the newStolen Lives edition is like uncovering a mass grave. This book is our declaration: BASTA YA, NO MORE!"
Carl Dix, RCP National Spokesperson, member of Coordinating Committee
of October 22nd Coalition
You hold the book in your hand--Stolen Lives: Killed by Law Enforcement--and the first thing you notice is its weight. It is heavy. More than 300 pages. On the cover are photographs of fresh faces--mainly young, often smiling for graduation or yearbook shots--filled with life and promise. Sprawling between the smiling photos, is a set of bloody handcuffs.
Peel back the cover, leaf through the pages, and suddenly the weight of this book hits you a different way. Page after page after page--here are the names, photos and stories of those killed by police from 1990 to the present. Hundreds become thousands.
This is the second edition of the work of the Stolen Lives Project. It has just been released to the world as a cry for justice. At press conferences in cities across the U.S., families of police victims are gathering to announce the publication of this revealing documentation and to rally support for the fourth National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation, October 22, 1999.
A Cry from the Grassroots
"The information here was collected by the October 22nd Coalition, the Anthony Baez Foundation and the National Lawyers Guild totally on a grassroots basis. No government agency, police agency either federal, state or local provided any information for this book we believe because they don't want the public to know how widespread this is."
Carl Dix, introducing the Stolen Lives book,
Washington D.C., October 6
"To mark the death of my son and all the young people who have been beaten and murdered by Tulsa police and law enforcement throughout this country, I volunteered on the first anniversary of his murder to use my journalistic skills to edit the second edition of a book called Stolen Lives: Killed by Law Enforcement... For people who don't deal with police brutality in their daily lives, this book of human tragedies shows that the phenomenon of beatings...and killings by those sworn to protect us is more than just a `few bad apples' or some `isolated incidents,' as police would have us believe. As a mother whose youngest son has joined the spirits of these victims, I painfully relived Justin's unjustified killing as I edited each person's story."
J. Andree Smith, whose son Justin Smith was killed by police,
in a column for New York's Daily Challenge
where she works as associate editor
"It has not been easy for any of us to get the names that we have gotten. And most of the persons that were working on it, and even those that weren't family members, found it to be very painful because we had to track down newspaper stories and news reports from the TV and go into the neighborhoods where they said these things happened, go to the morgue and plead and beg with people to give us information. I spent three or four months personally collecting names and it was most painful because to me each name was a person and a life that has been destroyed and has been shattered."
Arnetta Grable, whose son Lamar Wayne Grable was murdered by a cop,
Washington, DC press conference, October 6
Painstakingly, for years now, the researchers and volunteers of the Stolen Lives Project have gathered the names of those killed by police, border patrol and prison guards. U.S. authorities have systematically refused to compile and release records of police killings. It was up to the people themselves to piece together hidden stories. The volunteers of the Stolen Lives Project recorded the accounts of family members and eyewitnesses, they have cut through the lies of "official versions"--and most of all, they have documented, in one place, a picture of a murderous epidemic going on in the streets and neighborhoods of the U.S.
The first edition of this book, published in 1997, contained the stories of 500 people killed by law enforcement since 1990. Now, two years later, this second edition gives a fuller picture--documenting over 2,000 cases since 1990.
In the introduction to this new edition, researcher Karen Saari describes what she believes can be seen in its pages: "Epidemic numbers of people are being killed by police and no one is being held accountable. People are shot and killed with little or no provocation. They die from chokeholds, hog-tying, pepper-spray, beatings, and high-speed car chases. They die on the streets, in their own homes, on the border, in jails and prisons. Under the guise of protecting society from crime (at a time when the official crime rate is the lowest in decades), many people, particularly young men of color, are being harassed, brutalized, and, as this book shows, killed."
Based on the extensive evidence and documentation, Karen Saari goes on to describe what the Stolen Lives Project reveals about "Who are the Victims?" of police murder:
"The main targets of police brutality are Black and Latino people... For the people listed in this book, whose nationalities we know, over 3/4 are people of color. Many victims are young. Most are males. From the border with Mexico to the streets of Houston and other cities and towns, people are being killed by police or the border patrol for the simple fact that they are immigrants. "While it strikes young men of color most, police brutality is increasingly experienced where we would not expect it: in white communities, by women, by the mentally ill and psychologically distraught, the disabled and even sometimes the elderly, including people in their 80s. "Most cases we list concern people who were unarmed and/or either committed no crime or were involved in a situation that should have been settled without the use of deadly force. "Many police killings result from 911 calls for help.... A mother or father in a family crisis had no expectation when they dialed 911 that their overwrought or suicidal child would be killed by the very agency they had called for help. "Many victims had no idea they were being confronted by law enforcement agents when plainclothes or undercover police stormed into their homes or communities. "There are cases where the deaf or non-English speaking people are killed for failing to obey police commands."
Karen Saari points out that "When police arrive on the scene, they often escalate the situation rather than diffuse it. There is an increase in the use of paramilitary units...in responding to domestic violence incidents....<|>Police, not social workers or psychologists, are called to deal with the mentally ill or psychologically distraught... Many police killings occur within minutes or even seconds of when police arrive on the scene."
The Official Approval of a System
"The officers involved are almost never indicted, prosecuted, or punished in any way.... We know of only a handful of cases where the officers involved were indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison terms.... When media report on cases of police brutality, they generally rely almost exclusively on police reports. Police generally say they had `no choice but to shoot.' Many family members say that their loved ones are killed twice: first by the police and then by the press. Often the media does not seek out eyewitnesses or family members for their side of the story.... I have yet to come across an eyewitness account which corroborates the police version of events."
Karen Saari, Stolen Lives Researcher,
from Introduction to the Second Edition
The weight of the evidence refutes the claims that police murder only occurs in "isolated incidents" by a few "rogue cops." Across the country, police killings of unarmed people are systematically approved with the sinister label "justified homicide." The testimony of eyewitnesses are routinely ignored, and the police versions of events are routinely broadcast by the media as if they were true.
Even as the Stolen Lives book was going to press, in Los Angeles Rafael Perez, a policeman of the LAPD's infamous "Crash" anti-gang unit, triggered a new scandal when he confessed to the shooting and framing of two young unarmed immigrants. Perez not only testified about the murderous activities of himself and fellow officers, but told the L.A. Times that street cops did this "to win praise from their superiors."
Clearly, the authorities themselves have put their police on a 2war footing. They openly talk about "war on crime" and "war on drugs." Now here, in the pages of the Stolen Lives book, the picture emerges of what this means at the street level: a war on the people: a criminalization of the youth, a targeting of the poor, of people of color, of the homeless and mentally ill.
After reading this Stolen Lives book, the smokescreen of "serve and protect" fades away, and the police emerge from the documentation as they really are--as a hostile armed force standing above the masses of people, defending this dog-eat-dog capitalist system and its property relations, terrorizing whole sections of the people who policymakers have selected for containment, suppression, and incarceration. It becomes clearer that the brutal mentality of police and their willingness to act as judge, jury and street executioners arises from their assigned role--as enforcers of an unjust system--a role which they carry out with the approval and protection of government officials at all levels.
Carl Dix describes how the stories contained in the Stolen Lives shocked and moved him--even after a lifetime spent fighting and exposing police abuse. He adds, "I look at this book and I say this book contains 2,000 more reasons why I'm a revolutionary activist and why I'm going to keep on being a revolutionary activist."
Breaking the Silence
"People killed by brutal police cannot speak for themselves. But we can and will."
Stolen Lives: Killed by Law Enforcement, Second Edition
"I'm here to stand with these families, and we will march and we will picket. We will go up and down the streets, to the highways and to the valley. And we will stand by these families until justice is served. We're going out October the 22nd, and we're going to try to combine the masses of this city and this state for a national day of protest against police brutality."
Bernell Butler, uncle of Tyisha Miller
who was shot by a police squad while unconscious in a parked car
"This book came from years of hard work and sacrifices by the people to uncover the crimes of the killers with badges. This is a lesson that we must rely on our own efforts to get justice."
The release of the second edition of the Stolen Lives book comes as preparations are stepping up for the fourth National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. It is a key organizing tool for that movement and that struggle.
This book sounds an alarm about the society we live in. It demands that we each deal with the events around us--in the streets and neighborhoods across the U.S. This is not a book of history. These horrors are on-going. It is only a few weeks since this book went to press--but there are already new names, new stolen lives, that will need to be added to a future edition. Holding this book in our hands makes it impossible to say "we did not know." And once we know, who are we if we do not then take a stand?
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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