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JULY 24, 2002
3:23 PM
CONTACT:  American Friends Service Committee
Janis D. Shields, Director, Media and Public Relations 215 241-7060 After Hours: (302) 545-6596
John W. Haigis, Media Assistant, (215) 241-7056
Tonya McClary, (215) 241-7130
Violent Acts of "Law Enforcement" Condemned
Group says “Excessive police violence indicative of a justice system ‘gone awry’”
PHILADELPHIA - July 24 - Citing recent reports of excessive police violence in separate incidences in California and Oklahoma, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), called such abuses of police power symptomatic of a justice system “gone awry.”

AFSC national criminal justice representative Tonya McClary said police abuses such as those captured on videotape - levied against 16-year old Donovan Jackson of Los Angeles, and Donald Reed Pete of Oklahoma - circumvent and cross the boundaries of the legitimate demands of justice.

Jackson was a passenger in a car stopped by Los Angeles County police in his hometown suburb of Inglewood for having expired vehicle tags. A bystander with a video camera caught a white police officer lifting the already cuffed African-American minor to his feet and slamming his face onto a squad car before repeatedly striking him in the face with his fist. Within a week of Jackson’s arrest, two white Oklahoma City police officers were also caught on videotape using pepper spray and violently striking Pete, a black man arrested on charges of lewd behavior and illegal substance possession. According to the Oklahoma City police department, Pete was “slow to respond to police orders,” but not “actively resisting.”

Both incidents took place in routine stop-and-search situations. According to the widely accepted United Nations Code of Conduct for Enforcement Officials, force should be used only as a “last resort” and must be proportionate to the threat posed. Given that both Jackson and Pete were handcuffed and presented little or no actual resistance, the blatant aggression demonstrated by the police seems to be in clear violation of UN and international standards. Other human rights groups have also responded strongly to the incidents.

“When the penalty for a routine traffic stop is a violent beating, the system has failed,” McClary states. In addition, McClary questioned what she called “society’s increased reliance on violence and punitive action to solve problems that are social or economic at base.”

At a California state commission hearing on police conduct, convened in response to the case, University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky stressed that the July 6 incident should not be dismissed as an isolated incident, but was part of a pattern of police culture. “It's a culture that causes officers to think in an ‘us-against-them’ mentality, to think of those in the community as less than human,” Chemerinsky said.

“The ‘us-against-them’ mentality extends further than the badge,” according to Walidah Imarisha, also with the AFSC criminal justice program. “When you have a police force that is predominately white, in communities that are predominately of color, that creates a dangerous imbalance,” she says. “Adding more officers of color won’t solve the problem,” Imarisha feels, “because the training that police receive creates a climate of fear and hostility toward people of color - especially young black men.”

The dramatic expansion of law enforcement in the United States over the past thirty years has resulted in widespread and persistent violations of civil, constitutional, and human rights, McClary emphasized. “Increasingly enforcement has become a seamless web through which authorities may move without hindrance,” she states. “At the same time, a variety of regressive legislation enacted in recent years has sharply restricted avenues for legal redress for those entangled in its threads.”

Jeremy Morse and Bijan Darvish, the police officers under investigation in the Donovan case, are currently on administrative leave with pay. Mitchell Crooks, 27, who recorded the amateur video, has publicly stated he now fears for his life after being questioned by LA prosecutors.

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker humanitarian and social justice agency based in Philadelphia. The struggle for immigrants’ rights and resistance to the systemic violence and dehumanization of the criminal justice system are major elements of AFSC’s work for justice within the United States. Each, the group states, is a central focus of the complex intertwining of violence, social exclusion, and economic exploitation in U.S. society - and each represents a profoundly significant site of resistance and grassroots mobilization.

“AFSC encourages collaboration in social transformation towards a national community that recognizes that police violence has no place in a system of fair and equitable justice,” McClary states. “No matter how you look at it, two wrongs never make a right.”

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.


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