The Amber Guyger trial should have put racism in law enforcement at the forefront of the discussion about police brutality and law enforcement reform. But it was quickly glossed over, again.
As a society, we constantly overlook the role racism plays in law enforcement. Particularly on the street level. In 2006, the FBI issued a warning to law enforcement about white supremacists infiltrating their agencies. Fast forward 13 years and read the content of Amber Guyger’s racist text messages. The Guyger case doesn’t just validate the FBI’s warnings. It also validates the idea that racists have infiltrated and are now deeply embedded within departments all over the country.
The smug reaction to the FBI’s warning led us to where we are today. While white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement is a part of this nation’s history. America’s complacency has allowed it to become much more pervasive than at any other time in modern history. From that point on, measures should have been put into place to vet potential officers for duty. Instead, the continued relaxation of requirements to become a cop has created a system of officers who are supposed to protect and serve; with limited understanding of the laws, codes, and departmental policies.
“… a collection of text messages between ex-police officer Amber Guyger and her fellow Dallas cops show that Guyger was either a typical, run-of-the-mill bigot, or she was working on a secret, undercover mission as a racist cop.” — Michael Harriot, The Root
Corruption in law enforcement goes hand-in-hand with racism. Bigoted points of view remain hidden via the silence of their colleagues (aka the Blue Code of Silence). Officers take that silence to a new level when they make concerted efforts to create a narrative that shields a criminal cop. As with Guyger, the first officers to arrive on the scene after she murdered Botham Jean took steps to protect her. Actions that speak to the efforts that are made to protect white officers. Meanwhile, the victim is referred to and treated as a suspect as he lay dying.
One of Guyger’s first calls was to her union, the Dallas Police Association. To which the president of the union, Mike Mata, showed up within minutes and was granted access to the crime scene. He then ordered an officer to turn off their dashcam so that he and other officers could speak to Guyger in private. The tactic of coaching an officer is a common occurrence in officer-involved shootings. Officers often come together to create narratives as to what did or didn’t happen in an effort to protect an offending officer — regardless of where the fault lies.
“They need to bring the officers that obstructed the investigation to some disciplinary action. Then the police department needs to have a real investigation into their officer shooting practices, procedures and policies, look into how the investigative units proceed with this. This exposed a lot of issues.” — Changa Higgins, head of the Dallas Community Police Oversight Coalition
Officers then take the agreed-upon narrative and file it in their reports. Often times riddled with blatant lies, using planted evidence, and even perjuring themselves in court (testilying). In general, corruption is defined as a form of dishonesty or criminal activity undertaken by a person or organization entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire illicit benefit, or, abuse of entrusted power for one’s private gain.
Most law enforcement officers don’t consider testilying to be corruption simply because there is no financial benefit to them personally. Many also consider committing perjury as part of the job in convicting people who they believe should be convicted. Not only is testilying illegal, but it is also a major violation of citizens’ civil liberties. When several officers become involved in perpetuating a false narrative, it then becomes conspiratorial corruption.
In Guyger’s case, the allegations of tampering with in-car video cameras as well as forming a narrative to protect Guyger came to light in testimony during the trial. In her testimony, Guyger asserted that she yelled commands at Botham Jean before firing her weapon, yet testimony from Jean’s neighbors refuted that claim. The attempt to create a false narrative became clear during the widely publicized trial. The assumed privilege of being a white cop would ultimately fail her.
“What is heartbreaking is to see how the police are doing everything in their power to protect this killer from being brought to justice. There is damning evidence that Amber Guyger and her partner/lover were sexting, and then it comes out that she deleted all of her text messages and Rivera also deleted his texts and sexually explicit images that they shared with one another. Why are they not being charged with tampering of evidence or a conspiracy or Rivera with aiding and abetting? He destroyed evidence that was pertinent to what happened here.” — Benjamin Crump, civil rights attorney, and activist
While Guyger may have been found guilty of murder, her cohorts who participated in helping cover-up her unjustifiable actions walked away unscathed. This is not out of the ordinary as officers have previously been caught testilying on behalf of criminal officers all over the country.
Another prominent case of conspiratorial corruption occurred in Chicago in the murder of Laquan McDonald. Initially, police reported that McDonald was behaving erratically while walking down the street, refused to put down a knife he was carrying, and lunged at the police officers. Preliminary internal police reports described the incident similarly and ruled the shooting justified and Jason Van Dyke was not charged in the shooting at that time.
However, when a court ordered police to release a dashcam video of the shooting more than a year after McDonald’s death, it showed McDonald had been walking away from police when he was shot. A security camera at a nearby Burger King may have also captured the shooting. But the manager of the restaurant said that on the night of the shooting, five Chicago police officers gained access to the video and passwords on the equipment. By the time the Independent Police Review Authority requested to view the footage the next day, it had been erased.
The Chicago Tribune later obtained footage showing a Chicago police employee working on the restaurant’s computers after the shooting. Despite the damning evidence of a cover-up involving many Chicago Police Officers, only three were tried for attempting to change the narrative of the events related to the shooting. They were found not guilty by the Cook County Circuit Court.
It would later be determined that Van Dyke played a role in the cover-up of another fatal police shooting, according to court records. As part of a civil case involving the controversial shooting of Emmanuel Lopez, Van Dyke admitted that he copied the work of other officers on the scene to make his official report match theirs without conducting his own interviews of witnesses.
In another recent case in Houston, former narcotics officer Gerald Goines was found to have fabricated evidence that led to a no-knock raid. A raid that resulted in five officers being shot and the deaths of Dennis Tuttle and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas. Both citizens have since been found to be innocent.
This ongoing case has exposed conspiratorial corruption in how the Houston Police Department operates. Not only has Goines been charged with murder, but his partner, Steven Bryant, was also charged with tampering with a government document. Both were found to have fabricated evidence in writing the affidavit used to help justify the no-knock raid.
There are also twelve additional officers and two sergeants who have sought legal counsel from the Houston Police Officers Union prior to being charged or named in the incident. It’s not out of the ordinary for officers related to a case to seek legal representation. But the number of officers, in this case, is alarming.
The issue of corruption and racism in law enforcement is not as isolated as many Americans would have you believe. In fact, it’s much more widespread than most are willing to admit. If more Americans would look at the depth of the evidence and circumstances surrounding every questionable case, they would fine corruption at its core. From there, cases begin to fall apart.
The lack of oversight of American police departments is why these issues occur and continue to happen. Every major city in America must have a Police Oversight Board made up of citizens and civil rights attorneys to review every case where excessive force is used and in every case of officer-involved shootings. While some cities already employ similar strategies, they typically don’t go far enough. Many departments will withhold information from oversight committees citing obscure, and often new rules rendering community-based oversight nearly useless.
Until we challenge the “cops are the victims” narrative, nothing will change.
“It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. There is nothing uniquely evil in these destroyers or even in this moment. The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country.” — Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between the World and Me”