Wednesday, April 21, 2021

There's still work to do


Sheriff's deputy Jason Meade, left, and the late Casey Goodson, right, via Atlanta Black Star.

Sometime last night, following up in The Times on the story of the 16-year-old in a Columbus foster home who was shot dead by police just a few minutes, as it happened, before the announcement of the verdict in the murder of George Floyd—Ma'khia Bryant, who was apparently having a conflict with a couple of other girls in the home and had threatened them with a knife, which would be a bad thing, though not a capital crime to be punished without trial, right on the spot—I noticed, down toward the end of the story:

Columbus has been gripped by tension over police shootings since early December, when Casey Goodson Jr., 23, was shot to death at the entrance of his home by a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy assigned to a fugitive task force.

Members of the task force had been in the area looking for someone in an operation that had nothing to do with Mr. Goodson.

Two weeks later, Andre Hill, 47, was shot four times by a Columbus police officer who was responding to a call about a suspicious vehicle. When officers arrived to investigate, they encountered Mr. Hill, and one of the officers, Adam Coy, a 19-year veteran, opened fire within seconds. Mr. Coy, who was fired after the shooting, was charged with felony murder in the case.

That's a whole wave of police killing Black people in one city in a few months (The Times doesn't mention the two previous victims were Black, but you know they were, and checking out the links bears it out) and I hadn't even heard of it. Columbus is a pretty big town (880,000 people), but in my mind it's kind of like a very large Albany, with football. I'd never had any idea it was a problem. 

Casey Goodson was coming back from a dental appointment, with a bag of Subway sandwiches for himself, his grandmother, and his five-year-old brother, according to family members, and he was shot in the back by a sheriff's deputy as he inserted his keys into the door (they were still in the door when he'd staggered into the house and collapsed in the kitchen). He was in fact carrying a concealed handgun, which he had a license to do, and some unofficial accounts suggest that he had taken the gun out in the course of an interaction with the sheriff's deputy (who was in fact off duty just finished with his day's work on an assignment looking for violent offenders, but Goodson, who had no criminal record, was not one of them). He could hardly have been waving the gun around while he was opening a door and carrying the Subway bag and the face mask he'd just taken off. The county police don't have body cameras. Goodson was actually shot six times, not four, according to his autopsy in March, five times in the back and once in the buttock from the right to left side. 

Son of a Kentucky Baptist pastor, Deputy Jason Meade is a pastor himself, at a Free Will Baptist Church in an unincorporated village outside Columbus.  He also has a history of problems with use of force: he was

part of a unit that responded to a standoff with an armed suspect in Pike County, Ohio, June 2018. He was among seven officers who fired their weapons. Two men died during the incident. Jason Meade was placed on a paid administrative leave.

He received an oral reprimand in March 2019 for “violating rules and regulations for deploying his taser on a suspect and didn’t notify his supervision or communications about the use of force.”

In one sermon at his church, he told the congregation that his work with the US Marshals was like "hunting people", but also compared himself to David battling Goliath.

“I learned long ago I got to throw the first punch,” he said [at a 2018 conference]. “And I learned long ago why I’m justified in throwing the first punch.’ People I hit, you wish you could hit, trust me.”

The investigation is ongoing, as far as I can tell. The death has been ruled a homicide. Meade is still on administrative leave.

I'm really glad that the prosecutors in the George Floyd murder have won convictions on all three counts. I totally feel that sense of relief that everybody's talking about, and I'm convinced this could truly be a bend in that arc, an inflection point beyond which we might learn how to create institutions of public safety instead of occupying armies trying to control a potentially hostile segment of the population. Everybody showed up heartwarmingly ready, from Harris and Biden to Minnesota AG Keith Ellison, of whom I'm a longtime fan, and the almost unbearably generous Floyd family, and the wonderful girl who made the video. The rightwingers mostly weren't even trying to claim the killer wasn't really guilty! 

That was pretty much all I had for a post on the subject, and here I am wandering into this instead, as if I weren't even happy, which I am. I blame The New York Times, for bringing up Casey Goodson in the first place, but not really. They did the right thing, in their mania for providing a sense of completeness—I think they were the only national news source to put the three Columbus stories together, though The Guardian has caught up today, with a still more comprehensive report according to which Franklin County, where Columbus is, has had 39 people killed by police since the beginning of 2015, making it no. 18 among US counties in the murderousness per capita of its cops (the top three are Bernalillo, NM, Jackson, MT, and Denver, CO).

But it does highlight how much work remains to do, as Ellison was saying, and how hard it's going to be to do it; how inveterate those few rotten apples in the police caste are in their self-righteous conviction, and the colleagues who protect them (I wrote somewhere about how that's the way the one bad apple spoils the barrel, by everybody in the barrel keeping quiet about it), and how much of the violence there is, so much that we hadn't even heard this story. Even as we rejoice over yesterday's verdict, we do well to remember.

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