Guest blogger John Linsay-Poland is drawn to Emeryville on the anniversary, today, of the shooting of Yuvette Henderson by the Emeryville Police Department.
Police Assault Weapons in Emeryville
By John Lindsay-Poland
Emeryville PD’s Sgt. Fred Dauer told me that the advantages of the AR-15 are that it is highly accurate at a distance, and that it pierces body armor. Yet Henderson was killed from a short distance, and she wore no body armor. Besides Yuvette’s death, the AR-15’s extra capacity to go through people and objects and penetrate others creates additional hazards. Police shooting last February 3, for example, also shattered the car windows of a bystander.
In December, a number of community members addressed policing, militarization, racism, immigration enforcement, and the Yuvette Henderson case at a forum in Emeryville (see the video here). There, we talked about some uncomfortable facts: in 2015, Black people were more than twice as likely as White people to be killed by police. But if Black people were unarmed, they were three and a half times as likely to be killed by police.
Just six blocks from where Henderson was killed, less than a week before, a White marijuana grower pursued police deputies in Oakland and fired a high-powered gun at the officers, but they did not even return fire.
People often say that police need assault weapons because criminals are killing them. Folks can be forgiven if they think there is a “war on police,” since some media promote this idea. But in fact, the number of police killed by others in the line of duty is at an all-time low, according to data compiled by the American Enterprise Institute.
EPD chief Jennifer Tejada has claimed in public that the AR-15 is not an assault weapon, but the gun industry has long said otherwise – at least when it wants to capture a certain market. As the Violence Policy Center notes, “The NRA, the gun industry, the gun press, and other pro-gun “experts” today claim that there is no such thing as a civilian ‘assault weapon.’ They prefer to call them ‘tactical rifles’ or ‘modern sporting rifles.’ But before these types of guns came under fire, these same experts enthusiastically described exactly these civilian versions as ‘assault rifles,’ ‘assault pistols,’ and ‘military assault’ weapons.” Private possession of assault weapons is illegal in California.
Emeryville PD officers said that when Yuvette Henderson was killed, they were protecting the public, because, they say, Henderson had a gun pointed at them (though it is unclear then how they shot her in the back). The officers also say that the only time they have fired an AR-15 since the force acquired them in 2002 was when they killed Henderson. Chief Tejada told me that no police report is made about the AR-15’s use it unless it is fired. In other words, if police go out and take the AR-15 out of the patrol car, but do not fire it, they do not include that in their report of the incident. This makes it difficult to evaluate their claim that the AR-15 is protecting public safety, since the only record of its use in Emeryville resulted in police killing someone. That actually demonstrates the opposite.
EPD officers did a training in December around ‘officer involved shootings’ which lasted a full week, costing more than $7,000. That appears to indicate the Department believes that officers’ judgment in using lethal force needs improvement.
Meanwhile, Chief Tejada is attempting to shore up her political support by getting members of the City Council to attend a “force options” training between now and April to put themselves in the positions of police officers walking into situations and then decide on use of force.
If Emeryville PD has not done so already, it should do some training of officers in implicit bias. Study after study shows that even well-intentioned people – of all races – have unconscious biases against African-Americans. When police face individuals suspected of a crime, those biases can quickly become deadly. Two hundred fifty police agencies have already done some form of such implicit bias training. The aggregate results of this testing should be made public, so we may know where EPD stands in our common imperative to reduce and eliminate the hurtful practices of racism.
The City’s Public Safety Committee will consider its use of force, including AR-15s, next Thursday, February 11 at 11 a.m. You can make a public comment or listen. The meeting will be at the Emeryville PD, 2449 Powell St.
John Lindsay-Poland is Wage Peace Coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee. He blogs for Huffington Post and is the author of Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama (Duke University Press). He lives in the Bay Area.