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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Letter to the Tattler: John Lindsay-Poland

Special to the Tattler-
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

John Lindsay-Poland
A year ago today, Emeryville Police shot and killed 38-year-old Yuvette Henderson, using an AR-15 assault weapon. Henderson had just dropped off her kids at school, and allegedly had shoplifted at Home Depot, was injured, and left when police gunned her down. According to the autopsy report, she was shot in the back.

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. 


  1. Here is a link to a well written article by a police Chief in Madison Wisconsin. I think it offers a unique perspective on why Police Departments choose to carry the tools they do and why it is important to hire quality individuals with good judgement and training to use those tools. It's worth a read!

    1. I read the post you recommended. Here's what the cop that wrote it says in summary:
      Police need AR-15 assault rifles because-
      -there's a war on police in America
      -the criminals are carrying them and so then must police

      Point one is patently false and point two is not cogent or warranted. Tell the police in London England they need to carry AR-15s because the criminals carry them and see what they say. Police there don't carry guns at all...and that's in a city where there are actual terrorists. The meme you are propagating is bogus; we're not getting into an arms race with criminals in Emeryville. Next criminals will get RPG launchers or 50 caliber cannons and we're not going to have our police carry those. There have been numerous studies done about police using the weapons that are issued them, no matter the training involved. They tend to use them in inappropriate times; many studies on taser use by police confirm this. Now we have a shooting with this newly issued assault rifle.
      The two points this cop makes make work in Alabama, but it doesn't work in Emeryville.

    2. I just read the article and there is quite a bit more to it than you seem to have grasped in your little summary. I hope readers have the opportunity to read the article and judge for themselves what the Author is trying to convey! Maybe you are so opinionated and against the use of AR rifles by Police Officers that your ability to be objective has been compromised? Maybe you just don't care for or respect Police Officers and will disagree with any viewpoints or Policies they may have or maybe you've been hitting the sauce and you're a little irritable right now? Try reading it again in the morning and see if you come away with any additional information that might be relevant to the argument.

    3. Drugs, that's gotta be it, right? Nobody could question police authority that isn't a drug addict, right? People that disagree with police carrying assault rifles can't be rational and the disagreeing constitutes disrespect, right? It's not really possible to disagree with a police officer respectfully, right?

    4. John Lindsay-PolandFebruary 6, 2016 at 8:26 AM

      The responder seeks to change the frame to an argument by Madison Police chief Koval. I would characterize that argument in broad strokes as, (a) 'Guns don't kill people, people do' and (b) police should communicate well. But he also makes the argument that there are a lot of people with guns in the U.S. (including AR-15s), so police must defend themselves with rifles such as the AR-15. We should note here that it is illegal to own an AR-15 in California, if you are not a cop.
      But a corrollary of Koval's argument is that there should be no limits on police equipment, as long as they are well trained in their appropriate use. If police believe they need offensive drones, as North Dakota recently decided, that is fine, as long as they were trained in their appropriate use. Maybe police should have mortars, to more effectively 'neutralize' active shooters. Or fighter aircraft, in case of a hijacking as occurred in 2001.
      The problem is that this equipment is then much more likely to be deployed in situations that do not require it, while resources for emergency health services are cut, or themselves militarized. (Medics are often sidelined from giving emergency care while police 'secure' an already secure site.)
      I also encourage 'Anonymous' to come out of the shadows. Are you a police officer? I am sure we can learn more from each other if we know who we are.

    5. Just a quick FYI for what it's worth. It is illegal to own an AR-15 that is stamped by Armalite or Colt but there are a plethora of AR-15 clones made by other companies that are completely legal to own in California as long as they meet certain requirements. The general public is also allowed to own Ar-15's, AK-47's, Uzi's and other so called assault style weapons if they were owned prior to California's assault weapon control act of January 23rd, 2001 and remain registered to said owner. They have been grandfathered in and are legal to own. Lots of people assemble their own California legal AR style weapons using parts bought from Gun shops or online and these weapons are also legal to own in California with certain restrictions.

    6. John Lindsay-PolandFebruary 10, 2016 at 5:11 PM

      Yes, I'm aware of these loopholes and grandfather clause. We can get into the details, but the point was that the State of California has made personal possession, broadly speaking, illegal.

  2. Nice Police Chief you got there.
    "EPD chief Jennifer Tejada has claimed in public that the AR-15 is not an assault weapon"
    Shes doesn't even know that AR stands for Assault Rifle.

    1. Nice straw man argument you got there.

    2. Sorry- AR does not stand for Assault Rifle as is commonly believed. AR stands for Armalite which is the company that originally designed the rifle. Armalite sold the rights to Colt in 1959. Don't feel bad though, lots of people have been misinformed and believe the AR stands for Assault Rifle. Helps push the Anti-gun argument.

    3. "Helps push"? Really? As if Colt Manufacturing came up with the AR designation to stop their own rifle. The AR-15 was at first branded as an 'assault rifle' by the gun industry and the NRA because they thought it would lead to more sales. It was only later when Congress started talking about banning assault rifles did the gun industry and the NRA insist they weren't assault rifles. 'AR' was started by Armalite but Colt realized the utility in its association with 'assault'. Now, its immaterial; the AR-15 IS an assault rifle.... so says the Congress and the State of California.

    4. "The AR-15 is an assault says the Congress and the State of California" Well Heck, it must be true then! If they told you to go jump off a cliff, would you?

    5. It's not possible to "prove" the AR 15 is or is not an assault rifle because it's not something the dictionary has availed itself to. It's opinion. Regarding who are ya gunna believe, I believe the government and you believe the gun industry lobby (and the Chief of Police of the City of Emeryville).

    6. AR 15s look an awful lot like the M-16 (us army rifle). Not going to wade into the minutia here, but our police don't need em in their squad cars. Are shotguns now considered wimpy? If Tejada has to have AR-15s available to her officers in an emergency--(post earthquake civil unrest, etc), then leave the dang AR's at the cop shop except when necessary.
      By the way, while I did not witness the fatal encounter or what led up to it, the account printed here does a good job presenting a narrative of an innocent mother gunned down by police because of her race.
      Other accounts of this tragedy presented a more nuanced picture.

    7. We'll probably never know what was in the heart of the Emeryville police officer that killed Ms Henderson. Was race a factor? Impossible to say for sure but to expect silence from people with doubts is unreasonable given America's baleful racist history, especially as it pertains to police shooting black people. It's a sorry state of affairs: when cops shoot black people, reasonable people are dubious of claims from the police that race couldn't possibly be a factor.