Wednesday, February 14, 2018
It has been more than two weeks since two Jackson Police Department officers extra-judicially killed beloved daughter, mother and Jackson State University student Crystaline Barnes. The community waits in suspense for some facts on what happened on Jan. 27, 2018.
JPD has been less than forthcoming regarding basic information concerning this shooting. Instead, Interim Police Chief Anthony Moore, a man whom Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba lauded for being familiar with the national trends in criminal justice, has employed a tight-lipped approach eerily similar to those used in cases involving the extra-judicial killings of unarmed black men, women and children nationally.
Instead of offering transparency, Moore refuses to identify the officers or discuss whether they have histories of misconduct. This basic information should not be a mystery to residents. Barnes' killing by a hail of bullets while driving makes clear the importance of knowing the types of officers we have occupying our communities. The stray bullets and Barnes' car, which went out of control after the officers shot her, placed the lives and property of others in direct danger. JPD ought to know better. It is unacceptable that while Barnes' family mourns her killing, officers get a paid vacation free of any public scrutiny or ridicule, both of which are warranted.
Moore refuses to discuss JPD's use-of-force policy in any detail. This is a policy that the general public should know about. Further, residents of Jackson should have had the right to discuss and critique this policy publicly before it went into effect, as it directly impacts all residents. This is a basic issue of transparency. There is no excuse for Moore's refusal to provide such information to the public. There is no excuse why JPD has failed to do so in the past. What is in that policy that the department feels it has to hide? Does such a policy even exist? A failure to provide such basic information is a breach of the public trust.
It appears that JPD is in line with the national trend of engaging in character assassinations of victims of extra-judicial killings. Great emphasis has been placed on allegations that Barnes attempted to run someone off the road before her deadly encounter with officers. These allegations have yet to be substantiated in any concrete manner. JPD should have answered questions the allegations before releasing any statements regarding Barnes' alleged criminal behavior prior to her death, as well as a blurry mugshot of her. Moore should extend the same respect to Barnes and her family that has been afforded to the officers who killed her. This is JPD's attempt to control the narrative around her death.
The Clarion-Ledger reported that she had been in a Pre-Trial Diversion program and had outstanding traffic fines. But Barnes' prior criminal history has nothing to do with her extra-judicial killing. This is further character assassination and serves no other purpose other than to replace her cloak of innocence with a cloak of guilt.
A quick Internet search reveals that there have been seven JPD-officer-involved shootings that local media reported since November 2017. Two of these resulted in extra-judicial killings. Two resulted in officers wounding people. Luckily no one was harmed in the others. The number of officer-involved shootings in such a short period of time proves that there needs be closer scrutiny placed on JPD officers' use of force.
Barnes' killing should serve as a call to demand more transparency and accountability. The fact that JPD is investigating itself is unacceptable. It is akin to expecting the fox to investigate what happened in the hen house after he has ravaged it. The Hinds County District Attorney's Office investigating the matter to determine whether any charges will be brought against the officers is also unacceptable. The office depends on JPD to aid in its prosecution of cases, so it is biased and should recuse itself.
Residents need to demand that the city require a true independent investigation. Moore needs to release the names of the officers involved in all of the officer-involved shootings since November. JPD needs to release a clear statement outlining its policies concerning officer-involved shootings. The City of Jackson must establish a human-rights charter and a commission that gives an independent elected body with subpoena and investigative powers to address human-rights abuses in the city.
Adofo Minka is a human defense lawyer who lives in West Jackson. This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the JFP.