Who Is Policing The Police?

Yvette Smith called the police with the hope that they could “serve and protect” her from a dispute between two men that she felt was getting out of hand. Yet, within two seconds of her opening the door to the officers answering the call, the unarmed mother is shot and killed by one of them.

The officers say she was armed and ignored their commands. These claims were corroborated by their supervising officer. Yet, dash-cam footage disproved them all.

It would be easy to call “racism” in this case, as the victim was black and the officer is white. However, as we saw with the Zachary Hammond case, there is a larger issue at hand: the overall lack of accountability in police departments that allow officers to avoid the consequences of their actions.

Nearly two years after it happened, this case has remained largely ignored by the media. I only learned about it through a series of tweets by social activist Shaun King, who penned a detailed article on the case:

On February 16, 2014, Yvette Smith, a 47-year-old mother beloved by her family and community, was shot twice by an AR-15 assault rifle and killed on the spot by local police as she opened the front door of her home. A full 18 months later, as her case finally came before a jury, it’s disturbingly clear that the police lied, repeatedly, in an attempt to cover up their murder of Smith.

First off, Smith called 911 for help because two men in her home were arguing over a financial dispute and she felt it was getting out of hand. She had nothing to do with the dispute and was an innocent bystander—a victim, even. When the police showed up, both men were already in the front yard and it appeared that the dispute was settled. This should’ve been case closed, but it wasn’t.

When Smith opened the front door of her home, she was shot twice with a high-powered .223 caliber rifle in less than two seconds by Officer Daniel Willis of Bastrop County, Texas, outside of Austin.

The lies and the coverup began immediately. The entire department was involved.

Who is policing the police?

There’s a growing mistrust of law enforcement because there’s no system in place that ensures its integrity. While the officer who shot and killed Smith has been charged with murder, history has shown us that officers who assault, shoot and/or kill innocent people are usually “reassigned” to desk duty while the police reports are written to shift the arrow of blame toward the victim. The increase of video footage from bystanders, dash cams and body cams have all helped bring charges on officers operating unlawfully, yet the Eric Garner case showed us that video proof doesn’t guarantee justice.

Internal audits and grand juries usually result in most officers being “found innocent” of any wrongdoing, while the taxpayers foot the bill for the millions of dollars in settlements paid out due to the mistakes of those “innocent” officers. In Yvette Smith’s case, her family filed a civil suit and was awarded $1.2 million from Bastrop County, TX.

The city of Denver has paid out nearly $13 million in the last decade to settle legal claims against the police and sheriff’s departments. In addition to the nearly $6 million in settlements the city of Baltimore paid out between 2011 and 2014, there is the $6.4 million settlement in the Freddie Gray case.

What can be done to fix the system?

Yes, this is a rhetorical (and slightly facetious) question. One of the biggest issues is the fraternity-esque culture of law enforcement: they will protect their own by any means necessary, even if the person they’re protecting is dead-wrong.

One thing police departments could do is stop hiring people unfit for the position. Being a police officer requires courage and advanced critical thinking skills. Yet, Willis’ evaluation in 2012 stated that he “needed development in handling explosive situations and in the utilization of common sense.” To me, that sounds like he’s unfit to be an officer. Apparently not to Bastrop County Sheriff’s Department, who hired Officer Willis and then tampered with his training records after he killed Smith to assist in the coverup.

Too many lives are lost at the hands of officers who walk away with a slap on the wrist and a pension, especially if there’s no video evidence. If Johnny Civilian accidentally shoots and kills someone in a hiking accident, he would most likely be charged with involuntary manslaughter. If Officer Doofy shoots and kills someone while off-duty, Doofy would get “suspended with pay” and the police statement would claim self-defense.

For example: NYPD officer Brendan Cronin opened fired at random during a “drunken blackout” while off-duty, shooting a man six times. Initially charged with first-degree assault until surveillance video surfaced, Cronin is now charged with attempted murder and is suspended with pay. There’s also the case of Dante Servin, who was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter after shooting Rekia Boyd in the back of the head and killing her.

Moral of the Story

We are all responsible for our actions, whether they are intentional or not, and the consequences of those actions should not be determined by whether or not the perpetrator has a badge.

As long as police officers continue to live above the law they are paid to enforce, innocent people will continue to die, settlements that these cities cannot afford will continue to accumulate, and the public view of law enforcement will continue to deteriorate.