Says officers assume the worst about African-Americans
By: Rebekah Skelton
The Austin Villager
Friday, March 16, 2012
Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier is a middle-aged white woman, who acknowledges that she is not likely to be stopped and searched by police anytime soon. Her adopted daughter, however, is a 19-year-old African-American, and her chances of being stopped are much higher, Frasier said. So when Frasier reviews a case such as the officer-involved fatal shooting of Byron Carter Jr., a young African-American man, she brings a unique perspective to the table.
“When my daughter is out with a group of friends, particularly a group of African-American friends, the conversation is: what happens if they get stopped [by an officer]? What are their rights?” Frasier said. “If they refuse to let him search the car it might not be perceived as them being smart enough to know their rights. It might be perceived as them hiding something.”
Frasier described this reality as “a different sort of world” — one that many African-Americans live in every day.
Byron Carter Jr., 20, and an unidentified 16-year-old man, whom Frasier said might have been Carter’s cousin, were walking on East Seventh Street when two officers, Jeffrey Rodriguez and Nathan Wagner, spotted them. The officers found their behavior to be suspicious and followed Carter and the teen. The officers lost track of the two men, but later saw them in a car and attempted to detain the pair, who attempted to drive away.
“In the aftermath, what we know from physical evidence is that it appears one officer was hit [by the car], and the other officer fired multiple bullets into the car,” Frasier said.
Wagner, the officer who fired into the car, hit the driver once in the arm and the passenger several times, including a shot to the head that killed him.
It has been nearly ten months since Wagner killed Carter and people in the community are still looking for answers.
Many people, including Nelson Linder, president of the NAACP’s Austin chapter, think it is telling that the driver was not indicted by a grand jury.
“[The police] said the juvenile was trying to use the vehicle as a weapon, and the court said no,” Linder said. “So the police either lied or got it wrong.”
However, Frasier said she wouldn’t take too much stock in the fact that the teen was not indicted. The jury might not have seen his actions as being criminal, but that doesn’t necessarily correlate with what actually happened, she said.
A different grand jury — one composed of five African-Americans, three Hispanics, three Asian-Americans and one Caucasian — reviewed Wagner’s actions and announced their decision to no bill him on March 9. A no bill means the jury believes there is not enough evidence to indict on the charges.
Frasier, APD officers in the chain of command and a citizen’s review panel all made separate recommendations regarding disciplinary action against Wagner to Acevedo. The Austin American-Statesman reported in January that the citizen’s review panel recommended that Acevedo fire Wagner. Since the recommendation is confidential, Frasier could neither confirm nor deny the report.
“But […] if [the Statesman] hadn’t gotten it correctly there would have been a great uproar,” she said.
Ultimately, though, Acevedo had the final say in any disciplinary action again Wagner. Since the grand jury ruling, Acevedo said an internal review panel found Wagner justified in his use of force, and he will return to patrolling soon.
Alternating between intense conversation and relaxing in his chair, Linder’s demeanor mirrored his unease about how police officers have been trained and disciplined since Acevedo became chief.
“This has been a trend for many years,” Linder said. “When Acevedo came in 2007, for two years when he first got here there were not shootings. Now, it’s gotten back to normal, which tells me the tactics aren’t being addressed.”
Linder said the NAACP got involved with the Carter case after Carter’s family contacted him. He said based on the NAACP’s assessment, it is a case of racial profiling.
“There was no crime committed,” Linder said. “Had [the men] not been black this would not have happened.”
Linder contends that there is a discrepancy in officers’ use of force between African-Americans and Caucasians. But Frasier said looking at the race of suspects involved in officer-involved shootings would disprove that theory.
“The appropriate way to look at it is to look at R to R, which is ‘response to resistance’ in the force,” she said.
According to APD’s 2009 Response to Resistance Report, out of 217,878 arrests made between 2007 and 2009, force was used on 2,726 people.
Of the 87,550 Caucasians that were arrested in that time, force was used 905 times, or in 1 percent of arrests.
However, out of the, 54,113 African-Americans in that number, force was used 780 times, which is 1.4 percent of arrests. That’s 40 percent more than in the arrests of Caucasians.
In five of the instances of use of force, police shot and killed people — three African-Americans, one Asian-American and one person whose race was not publicly disclosed.
However, Frasier said the use of deadly force is such an anomaly that it’s not the best way to approach the issue.
The police monitor’s office recently looked at data to see if officers are treating minorities differently during traffic stops. Their research found that though people of all races are stopped equally, a disproportionate amount of minorities are searched.
According to a Texas Department of Public Safety report, in 2009, Caucasians made up 70.4 percent of all traffic stops. Of those stopped, 1.8 percent were searched. The rate at which African-Americans were searched, though, is much higher. While blacks comprised only 9.6 percent of stops, 3.3 percent of people stopped were searched.
“We found, what appears to me, unequal treatment when it came to minorities when it comes to searches,” Frasier said.
The explanation from the police department, she said, is that they do more searches in high-crime areas. To Frasier, high-crime means poor areas, which equals minorities.
“So what they’re telling me is if I’m poor and my skin has some color to it, that I’m going to be subjected to that?” Frasier said. “That’s not okay.”
Although Frasier said she doesn’t think the disparity in the use of deadly violence against African-Americans and other races is as high as many people think, she is concerned about the perceptions people have about African-Americans, particularly young men.
“When people see them they assume the worst, and police act in accordance with the assumption of the worst,” she said. “It’s so nice sometimes to be around [my daughter] and her friends. It’s this really eclectic group, many of whom are African-American kids. What I worry about is when they’re in the vehicle, and an officer stops them, that he might make that assumption.”
To Linder, that is unacceptable.
“We’re dealing with institutions that don’t pay attention to human rights,” he said indignantly. “It proceeds and succeeds police chiefs. It’s a cultural problem.”