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LEAP Executive Director Neill Franklin talks about the role of “police culture” in how law enforcement interacts with black communities

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KWAME ROSE, TRNN: From Baltimore, I’m Kwame Rose, and this is the Real News. Yet another black person was killed by the police, and another hashtag is trending. Korryn Gaines, a 23-year-old mother of two, was shot and killed by Baltimore County police. Her 5-year-old son, seen here in this video taped during the standoff with police, was also shot, but thankfully he is expected to survive. This video was originally posted to Gaines’s Facebook account, but was taken down by Facebook at the request of Baltimore County police after they noticed she was posting the ordeal online. [Facebook video] ROSE: Police say Gaines pointed a shotgun at officers when they arrived to serve a misdemeanor bench warrant on her failure to appear in court on charges stemming from a traffic stop for a March arrest that Gaines also recorded. [Video] ROSE: Police were also serving a domestic arrest warrant for Gaines’s partner, Kareem Courtney, who walked out of the apartment with the couple’s youngest child after the police got the landlord to open up the front door. SPEAKER: After approximately ten minutes, they retrieved a key from apartment management, turned the lock, door open slightly, and is secured by the standard security chain that we’re all familiar with. They could clearly see a female that they believed to be Ms. Gaines seated on the floor, a child nearby, who immediately began to wield a shotgun around, bringing it up to ready position, pointing it directly at the officers there to serve. ROSE: Authorities also admitted during the press conference this morning that they had received information about pre-existing mental health conditions Ms. Gaines suffered from prior to this fatal interaction. Regardless about what occurred in that previous incident, here’s what we do know about what ultimately became her last interaction with the police: Baltimore County police fired the first shot, before attempting to use a deescalation tactic, or a taser. Korryn Gaines is dead and her 5-year-old child is in the hospital recovering. It seems as though American police is still stuck in centuries of the past. Not only was Gaines killed by the law enforcement, but at the same press conference, Baltimore County police continuously referred to Ms. Gaines as anti-government because of her belief that the police would ultimately harm her–a believe that ultimately became true. SPEAKER: Yes. And the answer is I do not know whether those three officers who were on the warrant service team were aware of her anti-government views. ROSE: To talk further about this issue, I’m joined by Neill Franklin. Neill is the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, otherwise known as LEAP. He’s a 33-year police veteran who’s led multi-jurisdictional anti-narcotics task force for the Maryland State Police, and run training centers for the Baltimore Police Department and the Maryland State Police. Neill, thank you for joining us today. NEILL FRANKLIN: Pleasure being with you guys, thanks. ROSE: Neill, how, after Philando Castile, after Alton Sterling, after all of the victims, the black victims of police brutality, how are we at Korryn Gaines? How are we back to this point? FRANKLIN: Well, unfortunately we still have a long way to go with policing in this country. And we’ve got a lot of challenges ahead of us. You know, this is a different scenario than what we’re typically seeing playing out some times on YouTube. This was a, what police refer to as a barricade situation, where police had gone to Korryn’s address to serve, I believe, a warrant on her and a gentleman who was supposedly in the residence also. At least they believe he was in the residence. So they had an arrest warrant for her. Minor charges, nothing serious. Minor charges. And apparently when these three officers serving this warrant arrived at the apartment, you know, there was some resistance, from Korryn, according to what Baltimore County police relayed. And those three backed off. They said that she had a long gun with her as she was sitting on the floor. And the tactical unit was called in, which is typical for a barricade situation. That’s what the tactical unit is for. And the tactical unit is supposed to be highly trained. You know, they’re supposed to be capable of dealing with this type of situation, and hopefully ending in a peaceful, non-violent, no one injured, no one killed resolution. There’s a lot that we still don’t know about this that will come forward as to how this played out with the tactical unit. And from what I understand, it was one of the tactical officers who fired the first shot, and then Korryn returned fire, and then she was eventually killed. The interesting thing is that she had a 5-year-old, I believe it was her son, with her at the time, who is now hospitalized. Different scenario, should have been more of a controlled scenario. Again, we don’t yet have all the facts. But from what I heard from the actual news press, the news interview done by the chief, and I think the PIO officer for the Baltimore police, Baltimore County Police Department, was that she pointed–they said she pointed the long gun at one of the tactical officers. My question is, how is this allowed to occur when you’re trained to be behind cover, in concealment, as you’re opening up or having a dialog with the person of interest? So you should have been somehow protected in case she did fire a shot, but we ended up here having an officer fire the first shot. I’m still waiting to hear information on it. ROSE: Well, this is, this is the thing about what Chief Johnson said this morning, at this morning’s press conference. He said officers obtained a key from management of the apartment complex, in which that action, they are not sure–speaking of Baltimore County police–they are not if that was a legal action, to have management just open the door for them. They said when they opened the door, it was a standard chain lock that had the door secured, so you could only peek in two inches. From the video in which Korryn Gaines posted herself, the door was completely wide open. They had been there for six hours. She seemed to be in a calm manner responding to police. But not only just that, Neill. More importantly, Baltimore County homicide unit has verified that the shotgun which Korryn Gaines had in her possession was legally purchased last year. But what’s more important is the fact that it’s been confirmed that Baltimore County police had information, had information about a previous, pre-existing mental health condition that Korryn Gaines had which WBAL 11 News here, Jane Miller, have confirmed that Korryn Gaines’s doctors have said. She had a [inaud.] of lead paint poisoning. We saw in Miami, we saw Charles Kinsey, who was a therapist at a mental health facility, in which he was shot in the leg just a couple weeks ago. He was shot in the leg, police claimed that the therapist was shot in the leg while he was trying to administer aid to a mental health patient who had subsequently got confused and was in the middle of the street. What is it with law enforcement and mental health patients, that they just shoot instead of deescalating situations with a taser, or other tactics? FRANKLIN: Obviously, two areas that come to mind right away. Number one is training, which we have to do over and over and over again. You just don’t train a police officer once, you know, for a period of time. It has to be constant and consistent training. But more importantly, we’re talking about supervision, here. We’re talking about management during these times. During these times when we’re–you know, the two that you just mentioned, and Korryn–these were, again, situations that should have been controlled. We had time, you know, supervision is just so important. It is so key to these scenarios. And we’re lacking it in many, many different ways. Now, these were two very specific, controlled situations. But there were other times when we have just a, a squad member or two, and a sergeant on the scene, and the sergeant doesn’t take or is incapable of taking proper control of the situation. I remember the time in Baltimore here a few years ago, many years ago. There was a young man in the street at Lexington Market. He had a knife. And there were a number of officers that had surrounded him. And it was a sergeant on the scene. And he just didn’t take control of the situation and they ended up shooting this individual. So time and time again, we’re missing a key component in addition to training, and that is proper supervision and management of these times. ROSE: Neill, speaking of training, right, Baltimore County police officers–Baltimore County Police Department rolled out their body camera initiative a few weeks ago. And they say only 40 officers in a department of well over 1,000 officers–they say only 40 of those officers have body cameras. Are we implementing body cameras too slowly into society, into policing? FRANKLIN: Well, obviously it’s all about money, it’s all about resources. But yeah, we should have done this yesterday. It needs to be sped up. One of the things about tactical units and swat teams–many of them around the country have been recording the work that they do, long since. I mean, they started this recording of their SWAT team deployments years ago. So I’m curious as to when Baltimore County had done that. You know, they had taken steps well in advance of what we’re seeing now with body camera deployment for the average police officers, because a lot of the video that has been used by SWAT teams is used for training, is used for improving the way and the manner and strategies and techniques in which they go about their business, very important. So I’m curious as to whether or not Baltimore County has been using cameras for their tactical units in the past. But we need to speed this up. ROSE: Neill, also interesting about this case, because police admit there is no footage from officers from this case. So their SWAT team, Baltimore County Police’s SWAT team, did not, was not one of the departments that recorded incidents. But also interestingly enough, Korryn Gaines was recording herself, from her Facebook account, which Baltimore County police admits that they contacted Facebook to suspend her account, which Facebook did deactivate Korryn Gaines, her Facebook account, and deleted her videos of the, of videos that she was recording during this interaction. If there’s a small child, her 5-year-old son was next to her, why go through that measure to, I guess, disable the only recording that was taking place in such a tense, a tense and hostile interaction happening with a 5-year-old child present? FRANKLIN: Well, I kind of understand the suspending of any live broadcast for such an incident. I do not understand the deletion of any recordings, if, you know, if they in fact did that. Hopefully they did not. I see big problems with that if they did, maybe even Constitutional problems if they did. You know, for, I guess it could be explained in a way for public safety to end the live broadcast, not knowing the, if they don’t know the totality of the situation, the tactical officers. But if they in fact deleted those videos from her Facebook account, making them no longer accessible to anyone, and now we have someone who has lost their life, and that possibly being the only recording of the incident, yeah, there’s a big problem with this. ROSE: Neill, I kind of want to talk, focus now on the culture of policing. Obviously there is a, it’s not a black and white issue, in my perspective. Obviously there is a blue versus black issue in the way that police respond to black individuals they come in contact with. What can, what can law enforcement officers do? Or you yourself as a law enforcement officer trainer, someone who provides training services to law enforcement, how do we change the culture of policing from being anti-black to being inclusive of black citizens? FRANKLIN: Well, first thing is you hit the nail right on the head. It’s about culture. Most of it’s about culture. It’s about how we in policing have become accustomed to treating certain groups of people. And the best way that we’re going to be able to get our arms around this–I’m just going to, there are many things that need to be done. I’m going to speak to two. I’m going to speak to education. Education of our police officers is absolutely so critical as it relates to this topic. Education as it relates to history, education as it relates to culture, education as it relates to some of the challenges that certain groups of people are faced with on a daily basis. Education regarding the polices that we have in this country and how they adversely and negatively affect certain groups of people, no fault of the individual police officer. These are the systemic systems that we have in place, and our criminal justice system is a prime example, when you look at the disparity and issues there regarding arrest at every level. Arrest charges being placed, sentencing and beyond. The second piece is we have to change our policing paradigm. We need to reconstruct completely how we police in this country, and we have to give control of our police department and the philosophy of policing over to the communities and the people within those communities. Our police departments need governance boards. They don’t need one person hiring and firing the chief, setting the budget, and calling all those other critical shots. A community-based board, including some politicians and including some police officers and police union folks, need to be governing the police department. They need to hire and fire the chief. They need to set the philosophy. And they need to establish the budget for the police department, and pretty much set the direction. That’s where we need to get to so that police are 100 percent accountable to the community, and those community members. And hopefully, you know, we could then do a better job at recruiting more police officers from within those communities. ROSE: Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, otherwise known as LEAP, a former 33-year police veteran. Neill, thank you for joining us today on the Real News. FRANKLIN: Thanks for having me. ROSE: And for our viewers at home: sadly, this won’t be the last time that we talk about a black person dying at the hands of police in America. Sadly, this issue will continue to be talked about, though thousands, if not millions, have continued the conversation on addressing the problem that is police brutality affecting black individuals and black citizens in America. Korryn Gaines, killed in front of her 5-year-old son. Her 5-year-old son shot in crossfire between police and his mother. Obviously police brutality is as much of a problem as gun violence is in America. Which issue will we talk about the most? Which issue will be solved before too many lives are lost? I’m Kwame Rose here in Baltimore, and this is the Real News.


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Neill Franklin is the executive director of The Law Enforcement Action Partnership, otherwise known as LEAP. He's a 33-year police veteran whose led multi-jurisdictional anti-narcotics task forces for the Maryland state police and ran training centers for the Baltimore Police Department and the Maryland State Police.