No Desk Duty This Time: Cop Quickly Charged in Murder of Unarmed Teen
Nina Turner: After lying about what happened, Roy Oliver was fired then booked on murder charges in connection to the shooting death of 15 year old Jordan Edwards in Texas
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
How does a call to police about suspected underage drinking at a house party lead to a police-involved shooting that left a teenager dead and a community in grief? That’s what happens in Balch Springs, Texas on April 29th when 15 year old Jordan Edwards was shot and killed by now-former police officer Roy Oliver. Now, Oliver initially claimed that the car that Edwards and his friends were driving in began to drive aggressively towards police, but body camera footage worn by the officers disproved that account. Oliver was fired last Tuesday and charged with Jordan’s murder on Friday. Joining us to discuss this case and similar related cases that are happening right now is Nina Turner. She is a former state senator from Ohio. Also she was a top surrogate of the Bernie Sanders for President campaign in 2016. She’s also the host of the forthcoming program right here on The Real News called The Nina Turner Show. She joins us today from Cleveland. Senator Turner, welcome again.
NINA TURNER: Thank you.
KIM BROWN: Senator Turner, there are some obviously very troubling details about this case, about Jordan Edwards and the officer who is now facing murder charges in connection to his death, but there are some things here that were decidedly different. First of all, the officer was wearing a body camera, and despite him providing a false account of that night’s events to the police chief, the body camera footage subsequently proved that the officer was indeed lying, and he was immediately fired and then subsequently charged. But oftentimes in these sort of cases, where there is usually an unarmed black victim who has been shot by police or killed by police, the officer is usually placed on administrative leave. There’s usually a very lengthy period of time before any punitive action or criminal charges are filed. This case was very different in that way.
NINA TURNER: Yeah, it was, and thank God for the body cam. I mean, if it weren’t for cameras and this technology that both protects the officer, you know, from people who will lie and exaggerate, but certainly protects the public, especially when it comes to these police-related shootings of African Americans in particular. Thank God for the camera, because a lot of what we’re seeing right now, Kim, black folks have been saying this for generations and nobody wanted to believe them. Everybody wants to believe, and even the black community included, that when somebody takes an oath of office and they take the oath to protect and serve, you want to believe police officers. You don’t want to think that they are lying, but you know what, they are human just like everybody else.
That’s not what people want to believe and to support police officers and police departments, but thank God for body cameras and thank God that everybody, almost everybody, has a camera on their phone, because from what happened to Eric Garner, to what happened to Sandra Bland in that police stop, to what happened to Tamir Rice right here in Cleveland, the 12 year old that got shot on the playground, to what happened to John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio, that’s near Dayton, when he was at a Walmart shopping. He picked up what appeared to be a rifle. He’s on the telephone talking, and he’s just walking around the store with a weapon that he picked up inside the store. Somebody called and gave a false report that he was pointing that weapon, and that in particular, he was pointing that weapon at children. The cameras inside the store showed very clearly that he was not pointing that weapon at anybody. He was on the phone in his own zone, and the police came in and just shot this man dead.
Thank God for footage like that, Kim, because African Americans would never have a fighting chance. Even in this case and what happened to young Edwards, Jordan Edwards, we know the police officer initially lied, even though he knew good and well he was wearing a body camera. But they just do it so effortlessly. He shot into this car with a rifle that shot this little boy, this little black boy, dead.
KIM BROWN: The other portion about the case involving Jordan Edwards has to do with how quickly the officer elevated force. What happened according to accounts that have been reported upon in the news that officers … Well, apparently, Jordan and his friends were leaving the area, trying to exit the vicinity. They were told allegedly to stop the vehicle. They refused to stop, but they weren’t driving aggressively or driving in a way that was harmful to the officers, but driving obviously at a slow enough speed that one of the officers was able to burst out the window and then subsequently allegedly Officer Roy Oliver fired into the car. To go from asking or calling for the vehicle to stop to shooting inside of the car where no weapons were found, no one was armed, nothing about the teens’ behavior or conduct was illegal in any way, but the fact that this officer felt entitled to simply fire a weapon, a rifle as you said, Senator, into a car, the level of how the escalation of force just jumped here, and this is not so uncommon.
NINA TURNER: And it’s sad, you know. As we’re in the month of May, Kim, and we were talking off-camera about mothers, it’s Mother’s Day month. Mother’s Day is this weekend coming up, and I can’t even imagine the pain and anguish that his mother and father and anybody who loves him and the other young boys … I call them boys, because they were, but young men who were in that vehicle. It’s only by the grace of God that more of them were not either wounded or mortally wounded, but the fact that African Americans in this country, I think rapper Ice Cube said it best, my skin is my sin. We always have to prove our humanity, so you’re absolutely right.
How do you escalate from trying to get this vehicle to stop, which was moving in the opposite direction, not coming towards the officer in any kind of threatening way whatsoever but moving away, to shooting in the car? And not just shooting in the car, Kim. I want your viewers to understand this. The officer pulled out a rifle, no doubt, and shot into this car with those young boys in the car. I almost called them babies, but those little boys in that car. Makes no sense. We know that studies show very clearly that white people in general, not just police officers, but they tend to see African Americans, particularly African American males, older, as older than what they truly really are.
KIM BROWN: Jordan Edwards was an outstanding student. It has been well-reported that he had a 3.5 GPA. That is a fact and a tidbit about him that has been attached to his name, and not to say that it shouldn’t, but it raises the question of, yes, well, we can understand that if a child is a good student, him being killed tragically is undoubtedly something devastating for not only his family and the community, but should it matter that he was a good student? Should it matter that he didn’t have any disciplinary problems? If he were not a good student, if he were a C student, or hell, if he were even failing, would that make his death any less tragic?
Let’s talk about the issue attached to respectability here and how some victims of police violence are given a high level or a high threshold of, I guess, not only just bereavement, but just … It’s a tragedy that this child lost his life, but when it comes to someone like Freddie Gray who was an alleged drug dealer, who also had been lead poisoned, people sort of point the fingers and be like, “Oh, see, he was selling heroin. He had lead poisoning problems. That’s why he was killed by police.”
NINA TURNER: It tries to strip away their humanity. You’re absolutely right. If he was a F student, would it matter? The fact of the matter is is that young Jordan Edwards, he was not doing anything wrong at the time that the police officers rolled up on him, so it shouldn’t matter. But again, for African American children, for Hispanic children, other children of color, they have to be qualified. Their humanity has to be qualified. It’s a lot like what African Americans endure right now, even when we’re not doing anything wrong, even when we’re not fleeing a underage party where there probably was drinking going on and things that they probably should not have been doing, but that has no relevance to the fact that that police officer became judge, jury, and executioner.
It just makes me think of even some programs that I participated in as a younger woman where the program would say, you know, “We want X number of qualified minorities.” That word qualified was only placed on their efforts to recruit minorities, the assumption there being for our white sisters and brothers is that they don’t need the word qualified in front of their ethnicity because they by birth are qualified. That is what our children have to endure. That is what we have to endure as African American women in the professional space, and other women and men of color have to endure that, that there has to be some type of qualifier attached to our ethnicity for us to be considered an equal.
It is just absolutely shameful that even our babies, that we have to say to our children, that you have a heavier burden on you not because you’re doing anything wrong, but by the virtue that you were born black or the virtue that you were born brown in this country causes a higher level of scrutiny to be attached to you. Not only is it troubling, it is psychologically debilitating to know that as parents, we’ve got to sit our children down and explain to them, as again Ice Cube said, their skin is their sin. It should be unacceptable, Kim, not just for communities of color. It should be acceptable for, unacceptable I should say, to any American that that burden would be placed on anybody’s child at such a young age.
KIM BROWN: When it comes to the issue of criminal justice reform and community trust within law enforcement, when we look at this case of Jordan Edwards, and the reason why Roy Oliver is now facing a murder charge is because there was video evidence. When we look at the case of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, where he was shot in the back by a police officer who has now agreed to plead guilty in connection with charges to Walter Scott’s murder, the video is so integral here, Senator Turner. But it raises a specter of a huge problem for the simple fact that these officers lied about what happened. They lied on their official police reports. They lied to their superiors about how things transpired.
It was only after video evidence surfaced that disproved this lie is when any justice or any formal charges were brought against the officers themselves. It appears as though when police find themselves in these sort of situations, their default position is to lie until proven otherwise. How can communities of color or communities in general who are over-policed form any sort of trust with law enforcement? How can we believe anything that they say when there is a situation where these accounts are in dispute?
NINA TURNER: It’s hard. Law enforcement agencies across this country are going to have to win back their credibility. Let’s face it. Bad police officers make it bad … or even law enforcement officers, whether they’re police or sheriffs or anybody else working in the law enforcement field, but they make it bad for good officers to be able to do their jobs. The only way for our sisters and brothers that serve us in that way, who have taken the oath to protect and serve, the only way that they can fully do their job is that they have to have the trust of the communities that they serve. That trust protects the community and it protects them. Again, law enforcement agencies across this country are going to have to look in the mirror. They’re going to have to have a zero tolerance policy for lying, and they’re going to have to go into these communities to restore the trust that has been lost.
One of the things we did in the great state of Ohio when young Tamir Rice was shot and also John Crawford III was shot, I went to Governor Kasich in my state of Ohio and asked the governor to create a task force, to use the power of, the authority of his office to create a task force. You know what, the governor did just that. We didn’t have any incidences of violence in the state of Ohio, thank God, and I think part of the reason was we didn’t wait for violence to bubble up to the surface. We understood that we had power and authority.
The governor understood that he had authority to really create a task force using an executive order, and in that executive order, he brought together people from both sides of the political spectrum. He brought forth the faith-based community and the business community together, and charged us with traveling the state of Ohio to listen to the cries of what the people of the state of Ohio had to say about either relationship or lack of relationship with law enforcement agencies in the state, but particularly the police. He understood that the pain was being particularly felt by the African American community.
Now he didn’t have to do that, but he did it. He named yours truly as somebody who … Most often, we were fighting one another on public policy. He named me to be one of the co-chairs along with his director of public safety, Director Born, to co-chair this thing. We traveled the state, Kim. One of the things that law enforcement or states can do proactively, whether you’re a governor or a mayor of a city, what you can do proactively is to call together the forces of all the stakeholders in the community and actually listen to the cries of the people that you serve, and then to do something about it.
For the first time in Ohio’s history, we have standards for the use of force and the use of deadly force. We have standards for hiring, because another part of the problem is that these communities are not hiring police officers that look like the community. We need more African American officers. We need more Hispanic officers. We need more officers of color, and we need more women, because studies show that women across the ethnic spectrum tend to de-escalate situations better than their male counterparts. Those are some things that we can do proactively to really change the culture within these law enforcement agencies so that they are more inclined to serve, to protect and serve, all communities instead of jumping the gun, especially when the community is one of color, particularly of African Americans.
There are so many things, Kim, that we can do collectively to change this thing around. The only thing that is going to restore accountability and trust on both sides is for stakeholders, predominantly governors and mayors and city councils and legislatures, to do the things that are necessary, both to hold law enforcement accountable, but also to be the bridge, to hear the cries, of what the community has to say about the relationship that they have. That keeps law enforcement agencies safe. That keeps our law enforcement folks safe, but it also keeps the community safe, Kim. I am saying this as the mother of a son who is a law enforcement officer and also a wife of a retired police officer, so I understand on both sides what this feels like. It doesn’t feel good.
KIM BROWN: Senator, I wanted to make this last point because as we know, we have a new president, new attorney general in Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions has said publicly that he feels as if consent decrees by the Department of Justice on police departments that have proven themselves to be committing illegal acts, unconstitutional acts, terrorizing certain communities, Jeff Sessions says he feels that consent decrees deplete morale of police. He says that sort of to the … while ignoring the needs of the community and the complaints of the community.
You raise an excellent point in terms of bringing more diverse faces on to these police forces, but the culture also as you mentioned. If the culture doesn’t change, if there’s a culture of the thin blue line or standing behind that blue wall, you have black cops who are also committing atrocities within the black communities. We have a case right here in Baltimore right now, seven police officers, rogue cops, black and white, who were extorting people, who were committing crimes, and who are still in jail right now because of this illegal conduct. The culture of policing sort of is sick, regardless of which face or which color face is in the uniform. What can we do to address that? We talk about one bad apple spoils the bunch, but if the bad apple is being observed by his peers or her peers and failing to report this behavior or this illegal conduct, then we’re sort of still stuck in the same situation, whether or not we have people of color on the police forces or not.
NINA TURNER: True that. One of the things that we can do is to make sure that police chiefs or chiefs, whether it’s the sheriff’s department or otherwise, the law enforcement, people at the top of the food chain, have to have a zero tolerance policy for discrimination, a zero tolerance policy for lying, just period. You’re right. The culture has to change. That is the same thing with the executive, the mayors and the governors or anybody that leads or has control over law enforcement policy. Bar none, zero tolerance.
Another thing is training, even though my husband would totally disagree with me, because he always reminds me that he and his white counterparts got the same kind of training. But why is it that by and large it is usually white male police officers who are entangled in these types of shootings? We have to ask the question, is this in their heart already? If black officers and white officers are receiving the same type of training, why is it more times than not, it is a white officer involved?
But your point is very well taken that the whole blue shield can transcend ethnicity, and you do have some African American law enforcement officers and others who treat black people and poor people across the board with such disrespect and such disdain that they really are not protecting and serving. They are exacerbating the problems and the struggles in that community.
I will never forget a young man in Cincinnati when our task force was traveling the great state of Ohio to really collect thoughts of the people in this state about how they felt about law enforcement agencies. This young man, he was a millennial, and he said the following which I think goes to the heart of your question. He said, “You know, we always talk about the no snitch culture among the criminal element, but we don’t talk about the no snitch culture among police officers.” Bam, you could hear a pin drop in that room.
That is at the heart of it, that we need good police officers, good sheriff’s deputies, good people who are in the realm of law enforcement from prosecutors to that line officer on the street, to understand that if they have a rotten apple and if the culture is rotten, that they got to start snitching. Because to the extent that they don’t do that, that they don’t hold law enforcement officers to a higher standard because they took the oath to protect and serve, they make it more difficult for those officers who are serving in good conscience to be able to do their jobs, because they can’t do their jobs without trust of the communities that they serve.
We have to do better. Both the community has to do better, but law enforcement agencies have to do a better job of calling out their own when they are not doing the right thing, Kim. That’s all these communities are asking for, because as a city councilwoman, I can tell you that in my community, in the Lee-Harvard area, the elders in particular in those communities where there were drug boys on the corner, the elders in those communities could not sit out on their porch. You know what they wanted? They wanted more police, and most communities do. But there is a connection, and we can have both police accountability, at the same time asking for police officers who serve those communities to be accountable and to be transparent. We can have them both.
For the record, the African American community by and large are not against the police. What they are against though is the unfair treatment of the people who live in these communities. We got to do this, Kim. If we don’t turn this thing around from a systemic perspective, which is what you’re talking about, then we’re never going to be able to bridge this divide, and that would be a disservice to the community but also for the people who do take that oath and who are out there trying their best to protect and serve.
KIM BROWN: We’ve been speaking with Nina Turner, former state senator of Ohio. She is also the host of the upcoming program here on The Real News Network called The Nina Turner Show. Senator, as always, it was a pleasure speaking with you.
NINA TURNER: You as well, Kim. To all your viewers, to all the mothers out there, happy, happy Mother’s Day.
KIM BROWN: Happy Mother’s Day to you too, Senator, and happy Mother’s Day to all of our viewers. We appreciate you watching and supporting The Real News Network.