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Cultural Reflections IV

28 Sep 2018 12:48 PM | Ron Wynn (Administrator)

Nashville police officer indicted

By Ron Wynn

What many thought would not or could not happen occurred this week in Nashville, Tennessee.  A police officer who fatally shot a Black man fleeing the scene was charged with criminal homicide.  This came after the district attorney took the unusual step of not presenting the case to a grand jury, but instead issued charges by warrant.

“The decision to institute charges by warrant as opposed to presenting the matter directly to a grand jury allows this case to be presented in open court in as transparent a manner as possible,”  district attorney, Glenn R. Funk, said in a statement. “As this is a pending criminal case, I will have no further extrajudicial comments.”

The case joins other high profile cases involving police shootings of Black citizens, most notably the current Chicago trial involving Jason Van Dyke, the police officer who fired 16 shots into LaQuan McDonald back in 2014. It took almost four years and the direct intervention of a new police superintendent to get incriminating video of the shooting publicly released.

The fallout from what looked like a cover-up orchestrated from the top was one of the factors that led to current Mayor Rahm Emanuel deciding not to run for re-election. 

When video of the July 25th shooting was released, it showed Delke chasing Hambrick and firing several rounds at him from behind. In a sworn statement filed by Delke, he alleges that Hambrick had a gun and was ordered to drop it, but failed to do so.

At the time of this writing, almost no information regarding what kind of gun Hambrick had has been released. The video doesn't expressly show him holding a weapon, but it does directly show Delke firing at his fleeing body, hitting him three times. 

Setting aside the fact that this occurred in a heavily populated neighborhood in North Nashville and calls into question whether it's proper police procedure to discharge a weapon in that situation, it seems pretty evident  Hambrick was NOT firing at anyone when he was killed.

Even if he did have a gun, which by no means has been proven, unless and until he posed a direct threat to either officers or civilians, there was no reason to shoot him. Delke's behavior has led police chief Steve Anderson to say the training policies regarding foot pursuit now in place at the police academy would be reviewed.

Delke's attorneys have already gone public with their defense. They claim Hambrick not only had a gun, but was pointing it at arriving backup officers, and that Delke's shooting was justified and in self defense.

David L. Raybin, one of Officer Delke’s lawyers,  told The New York Times that backup officers had been summoned to the scene the day of the shooting, and so although Mr. Hambrick was running away from Officer Delke, he was running toward other arriving officers — with a weapon.

“Tennessee law permits a police officer to use deadly force when there is a danger to others,” he said. “Officer Delke was protecting himself, his backup officers and the public.”

 Raybin said his client had been “decommissioned,” meaning he currently has no active law enforcement duties, but is still a police officer and is still drawing his salary. He said  Delke would eventually plead not guilty. His next court date, a preliminary hearing, is scheduled for Oct. 30.

A department spokesman, Steve Hayslip, said  a court commissioner had refused to sign the criminal homicide affidavit when prosecutors first presented it on Thursday morning. Prosecutors then took it to a judge, who signed it.

Officer Delke turned himself in quickly and was released after posting $25,000 bail, Raybin added. There are many advocacy groups, notably Black Lives Matter Nashville, asking why the bond in a homicide case is so low. 

But the more important questions are who will serve on the jury and whether a guilty verdict will be reached. It is now a criminal case, and whether Delke is convicted or freed rests on the ability of the prosecutor to convince 12 people this was an unnecessary and negligent action.

It is also another referendum on whether the law applies equally to those who are sworn to uphold it and those expected to obey it.  Police officers certainly have a difficult job. The job of law enforcement is only easy in police states.

But no one is forced to be a cop. Those who choose the job, go through the training, and then are empowered with a gun and badge have a responsibility to fairly enforce the laws.

Police officers are responsible for the arrest of suspects. They are not judges or juries, and they certainly shouldn't be executioners. Officers do have the right to protect themselves and others if armed suspects fire on them, or pose a threat in other ways.

But the threat MUST BE REAL, not imagined.  Shooting unarmed, fleeing  or handcuffed suspects, putting people in choke holds,  killing people lying on the ground, or being unable to distinguish a cell phone from a gun, are all things that have occurred far too many times in this country in situations involving police and Black citizens.

The apologists who constantly want to yammer what about "Black-on-Black" crime totally miss the point. Crime is a plague and so are criminals. Criminals are predators who don't care about anything and anyone except themselves.

But you don't stop crime and you won't reduce violence if police emulate the actions of criminals. It is vital that people in rough neighborhoods view the police as allies rather than hostile members of an occupying force who are no better than the criminal element already making their lives miserable.

Every time something happens like the Hambrick shooting, there's one more instance where police lose trust from the people they're supposed to protect. 


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