Despite evidence that whites are more likely to be shot by police in the Texas metropolis, Houston’s black officials claim major racism on the part of police after officers shot a black man in the middle of the street on Saturday. A witness caught the shooting on video and it went viral with many questioning whether the dead man had a gun in his hand.
Houston's black officials are repeating similar assertions of bias made by President Barack Obama, as well as progressive activists and Black Lives Matter protesters. It comes at a time of great controversy and divisions over the police shooting deaths of two black men last week: one in Louisiana and another in Minnesota, followed by murders of five police officers by a black racist sniper in Dallas during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Surprise study reveals Houston police more likely to shoot whites than blacks
Crime statistics assembled by the FBI, show that despite amounting to approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population, black Americans commit a disproportionate number of violent crimes. The majority of the victims of these crimes, according to the statistics, are black.
Harvard University professor Roland Fryer Jr., an economist, has conducted a recently released study on the prevalence of the use of firearms by police in the shooting deaths of civilians. In 10 cities, he found that the shootings involving police officers were more likely to fire their weapons without having first been attacked when the suspects were white. Black and white civilians involved in police shootings were equally likely, according to the study, to have been carrying a firearm. These results, according to Fryer, fly against the notion that police officers use lethal force with racial bias.
Fryer looked at cases in Houston to examine situation in which officers would have been expected to fire, but did not. The Houston police department allowed Fryer and researchers to examine reports not only for shootings but also for arrests when lethal force might have been justifiable. In this group, Fryer included encounters with suspects that the police subsequently charged with serious offenses like attempted murder of an officer, or evading or resisting arrest. He included into his consideration all suspects who were tasered.
Roland Fryer. Jr.
What Fryer found was that Houston’s police officers were approximately 20 percent less likely to shoot suspects if the suspects were black. Using a variety of models that considered various factors and divergent definitions of tense situations, Fryer found that blacks were either less likely to be shot or there was no difference between blacks and whites.
DOJ investigation of police shooting of black Houston man
On July 9, Houston police officers found Sylvester Braziel (38) standing in the road, near the intersection of Cullen near Ward at approximately 12:40 a.m.. According to police, the two officers, in their patrol car, saw a large black man standing in the road, holding a revolver in his right hand. The officers called on Braziel to put down his weapon, while a civilian witness on the scene also requested him to drop it. Instead of surrendering or dropping the weapon, officers say that Braziel pointed the gun into the air. Video recorded at the scene suggests that he may have fired the pistol into the air. It was then that Braziel leveled his arms and pointed at the officers.
The officers fired on Braziel multiple times, killing him. He died on the scene. There are reports that narcotics may have contributed to Braziel’s behavior on the night of his death. He had a long criminal history, including possession of PCP. As a former felon, he was not authorized to possess a firearm.
Despite the video evidence and officer testimony, Mayor Sylvester Turner, a black Democrat, called for a federal investigation of Braziel’s death. In a statement he released today, Turner’s office claimed that "tensions are running high" in the city. It called for the immediate release of all videos showing Braziel’s encounter with police. According to the Houston Chronicle, in an unreleased video, a witness acknowledges that Braziel had a gun that was taken from his right hand by an officer.
Turner said that as a result of a Department of Justice investigation, he believes that the public will conclude that his administration has been transparent. “I encourage my fellow citizens to help maintain the peace throughout the city.” Police spokesperson Jodi Silva said the Houston police officers involved in the case are veterans. One has 13 years of service, while the other has been with the force for 10 years. The two officers are members of a crime reduction unit in which officers regularly ride in pairs, according to police. Both of them have been described in the media as Hispanic.
As is customary in police shootings, the case is being investigated by the police department's homicide division and its internal affairs division, as well as a separate probe by the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
Black elected official calls for segregation of police forces
Houston city councilman Dwight Boykins (D) called for segregating police forces according to race and ethnicity. Speaking to Fox 26 television in Houston, Boykins said in a panel discussion, “I think at this point, because of the crisis situation, not in Houston but throughout the country, we need to have officers patrolling areas that reflect the ethnicity [of that community].” Explaining his reasoning, Boykin said, “Because that will eliminate second-guessing. People know their community; they know their culture, and I think that can make a difference.” Boykins represents the district where Sylvester Braziel lived and died. Boykins did not address how a black police officer would have handled the situation any differently. Boykins is an African American.
When Fox 26 news anchor Sally MacDonald asked Houston Police Officers’ Union 2nd Vice President Joseph Gamaldi for a response to Boykin’s idea, Gamaldi said it was ludicrous and untenable. Boykins did not say what should happen when blacks should need police services if no black officer is available. Nor did he address how to dispatch officers to a multi-ethnic community, which is what many more communities are made up of.
For his part, Fox 26 Senior Legal Analyst Chris Tritico said, “I’m shocked at the suggestion.” Speaking then to conservative black Republican panelist Jacquie Baly, Tritico said, “Well, if that doesn’t work, I guess we could have separate schools and maybe separate people in the restaurants … just keep the races separate so we won’t have to have these problems anymore.”
Baly was humored by Tritico’s sarcasm and responded, “I think I understand where the councilman was trying to go. We don’t have the resources for something like that. We have diversity in a lot of cities.” Baly described the large Asian community in Sugarland, a city the lies southwest of Houston that she calls home. “There were things that would come up that our police officers didn’t understand, like how the Asian community reacts to certain types of things.”
When leaders in her community sought to engage with Asians at their churches and community center, they were able to learn about their respective needs and customs. Referring to Boykin, Baly said, “I think he was saying we need to have people who understand the community...He is saying you have to look like the community. I am saying you understand the community by getting involved with the leaders, getting involved with community itself… so that the people in the community can feel comfortable with you. And, you can feel comfortable patrolling the area.”
Tritico said that Boykin’s suggestion is “a step backward past the 1964 Civil Rights Act.” In fact, Tritico said Boykins’ suggestion does not solve the problem but “deepens it.”
Former Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerald Birnberg said of his friend Boykin’s suggestion: “I’m baffled by that one. For one thing, we don’t have an equal number of African-American police officers as we do African-American members of the community. For another, what does that say about an African-American who dares to venture outside of ‘their neighborhood’ where they’re not predominantly there. What about the Latino community which is dispersed throughout the entirety of Harris County?”
Birnberg agreed with Baly that various communities should learn from each other rather than living by the dictum of “‘my community is my community’ and ‘your community is your community’”