A Murder by Police in Rhode Island

[Note: This OpEd was first published on End Police Brutality PVD here.]

The person shot earlier today by Rhode Island State Police on I-95 was killed NOT because he caused any harm to civilians but because he was believed to be a person that the police designated as a suspect. The person who they were actually looking for was a person who tried to escape custody earlier in the day and stole their cruiser while he was being transported to the court house. His initial charges before taking the cruiser were obstruction and possession of a stolen vehicle. The person was wanted not necessarily because of his previous charges, but primarily because he disobeyed police commands and tried to escape their custody – actions which are considered to be an affront to their power. Similarly, the narrative circulating about the person who was killed by police is that they refused to yield to police and gave way to a chase – in other words disobeying police commands, thus triggering pursuit rage among the police officers. Even if we were to entertain the idea that the person who was killed did in fact put people in danger because he led police on a chase, it should be noted that high-speed police chases have killed thousands of innocent bystanders, suggesting that disproportionate police response (rather than disobedience to police commands) is what escalates pursuit situations and heightens the chance of injury.

In the midst of their pursuit rage, the police then claimed that the suspect was armed in order to justify their execution of the suspected fugitive, even though media outlets reported that none of the guns in the police cruiser were taken. This narrative of a potentially armed suspect also works to elicit sympathy from the public for having eliminated a supposed threat. It also demands their participation by encouraging people to inform the police about any suspicious activity they feel may be connected to the case.

At this moment, police are not confirming the reason why they even began chasing the person who was eventually shot and killed on I-95. In addition to the person who was killed, there was a woman who injured by police gunfire. You can see them shooting into the car in firing squad formation in the video linked below. Providence Police Commissioner Steven Paré refused to provide information about the victims and went so far as to say that the woman and her behavior are currently under criminal investigation. They have also stated that there were no guns found in the victim’s car.

This is the way that a murder by police occurs in Rhode Island. The police claim that there is a public threat which is also supposedly a danger to their lives; this then gives them license to suspend legal protocols like due process and use deadly force against any person designated as a suspect or threat. This is known as creating a state of exception – areas in time and space were the law is temporarily suspended to exert raw violence beyond legal protocols by state officials. The boundaries of this state of exception are subject to indefinite expansion according to the arbitrary will of the police. There are entire neighborhoods and populations which live under a constant state of exception – the neighborhoods in which Black, Brown, indigenous, and immigrant working-class populations reside.

Police then pass their narrative along to local media outlets, who work to drum up fear among local populations while also garnering support for police, especially from white citizens. Part of this is preemptively vilifying the suspect for disobeying police while normalizing the narrative of ‘officer safety’ and ‘police self-defense.’ When everything is said and done, politicians come out afterward to corroborate the law enforcement narrative, thereby sanctioning the violence used by their officers. When there are holes in their story, as is evidenced in this situation, they appeal to the possibility that the suspect disobeyed police authority and/or posed a deadly threat.

Following the murder, we can expect a doubling down on public relations campaigns by the police in order to rebuild trust and smooth over any sour sentiments among the population. This is the reason why local police departments have adopted a ‘community policing’ strategy, which includes an ongoing campaign to build ‘friendly’ connections with select entities in different populations so as to make it seem like people in a given city or neighborhood are in support of their presence. All of these mechanisms are oriented toward maintaining police legitimacy among the population and also preemptively dissipating the possibility for dissent. In the case that dissent DOES occur, there are sophisticated political, social, cultural, and economic mechanisms in place to channel popular momentum into outlets which barely challenge the foundations of police power and instead re-inscribe their legitimacy. These mechanisms of popular misdirection also function to undermine the capacity of poor and working-class people to self-organize and mount a genuine opposition to police power. They hold ‘community conversations/forums’ in impoverished neighborhoods where they pull out their token Black, Latino, and Asian officers who attend these ‘conversations’ and make it seem like the police force is an institution that can be reformed. Taken together, these strategies are known as counter-insurgency.

Although it may not occur verbatim as described above, keep an eye out for each of these aspects as the situation unfolds.

Sources:

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About End Police Brutality PVD 1 Article

Every day our communities are under attack at the hands of the police, causing pain and suffering within our families. They engage in racist practices, target youth as suspects, violate our dignity, violate women, and deny us any chance at justice.

We have entirely lost faith in our law enforcement and denounce the criminal justice system as a corrupt institution that will never respond to our community’s needs.

We need to build toward a safer community – one based on solidarity instead of terror, mutual aid rather than oppression, and above all else, accountability and justice. To this end we will organize to keep our own streets and families safe, developing new relationships amongst one another – with love, solidarity, and mutual aid.

15 Comments

  1. There is no way to reasonably come to the conclusion that the police “murdered” anyone based on what is currently known about what happened.

    Eyewitness accounts published in local media – including bystander video – all seem to agree that the driver of the truck was a threat to the people around him and that police used force to protect innocent people on the scene.

    Police brutality and racist practices by police are a real and serious problem in America but the authors of this article jumped the gun on this one. I get that people like to be intentionally edgy and inflammatory to promote a cause but this is really, really not helpful.

  2. That poor man didn’t even have a chance ..the approach was undeniably in pursuit of his death and only that ..put yourself in the shoes of someone being pulled over by 42 law enforcement confused on whats going on …how about stop putting stupid rhymes on the digital hiway signs and put information that could have saved lives these police are severely infected by the gmf waves on their bodies on phones 2 way radios and laptops ..constant microwave frequency will make them do this ..too bad they dont research what is being done to them …sorry to the family this was very sad

    • “these police are severely infected by the gmf waves on their bodies on phones 2 way radios and laptops ..constant microwave frequency will make them do this”
      ????
      You seem to be saying police responded with force because of the “gmf” waves from electronics? I’m not a scientist but pretty sure that this is not even possible. We’re all surrounded by electromagnetic waves all day every day. If electronics and “microwave frequency” caused humans to act violently the species would have already destroyed itself.

  3. It is very strong language, and I struggled with it, but ultimately decided that the group had a right to the language they felt best conveyed their message. This community has a very different relationship with the police than many of us who are comfortably middle class and I don’t think censoring their experiences and perspectives is the answer. Instead, I want to amplify their voice so that we might better understand their concerns.

  4. The fact that police approached the vehicle and attempted to open the door seems to suggest that they weren’t concerned about a gun threat. The massive police response feeds into a frenzy where emotion trumps reason, and it is not unreasonable to believe that the victim may have feared for his life and reacted with a “fight or flight” response. In a time when police in the U.S. have become more militarized and aggressive, many people have become afraid, even when pulled over for a minor violation.

  5. Your entertaining use of passive aggressive trigger words to incite your readers into believing that the police are all warmongering thugs is hyperbole at best and fear inducing at its worst. Until you’ve been in the position of the law enforcement agents engaged in this and all of the other instances you want to lump together, your perceptions of this event are merely what you want to see sitting behind your keyboard and watching television. While there are bad police officers out there, the overwhelming majority of them are hardworking men and women who do a job that I suspect you don’t have the courage to do and all they want to do is go home safely at the end of their shifts. Your attempts to vilify all police officers through the use of this inflammatory language actually hurts your overall purpose.

  6. “This poor man didn’t even have a chance”? Seriously?? He had a chance to pull over from he start. He had a chance to roll the tinted windows down that police could not see into and show his hands. He had a chance to not ram into people’s cars. It’s terrible it ended this way but it didn’t have to.

  7. Chief of police providence said 2 reasons SUSPECTS were shot
    1.it was believed the man that stole police cruiser was in truck.
    That is not a legitimate reason for use of deadly force
    #2they were slamming into other vehicles and posing thteat to public safety
    The videos i have seen……the truck is already stopped,blocked in by 2 other vehicles,no longer a threat to public safety.
    My summation of events is…..
    Someone is going to be taught a lesson.
    You dont steal from me…
    We are Police..
    They had swat units blanketing neighborhoods,and more than 100officers,and more than 50 police cars chasing a suspected low level car thief,he is lucky,but someone else has paid the price for what….a stolen car?
    So wrong……
    Egomaniacs…
    Im sorry,but police should be held to the same standard as everyone that carrys a gun.They have a tough job to do….and the lack of prosecution for their actions,has brought them to believe,they have a liscense to kill anyone that disobeys them.
    Wake Up America!!!
    They work for us…We are not their subjects….
    Its a tough job…I wouldnt want it….
    but this is so obviously cop rage it sickens me..

  8. I just can’t believe how hard it is to find a photo of the escaped criminal that may still be at large in my neighborhood…

    There is no word that I can find about if he is a dangerous individual, or anything.

    The Providence Police have not impressed me in the 20 years I’ve lived in this city, my feelings continue.

  9. Would the theft of your car illicit this response from police?No.
    They would come,take a report,put out information that your vehicle is missing,and……
    But this was their police car,this was personal,this was an assault against their authority….Someone needed to pay,Mr Morgan,is lucky he is alive,he better have cameras on him 24hrs a day when they have him in custody,He does know he was suppose to be killed…not the man, who was killed(god bless their family,and pray for the woman who is now in hospital)

  10. I’m waiting to hear more details before making a judgment. What did come to my mind with the little reported in the paper today: What is the connection between the white truck and the escapee? There was reportedly something ‘hanging out the back’- what led them to think it was Morgan? Why would the police go up the truck and try to open the door if they had any suspicion the occupants were armed? If the police are concerned that the truck driver was endangering lives, couldn’t they have shot out the tires and stopped it in its tracks, rather than blasting into the vehicle and killing one, severely injuring the other?

  11. If he had stopped and not fled the initial traffic stop, he’d be alive. If he didn’t attempt to ram innocent bystanders in their cars, he’d be alive. You can pound your keyboard from the safety of your home in moral outrage but don’t try to marginalize his behavior from the initial police interaction in Cranston. He was pulled over for driving erratically and his truck matched the description of the previously sought after vehicle. If he had complied there would have been a significantly different outcome.

    • A lot of ifs- if the policeman had properly secured his prisoner, there would have been a significantly different outcome.

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