There are lots of different ways to learn about gun violence. You can read a story in the media about a shooting, God knows there are enough shootings every day. Or you can take a look at a video, a new one on Vice is worth a look. Or you can read a book by going to Amazon, doing a search under Books>Gun Violence and hundreds of titles will appear. But to my mind the single, best writing on gun violence that has ever been done is the new novel, A Book of American Martyrs, by Joyce Carol Oates.
She is such a good writer that I am almost afraid to say anything about her work. All I know is how difficult it is for me to write 650 words and try to say exactly what I want to say. She gets every word right in a 700-page book! It’s simply the best work of fiction I have ever read and I have been reading adult fiction for more than 50 years.
This novel is set in a smallish town, a roundabout kind of place in Ohio which Oates calls Muskegee Falls. The narrative begins with the chilling description of the fatal shotgunning of a doctor who performs abortions at a local women’s center; the shooter being an Evangelical lay minister named Luther Dunphy, whose involvement with his church includes being energized by the anti-abortion movement as well.
I’m not going to go further into the novel itself, except to say that the story line is carried along through the parallel experiences of the family members of both the murdered physician and the shooter as everyone involved struggles to continue their lives with the shadow of this ghastly act hanging over their heads.
What drives this remarkable work, however, is not the almost surgical-like precision with which the author gets into the mind of the ‘soldier of Christ,’ as Dunphy calls himself. Rather, it is the writer’s ability to construct and reconstruct how the world changed for the families of both dead men, to the point that it’s difficult to think of either family not being deeply scarred, perhaps irrevocably damaged by the decision by one man to end the life of another.
When gun violence prevention (GVP) activists talk or think about the human toll of gun violence, the issue always centers around the 125,000 people who kill or injure themselves or others every year with guns. These people are always referred to as the ‘victims’ of gun violence, and we divide them into different categories of victimization – suicide, homicide, intentional or unintentional injury and something we politely call ‘legal intervention,’ which means when someone is shot by a cop.
But what about the people who aren’t actually hit by a bullet yet suffer grievous but non-physical trauma from the shooting as well? Most suicide victims leave family behind who in many cases are unable to lead ‘normal’ lives because the person who committed suicide was also the one who earned. As for fatal and non-fatal intentional shooting victims, more than three-quarters are between the ages of 15 and 35. Their deaths or injuries create emotional and financial chasms for themselves and for the ones who are left behind or must care for them for the remainder of their lives. For the shooters themselves and their families, they will have to live with an awareness that someone they know and perhaps even love has committed an unspeakable act whose costs can never be acknowledged or even understood.
And this is the literary landscape which forms the texture of Joyce Carol’s book. Nobody from either family comes out of the experience whole, and neither family ever truly understands what happened or why things turned out the way they did. Which is what makes this remarkable book so engrossing, because most acts of gun violence fade from the public consciousness in a day or two. In this narrative, an act of gun violence fades but never goes away.
As the walls close in around President Donald Trump, former allies are dropping like flies. Republicans who fell in line behind Trump during the election are now criticizing him for sharing classified information with Russia. Some Republicans joined Democrats in calling for a special prosecutor to head the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Republicans who defended Trump just weeks ago are now trying to distance themselves from him. They see the writing on the wall. They’re running for cover.
But one ally can’t escape so easily: the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The NRA irreversibly tied themselves to Trump and his legacy from the beginning. Long before establishment Republicans abandoned their dignity and endorsed Trump, NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox appeared on stage to award Trump the earliest endorsement in NRA history.
They described Trump as “a man who offers a very different White House and a far more hopeful nation.”
Different? Yes. Unprecedented, in fact.
The NRA’s tolerance for the reprehensible is high, so it was no surprise that they supported Trump through the ups and downs of his campaign. They remained loyal as the infamous Access Hollywood tape revealed his despicable and violent misogyny. They rallied behind him after he insinuated gun owners could assassinate his opponent. They spent $30 million to elect Trump ― more than double what they spent in the 2012 elections.
The NRA went all in. In January, their home page read “Trump’s Strongest Ally.” In February, LaPierre insisted the NRA “has President Trump’s back for the next eight years.” But the ground is shifting. The Trump presidency is crumbling. And the American people can’t allow the self-proclaimed “strongest ally” of the administration to slither away unscathed.
Everything President Trump has done ― and will do ― is brought to you by the NRA.
Obstruction of Justice: Brought to you by the NRA
Reckless Declassification: Brought to you by the NRA
Muslim Ban: Brought to you by the NRA
Trumpcare: Brought to you by the NRA
Russian Interference: Brought to you by the NRA
Treason: Brought to you by the NRA
The list goes on and on.
As Trump’s reputation continues to deteriorate, as the murmurs of impeachment grow louder, we must remember those who brought us here. We must hold them accountable.
The NRA was foolish enough to tie themselves to a historically inept individual, and whether or not they realize it, history is not going to look kindly on the Trump presidency. His administration is in freefall. They can’t save him. And they can’t save themselves.
Wayne LaPierre, Chris Cox, and the rest of the NRA leadership paid $30 million to be “Trump’s strongest ally.” And they should get exactly what they paid for: a spot beside the national disgrace that is Donald J. Trump.
The Salt Lake City Police Department has gone more than a year and a half since its last fatal officer-involved shooting. Twenty months without a death.
Across the country, police officers have shot and killed at least 367 people so far this year, according to a Washington Post tally. That’s a slighter deadlier pace than the previous two years, despite the national debate over police reform sparked by the 2014 killing of Michael Brown.
But officials in Salt Lake City have done more than talk, according to a heartening report on KSTU this week. In Utah’s capital, police have actively embraced a tactic called de-escalation.
The officers being trained in de-escalation are encouraged to communicate and empathize with suspects, take stock of the factors contributing to a confrontation, and consider ways to disengage before the situation spirals out of control, leading to the use of force.
With this policy in place, there hasn’t been a fatal encounter between officer and civilian in Salt Lake City since September 2015. That case involved a home intruder who had just stabbed a woman. The officer’s actions were found to be justified.
In 37 instances since June 2016, officers have managed to de-escalate situations in which they might otherwise have been justified in using lethal force, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown told KSTU. To emphasize the importance of this approach, officers in those incidents have been given the department’s new de-escalation award.
“The Salt Lake City Police Department is probably one of the leading agencies in the country as far as how we train and deploy and use these tactics to de-escalate and save lives,” Brown said.
In one such incident, captured in a body camera video, an officer confronts a knife-wielding suspect following a traffic stop. As the man advances, the officer backs up, using his cruiser as cover ― “giving ground” in police terminology. This gives the cop time to regroup and draw his Taser. He then stuns the suspect and disarms him, before pulling out the handcuffs.
To be fair, the greater use of de-escalation tactics is likely not the only reason for the low number of police-involved shootings, Detective Greg Wilking, a public information officer for the police department, told HuffPost.
“We don’t have some of the problems that some of the major cities and metropolitan areas have,” Wilking said. “It’s a fairly calm place to be a police officer.”
Plus, the city’s population is less than 200,000 and it has experienced fairly low levels of crime compared with other cities of similar size. Of course, no one can promise there’ll never be another police-involved killing.
Controversial shootings over the past few years swept Salt Lake City police into the broader debate around reform. In an August 2014 incident that received nationwide coverage, an officer fatally shot Dillon Taylor, an unarmed 20-year-old, just days after the Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
In January 2015, an officer shot and killed James Barker, 42, who was armed with nothing more than a snow shovel, which he’d used to strike the officer.
In February 2016, the department again drew citywide criticism ― and at least one protest that turned violent ― when an officer shot Abdi Mohamed, then 17, leaving him paralyzed. Mohamed was a suspect in an assault and was reportedly armed with a metal mop handle at the time he was shot.
All three incidents of gunfire were ultimately deemed to have been justified, and Wilking suggested that appropriate efforts to de-escalate would not have changed the outcomes in those cases.
But with each shooting came renewed calls from activists and community members demanding change. In the wake of the Mohamed shooting, Chief Brown told the city council that his officers were spending nearly a quarter of their training time learning various de-escalation techniques.
That remains true today, said Wilking. “We’ve spoken with and listened to members of the community and we’ve looked into other types of training that the community has felt would be beneficial,” he added.
De-escalation is not a new concept in law enforcement, and Salt Lake City officers aren’t the only ones trained in its use. Wilking said many other police departments have also been working to revamp their policies, even if those efforts don’t get recognized.
“You often hear about when a shooting incident happens, but you don’t hear about all the times someone doesn’t get shot,” he said.
Since the rate of shootings nationwide hasn’t decreased, however, it appears that police departments will remain under the microscope. A significant number of these incidents, which have taken a disproportionate toll on communities of color, have involved civilians who weren’t carrying weapons. In other instances, officers have fatally shot suspects who were armed, but who seemingly did not pose an immediate threat to others.
Law enforcement experts have begun endorsing de-escalation as a potential way to reduce the violence. In January, a coalition of national police organizations added these sorts of tactics to its model policy, stressing the need for law enforcement “to value and preserve human life.”
But some police departments have been slow to de-emphasize the use of lethal force, with officials expressing concern that doing so could place cops in danger. In Chicago, for example, the department recently adopted a new use-of-force policy that says officers have to try de-escalation only “when it is safe and feasible to do so.” Although Chicago officers have been receiving mandatory de-escalation training over the past year, the new language softened a previous draft that had called for officers to use the least amount of force necessary.
With due respect for the differences between departments, Wilking suggested that some might be able to learn from Salt Lake City’s example.
“Police work is ever evolving,” he said. “We’ve gotta continue to learn from our mistakes. If we don’t, we’re losing the battle. You can’t ever say that you’ve got it right and you’re always gonna do it right. You gotta keep looking at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better?’”
Last week Gun-nut Nation once again celebrated the mistaken belief that gun sales have not slowed down under Trump. Here’s the headline from NRA-ILA: April Background Checks: Strong Numbers Continue. The story then goes on to say:
While some who write headlines for a living may want you to believe we’re in a “funk” in firearms sales since President Obama left the White House, that shortsighted view neglects to consider that April 2017 was the second busiest April ever for NICS and the 21st busiest month of all time. There were only about 100,000 fewer background checks last month than in April 2016.
So here’s the question: Does the NRA staff member who writes this nonsense ever bother to actually look at the data which he so wrongfully describes? Or does he assume that everyone who reads what he writes will take what he says on blind faith? It must be the latter because the statement above gives an impression about the state of the gun industry under #45 which is simply not true. And I don’t mean ‘not true’ in a vague sense as if I’m quibbling over the meaning of a word here or there; I mean ‘not true’ as totally and completely false.
Take the trouble to download the background check numbers (just scroll to the bottom of the linked page.) You’ll discover that the only correct statement in the NRA-ILA story is the number of total checks conducted in April – 2,045,564 – which has little, if anything to do with gun sales at all. Oops ― turns out that even the number is wrong, because the actual bottom-line for the April report was 2,037,180, but I’m not going to quibble over 8,000 calls here or there.
On the other hand, to the extent that FBI-NICS background checks represent how many guns were added to the civilian arsenal, despite the fact that NICS doesn’t differentiate between new and used guns and most non-dealer transfers still aren’t covered by the NICS, the total number of guns whose ownership was first proceeded by a background check was 1,060,322. That number represents half the background checks conducted by the FBI last month, the other half were license checks, pawn-shop redemptions and private transfers, a number that was averaging less than 2,000 monthly in 2016 and is now over 3,000 background checks every month.
Not only have more than half the total background checks conducted since January 1, 2017 been for something other than a gun purchased over the counter, but NRA brouhaha to the contrary, background checks for gun sales continue to slide down. Gun sales always slow a bit in April because the yard needs work and then sales drop off even more from May through August because guns can’t compete with the beach. But the March to April drop-off in 2016 was around 12 percent, this year sales from March to April slumped 22 percent. For January-April, 2016, total NICS gun checks were 4,950,000 (I’m rounding off,) for the same period this year gun checks were 4,500,000, a drop of 10 percent, with handgun checks declining by 17 percent.
That’s the good news about gun sales. Now here’s the bad news. This market loss by the gun industry will no doubt result in a more aggressive campaign to make consumers believe they should all own guns. Which means more appeals to fear, more appeals to fake patriotism, more attempts to promote phony ideas about 2nd-Amendment “rights.”
If you think the attempt to remove silencers from Class 3 restrictions is something, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The NRA is running a message on how animal-rights “perverts” have “declared war” on anyone who wants to hunt. Wait until you see what they will pull out when it gets time to push the national concealed-carry bill.
But the scare tactics won’t work for the simple reason that most people still don’t believe they need to own a gun. Unless, of course, Trump blurts out something positive about controlling guns. Think that can’t happen? You don’t know Trump.
The cousin of a 15-year-old fatally shot by a Bridgeport, Connecticut, police officer last week is challenging authorities’ claims that Jayson Negron struck an officer while driving a stolen car.
A bystander’s video has surfaced that allegedly shows the moments after the officer shot Negron in the stomach on May 9. Negron’s cousin, Giovanni Rivera, has said the footage supports his claims that police lied to the family about the altercation.
The Connecticut State Police, which is investigating the case, said last week that the officer opened fire after “the operator of the stolen vehicle accelerated in reverse and struck at least one Bridgeport Police Officer.”
The cop who fired his weapon has been identified as James Boulay, 30. It’s unclear how many rounds he fired. He has been placed on leave while authorities review the case.
A 21-year-old passenger in the car with Negron was shot in the shoulder and is expected to fully recover. Negron and the passenger were unarmed, The Connecticut Post reported.
Before the shooting, Negron refused orders to stop the car and hit two other vehicles while driving the wrong way during a brief chase, the state police statement said.
In a series of tweets on Monday, Rivera expressed doubts about officials’ version of events. He said that the Bridgeport police “can’t even prove that the car was stolen” and denied that Negron hit an officer with it.
“That was a lie and a cover up to try and justify his murder,” Rivera tweeted.
The one-minute witness video that Rivera shared May 12 on social media purportedly shows Negron lying face down in the street with his hands cuffed behind his back after the shooting. Beside him is a dark-colored SUV with the driver’s door ajar. An officer leans over him and touches his back.
This is a nightmare.. Bridgeport PD told my family they shot Jayson in the head and was dead on scene this video clearly shows other wise pic.twitter.com/pvYaI5EieN
The footage is shaky and doesn’t remain fixed on Negron, but it appears to show his head, hands and feet moving.
Before the footage surfaced, police had incorrectly told Negron’s relatives that he died on the scene from a gunshot to the head.
“If that crucial part of the story is a lie, everything else is up for question,” Rivera told The Hartford Courant. He did not respond to HuffPost’s inquiries.
Authorities have also been criticized for leaving Negron’s body in the street for hours without covering it up. Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez said shields were erected around the body, according to the Post.
The footage apparently showing Negron clinging to life led the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut to criticize the officers’ conduct.
Thomas Hartless was serially abusive to those closest to him, authorities say ― and on Friday, those unlucky enough to be close to him were his last victims.
Hartless killed three people in and around a nursing home in Kirkersville, Ohio ― including two workers at the nursing home and the town’s police chief ― before turning the gun on himself, state Attorney General Mike DeWine said at a press conference Friday.
A horrifying day for the small town began in the morning, when Hartless took two passers-by hostage in a wooded area behind Pine Kirk Nursing Home. At some point, someone called 911 to report that they’d seen a man with a gun. That’s when Kirkersville police Chief Steven Eric DiSario, a father of six who’d held his position for just three weeks, arrived on the scene.
Hartless left his hostages to ambush DiSario, authorities say.
“It was in that vicinity, very close to that, that the chief of police was in fact shot and was killed,” DeWine said.
Hartless then entered the nursing home and fatally shot two employees there ― one identified as his ex-girlfriend, 46-year-old Marlina Medrano, and Cindy Krantz, 48 ― before he killed himself, police say.
The Columbus Dispatch profiled Hartless, painting a picture of a man who was violent with any woman he came into contact with. His relationship with Medrano ended with court filings ― and in the days prior to the shooting, she sought a protection order because she feared for her life.
“I no longer feel that my support can help Tom with his issues,” she wrote in a May 5 court filing. “I am afraid to be alone with him, that he will hurt me for good.”
As early as April, Medrano’s friends were trying to protect her from a man who they said regularly attacked her. NBC4i reports:
Connie Long lives across the street from Hartless’ parents’ home, where he often stayed in Utica.
Back in March, she said she helped rescue [Medrano] after he had brutally beaten her.
“She ran for our door and he drove in the yard. He accelerated, almost ran her over clear in our yard,” said Long. “She was bleeding from her head and face, shaking terribly, difficulty breathing.”
Long is medic and was able to treat her injuries, inside of her home.
“I said that day if we had not been home, I really felt he would’ve killed her on the porch that day, just kind of got prolonged I guess,” said Long.
Another former girlfriend said in court documents in 2009 that Hartless held her captive when she tried to leave him over abuse, according to the Dispatch. In that case, Hartless was charged with kidnapping, abduction, aggravated menacing and domestic violence. In a plea deal, the kidnapping and domestic violence charges were dropped.
Friday’s shooting devastated Kirkersville. But Hartless’ behavior wasn’t surprising to the women close to him ― and statistically speaking, it wasn’t uncommon. That’s because domestic violence victims are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a gun.
HuffPost’s Melissa Jeltsen has reported that a woman is killed by a gun-toting intimate partner every 16 hours in the U.S. And domestic abuse and mass shootings often go hand in hand: Most mass shootings happen in private, in situations where abusive men kill the women and children close to them.
Jeion Ward wants to make sure her grandson gets it right.
When Virginia House of Delegates member overheard a discussion between her son and her 17-year-old grandson about how to handle being pulled over by a police officer, she felt a familiar sting. The conversation inspired Ward to introduce a bill, which was signed into law by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Monday, that aims to teach young drivers how to interact with the police.
“We had talked to our sons ― my husband and I did ― and we were having the same discussions over, so many years later,” she told HuffPost.
Her son was passing on the exact same lesson he got from his father: Be respectful. Don’t anger the cop. Make sure you stay polite. “The Talk” often cycles through generations in black families. A mom or a dad tells their children what their parents told them about how to handle being stopped by a police officer. They emphasize that any sudden movements, misperceived attitudes or just being pulled over by the right cop on the wrong day can result in a child not coming home.
But, this time around, Ward wanted to make sure her grandson was receiving the exact same information present in the state’s drivers code. “And that’s when I found out that there was nothing in the code that even talked about proper interaction with law enforcement if you’re ever pulled over,” she said.
The new law, which goes into effect on July 1, requires thatdriver education programs in the Virginia public school system teach students about “law enforcement procedures for traffic stops” along with the “appropriate actions to be taken by drivers during traffic stops, and appropriate interactions with law-enforcement officers who initiate traffic stops.” The state board of education will work with the state police to make the changes to the education program.
But this law has also prompted some skepticism. There has been plenty of well-publicized examples proving compliance won’t save a black person from being killed by police.
Take Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man who was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer in July, as he followed the officer’s orders. Castile, according to his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, informed the officer that he had a concealed weapon and was licensed to carry before following the officer’s command to show his driver’s license.
Castile was shot as he reached for wallet.
“I’ve always told my son: The key thing in order to try to survive being stopped by the police is to comply. Whatever they ask you to do ― do it,” said Valerie Castile, Philando’s mother, in an interview with CNN following his death.
“Don’t say nothing. Just do whatever they want you to do. So what’s the difference in complying and you get killed anyway?” she said.
The problem is police. The solution is creating laws that hold them accountable, not creating more laws of how we need to interact with them. Mike Lowe, black activist campaigning against police brutality
The cases of Walter Scott, Sam DuBose and countless others highlighted that police officer stops can be deadly for black folks. Black people are, by and large, more likely to interact with police and more likely to be killed than their white counterparts regardless of whether or not they pose a threat to an officer’s life.
Although there was support for the law in the Virginia legislature, similar bills proposed around the country have drawn mixed reactions from black activists fighting against police brutality.
Kwame Rose, an activist in Baltimore, told HuffPost that teaching young drivers how to deal with police and traffic stops is just as important as teaching police how to not be biased against black people ― and that education can be the difference between life and death.
“Education is important to preserve life in black communities and make black people comfortable with driving,” he said.
Mike Lowe, a black activist in San Antonio, doesn’t think the bill will save anyone’s life or protect black lives.
“The problem is police. The solution is creating laws that hold them accountable, not creating more laws of how we need to interact with them,” he said. “If anything this bill fosters more respectability for police, while reinforcing societal norms of compliance.”
The national focus on police violence ― mainly scrutiny over the high rates at which black people are killed by police ― has increased tenfold since 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. And with the uprising of black community in protest to shooting came the so-called “Ferguson Effect,” a theory thatmaintains cops are terrified to do their jobs because they may be accused of misconduct.
But Ward hopes the new law will lessen an officer’s fear by teaching young drivers standard procedures.
“I’m hoping the law enforcement officer will walk up, see this child doing exactly what the curriculum told them to do and think ‘I can relax. This child knows exactly what he or she is supposed to be doing.’ And, perhaps, it will not escalate,” said Ward. “I’m not naive. I’m really not. But I’m thinking, in more cases at least, that law enforcement will think they need not be as fearful.”
If the new curriculum isn’t designed to also train law enforcement officers on how to better handle stops, Ward is willing to pass a second bill that would make that happen. She also said there are other people working on bills that would help law enforcement officers de-escalate any problems that may occur.
“But that’s not this bill,” said Ward. “The purpose of the bill was ― I gotta protect these young drivers. Because my grandson was becoming this young driver. As a grandmother, your grandchildren mean the world to you.”
“From the day he was born, I called him Grand Prince and that’s what he is to me,” she continued. “We just wanna make sure he has everything he needs as he enters into this new world of driving … Don’t escalate it you know?”
“You hear so many stories about children who do things because they’re scared. I don’t want him to run. I just want him to get through with this stop. That’s what I want for all children. Let’s just move on from this stop. Don’t escalate it. Don’t make it into a tragic situation.”
A former West Virginia police officer who witnessed the fatal police shooting of a young black man last year is now suing the city where he was employed, saying he was fired for not shooting the man himself.
Stephen Mader was fired from his job as a police officer in Weirton, West Virginia, on June 7, 2016 ― for unsuccessfully meeting the “probationary standards of an officer” and showing “apparent difficulties in critical incident reasoning,” according to a federal lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia filed Wednesday on Mader’s behalf.
In an interview with HuffPost, Mader said it was around 2 a.m. on May 6, 2016, when he received a dispatch call about a man who reportedly had a knife and was threatening to harm himself.
When he arrived at the scene, Mader said, he found Ronald “RJ” Williams, a visibly distraught 21-year-old, standing beside the driver-side door of a car.
“We got a call about a domestic,” Mader recalled saying to Williams after stepping out of his cruiser. “Do you wanna tell me what’s going on?”
“Nah, man. Nothing’s going on,” said Williams, according to Mader. “You can leave.”
As Mader continued to move around the vehicle, he said, he saw that Williams had his hands behind his back. Mader said that he commanded Williams to show his hands, and that after several orders, Williams complied.
“When we brought his hands from behind his back, he had a silver pistol in his right hand,” Mader told HuffPost. “I drew my duty weapon and I’m telling him, ‘Put the gun down, put the gun down.’”
“Just shoot me,” Mader remembered Williams saying.
Mader said he concluded that Williams was attempting to commit suicide by cop. “I’m not gonna shoot you, brother,” the Afghanistan war veteran recalled saying. “Just put down the gun.”
“Nah man. Seriously ― just shoot me,” Williams repeated, according to Mader.
The two went back and forth, Mader said, with the officer trying to coax Williams into putting his gun down. Soon, they saw another cruiser driving up the street toward them.
That’s when Mader says Williams turned his attention toward the approaching officers, randomly waving the gun between Mader and the others.
“Within seconds, shots were fired and the last shot fatally wounded Mr. Williams to the head,” Mader said.
Williams’ own gun was found to be unloaded.
Officer Ryan Kuzma, who fatally shot Williams, was placed on administrative leave, along with Mader and another officer. Hancock County prosecutors investigated the shooting and later determined it was justified.
A month after the incident, on June 7, 2016, Mader received a termination notice that said he “failed to eliminate a threat” when he didn’t shoot Williams.
Publicly, Weirton’s city manager said Mader was terminated for other reasons, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ― including for not reporting an elderly woman’s death as suspicious and allegedly cursing at a woman while he arrested her husband for disorderly conduct.
But Mader’s lawsuit argues that the department “terminated Mr. Mader’s employment because his decision not to use deadly force to shoot and kill a suicidal African-American male, made or could have been construed to make Officer Kuzma’s use of deadly force appear unreasonable or excessive under the circumstances.”
Saying the words ‘Just shoot me’ sent up the red flag that he was just trying to harm himself and no one else … That’s what made me make my decision. He needed help. Stephen Mader, former police officer
“Officer Mader’s decision not to shoot was clearly reasonable,” Joseph Cohen, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia, told HuffPost. “He had articulable reasons why he thought that RJ Williams was not a threat. And once Stephen Mader believed RJ Williams was not a threat to others, he’s not permitted to use deadly force.”
“Once he made the decision [Williams] was not a threat, the U.S. Constitution says he’s not allowed to shoot,” Cohen added. “Not only was his belief reasonable, it was objectively correct. The gun was unloaded.”
Mader’s decision to talk Williams down instead of shooting him was based on his military and police training, the lawsuit states. Williams wasn’t aggressive, Mader told HuffPost, which led him to believe the man was only a threat to himself and that he wasn’t looking to harm anyone else.
“Saying the words ‘Just shoot me’ sent up the red flag that he was just trying to harm himself and no one else. He’s not here to hurt anybody but himself. That’s what made me make my decision. He needed help,” Mader said.
The lawsuit also claims that Kuzma, the officer who shot Williams, sent Mader disturbing text messages after a press conference on Sept. 14, 2016, in which police officials alleged that Mader had escalated the shooting incident.
According to the suit, Kuzma called Mader “a coward” who “didn’t have the balls to save[his] own life” before calling Mader and his mother “loud mouth pieces of shit” who would get an officer killed.
Mader said he found the messages hurtful and didn’t respond to them. “If this is a way for him to get it off his chest, I just let him do it,” he said.
The next day, the lawsuit alleges, Kuzma showed up at the school where Mader was obtaining his CDL license in response to a call about a damaged truck. Mader says he tried to avoid interacting with Kuzma, who asked if he’d gotten the text messages. According to Mader, Kuzma asked if the messages were accurate. Mader said he responded, “Not really.”
“It started out calm and it kind of escalated. I was trying to keep it calm,” Mader said.
A student and Mader’s instructor witnessed his interaction with Kuzma, Mader’s lawsuit says. The suit claims that the instructor reported it to the school’s owner, who called the police chief to file a report, but the chief denied the interaction had happened and didn’t write a report.
Kuzma was never disciplined for his actions, and is still with the Weirton Police Department. The department did not immediately reply to HuffPost’s request for comment about the lawsuit.
The city manager said in a statement that the city hasn’t received the text of the lawsuit or heard about any of Mader’s allegations. “It’s premature for us to publicly comment on a lawsuit that we haven’t yet received,” the statement said.
“However, when we do get a copy, it will be reviewed by legal counsel and then a determination will be made as to whether we’ll be making any comments on this particular lawsuit.”
It’s hard to hear the details of Mader’s case and not think of ongoing disputes about police training and misconduct. Departments are currently gauging their policies to determine whether officers need better de-escalation training.
There’s also the political aspect. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ― who says that federal oversight of police officers prevents them from doing their jobs ― has hinted that his Justice Department will be scaling back its pattern-or practice investigations, which probe whethera department is violating the constitutional rights of citizens. Sessions is also skeptical of consent decrees in which police departments promise to change their practices, and blames “bad apples,” instead of systemic failings, for police violence.
Firing an officer who refused to shoot a mentally distressed black man could add an extra strain on the relationship between communities and police, Mader says.
“It would put it in the citizens’ minds that this is what [officers are] taught, which isn’t true, but it’s still the thought in their head,” he said. “Their outlook on policing is not what it should be. It’s definitely not a confident one.”
“This didn’t help that at all,” Mader added. “In the public’s eye, it’s not getting any better. It sends the wrong message. This isn’t what we want the public to see in policing.”
Mader is now a military police officer with the West Virginia National Guard. The ACLU says it was interested in getting involved in his case because of what it highlights about policing in America. There’s a wide array of police departments in West Viriginia ― from more insular ones that can be hostile toward the community to departments that are more responsive and open to reform, says Cohen.
“The termination of Stephen Mader shows how much work we have to do to reform the nature of policing in our state,” he said.
“If Stephen Mader was reasonable in his objectively correct decision that RJ Williams was not a threat to others,” Cohen continued, “the real reason the Weirton Police Department fired him is because he honored Williams’ constitutional right not to be shot.”
DALLAS, Texas ― Stephanie Hughes hadn’t planned to become a funeral home director. But her light-heartedness and intuitive sense of empathy made for a natural fit when she married into the business six years ago, casting aside a career as an attorney.
Now, alongside her husband DeWayne, she comes face to face with the politically charged violence that has become a fixture of the national news cycle. Teens shot by police, victims of drunk drivers, fallen gang members and officers killed in the line of duty have all come to rest at the Hughes Family Tribute Center, which has carved out a niche serving the families of violent crime victims.
“We love all our families,” Hughes said. “It doesn’t matter how they get here.”
Dallas is not a particularly violent city. Its homicide rate of 10.7 per 100,000 in 2015 was the city’s fourth-lowest since local police first started tracking the figure, according to the Dallas Morning News.
The impact of fatal violent crime is firmly on display at a victim’s funeral, where everyone comes together to say goodbye to someone lost too soon. HuffPost visited the Hughes Family Tribute Center to find out how the center orchestrates such events and provides comfort to distraught family members.
DeWayne Hughes’ grandfather, a devotee of the Assemblies of God, founded the family’s funeral home company in 1946. The Hugheses aim to make services affordable for people of any faith. They’re assisted by the state of Texas, which runs a Crime Victims Fund that pays $6,500 to cover funeral costs for people who die as the result of violence.
The Hughes family likely takes on more than its share of violent crime victims. But state payments are notoriously slow to get disbursed, routinely taking between six months to a year to pay out. “Sometimes funeral homes won’t mention [the fund],” Stephanie Hughes said. “Or they refuse to do it.”
And they have the added challenge of helping families navigate grief after a loved one has been all over the news. When HuffPost visited the center last week, Hughes was meeting with the family of Janeera Gonzalez, who was killed on May 3 in a murder-suicide at North Lake College in a Dallas suburb by a man who was allegedly stalking her. In March of last year, they hosted the funeral of 16-year-old José Cruz, who was shot to death by off-duty police officer Ken Johnson.
The widely publicized violence weighs on the Hugheses, who aim to offer a neutral place for people to commemorate someone who has died. When politicized violence is involved ― as it was in Cruz’s death ― their job is complicated by the fact that families are often understandably consumed by anger, which robs them of time and energy for grieving.
“Murder’s a tough one,” Stephanie Hughes told HuffPost from the waiting room of the home, which was decorated with floral wallpaper and dark wood furniture. “And when it’s murder by someone you’re supposed to trust, it’s even harder.”
Cruz’s service exemplified how difficult it is for families when their relative’s death becomes a public event. It became a flashpoint over police accountability, and reporters flocked to the service.
Hughes said she found the journalists respectful, but their presence was also intrusive at times. She insisted they use just one camera and share the tape, since every reporter inside the chapel meant one less space for a family member or friend.
“The service was all about justice and not about healing,” Stephanie told HuffPost. “I was balancing between helping the family heal while letting them get the publicity they needed, without it becoming a circus.” One year later, after the news story faded from the front pages, the family held a second service to remember Cruz.
Murder’s a tough one. And when it’s murder by someone you’re supposed to trust, it’s even harder. Stephanie Hughes
Serving crime victims has also given the Hughes family other unique capabilities, including the ability to prepare the deceased for an open casket service regardless of how he or she died.
Most embalmers can mask a bullet wound in the face by suturing the torn skin and covering the blemish with wax and makeup. But if a bullet ricochets through the cranium, it can leave a shattered skull behind. To all but the most skilled embalmers, that means draping the skin of the face over a collapsed pile of bone with nothing to hold it in place. Unable to make the face recognizable, many embalmers will consider displaying the body a lost cause.
DeWayne Hughes, however, belongs to a small subset of embalmers who operate more like plastic surgeons. He became a licensed embalmer in 1983, and likens his work to that of an archeologist who assembles shattered pieces of pottery back to their original form.
Hughes says he learned those skills out of a sense of obligation to the families. A closed-casket funeral can leave people in denial that their loved one is dead, he explained.
“We always felt it’s important for families to see the body,” he said. “Your mind will give you a lot of different things. And if someone tells you [the deceased] can’t be seen, you think the worst. And you spend the rest of your life with the image your mind created. And most of the time, it’s nowhere nearly that bad.”
Sometimes the damage is too extensive for even Hughes to mend. This month, a young man who died in a car accident couldn’t avoid a closed-casket service. Instead, Hughes left his hands exposed so the family could at least see some part of him.
The family business has been part of Hughes’ life from the time he was old enough to pick up a vase of flowers or help unpack a van. In the decades since, he says he can’t tell whether violent crime has gone up or down ― only that he sees it in spurts.
Like his wife, he feels a strong connection to local police, whom the Hughes Family Tribute Center has served in the past. But when the wrongful deaths of people like José Cruz happen, he believes it’s important for the courts to punish the guilty swiftly so the families can begin to heal.
“It’s like this young man in Mesquite,” DeWayne said, referring to Jordan Edwards. “The family need their time. Hopefully, they’ll get it and justice will be served quickly, so they can move on.”
The former police officer who fatally shot Jordan Edwards, an unarmed 15-year-old African-American, in Balch Springs, Texas, is now facing murder charges, according to local news reports.
Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber previously said that Oliver had opened fire because the car was reversing aggressively toward the officers. Haber changed that account Monday after video evidence revealed that the car was actually driving away from the officers.