Transcript: Taking A Close Look At America's Police Force

Below, find a partial transcript of our September 30, 2014 panel conversation on America's police force.

Editor’s Note: We’re trying out a new transcription service this month. These transcripts, while not 100% accurate, are pretty close, and we want your thoughts on their usefulness / relevancy. Let us know in the comments below, or send us a note at


TOM ASHBROOK: From WBUR Boston and NPR, I'm Tom Ashbrook and this is On Point. The news is full of stories lately of what is or can certainly look like police overkill from New York to South Carolina to an Ohio Wal-Mart to Ferguson, Missouri and Los Angeles. It's not a new story. But these vivid stories have put policing and race and attitudes and training front and center with a call for change and body cameras all over. A policeman also shot this weekend in Ferguson. This hour on what to make of police and policing in America. You can join us on air or online with this conversation is always on. What's going on? How do we fix it? Police officers — why do we keep hearing seeing these stories? Join us any time at oror on Twitter and Facebook @OnPointRadio. Joining me now from St .Louis, Missouri is David Klinger, a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St Louis. A senior research fellow at the Police Foundation, works to improve American policing. David Klinger, welcome to On Point. Thank you very much for being with us.

DAVID KLINGER: Thanks for having me.

TOM ASHBROOK: From New York, Gloria Browne Marshall joins us. Professor in the department of law, political and police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice where she is also professor of Constitutional Law. Author of "Race, Law and American Society 1607 to the Present." That's a lot. Gloria Browne-Marshall thank you for being here.

GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHALL: Thank you for the opportunity.

TOM ASHBROOK: And from Irvine, California, Geoff Ward. Professor of criminology, law and society and sociology at the University of California-Irvine. Author of "The Black Child Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice." Thank you for being here.There's so much to look at here. I want to start just going through a series of tapes and getting their response of all three of you for this because this is what people are seeing in the media and it's become, it's, it's come to feel kind of like a moment lately. This was just last week. Lance Corporal Sean Gruber, South Carolina state trooper arrested and charged with assault and battery for shooting an unarmed man at a gas station. Everybody by now or many people will have seen this on T.V. or heard this on the radio. But the man he stopped Lamar Jones,  turns around to my eyes, does not look particularly menacing. The officer asked him for his license. Lamar Jones reaches into his S.U.V., like into the front seat or the middle console. OK, I can see what's going on. But then you hear the bullets and down he goes and he's saying to the officer. You said get my license and I grab my license is right here.Here's the tape here.

(AUDIO CLIP OF JONES AND GRUBER) Why? Why am? I just got my license. You said get my license I grabbed my license.

TOM ASHBROOK: It's right there: white policeman, black man down. He survived all those shots. David Klinger, let me bring this one to you. We want to talk much more broadly. But people have seen this. And it's just shocking. What do you say to it? And is that a civilian view is it something right that we're on here? I can't see it. I don't, I don't see anything.

DAVID KLINGER: Right. And I think the problem is it starts before the camera. Picks up the officer coming into view. Because what happens if you see it as the officer moves across the face of this patrol car. There's a real simple way to avoid this. And that is instead of saying let me see your driver's license please, when someone's out of the vehicle, you say sir, do you have a driver's license? And that person says yes and you say where is it? And then if he says it's in the vehicle, then you can say OK sure; what I want you to do is slowly reach into the vehicle and what you do is you say, on the other side of your patrol car show you have the engine block between yourself and the suspect. And then it's not a big issue. So what happens here is a complete misread by this officer. And I'm just glad that he's a bad shot.

TOM ASHBROOK: He had, has been...he's facing potentially twenty years in jail for this. You're right. A lot of fire there. The man wants a big up. Gloria Browne Marshall, how do you interpret thisvideo that everybody has seen now?

GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHAL: Well, like, I played that video yesterday in my class. And I want to go back a little further. When you listen to what the officer says to the man who asked why did you stop me and he said well you didn't have a seatbelt on. He said I just took it off, when I pulled into the gas station. You know,so when we start looking at the relationship, the suspicion was already there. It was almost as though the officer wanted to stop the man, anyway found a reason to stop him. Already thought he was going to be suspected of something horrible that would require an upper level of force and then it is just all of the rest of it becomes inevitable and we can say oh that's great that he's alive but he's traumatized for life.

DAVID KLINGER: I disagree with your assessment, ma'am.

TOM ASHBROOK: You disagree that there was opening suspicion that what they're hearing or what she said it's, it's inevitable?

DAVID KLINGER: The vast, vast majority of situations where police officers stop people, Ms Browne-Marshall knows this quite well, do not result in deadly force or in fact any form of force or to show that it's inevitable.There's a huge overreach, ma'am. You never know.

GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHALL: The shooting was inevitable here, when the officer started to interact. The inevitability.I'm speaking to is one of heightened aggression. When he stopped the man in the firstplace. He said I stopped you because you you didn't have a seatbelt. So they're looking for something in the first place, that's going to be this job but they would have this...

DAVID KLINGER: Look, the Click-It-or-Ticketmantra is all across the country, ma'am, and click it and see what I'll put the seat belt into the guy's not only into a destination. Well I mean,I think it's a foolish law. I think that what it does is it creates situations like this where officers stop people for really no reason. They wouldn't let us...

TOM ASHBROOK: Hold that thought. But I wonder, I do want to come back to because it's, it's fundamentally important raising, Gloria is saying there's a fundamental attitude here. It's not hard to hear what Gloria saying that might, may go back to race. But I want to I want to bookmark that and fully come back to it. Geoff Ward, in this tape, I've watched it many times. Now when the man is getting out of the S.U.V. to me — and I'm a civilian. I'm not a policeman. I'm not trained — but he does not look menacing to me. Am I missing something too?

GEOFF WARD: Where I think...but you know I would agree was clearly poor policing practice, not being a policing expert but I think what's clear from this instance and all of these others really is that the, the willingness to engage in lethal violence is, it is unfair and it in a way that it just wouldn't be if you think about. If you modify the characteristics of the victim in this case. Imagine a woman who is notAfrican-American or who's white and articulate or imagine an older person or a much younger person. You can you can easily imagine that even with all of the tactical issues that have been discussed in the problematic law. This would've ended in a potentially deadly shooting. So I think I think,we're all a rare of what was, is fear; a symbol. There was you know at the core. And some of the research I'm familiar with, there's a kind of automatic association between African-American men in particular and risk or crime and danger. And I think we saw that play out in this police officers who were shooting and then this.

TOM ASHBROOK: We'll dig into that here and across one more piece of tape. This was August 5th, a police officer shot and killed a man, John Crawford. They were in an Ohio Wal-Mart. According to police he was waving a rifle, he had picked it up off the shelf at the store. It was a B.B. gun. It was for sale in the Wal-Mart. The police said he'd idn't obey their commands. But Ohio State Police promises, promise plead complete transparency in an investigation. They released a 911  audio and surveillance video footage as the 911... Here is John Crawford. The second is his father talking to the media after learning the police officer who shot his son in the Wal-Mart would not be indicted by a grand jury.

(AUDIO FROM JOHN CRAWFORD'S FATHER): So sure this police this, Young man he is. It's not, go in as a patron and not come out alive.

TOM ASHBROOK:  David Klinger, years ago I went into a store and bought a B.B. gun for my son and I came out alive. What happened here? I watched the video, a little bit of it. I didn't see it all. It did not look menacing. You look like a guy carrying a gun over his shoulder. Have a little fun. He's dead.

DAVID KLINGER: It's a tragedy. But in this situation the officers did absolutely nothing wrong. You get a call as a police officer that someone is pointing a firearm at children which is what the officers were told. One of the officers checked back and said are you sure that he was pointing, and he just doesn't have it? He was told yes. The reporter is pointing a gun off churchgoing. And this is something officers have been trained in since Columbine called rapid reaction or active shooter training. An officer should come in very quick, give verbal commands; suspect doesn't comply. The weapon moves, the officer shoots. They really don't have any other option except not to go to Wal-Mart. You know so that they that they they sell real guns at real gun stores. And if someone is wandering around with a gun,  a police officer doesn't know where is the problem.

TOM ASHBROOK: Gloria, what do you say here?

GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHALL: I say on August 19th, William Builders in Platte County, Missouri was waving a rifle at cars passing by on the highway. Police arrived. He would not put down the rifle. He pointed it at them they tased him. He's a white male. Forty six years old. That same day in St Louis a mentally disturbed black man is on a street in St Louis with a small knife. He doesn't putdown the knife. He's shot several times. What we look at is how policing reacts to the person with more incidence ofthese deadly force is just as soon happening when there's anAfrican-American male, and whether or not, going back to the other point, whether or not it's Click It or Ticket or a stop and frisk or whatever it's called. And the systems that have been inplace are used more aggressively when it comes to people of color, and then at the end of the day it is too often when there is some sign of aggression it rises to lethal force more often with black Americans disproportionately to their relationship to law enforcement. Law enforcement interacting with people all the time as was pointed out, but when they interact with people of color, unfortunately too often ends in some deadly force.


More from On Point

Listen Live