Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Nothing From Nothing ...

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Sometimes on Tuesday morning, I stare at my laptop, looking for words. Sometimes, I say to myself, "I got nothing."

So, what I can say about two young men who were killed in encounters with area police officers last weekend? Not enough is known about either case at this point to be able do anything but ask the obvious question: Why were trained police officers unable to subdue two unarmed men who had not committed a crime without hog-tying or shooting them?

In the case of Darrius Stewart, the 19-year-old man shot by a Memphis cop who claimed he was attacked with his own handcuffs, we have the small comfort of knowing the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) is going to examine the incident rather than the district attorney's office, which is notoriously cozy with the Memphis Police Department (MPD). The case, of course, is further inflamed by the fact that the officer involved is white and Stewart was black.

I say "small comfort" because TBI records are sealed by state law, so we won't be privy to whom they interviewed, what the witnesses' and officers' testimonies were, etc. unless TBI decides to release its evidence. We can only hope they will conduct a transparent and unbiased inquiry that sheds real light on the case. That doesn't always happen.

You may remember an incident in 2013, in which a young black man, Steven Askew, was sleeping in his car outside his girlfriend's apartment, waiting for her to get home. Two MPD officers knocked on his car window, then shot him a couple dozen times in the back. The officers claimed they killed Askew because he pulled a gun on them. The incident was investigated by the DA's office, which cleared the cops of wrongdoing, even though one of the officers had a lengthy and ugly history of misconduct, anger-issue counseling, and departmental reprimands. Even though the officers used very questionable police techniques.

Askew's family filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the department and the city — which I predict they will win. This case was pre-Ferguson. If it had happened last week, I have no doubt the TBI would have been involved at an early stage rather than leaving the case for the local DA to resolve.

Meanwhile, down in Southaven, there was the case of Troy Goode, a young man who was acting erratically in a strip mall after leaving a Widespread Panic concert. Police eventually subdued Goode, hog-tied him, and sent him to a hospital, where he died shortly after arriving. Goode was apparently asthmatic and on hallucinogens, which could have contributed to his death, but hog-tying is not a smart police technique. The city of Memphis paid several million dollars to settle a police hog-tying death a few years back.

Stewart's family has retained counsel, and I would be very surprised if a lawsuit isn't filed. There's no word yet on whether Goode's family will take legal action, but I wouldn't bet against it.

Being a police officer is a harrowing and difficult job. Mistakes get made, sometimes fatal ones. Anger and emotion spring up to fill the void of losing a loved one. Speculation and premature conclusions abound. Lawsuits get filed. Then settlements happen, settlements which often cost taxpayers millions. But the dead are still dead.

Last weekend, two young men died; now two families are in pain. Beyond that, I got nothing.

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