Besides being one of the saddest headlines I’ve seen in awhile, it says a lot about the current state of law enforcement in America. This is the full story behind it as reported by Jean Paul Zodeaux of Collapse.com:
A vigil for the deceased Jesus Huerta yesterday went from peace to pandemonium last night in Durham, North Carolina after police, who showed up in full riot gear tear gassed those at the vigil, including the family of the deceased, and arresting six people.
A month ago, in North Carolina, Jesus Huerta, a teen aged boy living in Durham, North Carolina allegedly committed suicide sitting in the back of a police cruiser, after being searched, with hands cuffed behind his back, shooting himself in the head. It is as implausible a story as one can think of. Of course, a good writer will take the implausible and make it look plausible. Too bad the Chief of Police, Jose Lopez in Durham doesn’t have any writers on hand. Instead, what Chief Lopez did was wait a few weeks, issue a statement that Jesus Huerta was found slumped over and dead in the back of a patrol car after the officer who was driving the vehicle heard what he thought to be a gunshot:
“Our department continues to investigate the origin of the weapon but can confirm that it was not a departmental weapon and no officer fired a weapon during this incident.”
Not only lacking good enough writers to make the implausible seem plausible, Chief Lopez also appears to lack any valid public relations department. At a press conference a week ago, presumably for the purposes of calming the public, Lopez only made matters worse by stating the investigation was seeking to find whether Huerta “shot himself’ on purpose or if it was accidental. Understandably, much of the public was interested in an investigation of the police involved. Instead they got Chief Lopez.
Crazy things can happen, this much is understood, and even if we’re are to accept the story that a teenage boy who was searched by a police officer before handcuffed and placed in the back seat of his patrol car wound up producing a gun missed in the search and shot himself, it would take a person disconnected with reality to think that the reaction to such a story would be one of quiet acceptance. Of course people are going to be suspicious of the story, particularly since Jesus Huerta is not the first person who has died while in the custody of Durham Police in the last five months.
On July 27th of this year, police responding to reports of a stabbing, and surrounding Jose Ocampo who was holding a knife and refused to drop it, shot him four times in the chest. Ocampo did not speak English and did not understand the commands being given him. Of course, no matter what language you speak, it should be common sense that when you are surrounded by police while holding a knife you drop it, but it was once common sense that shooting a man four times in the chest because he’s not relinquishing a knife sounds an awful lot like excessive force.
According to a friend of Ocampo’s who was on the scene, that Ocampo was attempting to give the knife to police:
“You know the part you use to cut? He put his hand on that part and gave the other end to police.”
Still, and in today’s environment, it should be expected that police will find such an thing as an excuse to open fire, but people are getting quite tired of what is to now be expected, and any police officer, and certainly a police chief should understand this, and instead of responding with defiance and more dubious tactics of force such as the full force in riot gear at a vigil for a teenager who was shot in the head while in handcuffs in the back seat of a Durham police patrol car.
Chief Lopez’ strategy of intimidation and his clear lack of compassion for the Huerta family only makes the Durham police come off as more suspicious. That is no way to sell the implausible story they’re attempting to sell the public. What Lopez should have done was accept responsibility for his part in the death of Jesus Huerta, which would be to admit that there is an obvious break down of procedure and put the whole police department on review. This is not what Lopez did, and increasingly, as more police departments expect a suspicious public to buy implausible stories, this is not what is getting done.