The first lesson was there for all to see, but not too many people saw it, or at least realized it was a lesson of grave importance at the time. Brooklyn criminal defense lawyer Ken Womble did, and it compelled him to write about it.
California law enforcement attorneys from across the state banded together to advance the idea that the public should not have access to the three dashcam videos that captured the Gardena shooting. They claim that releasing the video to the public would violate the privacy of the officers involved in the shooting and could possibly interfere with “investigations.”
And it seems more than slightly hypocritical to claim “privacy interest” for one of your own while you have no problem holding press conferences to announce the alleged crimes of a private citizen, prior to any due process or actual conviction.
There were a few things known at the time. There was one man dead, another wounded, who were helping to find a bike thief for a friend, but had the misfortune to also be Hispanics on bicycles, which made them inherent suspects. There was an investigation by police and the district attorney who concluded that it was a righteous shoot. And there was a $4.7 million settlement. It didn’t add up.
There was video of the killing, but Gardena kept it under wraps. Usual excuses, but the smell was that they paid out all that money so that they would never have to disclose the video. Money paid, move along.
The families of the man killed, the man shot, refused to be told to go away, and sought the release of the video. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson explained to Gardena, over vehement opposition, that their $4.7 million didn’t buy them concealment from the public, but just the opposite. It was the public’s money they spent, always a shock to some government officials, and so the public gets to see what they spent it for.
The video has since been released, and the public money was spent to conceal an execution.
This is the second lesson of Gardena. In retrospect, everyone is well-aware that these men weren’t armed or engaged in any crime. Ricardo Diaz Zeferino had the mindset of a guy who was helping a friend to find a bike thief. He was on the good-guy curve. He had no reason to behave in an obsequious manner; he had nothing to hide. What were they going to do, shoot him for being the good guy?
Diaz Zeferino wouldn’t be aware that a simple bike theft had been called out to patrol officers as a robbery. It was a screw-up, as a robbery implied the use or threat of force, meaning someone is potentially armed. So the cops begin with a mindset fashioned by a dispatch mistake. Mistakes happen, someone will mutter, and that’s true. But cop mistakes mean civilians die. That happens too. Too often.
Then there is the color presumption, because some Hispanics on bikes, when looking for a bike thief, are prime suspects. Because Hispanics on bikes are still Hispanic. No questions. No risks. Guns drawn, assumptions made. Lives at risk won’t be those of the two cops doing their tour that night, because they know the First Rule of Policing. Diaz Zeferino, on the other hand, didn’t know about the rule.
The cops told Diaz Zeferino to keep his hands in the air, yet he waved them around, even took off his hat. What part of keep his hands up did he not understand? The same part, no doubt, as every person who doesn’t have it locked in his brain that he comply like his life depends on it.
At Fault Lines, ex-cop Greg Prickett, who understands the latitude needed to make it home for dinner differently than I do, calls it an execution. Also at Fault Lines, Womble calls out the grave threat of arm waving against command presence that makes it into police reports with the usual lies that make the ordinary seem threatening.
But the video revealed the truth that no one wants to believe, how easily someone ends up dead for no good reason, and how much the cops will pay to keep us from knowing that the rules of the game are that they will kill before taking any chance, tolerating any possibility, that any harm ever come to them. It’s not just shoot first, but shoot a few steps ahead of first just to be sure.
Personal Memo: Hey judge, remember when I told you in ’87 that the cops murdered my client for nothing? There was no video then, and you ridiculed the notion, because cops would never do such a thing, because they were brave and wonderful. Remember that, you smug, arrogant piece of shit? A guy was murdered and you covered it up because you loved your cops so much. You always loved the cops so very much. Well, fuck you, your honor.