VOL. 129 | NO. 167 | Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Cohen: Ferguson Police Could Have ‘Shot to Wound’
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen said police in Ferguson, Mo., could have shot to wound instead of shot to kill Michael Brown in the fatal incident there this month that has prompted national and international reaction to a number of race-related issues beyond the shooting.
Cohen commented Tuesday, Aug. 26, during an interview on the CNN program “New Day,” mentioning his past role as legal adviser to the Memphis Police Department.
“There are too many killings and this was a situation where a man was unarmed. He could have been Tasered. He could have been shot in the leg,” Cohen said. “I know we all say you shoot in the middle of the cavity because that’s the best target. It’s the best target if you are apprehending a fleeing felon and there’s a need to apprehend him because there could be a risk to somebody else down the line. But with Michael Brown there was no risk to anybody.”
Cohen is among those in Congress who have called for hearings on the access local police departments have to surplus military weaponry, including M-17 rifles carried by Ferguson police in response to peaceful protests as well as rioting in the town.
“The M-17s have hardly ever been used by a police department in this country. They were used as a stand-up tool to intimidate people in Ferguson,” Cohen said. “That’s the only time I’ve seen them. I don’t think they are actually used.”
Cohen also said the underlying problem that the shooting has brought to the surface is “differences in opinion and opportunities for people based on race.”
“African-Americans have been redlined on capital, redlined on where they live, redlined on opportunities over the years,” he added.
Keith Norman, president of the Memphis Branch NAACP, agrees to an extent about the presence of larger issues.
“We don’t want to make this a racially divisive issue,” he said last week. “But there are some truths to the fact that young African-American children are treated differently and handled differently in public situations.”
He pointed to the racial disparity cited in the U.S. Justice Department’s study and report on Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court, which concluded black children were disproportionately more likely to be treated harsher than white children by the court as well as transferred for trial as adults.
But Norman said the focus should remain on the police response in a specific incident.
“So much of the attention has shifted to the riots, the militarization of the police. But we need to talk about the fact that this was an innocent non-armed young man,” he said. “He did not have a gun. He did not have a weapon of any kind.”
The civil rights organization has been asked to participate in local marches but has declined to participate so far.
“We have not felt the need to conduct such at this point because we realized so many things were taking place as copy cat movements and we did not want that in the state of Tennessee, especially in the city of Memphis,” Norman said, adding that Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong has sought the advice of the NAACP recently when his officers heightened their presence in a part of South Memphis in an attempt to combat gang violence there.
“Of course you could say it could happen. But we have had instances where there’s been contact, Norman said. “And we’ve been able to get in front of these kinds of issues.”