Police in riot gear. Protesters blocking highways. A heated discussion about the acquittal of a white police officer for his role in the shooting of a black man.
It’s becoming a familiar scene for St. Louis, Missouri.
More than 300 protesters have been arrested in just 18 days following an innocent verdict in the non-jury murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, who fatally shot 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011.
As St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said recently, “We here in St. Louis are once again ground zero for the frustration and anger.”
But the debate extends far beyond St. Louis, and as city officials, activists, and even athletes seek reform around the country, alleged brutality at the hands of another sector of law enforcement — Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — is also raising red flags.
Gabino Hernandez is at least the third person to allege ICE brutality in federal court this year. A bystander to a traffic stop, he wound up shot and bleeding on the ground in his own neighborhood in July 2016.
Here’s what we know. Hernandez’s roommate, Jose Mendoza, had been pulled over just yards from their house in Laurel, Mississippi. Mendoza spoke little English, and the police officer couldn’t understand him.
The police should have had interpreters of their own, but the officer instead called ICE agents who were in town. The situation escalated quickly. As the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Will Tucker writes:
After [the officer] summons ICE, he places Mendoza in handcuffs and cites him for driving under the influence. Hernandez walks between the houses and into a nearby street. [Police] appear to think Hernandez is running and follow him. In the street, Hernandez turns a corner to find two ICE agents who were en route to the scene seconds earlier. Someone can be heard yelling, “Get on the fucking ground” and “baje, baje,” Spanish for “get down, get down.” [ICE] Agent Causey fires a shot at Hernandez just seconds later.
The bullet hit Hernandez, who wasn’t carrying a weapon, in the lower right arm. His lawsuit alleges that he had his hands raised.
The interaction that left Hernandez shot and bleeding in the street is reminiscent of other police shootings caught on camera in recent years, and raises similar questions about agents’ use of force.
A report released last January by ICE’s parent department, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), found that in fiscal year 2015, ICE agents used force 95 times— 65 more times than there were reported “assaults on an officer.”
The report concludes that DHS lacks oversight of the use of force among its 80,000 law enforcement officers, including those in ICE. The DHS’ use-of-force policy has not been updated since 2004 — nor has ICE’s — and “not all” departments under DHS supervision “have policies that emphasize the respect for human life when using force.”
The bottom line, according to the report: “DHS has not done enough to minimize the risk of improper force by law enforcement officers.”
A local grand jury reviewed the evidence in the Mississippi case, but declined to bring charges against the agent who shot Hernandez.
It’s unclear whether he faced or will face any kind of disciplinary measures from ICE — just as it’s unclear what it will take to root out the unjustified use of force by law enforcement around the country.
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