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Concern For Tragedy, Or All Talk And No Walk?
by junya
Monday Dec 5th, 2005 1:50 AM
Mercury News item:
After a San Jose police shooting that left two children without a mother and triggered an outcry among Vietnamese-Americans, the long legal saga of Bich Cau Thi Tran ended Tuesday with a $1.8 million settlement of a federal lawsuit...In exchange for the payment, all claims against officer Chad Marshall, former police chief William Lansdowne, then-assistant police chief Tom Wheatley, and current Chief Rob Davis will be dropped with no admissions of liability..."Our big concern has been the tragedy", City Attorney Rick Doyle said.
Concern for tragedy, or all talk and no walk?
It's important to be clear what this settlement is, and what it is not:

  • For the family, it is an end to the perilous and insane torture inflicted by litigation - particularly one where killers claim no responsibility.

  • For the city government, it is financial compensation that addresses the financial loss to the family resulting from Ms. Tran's death.

    The city calculates that, in killing Ms. Tran the mother, it ended her financial support for the children and ended her capability to provide for their housing.

    In killing Ms. Tran the daughter, it ended her capability to contribute to the welfare of her aging parents.

    It appears that no direct financial compensation will be made to the father of Ms. Tran's children and her life partner, Dang Quang Bui, who now faces the additional expenses of single parenting.

    The city calculates that paying out compensation to the family is very likely to be significantly cheaper than a trial and its outcome. Despite the City Attorney's noises about the city's concern for "the tragedy", there is no indication from the amounts that the tremendous emotional suffering caused by the killing factored into the city's calculations.

    In short, the city's position is that this was an accidental death, and they paid amounts comparable to what good accidental death insurance coverage would pay, to avoid the expense and risk of financial penalties of a jury trial.

  • For the community, it is NOT good news.

    The city admits no liability, and the court did not order any reforms. That means no change in policy or practice whatsoever - in principle.

    But, in reality, there has indeed been a change in practice since the killing of Ms. Tran: the killing and brutality by San Jose police has gotten worse.

    Ms. Tran's killing was the second and last extra-judicial execution by SJPD in 2003. From 1993-2003 SJPD averaged 2.5 executions per year. But in 2004 SJPD fatally shot 5 people - twice the average. So far in 2005, 4 people have been killed by police, and all but the first were unarmed- and the year's not over yet. Earlier, we could only speculate that police killings were getting worse, but now the trend is clear.

    But don't think for a second that the escalation of police violence earns the community any discounts. On the contrary, it is the community that is paying the $1.8 million (plus the city's legal expenses). And not a cent of it comes from the bloated budget of the police. Worse, as a Human Rights Watch report[1] points out:

    Taxpayers in some cities, such as New York and Philadelphia, are paying three times for officers who repeatedly commit abuses:
    once to cover their salaries while they commit abuses; next to pay settlements or civil jury awards against officers; and a third time through payments into police "defense" funds provided by the cities.

    All this while schools, hospitals, and libraries close down, or limp along and constantly beg for subsistence.

Anyone who believes civil lawsuits can help towards reforming police departments need only look at the record of Oakland, which has been paying out for many years, yet has not seen any relief from the systematic depravity of OPD policing - not even when the civil lawsuit resulted in court orders for reform. In 2003 Oakland settled the civil lawsuit resulting from the activity of the "Riders" for $10.9 million, the largest in the city's history. As part of the settlement, the city agreed to police reforms.

Yet in December 2004, an independent team of four monitors reported to U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson that Oakland's police department failed to comply with half of the 44 tasks mandated in the settlement.

Apparently, the judge was unprepared for the arrogance of the police, that the rest of us are all too familiar with - the judge opened a February 2005 court session saying [2]:

I haven't seen anything like this in 25 years. I'm so angry at the ignoring of the decree. We're no place today. It's all talk and no walk.

"It's all talk and no walk" - a good thought to keep in mind when Ms. Tran's killers slobber on endlessly about their concern for "the tragedy" as Chad Marshall, the policeman who shot Ms. Tran, still freely stalks San Jose's streets - still armed with gun and badge.

American Dream

[1] "Civil Remedies" from the Human Rights Watch report Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States,

[2] "Judge: Oakland Is Failing To Live Up To Riders Case Settlement",


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