What's So Funny

You know what police officers are really good at? Shooting minorities. It's uncanny. And nobody does it better than the Denver Police Department. Sure, the cops in New York City shot at Amadou Diallo 41 times when he reached for what turned out to be his wallet, killing the poor man and prompting a public outcry, as well as a song of protest from my personal hero and possible natural father, Bruce Springsteen (Mom's mum, Bruce's reps don't return calls), but that was way back in 1999. Here in D-town, our boys represent with consistency. Even our minority cops are good at shooting minorities.

Since the highly controversial Ismael Mena killing in 1999, when a SWAT team stormed the wrong house, there's been a questionable police shooting every year except 2000, when Y2K complications apparently slowed police productivity. Two of the dubious killings during that span were perpetrated against disabled minors by the same officer! Somebody tell that James Turney cat to quit working so hard; he's going to give himself an ulcer.

This year saw the death of 63-year-old Frank Lobato. In July, police officers arrived at the west Denver home of Vincent Martinez, Lobato's nephew, on a domestic-violence call. Martinez leapt from a second-floor window and fled the scene. Nearly half an hour later, Officer Ranjan Ford Jr. climbed a ladder and entered the house through a second-floor window. He saw Lobato lying in bed watching television and fired one shot, fatally wounding him: Ford had mistaken the pop can in Lobato's hand for a gun. A pop can! Enough is enough. When is Coca-Cola going to ditch that Glock 9 series?

Fast-forward to last week, when a Denver grand jury let Ford off the hook, saying they could not agree that there was probable cause for a felony indictment. Seems strange that Ford found enough probable cause in a Dr. Pepper to kill a man, but a grand jury couldn't find enough probable cause in an officer coming through a second-story window and killing an unarmed quasi-geriatric lying in his bed.

This was the first time that Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter had chosen to go the grand-jury route rather than have his staff investigate the shooting and determine whether charges were warranted. In laymen's terms -- and What's So Funny has always taken pride in translating for the very layest of men -- this means that since July, witnesses have testified behind closed doors. The jurors made their decision -- or, really, their non-decision -- based on the facts presented to them in secret, then presented their findings in a one-page report. Five months, and we only get to see one page? Who knows what was going on in the jury room all that time?

Attorney Kenneth Padilla, who points out that 38 people were killed by the DPD during Ritter's decade-plus as a DA, with not one officer charged, will file a federal civil-rights lawsuit against Ford on behalf of Lobato's family. Meanwhile, the officer's back on duty, working the switchboard, still subject to possible internal discipline. Laymen, this means that, like Turney, he could be suspended. Shoot a man because you mistake his pop can for a gun and you get suspended. I'll bet if I shot the guy at the Taco Bell drive-thru because I mistook his handing me my food for a homicidal act of rage, I would have a whole lot more than a suspension coming my way. Try fifteen to twenty in Cañon City, getting fingercuffed by every prisoner in the place. Bloods, Crips, Vatos, Aryans -- the only thing they would all agree on was that Cayton-Holland was the sweetest piece of ass in there.

You don't understand what it's like, police argue. You don't know what it's like to be that thin blue line between civilization and chaos and not know whether you're going to live or die every time you go on a call. And that's absolutely right. We don't have any idea; we can't imagine how difficult the job must be. That's why we pay the police to go into those situations and make the right decisions, which the vast majority of cops do. So when one fucks up and kills someone, he should get more than a slap on the wrist.

But hey, I don't know what I'm getting so worked up about. I quit drinking pop in bed years ago.

 
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