I recently found out about the case of Mark Anthony Barmore, an unarmed African-American male in Rockford Ill., who was shot in the back by Rockford police. Barmore was shot in August in the daycare center of the Kingdom Authorities Ministries Church. A recent grand jury decision ruled that the officers did no wrong, adding insult to injury and leading to a national cry for justice.
As the son of a police officer, incidents like this are quite disturbing to me. On one hand, there is the fact that many officers around the nation take the use of force to be a very serious responsibility. Such officers deserve our respect and full cooperation. On the other hand, there is the reality that black men are far more likely to be victims of deadly force by police. In nearly every corner of the American justice system, the incarceration and extermination of black males is not only customary, but expected to occur with almost no accountability. The blue wall in police departments is thick enough to turn a lie into the truth and to value an officer’s career over a defendant’s life. Such consistent abuse of power should be challenged by concerned citizens everywhere.
When it comes to the case of Mark Anthony Barmore, several thoughts come to mind:
1) Make sure we find out the facts. While it is easy to presume that a man shot in the back was clearly victimized by police, it is important that each case be dealt with individually. Anyone who viewed my CNN commentary on the Henry Louis Gates case knows that I am not one to jump to conclusions in cases of police abuse. But for this situation, my own investigation in to the facts shows that there is almost no explanation for the officers’ actions. In the case of Mark Anthony Barmore, I am having a hard time seeing anything that justifies what happened to this 23-year-old man. What is also interesting to me is that many of the witnesses do not seem to corroborate the story given by the officers involved.
2) He was unarmed, so please explain that one too. The police department and the city of Rockford owes the community a thorough explanation. How in the world can an unarmed man be shot in the back with just cause? Was he threatening harm to an officer or someone else in the church? Is there any other kind of force that could have been used? Given that one of the officers involved in the case, 37-year-old Oda Poole, has had three shootings in the last three years, this is serious cause for alarm. It is not normal for any officer to use his gun that many times in such a short time span.
3) Shot in a church in front of children? According to initial reports on the case, Mark Anthony Barmore had come to church to receive counseling after being sought out on a domestic disturbance that took place with his live-in girlfriend. He was speaking in the driveway with Pastor Melvin Brown and Brown’s 17-year-old daughter, when officers arrived on the scene. The police officers then approached Barmore with their guns drawn and the man fled in to the church with the pastor’s wife, daughter and several young children watching. Witnesses claim that Barmore emerged from the boiler room with his hands up, but was shot several times in the chest and back. According to officers, Barmore fought with them and tried to grab their guns.
“My daughter was about 5 feet away. When he hit the ground, she sees the cops shooting him in the back. We saw slugs in his back when we went to see the body,” said Brown, the pastor.
4) This case is not just racial, but about civil liberties. The idea that we live in a nation where police authority cannot be questioned should be a great concern for us all. American citizens should not fear the police, and in black communities across our nation, a police state has been in place for more than 100 years. Where the people in the suburbs are happy to see officers, many African Americans are trained to be fearful. A national conversation must occur about the limits of police power and whether or not officers caught abusing their authority are going to be dealt with in an appropriate fashion. At the same time, there must continue to be room for good, law-abiding police officers to do their jobs effectively.
I am going to call Rev. Jesse Jackson this week to discuss the situation in more detail. I’ll keep you posted, but I do plan to make a trip to Rockford soon to help the community deal with this tragedy. Unless there are significant factors of which I am unaware, there needs to be some accountability for the officers involved as well as the entire Rockford Police Department.