Wandering Eye: Fact-checking the number of police killings, learning from 'Black Panthers,' and more

Eddie Conway has a lot of juice in Baltimore. A Black Panther who spent 44 years in state prison—he was convicted of killing a police officer named Donald Sager; many in the city's left community believe he was unjustly convicted—Conway links the city's radical past with its radical present. Even before last week's riots and protests, he appeared on radio talk shows and public forums to dispense his unique and sage view of events, historic and current. Now employed by The Real News Network as a producer, Conway is a journalist, with two books under his belt. That is why it is crucial that Conway get fact-checked in his current piece in The Progressive, which is co-bylined by Dominique Stevenson. After suggesting that youth at Mondawmin Mall were goaded into rioting by police (a claim this newspaper has also made but that is contested by police and other observers who were at the mall that afternoon), Conway and Stevenson make this claim: "Since 2012 there have been 111 people killed by the police in Maryland." It is a shocking number. And it is an error. The apparent source of the figure is this ACLU report released in March. According to the report, compiled from news reports and police press releases, 109 people died after encounters with Maryland police since 2010, two years earlier. It is still a shocking figure, and the report makes clear both the racial disparities and Maryland's apparent status as a particularly deadly place to encounter a cop: 86 of the dead were killed by police gunfire. That fact alone is shocking enough to make Conway's point. But while the nine-page ACLU report is heavy on statistical Holy Shit moments, it is light on detail. So light that it is impossible for anyone check the figures without doing arduous original research. Not even the names of these victims are included. As the authors state, "The purpose of our inquiry was not to detail the facts of individual cases, but rather to provide some sense of the overall scope of this problem in the aggregate and to convey the gravity and extent of its reach." The ACLU is generally a trustworthy source, but this is a curious report backed by a curious editorial decision. Its methodology is slightly reminiscent of the infamous, still-repeated claims by the Black Panthers that police targeted the group for genocidal assassination. In 1969 the Panther's spokesperson claimed 28 of its members had been assassinated by cops, and newspapers across the country published the figure as if it had been checked out. Two years later, in The New Yorker, Edward Jay Epstein did check it out. Read what he found out. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

Tomorrow, at the Maryland Film Festival, director Stanley Nelson, one of our country's best documentarians, introduces his latest film "Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" at the Baltimore Museum of Art. City Paper Editor Evan Serpick reviewed it in this week's issue and called attention to the almost frightening ways that images from the late '60s recall both empowering and troubling images from the Baltimore Uprising. Watching the documentary gives one hope in the potential of activism and a kind of gut-level frustration with the fact that shit hasn't changed all that much since the late '60s. As a tool for activists, "Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" is perhaps most instructive in its final third when it deals with the accumulation of missteps and infighting that marred the party, furthered by the FBI's surveillance and sabotage of the party, not to mention the assassination of Fred Hampton. What is most striking in the final act is witnessing Panther party members having a kind of "what happened" moment, reconciling the failures of the movement with the positive change it had on civil rights and admitting that they abandoned family and friends and real ife for the party. It recalls moments from Nelson's staggering 2006 documentary, "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple" which focuses on Jim Jones' infamous, predominantly African-American cult, which ended with the suicide of 909 of its members and did its best to understand the appeal of the Peoples Temple with a profound degree of sympathy. Check out "Black Panthers" tomorrow afternoon and make sure to check out "Jonestown," which is on YouTube. (Brandon Soderberg)

 

The New York Times has a story on a behind-the-scenes economy tied to the NFL Draft that affects millions of dollars. Colleges are buying loss-of-value insurance for their players as a way to get top talent to stay in school instead of jumping to the draft. Take Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu as an example. ESPN had projected he would be a first-round pick, but then he tore his ACL in December and subsequently dropped all the way to the seventh round. The university had purchased a policy for Ekpre-Olomu worth $3 million. This is a good thing, right? Well, critics tell the times this policy is "window dressing." "'It transfers the risk; it does not eliminate it,' Jill Wieber Lens and Joshua Lens wrote of the insurance last year in The Mississippi Law Journal." (Brandon Weigel)

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