Tuesday, January 15, 2008

America's Gestapo at work again

Darla Jennings held each of her young grandchildren up to the pink casket where their mother lay so they could give her a final kiss good-bye. Tarika Wilson, 26, who was shot to death by police during a drug raid at her home Jan. 4, was laid to rest yesterday after a two-hour memorial service at Grace Church Worldwide Ministries where more than 300 people filled the pews. As family members streamed in to pay their respects before the casket was closed, Elder Ronald Fails recited Scripture and encouragement: "Death is not the end of life. It is not the conclusion. It is really the beginning. We thank God that he delivers hope even in the midst of our sorrow."

Mr. Fails and other local clergy spent much of the service calling on the community to come together, to heal, and to work together to solve its problems. "I want to pray that God will reconcile the community - it's not just the family," he said. "It's the whole community, and when we talk about the community it's important that we take this out of the realm of black and white. This is not just an issue of black and white." Mr. Fails said regardless of Wilson's color, "We cannot allow the enemy to divide us on the basis of color. Every time something happens, we go there. That is not to suggest there are not problems and challenges. There will always be problems and challenges, but together we stand. Divided we fall."

City police have provided few details about what happened after its SWAT team raided Wilson's East Third Street house and arrested her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, on drug charges. At some point in the raid, officers shot two pit bull dogs in the home, and Sgt. Joseph Chavalia fatally shot Wilson as she was holding her 14-month-old son, Sincere Wilson. The wounded toddler underwent surgery on his arm and his index finger was amputated.

On Thursday, Terry, 31, was indicted by an Allen County grand jury on three counts of trafficking in crack cocaine, four counts of trafficking in marijuana, and six counts of permitting drug abuse stemming from incidents that occurred between September, 2007, and Jan. 4, the day of the raid.

Separate from the drug investigation by police, the FBI, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, and special prosecutor Jeff Strausbaugh were called in to investigate the shooting, which has raised tensions in Lima and prompted accusations that police target African-Americans. While no one from the police department could be seen at Wilson's funeral, both Lima Mayor David Berger and council President John Nixon attended, as did Allen County Sheriff Dan Beck.

Councilman Tommy Pitts, who is a minister, spoke briefly during the service, saying he hoped that after the dust had settled, the truth would come out. "You better believe I'm going to stay on top of this," Mr. Pitts said. "The devil did this thing, but God is going to turn it around. He's going to turn it around. He is going to turn it around."

After the service, Sheriff Beck called the shooting "a terrible, terrible tragedy." He said the city has had serious problems for years that are evidenced by the disproportionate number of minorities who are arrested every year compared with the number of whites. He said Lima police do not target the black community, although the department has remained focused on going after crack cocaine dealers, many of whom are African-American, rather than the largely white customer base that buys the drug. "We have got to get back to doing what law enforcement is supposed to do," the sheriff said. "We need to enforce the law equally."

Mr. Fails said some in the community feared there would be "mayhem in the church" during Wilson's wake on Thursday and suggested that police or sheriff's deputies be brought in to provide security. He said he did not feel that was necessary and, in the end, it was not. "We're not going to burn the courthouse down. We're not going to burn our own house down, but we're going to bind together as one people. Together we stand. Divided we fall," he said to loud applause.

Report here

More background:

MANY questions still require answers after a 26-year-old woman was shot to death by drug-raiding police in Lima while she held her toddler son, who was also seriously injured. Though the African-American community is vigorously protesting the death of Tarika Wilson, their concern should be shared by every citizen. Chief among those questions: Did police conducting the raid know children were in the home at the time? Why would officers shoot someone with a child in her arms? Did they think she had a gun? Ms. Wilson's five other children, whose ages range from 1 to 8, were also present when she was shot. Also home was her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, 31.

Frustrated and angry relatives say a search warrant targeted the wrong house number. However, Police Chief Greg Garlock confirmed that officers had the right address. Police suspected the boyfriend of selling drugs at the home; he was arrested on drug-trafficking charges. While the couple have been previously convicted on drug charges, that doesn't dismiss the need for answers in what Chief Garlock calls a "terrible situation."

A former Lima SWAT commander said it is not unusual for children to be home when police show up for a raid. If that is true, it's fair to suggest that officers breached some of the rules intended to avoid shooting innocent people in such situations. The shooter in this tragedy has been identified as Sgt. Joseph A. Chavalia, 52, a veteran Lima police officer for 30 years, including 22 years on the SWAT team. The FBI and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation are conducting inquiries.

Meanwhile, local activists should get credit for tempering citizens' rage even as they seek information about what happened. Among them is Lima city Councilman Derry Glenn, who owned the house but did not live there. Whatever BCI and the FBI find, Lima police have a public relations disaster on their hands, especially if it appears that the shooting was careless or, worse, racially motivated.

What is not in question is the considerable strain in relations between police and Lima's black community. That must be addressed fully as well, no matter what was behind the tragedy on East Third Street.

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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