Organizing to Stop Police Brutality in Riverside, California: Organizing for Accountability | Solidarity:
'via Blog this'
— interview with Chani Beeman
CHANI BEEMAN IS co-chair of the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability, whose principles and mission statement can be found at their website (www.ucr. edu/ethnomus/rcpa/rcpa.html). A complete file of articles on the shooting of Tyisha Miller and subsequent coverup can be found on the website of the Riverside Press-Enterprise (www.inlandempire online.com/special-reports/tyishamiller). Dianne Feeley and David Finkel of the ATC editorial board interviewed Chani on September 28.
Against the Current: Please give the background for readers who may not be familiar with the police shooting of Tyisha Miller, a young African-American woman.
Chani Beeman: The shooting happened December 28, 1998. Tyisha Miller was in a locked car that was disabled at a gas station. She had been out with friends, one of whom had gone to get help from a family member just ten minutes away. Tyisha stayed with the car—this was about 2 am—and they had told the gas station folks that she would be out there.
Tyisha fell asleep in the car with the engine running, the radio on high volume, and a gun in her lap. When her family returned, they couldn't wake her up, and called 911 because they were concerned about her. The car was locked.
The 911 dispatched police instead of an ambulance, which is standard procedure when a gun is involved. The first officer who showed up was, according to his report, “frightened.” He didn't consult with Tyisha's cousins at the scene, two young African-American women, but told them to stand to one side as he began banging on the window.
Over the next six and a half minutes three other officers arrived—the second about two minutes after the first, and the final one within about a minute before they shot and killed Tyisha. At one point she sat up and looked at her beeper before lying back down.
The officers said they devised a plan to break the window, reach in and get the gun. The first attempt didn't work. On the second try, when the window broke, one officer reached in. Later he said that's when he heard a shot. As we know now, this was probably one of the other officers shooting in response to the sound of the window breaking.
As the officer pulled back, they began shooting—between the four officers they shot twenty-five to thirty rounds, twelve of which struck Tyisha, killing her.
Now we come to the four officers' supervisor, who had arrived early enough in pull them off their window-breaking plan, but didn't. When asked why he hadn't stopped what they were doing, he said he had thought it would demoralize them. So when they began shooting, he simply shouted at them to “watch out for crossfire.”
No one spoke to the family, who were standing to one side, and had already called for someone to bring a key. The officers just kept telling them to get away. According to family witnesses, right after the shooting the officers were high-fiving each other. They had also been using racial epithets like “black bitch” while trying to wake Tyisha up.
At this point the four officers left in the supervisor's car—people think they went off in order to get their story straight. Their original account was that Tyisha had fired at them. Later it was revealed that the gun was broken and couldn't be fired—then they changed the story to say they thought she had fired, that she had reached for the gun.
They all said they had seen this. But the coroner's report stated that the gun had fallen and wasn't reachable—probably it had been knocked to the floor when the first office reached in—so the feeling is that the whole story was an after-the-fact fabrication.