Michael Brown is dead and Eric Garner is dead, and the cops who caused their death will just have to live with whatever really happened, just as former Madison cop Steven Heimsness will have to live with whatever really happened in November of 2012 when he shot and killed Paul Heenan. The common thread among these three cases is that an officer of the law killed an unarmed person.
The difference is, in Madison, Steven Heimsness is no longer a cop, because the community reacted with outrage, and the powers that be did something. Although the “investigation” into the incident concluded that Heimsness did nothing wrong, the community knew the “investigation” was unadulterated horse manure and forced the cops to change their policies and forced Heimsness to resign from the force.
Let me refresh your memory on the Madison case from 2012, which is the one that prompted change.
Pictured above is the late Paul Heenan, known in Madison music circles as Pauly, who’d finished a late-night gig at a club in Madison, got very drunk, and wandered mistakenly into his neighbor’s home on Baldwin Street.
Former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, pictured above, a good man who was a good fit for the job of running the police department here in the bluest city in the bluest county in our purple state, had no idea the shitstorm that was about to hit when the community heard the story of what happened that early November morning on Baldwin Street.
If you’re not familiar with the story, WMTV-Madison has a nice chronological summary of the Heenan shooting here on its website. It chronicles the case starting with the still-ongoing developments all the way to the very beginning and the first reports two years ago.
My take on it is this: the people of Madison said, pretty clearly, that if a police officer cannot subdue and control an unarmed drunk without the use of deadly force, then that police officer should not be given a badge nor allowed to carry a weapon.
The system in place for reviewing cases like these stinks. It’s long past time to stop letting police organizations investigate their own incidents when one of their officers takes the life of an unarmed person. In all three of the cases here….in Ferguson, MO, Staten Island, NY, and Madison, WI…a significant portion of the public was grossly unsatisfied with the conclusion of the “investigation”.
As I've said so many times, here in America, we make our own laws. We don't think they came down from some God on a steaming tablet or were revealed to some prophet; we make up our laws, and if we don't like them, or don't think they're working, we CHANGE them. Just like what's going on in Madison right now in the aftermath of the Paul Heenan shooting.
I don’t hate cops. I respect the hell out of them. My grandpa was a cop – a Wisconsin State Patrol officer. I have close friends and other family members and acquaintances who are cops, and I do not have the courage to do what they do every day. I know quite a few of the cops who patrol our township and respect them, thank them with contributions to their causes, and know that they deal with highly dangerous circumstances right here in our township nearly every day of the year.
I also know that a lot of what two grand juries and one Madison investigative committee heard was boilerplate bullshit that would fall apart under cross examination in a court of law. Officer Darren Wilson said he feared for his life. That’s the get-out-of-jail-free card. Wilson did all right, though – half a million bucks from NBC to sit down with Matt Lauer for half an hour and untold cash contributions from his “supporters” around the country. He's doing just fine. We'll never know what actually happened.
Officer Daniel Pantoleo said he wasn’t using a choke-hold on Eric Garner; rather, he was using a technique he learned at the police academy to subdue noncompliant people. We’ll see if that particular bullshit statement stands up over time. You didn't have to be a grand jury member hearing testimony from some "expert" to determine if Officer Pantoleo was using a chokehold; you saw it with your own eyes from the cell phone video at the scene.
Officer Steven Heimsness told the Madison “investigating committee” that Paul Heenan was going for his gun. Another get-out-of-jail-free code phrase. The people of Mad-town were smart enough to see through the BS and say if a cop can't stop a drunk from "going for his gun" without killing him with a triple-tap to center mass, then we aren't training our cops very well and we ought to look into that.
It’s long past time for change. A change for the better- for the city and the state – came out of the Heenan shooting. We’re still in the process of revising and updating and changing policies, procedures, and laws that allow police and related organizations (like the D.A.’s office) investigate such cases.
The national conversation about this is beginning. I have little faith that it will bear fruit; we’re far too divided as a nation to really listen to anyone’s differing point of view and move forward with change.
But there’s hope.