The Ronald Greene Cover-Up Proves Southern States Need Federal Reforms

Gaps in civil rights protections allow injustices to persist

Mona Hardin, left, mother of Ronald Greene, hugs LaChay Batts, sister of Marvin Scott III, who died in custody in a Collin County, Texas, jail. Photo: Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press via CBC

Editor’s note: This story contains references to a killing and video that many might find disturbing.

Two years ago, 49-year old Ronald Greene died in police custody in Monroe, Louisiana. The medical examiner has not yet provided an official cause of death. Since then, Greene’s family, their lawyers, and local activists have demanded transparency. Their calls went unanswered for years. That all changed when parts of the arrest video leaked. The Louisiana State Police has since released a series of horrifying videos. These clips have since circulated through major news outlets and social media. One thing has become painstakingly clear — authorities lied to Greene’s family and the community.

State troopers initially claimed Greene died from impact in a car crash. Yet 46-minutes of body-cam footage revealed the shocking truth. Officers kicked, punched, shocked, and choked Greene. They shackled him, placing him face down, compromising his airways. We can hear him saying, “I’m your brother! I’m scared! I’m scared!” But his pleas went unanswered.

Photo: Louisiana State Police bodycam footage where Ronald Greene is in the green shirt. Image: AP

According to CNN, After being tased, Greene can be heard moaning while still on the ground and being put in handcuffs by one officer, while another officer kicks him several times. An officer can be heard saying, “I’ve got blood all over me; I hope this guy ain’t got f**king AIDS,” as Greene continues to moan.

A state trooper on the scene claimed Greene “was spitting blood everywhere, and all of a sudden, he just went limp.” That night, Greene sustained a broken breast bone, torn aorta, and head injury. Trooper Kory York can be seen dragging Greene’s body on his stomach. After the department suspended York without pay for 50 hours, he promptly returned.

Since May 2019, officers involved with the death have lied about the existence of body cam footage. State troopers and authorities did seemingly everything in their power to suppress the truth. It’s no wonder Greene’s mother, Mona Hardin, called her son’s death “a cover-up.” Hardin said troopers treated her son Greene “inhumanely.” Activists are asking the district attorney to file charges. Currently, the FBI civil rights division is investigating Greene’s death.

The Associated Press reports that Greene was left lying face down moaning for more than nine minutes while officers used sanitizer wipes to wash blood off their hands and faces.

One trooper, named Hollingsworth, bragged: “I beat the ever-living f*** out of him.” And while Greene’s family would like prosecutors to hold all officers accountable, irony, fate, or happenstance deprived them of restorative justice. A few hours after supervisors notified Hollingsworth he would be fired for his role in Greene’s death, he died in a single-car crash. The district attorney has yet to provide charges against any of the other officers involved.

During the past year, many states and localities implemented substantial policing reforms. Widespread reforms show America’s racial reckoning has wind beneath its wings. Moreover, these sweeping changes provide a glimmer of hope as Americans of all stripes came together. Yet, none of these reforms offer uniform protection to Black people in Louisiana. And as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Currently, America has no nationally accepted, federal standard for police use of deadly force. Each state decides whether no-knock warrants or chokeholds are permitted. And while many states have set some standards, Louisiana has none on the state level. Imagine having a mechanic with no standard for fixing a busted engine or a doctor without a standard for providing treatment. Here’s the bottom line: Without a uniformly accepted standard, police officers’ personal biases taint every traffic stop.

Officers killed George Floyd and Eric Garner using a chokehold that’s still permitted in most Southern states. In America, law enforcement officers serve some 20,000 no-knock warrants every year. Officers used a no-knock warrant when they opened fire in Breonna Taylor’s home. She died even though she was an innocent bystander. While Minnesota has since banned no-knock warrants, Louisiana still permits them. So do many other states. These policies continue to endanger Black lives in a piecemeal fashion.

Qualified immunity protects officers from facing civil liability. Even when they violate someone’s civil rights or kill someone, neither victims nor their families can sue. So far, only a few states have curtailed qualified immunity. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 would hold officers accountable. It could add much-needed clarity to a complicated system. Progress in America is an unleveled floor. Without uniform federal reforms, police misconduct persists.

Tensions have been simmering between Black lawmakers and White Republicans of late, especially after a contentious hearing where the House Education Chairman Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, brought up the “good” of slavery, according to reporter Sam Karlin, in The Advocate.

Eleven states once seceded from the United States to form the Confederacy. Louisiana was one of them. Now, over 150 years later, a White state legislator — Ray Garofalo — wants Black legislators to consider the good of slavery. This perspective is dangerous, yet he has the political support of many White people in Louisiana. Because of White supremacist ideology, reform won’t come easily in the Deep South.

In the immediate aftermath of Greene’s death, Gov. John Bel Edwards supported the idea of concealing body camera footage. Now that the public has seen the ugly truth, Edwards has openly condemned the officers’ actions. His statements have stayed true to the Dixiecrat tradition. Edwards failed to address the cruelty of officers before the video became public.

While no one can argue that it’s exhausting fighting for reforms in the South, Edwards cannot have it both ways. Helping to keep the body camera footage hidden and claiming to stand on the same side as advocates and Greene’s family shows a shifting narrative.

The Greene family waited for two years to find out the truth about what happened. Now, Edwards and Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis claim they already made changes. But why should the public believe them after such an extensive cover-up? For too long, the relationship between police and their communities has relied on Black people trusting police departments. However, it is time for police departments to step up and become worthy of the public’s trust. For that to happen, departments with a history of abuse need federal oversight. Historically, oversight has been used as a tool to monitor police departments, particularly when accused of civil rights violations.

Society often asks Black people to trust police departments. However, it’s time for police departments to become more worthy of the public’s trust. America’s judicial system sentences citizens to parole and probation every single day. It’s time for police to get a taste of their own medicine. Federal oversight over state and municipal police departments could save Black lives.

American police kill more citizens than British or Canadian police. Tactics like chokeholds and prone restraint are still legal in many cities and states. Statistics continue to show American police departments act with prejudice. For this reason, all states would benefit from federal reforms that are actually implemented and upheld.

Monroe may sound like a small town, but almost 50,000 Americans call it home, and most of them are Black. Sometimes Americans need to remember Black people exist in these places but hold very little sociopolitical power. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would change the game. The legislation would provide a much-needed check and balance on American law enforcement. Nevertheless, enforcing change never comes easy in the south. There is precedent for such difficulties.

Dwight Eisenhower had to send the 101st Airborne to Little Rock, Arkansas, when Southerners refused to respect the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case. In other words, White people did not want to see Black children in their schools. At that moment, equal rights and the rule of law meant more to Eisenhower than pandering to Southerners. That level of political bravery may once again be necessary if America evolves. If the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act becomes law, it would take a systemic effort to enforce it. To protect Black lives, the federal government would have to use all the tools at its disposal.

Ronald Greene’s death is tragic, but the cover-up compounds their crimes. How can Black people be asked to trust officers who dehumanize them in routine stops? I’m not sure if what we saw in that video is reformable or how many other incidents were hidden or brushed under the rug. White Americans need to stop waiting to see the video to believe these injustices are happening. Police brutality is a cruel part of Black life in America.

Black Americans will not be safe in big cities or small towns until Congress passes federal legislation to address systemic racism in policing. Advocates should take a moment to celebrate widespread local wins but keep their eye on the prize. Only national reforms and enforcement could ensure the Black lives matter in every single ZIP code.

Essayist, Poet, Activist, and Scholar, EIC of CULTURED, Founder of #WEOC, with bylines at Momentum & ZORA ♥︎

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