The FBI has launched a criminal civil rights investigation of the death of Derek Williams, a young black man who died in police custody in Milwaukee.
Derek Williams was arrested under suspicion of robbery in July 2011. According to recently released video, for eight minutes in the back of a police car police officers ignored Williams’s gasps for breath and begging for help. His death, originally labeled natural, was declared a homicide after a newspaper investigation; when his death was reclassified, the district attorney requested a special prosecutor to lead an inquest into Williams’s death and see if criminal charges were warranted.
The Milwaukee police department has a history of civil liberties violations and blatant racism, including detaining the mother of a slain boy of color, illegal rectal searches of suspects, and reporting inaccurate crime statistics. Therefore, the FBI will be conducting a “pattern and practice” investigation, in which it looks throughout the police department in everything from hiring practices to police use of force for evidence of systematic racism. Personally, I’d be surprised if there were a police department in America that wouldn’t be found to be systematically racist, particularly against young black and Hispanic men, but that’s just my cynicism talking.
I am heartened, however, to discover that his death is warranting an investigation. It won’t bring Williams back, but with luck it will provide an appropriate punishment to those responsible for his death, which means that some bad cops will be off the street and that other police officers will think twice before ignoring the cries for help of a fellow human being.
RIP, Derek Williams. I sincerely hope that you will receive justice.