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A Tucson Cop Murdered A Disabled Man in A Wheelchair

Richard Lee Richards, a disabled man in Tucson, Arizona was fatally shot in the back by a cop after he allegedly stole a toolbox. Yet Joe Biden still went through with plans to make the Tucson police chief his new Border Patrol director. This is further evidence that the Democratic Party wants Black Lives Matter protesters off the streets but doesn’t intend to actually stop police brutality.

Daniel Werst

December 12, 2021
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A police officer approaches police tape around a Lowe's
Photo Credit: NBC News

On November 29, policeman Ryan Remington killed 61-year-old Richard Lee Richards by shooting him in the back nine times outside the doorway of a Lowe’s Garden Center in Tucson, Arizona. Richards, who was in a motorized wheelchair, had allegedly stolen a toolbox from the Walmart nearby. 

The Tucson Police Department (TPD) said that when a Walmart employee and the cop confronted Richards outside the store and demanded to see a receipt, he pulled out a knife and threatened them. The TPD has released selected sections of videos from the shooting. However, none of the selected recordings show Richards brandishing a knife, and the alleged Walmart employee witness has not spoken publicly.

As Richards approached the nearby Lowe’s store, Stephanie Taylor, another cop, arrived on the scene. Her body camera video shows Remington killing Richards. Remington walked up to Richards from behind and ordered him to stop. When Richards did not obey, Remington opened fire and rapidly shot Richards in the back and side eight times from just five feet away. He briefly paused and then deliberately shot Richards a ninth time.

After being shot, Richards dropped several items on the ground, including what from the body camera video may have been a knife with a blade of about four inches. Seconds after Richards tumbled from his wheelchair onto the ground, Remington rushed to twist his arms behind his back and handcuff his dead body. Multiple police then made a show of purportedly attempting to give medical aid to the man who had just been shot nine times.

Remington never moved in front of Richards’ slow-moving wheelchair or took action to evacuate employees and customers from the area. A video shows that he actually fired in the direction of the store while an unsuspecting Lowe’s worker was standing a short distance inside the doorway.

Biden Presents TPD Chief as a “Good Cop” to Lead U.S. Border Patrol

TPD chief Chris Magnus immediately declared that Officer Remington’s actions violated department policy and announced that he had initiated proceedings to fire Remington. Mayor Regina Romero also condemned Remington’s actions as “indefensible.”

Remington’s lawyer, Mike Storie, responded by publicly insisting that Remington was justified in killing Richards in order to remove a “serious and imminent deadly threat.” He even argued that Remington had to shoot Richards because his wheelchair blocked the cop from hitting him with his taser. Storie announced that Officer Remington plans to appeal against his firing.

Magnus has made a great show of immediately saying the killing was wrong. But he himself has been in control of the police force where Remington learned to act in this draconian manner for the past five years. President Joe Biden nominated Magnus in April to become the new head of the U.S. Border Patrol, and on December 7, a week after Richards’ murder, Senate Democrats confirmed him to that position. Magnus criticized Donald Trump’s immigration policies and claimed to support the Black Lives Matter movement — presenting himself as a progressive, honest, reformer cop. Condemning Officer Remington for violating police policy but stopping short of accusing him of murder provided Magnus with damage control that allowed him to be confirmed. 

Biden is promising to create a kinder, gentler Border Patrol, but there is no reason to believe this will happen. There is no kind and gentle way to deny people sanctuary who are fleeing violence and economic hardships as a result of U.S imperialism. In October, Magnus told a Senate committee, “We need to enforce the law,” but with “a process that’s humane and efficient.” Preventing immigrant workers from freely exercising their right to move always involves violence. Magnus went on to say he supports building additional border wall in some areas – which kills people by forcing them to travel long distances through the desert – and that he fully supports Title 42, a policy used by both Trump and Biden to immediately deport immigrants who cross the border, without allowing them to apply for asylum — by declaring them a COVID threat. It is public record that from October 2020 through September 2021, Border Patrol arrested 1.7 million immigrants on the U.S.-Mexico border and rapidly deported a majority of them. Biden is telling us he is for progressive border enforcement while continuing to act as the deporter-in-chief. 

Magnus promised at the October Senate hearing that he was committed to ensuring that people under arrest are treated fairly. But Richard Lee Richards is the second person in just two years to be murdered by police under his command. In April 2020, Tucson cops killed 27-year-old Carlos Ingram-Lopez while arresting him at his grandmother’s home as he was having a mental health crisis. They then laid him on his stomach on a concrete floor with his hands cuffed behind his back, covered his head with a cloth, and ignored his pleas that he could not breathe. After being held in this position for twelve minutes, Ingram-Lopez suffocated to death. Two months later, because of the political situation created by millions of people protesting against the murder of George Floyd, Magnus–in a perfomative gesture–publicly offered to resign if Mayor Regina Romero wished, but she announced that she wanted him to continue as police chief because she felt he had “built strong relationships with our community” and carried out “forward-thinking” police reform.

Biden is advertising his selection of Magnus to lead Border Patrol as a step to make border enforcement more humane. But Magnus’s record commanding the Tucson Police Department strongly suggests that his promises of more liberal policing do not prevent police violence. While Fox News has reported that many pro-Trump Border Patrol agents hate Magnus, it is likely that his televised promises to respect the rights of people under arrest can be used as a tool to deflect criticism and attention from Border Patrol as they continue to hunt people in the desert, jail them, and deport them.

Racism and Richards’ Murder

Richard Lee Richards’ actual “crime” was disobeying orders from a cop while also being poor and disabled. Richards was white, and most people murdered by U.S. police are Black and Brown. But working-class, and especially disabled, white people are also struck by arbitrary police violence. The police are taught to protect property and “order” and to believe they have the right to use brutal force against those they consider to be part of an under-class or to be defying their authority. There are many examples of police murders of white people, such as Hunter Brittain, an unarmed 17-year-old who was shot dead by Arkansas State Police while trying to get his pickup truck fixed at an auto shop, and Ethan Saylor, a man with Down’s Syndrome who was choked to death by police in Frederick, Maryland, when he stayed in a movie theater to watch a second showing of a movie without paying.

Often, cops justify the murders they commit by saying that they felt threatened and feared for their lives leaving them no other option but to kill their victims. The alleged threat posed by the deceased is then amplified by police associations and capitalist media highlighting their criminal, mental health, or substance use histories to further justify their murders–as in the case of Richards. The facts show that regardless of his past incarceration, Richards – in his motorized wheelchair – was simply not in a position to harm anyone. He could have been stopped very easily with no deadly force.

In a racist capitalist system built to value profits over people, we cannot accept Remington’s murder of Richard Lee Richards as another case of one “bad apple” who “violated department policy.” The police as an institution and policing as an activity produce cop crimes like this. Both capitalist parties tell us that cops “protect and serve” regular people. Yet in this case, police were more interested in protecting Walmart from losing a toolbox and not at all interested in taking easy, positive actions to prevent violence and protect people. We know cops initiate violence rather than prevent it. Four police murdered George Floyd when the only thing he was accused of was spending a counterfeit $20 bill. A gang of NYPD cops murdered Eric Garner when he was selling single cigarettes on a street corner.

Support for the Police is a White Nationalist Poison

When I joined picket lines with John Deere workers on strike in Iowa last month and discussed the Black Lives Matter movement with some white strikers, some of them vehemently supported the standard arguments against victims of police murder. One man agreed that Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd but adamantly asked, “Was he compliant?” – that is, while he was handcuffed. Another white male striker supported the cop who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back, paralyzing him, when he attempted to enter his car. This worker insisted that police have the right to shoot someone at any time if “they feel threatened.” The striker who blamed George Floyd for his own murder told me he believes “human nature” makes “the rule of law” essential while he was standing on the sidewalk next to a Deere factory gate that his union was unwilling to block – because blocking company property to stop production by scabs is against the law.

White workers accepting racist and authoritarian ideology means both betraying Black and Brown workers and embracing the legal system that would be used against them in a more militant strike. Racist patriotism convinces white workers who embrace it to accept capitalism as fair and reasonable even if they themselves may work sixty-hour weeks in grinding jobs with inadequate benefits – for white capitalists who make billions in profits off of their labor. I would like to note that some conservative white strikers were willing to seriously think about arguments for why closed borders are inherently unjust, and some younger white strikers were quick to condemn naked cases of police brutality against Black people. But much of the dominant “common sense” across the United States cripples the working class and protects the capitalist system by convincing so many white workers to defend and be proud of oppression – while denying it even exists.

Straight-up “blue lives” propaganda and the position of the Democratic Party that police funding should be beefed up, while promising that most cops truly want to “protect and serve,” have effected a huge pushback against the ideas of the 2020 Black Lives Matter mass protests. Support for the cops means not asking what about their professional role conditions so many of them to execute people at the drop of a hat — why they place so many Black, Latinx, poor, and disabled people into a category of contempt in which they believe they can issue orders and kill those who do not unquestioningly submit.

The whole policing system created the situation in which Officer Remington chose to arbitrarily execute Richard Lee Richards. Reportedly, a few days after the murder, over one hundred people marched through downtown Tucson denouncing the police, with participation by local anarchists.

People should protest and shut down the streets of Tucson and other cities. Under Joe Biden’s presidency, protests against police murder and systematic racism have been subdued. Celebrity organizers and Democratic Party NGOs have successfully argued to the millions of BLM marchers of 2020 that we do not need to confront the police and the authorities — that if we elect Democrats, then they will reform the system.

But in this maneuver, what has happened? There are no sizable member-controlled political organizations of oppressed people and workers anywhere in the United States. Political thinking, organizing, and journalism in social movements – as in labor unions – remain the domain of a professional social layer of hacks who have cushy jobs — and see success as being friends with Democratic politicians regardless of police crimes continuing in the real world. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) did not take substantial action to participate as a visible organization in the 2020 BLM protests, to amplify opposition to the policing system, or to help connect BLM to workplaces and unions. And the DSA has not called any nationwide protests in the past year over major issues such as the acquittal of anti-BLM murderer Kyle Rittenhouse or the likely overturning of abortion rights by the U.S. Supreme Court.

These dynamics have demobilized and demoralized many radicalizing people. To fight against police brutality, we need a revolutionary socialist party to mobilize against and overthrow the entire racist capitalist system. Such a party must be based on exponentially growing activity, intellectual and physical, political and economic, of working and oppressed people. We must mobilize not only in the streets but also in our communities and workplaces. What we do today will shape what we can do tomorrow. We must be consistent about what we are fighting against and for. We cannot work with Democrats who financially and verbally support the police — not because we have a fetish for political “purity” but because this will build organizations more invested in partnership with liberal officials than working class struggle against the bloody, racist, and sanctimonious U.S. state. Liberation and socialism will be achieved by muscular working class rebellion, not negotiations of progressive Congresspeople with liberal Congresspeople inside an undisrupted U.S. government with undisrupted votes for police, prison, and military funding.

Rosa Luxemburg once said, “The most revolutionary thing one can do is always to proclaim loudly what is happening.”

Justice for Richard Lee Richards!

Abolish the police!

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Daniel Werst

Daniel is a teacher, former carpenter, and long-term socialist living in Indianapolis.

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