Black Marine veteran, 68, shot dead by police after wearable medical alert gadget went off in error

The Trayvon Martin story remains in national headlines this week, but little media attention has been paid to a similarly troubling case: that of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., a 68-year-old Marine vet killed in his home last November by police officers in White Plains, NY.

The officers were responding to a false alarm accidentally triggered by Chamberlain's medical alert pendant while he slept. Instead of helping the man, who had a heart condition, they broke down his front door, tasered him, reportedly called him the "n-word" and mocked him, then shot him dead.

Audio throughout the incident was recorded by his medical alert device.

Democracy Now has an extensive segment on the case, including an interview with the deceased man's son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. The New York Times ran a story on the case a few weeks ago.

The police department has so far refused to release the name of the officer who killed the elderly man:

“In the other incidents that you have out here of questionable shootings, the officers' names were given out. So it only makes my family and I wonder why isn’t this officer’s name released?” said Chamberlain Jr. “Had that been myself or any other citizen inside here that shot and killed someone, our whole life history would be on television, on the radio and in the newspaper. I feel that it’s only right, it’s only fair that that officer’s name be released.”

The officer is believed to currently be on duty, still working for the White Plains police. After public outcry, local protests, and an online campaign for case review, the local DA this week promised that a grand jury will hear the case. The family intends to sue.

(via @emeedub)


  1. Fighting the urge to throw up, I can only ask, “How long?”  How long before we white people realize we can’t make our nation, much less the whole world, look like us? How long until we white people can -once and for all- get over this hell-conceived preoccupation with skin color?  How long until we white people get over the demonic conviction that white skin makes us superior?  How long before we white people get over our bitter resentments about being demoted to the status of equality with non-whites?
    How long before we get over our expectations that we should be at the head of the line merely because of our white skin? How long until we white people end our silence and call out our peers when they share the latest racist jokes in the privacy of our white-only conversations?
    I believe in free speech, but how long until we white people start making racist loudmouths as socially uncomfortable as we do flag burners? How long until we white people will stop insisting that blacks exercise personal responsibility, build strong families, educate themselves enough to edit the Harvard Law Review, and work hard enough to become President of the United States, only to threaten to assassinate them when they do?
    How long before we start “living out the true meaning” of our creeds, both civil and religious, that all men and women are created equal and that “red and yellow, black and white” all are precious in God’s sight?

    –Andrew Manis

  2. Sad.

    10 years ago, it might’ve circulated on an email petition, and there would be no audio to hope to listen to.
    20 years ago, it might’ve made the evening news, then dismissed as the victim attacking a police officer who was defending himself at the doorway.
    30 years ago, it wouldn’t have made any news, and the officer would have received special commendation for valor.
    40 years ago, if it wasn’t happening weekly, the Chief would be breathing down your neck for not keeping ‘those people’ in line.
    50 or more years ago, it wouldn’t even have been considered as significant by police departments, just the normal cost of doing business.

    I think things *are* getting better, with more attention paid to these travesties, but damn if it isn’t taking a loooooooooong time for us to value one another.

    1. We can’t allow ourselves to become complacent either. As you’ve noted at least part of the reason things are getting better is because the technology exists that allows stories like this to be told widely and, one hopes, accurately. It’s harder to sweep the facts under the rug.

      Unfortunately the same technology that allows the spread of facts is equally good at disseminating misinformation. The old saying that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on no longer holds. They can both now travel at the speed of light. Now it’s a question of making sure the facts aren’t swamped by everything from irrelevant facts to outright lies.

  3. This man was murdered for the unofficial crime of not cooperating with the police. Judge, jury and executioner (and let’s not forget torturer! they tasered him!) all arrived at his door because his medical alert alarm went off, how can that possibly be justified?

    1.  –  and don’t forget that they had to have known he had a heart condition – medical alert was the source of the call.  
      multiple tasering of an elderly man (its well known that the elderly and young are far more vulnerable to tazers)  with a known heart condition.  if i read the story right the knife doesnt come into it until after he s tasered – unjustified use of deadly force pure and simple. In other words, murder.

      1. Also, in the Times story it vaguely says that while not having a criminal record he “was known to police.”  Which implies that they KNEW his behavior was sometimes erratic, and should have known not to invade his home and violently confront him.  Sadly, it also implies that they chose to do just that because of this relationship with the cops – they deemed him unworthy of care and respect.

        This is a bazillion dollar lawsuit in the works, which the poor White Plains taxpayers will pay for.

  4. Eventually the cops are going to learn to ask first and shoot later, right?  There’s no way they can continue with ‘business as usual’ considering how easy it is for their transgressions to spread like fire around the internet. 

    Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, sometimes I do that. 

    1.  Next time they’ll know to yell “He’s coming right for us!” before shooting just in case there is some sort of recording device nearby. 

  5. When I was in school I noted that it was all of the racist gun nut rednecks who wanted to be cops.  I had hoped this was just a local thing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case does it?  It seems the profession attracts exactly the sort of people who shouldn’t be entrusted with that much responsibility.  While I am sure most cops are upstanding and trustworthy people, they weren’t the ones I knew in school growing up.  

    1. As the post indicates, this is part of a trend of black citizens experiencing police brutality, and receiving neither justice nor attention after the fact. it matters that he was black because the officers called him a n****r while they beat and killed him.

  6. Why were the police the first to show up for a medical alert? Shouldn’t the first responders have been medical personnel, in an ambulance?

      1. I mean, if it had been an actual medical emergency,  the time wasted while the cops canvas the area could prove fatal to the ill individual.

    1. Maybe the police show up in case they need to gain access to the residence, but I was wondering the same thing.

      1. Your point about the need to gain access is one I had not considered, but I still feel that they should have to wait until the ambulance shows up, before they attempt any breach of the property.

        That way, qualified medical diagnosis can take place right away (not to mention more witnesses to the behavior of the police officers)

      2. I am not sure what kind of medical alert device this is. I have an elderly relative that has a deal that hangs around her neck. She pushes the button and emergency services responds. She was required to put a lock box with her key in it outside the door and has the code on file with the fire departments (and probably the police as well). That was part of getting the device. He could have had something similar, I guess.

        P.S. My relative accidentally set hers off to. Fortunately she got a stern talking to and nothing else when the ambulance arrived . . .

    2. Nah, it usually just depends on which emergency responder is closest, I think. I called 911 for a drunk guy who fell down a stairwell at my apt a few weeks ago and the cops arrived first. Sometimes firefighters show up first, if they’re also paramedics.

  7. Poor Amy Goodman must be exhausted. The show’s title should just go ahead and make the switch to Tightening Police State and Continuing Injustice Now.

  8. Why does Janet DiFiore not have an email address on the Westchester County DA’s website?
    This is insane, it really is.

  9. I may be reading too much from ‘between the lines’ here, but I get the feeling there was something personal going on here.   How can they even justify breaking into his home!

    What crime was in progress?  It was a medical alert fercrissakes. 
    Everything about this story is wrong from the get – go.  Since when is it illegal to lock your own door?

    This veteran was expecting to be killed and he was.

    This is very much like a military onsite execution. 
    The perps (officers) should all be in jail.
    The whole dept. should be disbanded and fired, and all barred from being even so much as  crossing guards.

  10. I’d like to be in the room when they were told the audio of the event was recorded. I am sure ‘oh shit’ was the look of the day.

  11. I think he’s saying that people have a moral responsibility to protest against institutionalized racism, and that white people generally shirk this responsibility.   Which is true – looking out for black, brown, and other marginalized populations has been derided for decades as “politically correct,” and plenty of people grumble whenever a story as blatant as the Trayvon case dominates the news.  

    Just look at the comments on the Florida case posted on any major news site, you’ll see a significant portion (at least 10%) of people actually trying to argue “the other side,” as though it’s remotely plausible that it had “nothing to do with race.” It’s crazy.

  12. Holding someone responsible is not the same as judging them. If you are a white person in this society, you are not necessarily a raving racist, you can even consider yourself anti-racist. But that doesn’t change the fact that your life is made easier by the uneven distribution of resources and repression that makes the life of people of color harder.

  13.  Grow up. This guy was shot dead and we’re supposed to care about your feelings?

  14. That’s true, yes, but has nothing to do with the giant bucket of White Guilt that fett101 was replying to, in which white people are crudely, sweepingly stereotyped as “preoccup[ied] with skin color … [holding] demonic conviction that white skin makes us superior … bitterly resenting being demoted to the status of equality with non-whites … expect[ing] that we should be at the head of the line merely because of our white skin … [et cetera ad nauseam]”.

    As if a white person’s racist rant directed at white people somehow compensates for a bunch of white people’s racist murder of someone non-white. As if obsessing like that over stereotyped divisions achieves anything other than strengthening them.

  15. I’m not sure that you could even say that all 200 million (or whatever) whites in America have easier lives based on their race. After all, most poor people in America are white.

    However, it seems like there is plenty of room for agreement that police shooting a 68 year old man in his home while calling him racist epithets without even an allegation that he had threatened them is really really bad and needs to be addressed by the legal system.

  16. No, I think you need some perspective. The entire context that leads the bad apples to resort to authoritarian violence so easily is soaked in racist attitudes.

    And even without a racial element, the violent abuse of authority is pervasive. Tasers have gone from their theoretical role as replacements for lethal force to being something cops use on the public whenever they want. The public they are supposed to serve and protect. Likewise Lt Pike’s mace attack on seated, passive students in CA last year.

  17. Here’s some perspective: if I’d broken into his home and done the same thing, I’d be in prison by now. They wouldn’t need to blow things out of proportion to get that to happen either.

  18. Exactly! Because this is the only case that I’ve ever seen of racial violence against minorities!

  19. It’s absolutely sickening that this happened and how it happened, but it’s a couple cops that did this…not all of America.

    And a couple more cops did something equally horrible somewhere else. And a couple more, and a couple more…

    What we have here isn’t a lone aberration, it’s part of a tragic and ongoing pattern.

  20. Exactly, in the way that everyone just needed to keep a little perspective during Jim Crow and lynchings.

    Just because a few hundred Southerners were in the habit of hanging a few dozen black men a year, doesn’t mean that anyone needed to have a nationwide conference and go nuts. I mean, there were literally thousands of white Americans who weren’t lynching black men!

  21. Yea, I’m afraid James is right. You screwed up on the “appeal to emotion” classification.

    White folks are victims of racism? That’s not a logical error; it’s something that is not the case.

    Oh, you mean that if we keep reminding whites of their racism then they’ll continue to be racists. So, if we don’t mention their racism it will go away. Say, you are a master of logic.

  22.  “Grow up” is not ad hominem unless it is used as an argument.  In this case, it’s not.  “This guy was shot dead” is a statement of fact, not an appeal to emotion (frankly, I think Fett’s angry whitey comment was more of an appeal to emotion).  “We’re supposed to care about your feelings?” is not a strawman because Fett’s getting a butthurt about the implication that white people maybe don’t do as much to stamp out racism as they could.

    Since no one is saying “whites are racist by nature saying so is not a racist stereotype.  And if it means “some whites are factually racist” then this is another simple statement of fact.

    And white folks are indeed not the victims of racism.  Some white folks are perpetrators, all whites are beneficiaries.  Hence the ethical obligation of white folks to oppose racism whether overt or institutional.  Which is, I’m pretty sure, all Millie Fink was pointing out in the first place.

  23. Well, let me show you…

    “How long until we white people can -once and for all- get over this hell-conceived preoccupation…”
    “Once and for all”  clues you in to the fact that he’s talking about an absolute end to racism.  (And as I already pointed out, there is still plenty out there.)   

    By repeatedly speaking of “we white people” (when obviously he isn’t implying for a second that he is racist himself) he’s asserting a group identity and a group responsibility for the racists among us.  Which he eventually makes explicit…

    “how long until we white people start making racist loudmouths as socially uncomfortable as we do flag burners?”

    Now, I don’t think this was the most successful rhetorical strategy, but I think the point is fairly clear.  I don’t see how you got “all white people are responsible for this specific incident” except by lazily misreading.  

    The one twist that I’ll cop to is inserting “institutionalized” racism in there when he seems to be talking about personal racism.  Because I personally don’t think we can reprogram every idiot nor should we try.  But when cops are shooting black people in their own homes with no repercussions we do have a responsibility to ask why the FUCK that is happening. Mainstream America (read: middle-class white people) are unacceptably complacent about it.

  24. White skin does make us superior.  It makes us less likely to be harassed or murdered by police.  It makes us more likely to be hired, and more likely to make a decent salary.  It makes us more likely to go to good schools.

    That is the reality, and there are really only two positions you can have on that reality:  Either it’s an acceptable state of affairs, or it’s an injustice that we must take action to definitively end.

    And no matter what people say, we’re not taking definitive action to end white privilege.  The obvious reason for this is that we feel it’s an acceptable state of affairs.  Maybe we have misgivings, but ultimately white supremacy is something we can live with.

    Imagine that you could be the next one to be killed.  Act accordingly.

  25. I’m not sure that you could even say that all 200 million (or whatever) whites in America have easier lives based on their race. After all, most poor people in America are white.

    And yet, they’ll probably still get more of the benefit of the doubt when walking around dressed like Trayvon Martin f/e.

  26. @Navin_Johnson:disqus  Maybe maybe not. Still, like the Trayvon Martin case people get wrapped up in arguments about collective guilt, race, history, etc. and the old guy who served his country and got shot down in his living room is just sort of an excuse. It makes me pretty uncomfortable.

  27. I’m saying that being white offers up some obvious privilege no matter what your class. ‘Tis all.

  28. I’m not sure that you could even say that all 200 million (or whatever) whites in America have easier lives based on their race.

    Being white isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to things like police harassment. It’s more like a discount card. That is, a white person is much less likely on average to be questioned/detained/arrested/brutalized as a black person would be under the same circumstances.

  29.  “most poor people in America are white” but a lower percentage of white people are poor as opposed to other ethnicities. Most people killed by guns are not in the army does not mean that being in the army does not put you at a higher risk of being shot at.

  30. That’s true, yes, but has nothing to do with the giant bucket of White Guilt that fett101 was replying to,

    “White guilt” is a funny phrase.  I don’t usually feel guilty unless I’ve actually done something wrong.  Something weighing on your conscience?

    As if obsessing like that over stereotyped divisions achieves anything other than strengthening them.

    You’re proposing we ignore them? Worked out well from the 1880’s to the 1950’s, didn’t it?

Comments are closed.