Category Archives: Race and the Criminal Justice System

A round of applause for police brutality?

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

With the line of what is acceptable being crossed and then pushed back with each outlandish action from the current White House administration and decency being redefined to accommodate the indefensible behavior of President Donald Trump, it is hard not to become disgusted by the hypocrisy.  I am well past feeling disappointed.  What is acceptable, good and right is being changed with each interview, after each commercial break.  This is democracy.  Truth created by the people for the people.

And true to form, Mr. Trump has been consistent in speech and character, each tweet and speech outdoing the other.  Recently, two speeches warranted statements from the groups he was speaking to, here being the Boy Scouts and then to police officers in Long Island, New York.  While both are disgusting, the latter is deeply troubling.  Because the sitting President of the United States endorsed police brutality.  He told police to break the law.  To which he initially received applause.

Applause.  Agreement with violating the rights and personhood of citizens who may or may not be suspects?  See “innocent until proven guilty.”  Applause.  Affirmation of wrong- doing by those who have sworn an oath to uphold the law– not bring it down to their level and prejudices?  Applause.  Appreciation because the President is saying what you want to say or giving voice to what you really want to do, to some people, to those thugs he mentioned?  Applause.   Permission to incite fear in the residents you have agreed to serve and protect?

And these are police in communities– not soldiers at war with an enemy in a foreign land.  Police officers are patrolling America’s city streets and country roads where persons are driving to school and work, persons who want to make it home to family and friends too.  With or without badges, all of us deserve honor.   But, this is not what the current Commander- In- Chief said.

Persons are worried about his access to nuclear codes but I’m concerned about his access to a microphone and a cell phone, for that matter.  Mr. Trump is far from a role model and certainly not a model president.  Still, persons are hanging on his every word and if this kind of speech is mindlessly applauded, then persons could die because of his words.

With communities living in fear, cases pending and families still mourning the deaths of their loved ones, Mr. Trump says, “Please don’t be too nice.”  With body camera and cell phone footage depicting the shooting death of unarmed American citizens, Mr. Trump says, the laws are “horrendously stacked” against police officers.  His words suggest that police officers should not be held to the highest standard of the law and that we should normalize this kind of bad behavior.  Move the line back.

But, police officers are not judge and jury.  There is due process of law.  And no one has the right to change it to accommodate police officers or a president.  Because then, it’s no law at all.  It is but the abuse of power and the passing of social privileges.

Perhaps, this endorsement of meanness is the counter response to political correctness.  I have heard it said that Mr. Trump speaks for many American people, that he says what is on their minds.  Really?  Fellow Americans would agree with the murder of other Americans without due process of law.  They would applaud that?

That’s crossing a line and that’s not democracy.

Looking into the eyes of the law after the death of Philando Castile

Image result for Philando Castile Crip“I wasn’t reaching for it.”  The last words of Mr. Philando Castile were to his defense.  He wasn’t doing anything wrong and according to him, he wasn’t going to.  Still, he was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer in front of his distraught girlfriend, Diamond and her four year old daughter.

Dead after a traffic stop.  Pulled over for a broken tail light on July 6, 2016 and I cannot get the images and sounds of his tragic death out of my head.  Reynolds live- streamed the exchange on Facebook Live and cameras don’t lie.  But, for some, they do.

The testimony of officers often believed over that of African American women and men, perhaps, Reynolds thought that this evidence would support her claim.  “See.  Look.  Listen. This is happening right now.  And we were all witnesses in real time.”

The historical  and social discounting of the innocence and consequently, the life of African Americans it is not lost on this generation and will not be overlooked. Social media and protests help to keep these stories in the news cycle and the victims of police- involved shootings on the front page.  But, more still needs to be said not in sound bites but in our cross- cultural relationships.

Because it didn’t matter that he followed the officer’s instructions, that he was reaching for his wallet or his seatbelt, that he had a permit to carry his gun (which the officer’s defense team did not want the jury to hear), that he wasn’t running away or towards the officer, that he wasn’t reaching for the officer’s gun.  The results are the same.  On the two year anniversary of the brutal murders of nine worshippers at Mother Emanuel AME Church, news stations reported that the officer charged with manslaughter in the death of Mr. Philando Castile and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm had been acquitted of all charges.  All Charges.  All fingers point back to unarmed Castile.

He must have done something to cause his death.  Check his criminal record.  Release mugshots.  Test him for drugs.  Because there must be something about him– past, present or future– that makes him worthy of death at any moment.  To be socially colored black is to look guilty, right?

Part grief and part disbelief, I still don’t know what to say.  This is not happening.  This cannot be true.  But, this is not an isolated incident.  Is anyone keeping up with the number of connections that are being made, the number of cases that are piling up where the outcome is the same for African American women and men?

But, I wasn’t the only one who was searching for words.  The New York Daily News reported on the silence of the National Rifle Association (NRA), an organization that advocates for Americans’ second amend right to bear arms and to protect their families.  Yet, it is not just the NRA that needs to speak up and address its double- standards but all Americans.  Because it’s not just one rogue police officer, one bad apple.  No, bad apples come from bad trees.

Both police officers and citizens should be given the benefit of doubt.  Because if we are presuming guilt or innocence based on the social construct of race and not evidence, then African American people are never innocent.  And that’s not justice.  That’s prejudice and the continued intentional criminalization of an entire cultural group.

My head is down today because this really hurts.  This feels like betrayal and I don’t know when I will be able to look into the eyes of the law again.  It will certainly not look the same after seeing it from Castile’s perspective.

 

 

Justice runs out of time for Kalief Browder

 

A deeply troubling and painful story to watch, the short life and unfair death of Kalief Browder is shared with viewers in a new 6- part documentary on Spike. If you believe in justice or if you question its credibility, then you will want to watch.  Arrested at sixteen years old after being accused of stealing a book bag, Browder is sent to Rikers for three years– without a trial.  Unable to make bail, he is caught in the system.

This is a true story.  It is an American story.  He will not “live happily ever after.”

The year was 2010. Yes, his story happened not in a distant and disconnected past. But, Browder was falsely imprisoned 7 years ago.  Click here to watch the trailer and perhaps, you’ll want to hear more.

 

 

Who’s the Good Samaritan now?

Image result for shot while running away in chicago
Laquan McDonald, age seventeen, was shot sixteen times by Chicago police officers.

Another day, another police officer-involved shooting. These national tragedies are happening with frightening regularity. So much so that we don’t need narration; we know the end from the beginning: “He had a gun.” “I felt that my life was in danger.” “He looks like a bad dude.”

Release his mug shot. Talk about his past criminal record or his drug addiction. “No charges will be filed but we will provide more training.”

Or, in the case of Freddie Gray’s death, though ruled a homicide, no one is found guilty. But someone did it. I mean, he didn’t kill himself.

Still, our criminal justice system refuses to point the finger at itself. It will plead the Fifth Amendment before it confesses to complicity in these crimes. And this response only increases the lack of trust in the African-American community.

Because when police officers break the law and their comrades serve their own interests and protect them, no one is safe. When police officers break the law, the standard of right conduct and belief in good judgment is lost. When police officers break the law, it calls into question the validity and value of the law. If they won’t follow it, then why enforce it? When police officers break the law, they break the trust of the people.

This country has a police brutality problem. This country has a race problem. And it needs to rid itself of both. Period.

Captured in hash tags like #TerenceCrutcher, whose death has also been ruled a homicide for which Officer Betty Shelby has been charged with manslaughter, their deaths are telling a story that some of us don’t want to hear anymore. For different reasons, we don’t want to hear it again and we are tired of the same comments. Dr. King quotes won’t fix it. And don’t talk about his dream when we allow this nightmare to keep occurring.

Frankly, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been a hash tag too. He was routinely harassed, falsely imprisoned and even subjected to FBI surveillance. He was considered a terrorist and labeled unpatriotic. King was called by then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover “the most notorious liar in the country.” Interestingly enough, the statement was made before King’s trip to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. I guess he thought that King’s statements about the poor social and economic conditions of African Americans were overblown. He didn’t need to start a civil rights movement. This has all been said and done before. #JamesEarlCheney #AndrewGoodman #MichaelSchwerner

Consequently, more sensitivity training and body cameras will amount to nothing if we don’t begin to feel for ourselves the real pain inflicted upon the psyche of the African-American community, if we don’t begin to examine the prejudices and stereotypes that we hold. Instead, we must become something more than an empathic listener because at this juncture, there are no innocent bystanders. We are all witnesses. We need to all testify to this systemic injustice.

The truth is, this has been happening my entire life. #RodneyKing #AbnerLouima #AmadouDiallo The story surrounding Rodney King’s injuries would have been different if not for the videotape of a bystander, George Holliday. It is said that King was hit and kicked some 56 times in addition to being shocked with a Taser.  All of this was done while other police officers looked on and initially none of the officers was found guilty. Cue the L.A. riots.

Abner Louima was arrested and sodomized with a broomstick in the 70th precinct station house in Brooklyn. C’mon guys. That was a lot more than “stop and frisk.”

In the case of Diallo, the police officers thought that he had a gun. Forty-one bullets later, they discovered that it was his wallet. All of the officers were found not guilty.

Yes, this disappointment, frustration and pain runs deep. The history of distrust of police officers goes farther back than my memory. African-American parents have been telling their children to be careful when they leave the house and in certain neighborhoods for centuries. #paddyrollers #KuKluxKlan Forgive me if I decline the invitation for more talk of trust-building because this is not just about trust. In too many instances, police officers are not serving nicely and need to learn to keep their guns to themselves.

Samuel Proctor wrote in his book My Moral Odyssey, “A crucial characteristic of the incubator that fosters the affirmation of one’s personhood is that one looks around and sees in it order and meaning.” But what kind of order does the African-American community see when police officers make false reports, bend the rules and break the law? What meanings are being seared in the minds of the next generation of African-American motorists when they see their family member, friend or neighbor lying dead in the street after a traffic stop? If they have a license to drive, then police officers have a license to shoot and kill them.

Body after body lying in the street, I have what Proctor calls “questions that will not wait.” Today, I am wondering, “Who is the Good Samaritan now?” When an African American falls into the hands of the police, is shot and left for dead, who will come near him, see him and be moved to help (Luke 10.25.37)?

The pastors are silent. #WhiteChurchSilent Many Christians look the other way, shift their feet and the blame. But who will stay and bandage the wound, put him in their car and take him to the hospital? Who will show mercy?

Tomorrow is another chance. Will there be another police-involved shooting of an African American and who will be the Good Samaritan? I challenge you to change the narrative. Because right now, no one is stopping to help him.

*This article first appeared as a part of my monthly column for Baptist News Global and was published on September 29, 2016.

When you can’t look away

Image result for mamie till over emmett till's casketA recent Washington Post article titled “Why white people need to see the searing new African American Museum” featured the image of Mamie Till leaning over her fourteen year old son, Emmett Till’s casket.  After he was kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered during a visit with relatives who lived in the South, Till decided to have an open casket funeral.  She said, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.”

But, how many of these images and now videos have we already seen?  We have hash tags now.  And yet, we cannot look away.  We cannot look away because we need to see that words have consequences.  We cannot look away because we need to see what our words can do.  They are not just nasty words, politically incorrect words, inappropriate words, words not to be used in polite company but they are killing words.  Literal death sentences.

Image result for mamie till over emmett till's casket

They are humanity- denying words for both persons involved.  Killing persons because of the social coloring of their skin or using words that reduce the value of their human life are inexcusable.  It is preying upon and hunting down persons who fit a description, who look like trouble.

A Tulsa police officer witnessing the scene from a helicopter can be heard saying, “That looks like a bad dude” before an unarmed Terence Crutcher was shot and killed.  It should be noted that Mr. Crutcher was not a suspect in any crime but was stopped on the road due to car trouble.  Officer Betty Shelby has since been charged with manslaughter after a review of dash camera footage and her interview.  But, this does not mean that justice will be served since Freddie Gray’s death was ruled a homicide and yet, not a single police officer involved was convicted.

So, the next time you see a racially motivated crime, don’t put your head down or simply shake your head.  And please, don’t look away– because some of us can’t.  We can’t look away because they fit the description of a family member.  We cannot look away when they are our son or daughter, our father or mother, our spouse or friend.

Image result for mamie till over emmett till's casket