“Breathe Easy, Respect The Presumption Of Innocence”: A Legal Precept That’s Never Been Terribly Popular
So the latest riposte in the war of t-shirt messages involving police shootings is this, via a report from TPM’s Brendan James:
A cop who owns a clothing business in Indiana has responded to protests over the police killing of an unarmed black man in New York with T-shirts reading: “Breathe Easy: Don’t Break the Law.”
The phrase was a play on the last words of the man, Eric Garner, after he was placed in a chokehold by New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in July: “I can’t breathe.”
Jason Barthel, a police officer and owner of South Bend Uniform, told television station WSBT the shirts were selling quickly.
“We are not here to do anything negative to the public,” he told the station “We’re here to protect the public and we want you to breathe easy knowing that the police are here to be with you and for you and protect you.”
The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, but a grand jury on Dec. 3 decided not to indict Pantaleo in the death. Protesters demonstrating across the country in the wake of the decision have adopted “I Can’t Breathe” as a slogan.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the backlash to protests over the Brown and Garner’s killings is the underlying sentiment that both men assumed the risk of getting blown away by breaking the law. They were not convicted of anything in a court of law, and last time I checked, there is no state where selling black market cigarettes or stealing cigarillos or smoking reefer is a capital offense.
But the painful truth is, presumption of innocence is not a legal precept that’s ever been terribly popular. I may have told this story before, but the crusty old legal aid lawyer who taught the Criminal Procedure class I took in law school told us on the very first day: “Forget presumption of innocence. Your average juror looks at a defendant and says ‘Of course he probably did it. He’s up there in the dock, isn’t he?'” Mix in a little racism with this attitude, and it can provide a free pass for anyone–particularly anyone in a uniform–to get way out of line, since the victim “asked for it,” which means he or she isn’t really a victim at all, right? This needs to change.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 16, 2014
“Racism Is As American As The Fourth Of July”: Despite Progress On Racism, The Uncomfortable Truth Is That Work Remains
President Obama’s observation that racism is “deeply rooted” in U.S. society is an understatement. Racism is as American as the Fourth of July, and ignoring this fact doesn’t make it go away.
These truths, to quote a familiar document, are self-evident. Obama made the remark in an interview with Black Entertainment Television, telling the network’s largely African American audience something it already knew. The president’s prediction that racism “isn’t going to be solved overnight” also came as no surprise.
Right-wing media outlets feigned shock and outrage. But their hearts didn’t seem to be in it. Not after Ferguson and Staten Island. Not after the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. These recent atrocities prompted Obama’s comments.
“This is something that is deeply rooted in our society. It’s deeply rooted in our history,” the president said, in excerpts of the interview that were released Sunday. “You know, when you’re dealing with something that’s as deeply rooted as racism or bias in any society, you’ve got to have vigilance but you have to recognize that it’s going to take some time, and you just have to be steady so that you don’t give up when we don’t get all the way there.”
Patience and persistence are virtues. As Obama well knows, however, we’ve already been at this for nearly 400 years.
The election in 2008 of the first black president was an enormous milestone, something I never dreamed would happen in my lifetime. Obama’s reelection four years later was no less significant — a stinging rebuke to those who labored so hard to limit this aberration to one term.
But no one should have expected Obama to magically eliminate the racial bias that has been baked into this society since the first Africans were brought to Jamestown in 1619. The stirring words of the Declaration of Independence — “all men are created equal” — were not meant to apply to people who look like me. The Constitution specified that each slave would count as three-fifths of a person. African Americans were systematically robbed of their labor — not just before the Civil War but for a century afterward, through Jim Crow laws and other racist arrangements. Blacks were deliberately denied opportunities to obtain education and accumulate wealth.
You knew all of this, of course. I recite it here because there are those who would prefer to forget.
A Bloomberg poll released Sunday found that 53 percent of those surveyed believe race relations have worsened “under the first black president,” while only 9 percent believe they have improved. A 2012 Associated Press poll found that 51 percent of Americans had “explicit anti-black attitudes” — up from 48 percent four years earlier, before Obama took office. All this makes me wonder whether, for many people, Obama’s presidency may be serving as an uncomfortable reminder of the nation’s shameful racial history.
Then again, it may be that having a black family in the White House just drives some people around the bend. Why else would a congressional aide viciously attack the president’s daughters, ages 16 and 13, by telling them via Facebook to “dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar”? The scold apologized and resigned, perhaps without fully knowing why she felt compelled to go there in the first place. For some people, it doesn’t matter what the Obamas do or don’t do. Their very presence is inexcusable. There’s something alien about them; their teenage girls can’t just be seen as teenage girls.
We already know, from painful experience, how our society looks upon black teenage boys.
After reminding the nation that racism exists, Obama went on to express optimism. “As painful as these incidents are, we can’t equate what is happening now to what was happening 50 years ago,” he said. “And if you talk to your parents, grandparents, uncles, they’ll tell you that things are better — not good, in some cases, but better.”
Of course, that’s true. But it would be a betrayal of the brave men and women who fought and died during the civil rights movement to lose our sense of urgency when so much remains to be done.
U.S. neighborhoods and schools remain shockingly segregated. Jobs have abandoned many inner-city communities. The enormous wealth gap between whites and blacks has increased since the onset of the “Great Recession.” Black boys and men wear bull’s-eyes on their backs.
Whatever Obama says about race, or doesn’t say about race, somebody’s going to be angry. He should just speak from the heart — and tell the uncomfortable truth.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 9, 2014
What does the death of Eric Garner, following a police chokehold, have to do with immigration? For House Speaker John Boehner, perhaps quite a lot.
Boehner has been trying to contain the Republican reaction to President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration. Boehner’s hopes of passing comprehensive immigration reform were dashed long ago. But he would still like to mute his conference’s most virulent anti-immigration voices — call it the Steve King caucus — to keep his party from becoming further identified with intolerance. (Thursday’s debate on the “Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014,” a bill sponsored by Republican Representative Ted Yoho, won’t help. It essentially puts the party on record in favor of mass deportation. And the House passed it.)
Republicans are quick to mount the barricades against Obamacare or taxes on high incomes. When it comes to protesting injustice against the poor and marginalized, their reflexes can be unnervingly slow.
Senator Rand Paul shrewdly (and even bravely, despite some dissembling) has tried to shift perceptions that Republicans don’t care about racial minorities, speaking before black audiences and citing his belief, however unreal, that the Republican coalition can bring in a substantial number of black voters in 2016. Confronted by the news of a grand jury’s refusal to bring charges against a police officer who put Garner in a chokehold, however, Paul whiffed. In effect, he focused his outrage on the supreme injustice of New York’s cigarette taxes rather than the loss of a man’s life in police custody.
Boehner’s reaction was both smarter and more humane. Asked about the grand jury decision, Boehner said, “The American people deserve more answers about what really happened here.” Significantly, Boehner also “hasn’t ruled out holding congressional hearings on the matter,” according to BuzzFeed.
Hearings chaired by Republicans would be good for the country and good for Republicans. They would establish precisely what protesters say they are fighting for: an assertion that “black lives matter” to the nation’s leaders and political institutions. At the same time, they would show that Republicans know how to be a party of all Americans, not just the white parts. And they would showcase Republicans grappling with a complex problem instead of unleashing the party demagogues on Benghazi for the umpteenth time.
The timing is auspicious. The Republicans’ aggressive turn against immigrants is highly unlikely to sit well with Hispanics and Asians. Black voters already shun the party by embarrassingly large margins.
It’s not all about political opportunism. Plenty of conservatives are genuinely appalled at the circumstances of Garner’s death. Thursday’s Department of Justice report on the Cleveland police department, released in the wake of a police officer’s fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy there, underscores the need for a serious federal inquiry. Hearings would be good for everyone. Go for it, Mr. Speaker.
By: Francis Wilkinson, The National Memo, December 5, 2014
Missouri is the Show-Me State.
It says so right on our license plates. We Missourians like to think this slogan captures our strength of character, our down-to-earth sensibility and skeptical savvy.
Very different qualities have been on display lately. Missouri has become synonymous with violence and misgovernment in the mayhem that has spiraled since the shooting death of Michael Brown in August.
We’re a national embarrassment. In the days following Brown’s shooting, protesters marched peacefully — and some looted — and police met them with excessive and militarized force.
After the St. Louis County prosecutor announced last week that charges would not be brought against Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Brown, again protesters marched peacefully — not just in Ferguson, Missouri but across the nation — while others looted, rioted and set buildings aflame. This time there were actual soldiers on the streets of Ferguson to face down residents.
The killing of Michael Brown has become a politically divisive issue. In some ways it is a Rorschach test for racial and political points of view. Some regard Brown as one more casualty at the hands of a racist police force that demonizes all young black men as thugs. Others see him as a genuine thug who died in a scuffle that easily could have left a policeman dead instead.
In this charged atmosphere, nobody expected the grand jury’s decision to satisfy both sides — and it didn’t. The quality of the evidence it was shown, it has to be said, was not good. Accounts were contradictory, and in the end the jurors seem to have relied on Wilson’s account most of all.
The mass media coverage, especially the 24/7 cable TV treatment, has played Ferguson for all the drama it can provide. Eventually, the media will tire of the Ferguson story, yet the resentments will remain, as will the conditions that inspired them.
Nobody believes that Michael Brown will be the last unarmed black man to be shot down by a policeman with dubious cause. This happens everywhere in the United States. That’s why, in the days following the grand jury’s decision not to indict, protests and mass demonstrations were held in Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, New York, Denver, Los Angeles and many other cities.
People of every race were among the protesters marching peacefully in solidarity with similar peaceful protesters in Ferguson. Not with the rioters, not with the lawless, but with the far greater numbers that have gathered, peacefully, every day since Brown died in early August.
The object of their frustration is policing that does more to agitate communities than to protect them. People have seen too many instances of questionable encounters between police and people winding up severely hurt or dead.
This is not a new storyline.
What’s new is that many of the protest events were not led by the usual suspects—civil rights leaders, politicians and media-versed clergy. It was young people, 20-somethings often either still in college or recently graduated, who organized protests by tapping networks cultivated previously through social media.
What comes next is crucial. Mass demonstrations serve a purpose, but organizing for change is what solves problems.
The first step in Ferguson ought to be a massive voter-registration drive. This was attempted but wasn’t successful in the initial days after the shooting. The appeal should be simple. Don’t like the elected officials you have? OK, vote them out. Feel that you’re not represented on the city council or in the ranks of the police? Standing in the street yelling won’t accomplish it. You need to make change happen, and voting is the first step.
The political situation in Ferguson is toxic. Like a lot of smaller towns in America, it generates a disproportionate amount of its revenue through fines. Despite a recent decision to eliminate some fines, the city still puts police in the structural role of the Biblical tax collector, stopping and ticketing citizens for relatively minor infractions, and issuing arrest warrants when they don’t or can’t pay their fines. It also so happens that a disproportionate number of tickets are given to black residents. This heavy hand, squeezing citizens for their hard-earned money, is not just or healthy for the body politic. But it’s hard to see how it will be reformed unless the majority in Ferguson first exerts its power and throws the bums out.
Everyday misgovernment does not inspire the outrage that a police killing does. But the resentment it causes year after year adds to the explosive charge when the spark is supplied. Ferguson may have flamed out. It could very well wind up a footnote, a trivia question for future generations. Or perhaps something else may happen. Maybe once all the cameras are gone, local residents, working with national civil rights organizations and others, will do the hard work of taking government back for the people.
Ferguson might then become a laboratory of democracy … and show the rest of the country how to do it.
By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, December 2, 2014
It’s nearly impossible to capture the pain, frustration, and sadness in Ferguson following the announcement that a white cop will not be charged for shooting an unarmed black teen three months ago. But if the faces partially hidden by gas masks and bandanas are any indication, last night’s events can be summed up by one simple word: rage.
“I guess it’s legal for police to kill unarmed black men now,” said one woman, defiant but in despair.
For many of those gathered, the grand jury’s verdict didn’t even really matter—it was the expected outcome of a system that works against them. “We already know what they’ve decided,” said one man outside the Ferguson Police headquarters before St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch had approached the microphone.
A few optimistic souls had not yet given up hope. “It’s never happened, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen,” said one. But when the announcement came, there was no surprise: Officer Darren Wilson will not stand trial for killing a teenager.
The reaction of the crowd wasn’t a surprise either. It started with chants. Then taunts. A few water bottles tossed at police. Tear gas. Smoke. Random gunfire. Arson and looting.
They flipped a cop car and torched it not far from the police station; flames reflected in the glass of storefronts that hadn’t been boarded up in the downtown shopping district, which is dotted with “Welcome to Historic Ferguson” signs. They fled from tear-gas canisters hissing through the air underneath the words “Seasons Greetings” that joined white lights and garlands on street lamps.
The crowd began to chant: “We gonna burn the shit down.”
A few protected stores from fellow residents and one man pleaded tearfully as water bottles flew over his head at police, but a mob mentality took over on South Florissant. That was nothing compared to the utter destruction going on across town. There, on the strip of West Florissant, which is now so familiar to protesters and TV news viewers, the night sky was lit by an inferno. Several, in fact. A storage building became a ghostly concrete frame lit bright orange. A small fire in an auto parts store created explosions that quickly got out of control. Black smoke rolled through the front door and the entire structure was gone to Hell in minutes. Business owners swept up glass in front of their barber shop. Next door, a strip mall popped and hissed as unknown accelerants aided in its fiery destruction.
“This was probably worse than the worst night we ever had in August,” said Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County Police Department, who claimed to have heard 150 gunshots.
In truth, the genesis of these scenes that shocked the country came three months ago when residents of the apartments on Canfield Drive saw Mike Brown lying motionless and bleeding while Ferguson’s cops looked on.
Anger rose through the summer, as the names of more victims added fuel to the fire; starting as Twitter hashtags and making their way on to signs and T-shirts worn by the protesters in Ferguson—VonDeritt Myers and Kajieme Powell. Eric Garner and Ezell Ford. Then last week, a 12-year-old in Cleveland shot dead for holding a toy gun. A 28-year-old gunned down in a dark, New York City hallway by a rookie cop who apparently made a fatal mistake.
They were all Mike Brown, said the protesters. “We are,” the chant goes, “Mike Brown.”
The chanting—so much a part of protests here for the past 100-plus days—was sporadic through Monday night. As looters roamed, you could hear a few of the refrains that have defined this situation, most notably “No justice, no peace.” The phrase took on a greater sense of immediacy as chaotic midnight approached, with the streets belonging mostly to whomever wanted to take them. For a while it seemed like the cops didn’t. The destruction appeared random; it’s impossible to tell why some businesses were spared and others were torched. Although in at least one instance, there was discussion of saving black-owned shops. The Ferguson Burger Bar—a favorite among protesters—was spared despite having never boarded up. Across the street, Ferguson Market and Liquor, the convenience store that was home to Brown’s alleged robbery, was again wide open to pillagers. The tear gas smoke that consumed West Florissant in August—a sign of police oppression for some—was replaced by black plumes coming from the burning businesses.
Protesters simply trashed the place. But I didn’t see any smiles. It was an unfiltered anger that drove them to bust windows and set the flames that would consume a recognizable portion of their community. For the most part, the police simply backed off. And with the streets filled with protesters, gunfire ringing out in the air, the situation was too dangerous for firefighters to do their job.
So Ferguson watched itself burn.
For the young man’s defenders, this country’s sins—past and present—are the reason for his death and subsequent slandering in the media. The loss of his life, and all the others from this summer, back to Trayvon and well before that, are part of a pattern. But for one young woman, who recognized her chance to give a passing quote, Brown’s death is indicative not of an ending, but the start of something. What that is remains unclear.
In front of an engulfed auto parts store, surrounded by mayhem, she shouted five words before disappearing into the crowd: “This is just the beginning.”
By: Justin Glawe, The Daily Beast, November 25, 2014