How can anyone ever explain this to Mason?
He’s only 4 months old, so that moment still lies years in the future. Still, at some point, too soon, he will ask the inevitable questions, and someone will have to tell him how his dad was shot to death for being a police officer in Baton Rouge.
Montrell Jackson was not the only cop killed Sunday, nor the only one who left a child behind. Officer Matthew Gerald and Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Garafolo also had kids. And it’s likely that in killing five police officers earlier this month, a sniper in Dallas robbed multiple children of their fathers, too.
So there are a lot of people having painful discussions with a lot of kids just now. But Mason’s father was the only one of these eight dead cops with the maddening and paradoxical distinction of being an African-American man killed in protest of police violence against African-American people. He left a Facebook post that gave a glimpse into how frustrating it was, living on both sides of that line — being both black and a cop and therefore, doubly distrusted.
“I swear to God,” he wrote, “I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.”
“Please,” he pleaded, “don’t let hate infect your heart.”
Nine days later, he was dead.
Counting two New York City policemen murdered in 2014, this makes at least 10 cops randomly killed in the last two years by people ostensibly fighting police brutality. But those madmen could hardly be bigger traitors to that cause.
One is reminded of something Martin Luther King said the night before his assassination, when he explained “the problem with a little violence.” Namely, it changes the discussion, makes itself the focus. King had been protesting on behalf of striking sanitation workers in Memphis when unruly young people turned his march into a riot. “Now … we’ve got to march again,” he said, “in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be.”
These cop killers leave us a similar dilemma. Instead of discussing the violence of police, we are now required to discuss violence against police and to say the obvious: These killers serve no cause, nor does any cause justify what they did. They are just punk cowards with guns who have changed the subject, thereby giving aid and comfort to those who’d rather not confront the issue in the first place.
But if we don’t, then what? One often hears men like Rudy Giuliani and Bill O’Reilly express contempt for the Black Lives Matter movement of protest and civil disobedience; one is less likely to hear either of them specify what other means of protest they would suggest for people whose concerns about racially biased and extralegal policing have been otherwise ignored for decades by government and media. If not Black Lives Matter, then what? Patient silence? Acceptance of the status quo?
That isn’t going to happen, and the sooner the nation understands this, the sooner it moves forward. Sadly, that move, whenever it comes, will be too late for Mason and dozens of others left newly fatherless, sonless, brotherless, husbandless and bereft. Still, we have to move. The alternative is to remain stuck in this place of incoherence, fear, racial resentment … and rage. Always rage.
But rage doesn’t think, rage doesn’t love, rage doesn’t build, rage doesn’t care. Rage only rends and destroys.
We have to be better than that. We have no choice but to be better than that. We owe it to Mason to be better than that. He deserves a country better than this mad one in which his father died, and life is poured out like water.
Jocelyn Jackson, Montrell’s sister, put it best in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s getting to the point where no lives matter,” she said.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, July 21, 2016
So we’re not post-racial yet.
Instead, we are preoccupied with race, chafing along the color line, possessed of wildly divergent views of authority, justice and equality. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in the aftermath of widely publicized police shootings and the attacks on Dallas police officers, 60 percent of Americans believe race relations are growing worse.
Some among us lay the blame for that, absurdly, at the feet of President Barack Obama, who was supposed to usher in an era of peace, harmony and racial healing — at least according to some utterly naive predictions made at the time of his first election. Instead, it seems, his presence in the Oval Office precipitated a furious backlash, a tidal wave of resentment from those whites who see his ascendance as a sign of their decline.
But that’s not the president’s fault. He has studiously tried to avoid stirring the cauldron of race, to bridge the color chasm, to unite the warring American tribes. His only crime is in symbolizing the anxieties of those white Americans who see a black man in power as the bete noire of their nightmares.
It makes more sense to blame the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump, for these troubling times. He enters his nominating convention in Cleveland as the same divisive bully he has been throughout the campaign — a man singularly ill-suited to lead a diverse nation.
Trump has not just pandered to the prejudices of his mostly white supporters; he has also encouraged them with his incendiary promises to limit immigration and his vicious insults of the president, starting with his claim that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump works assiduously to keep us divided, a state that sharpens his political advantage.
But the simple truth is that neither Obama nor Trump created this moment. This unruly time has been more than 200 years in the making. We have not yet put away the old ghosts, so they continue to haunt us.
Take the police shootings that have prompted protests around the country during the last several days. There is nothing new about police violence toward black citizens, nothing unusual about bias in the criminal justice system, nothing unexpected about the institutional racism that conspires to imprison black Americans disproportionately.
Just read Douglas Blackmon’s “Slavery by Another Name,” an account of law enforcement practices in the Deep South following the Civil War. White business owners demanded low- to no-cost labor, and they got it by imprisoning black men unfairly and putting them to work.
To justify their rank oppression and their state-sanctioned violence — black people were lynched with impunity for more than a century — powerful whites trafficked in awful stereotypes about black criminality. Those old biases — those hateful stereotypes — didn’t just fade away with the civil rights movement.
As President Obama put it during his moving and elegant speech memorializing the Dallas dead, “We also know that centuries of racial discrimination, of slavery, and subjugation, and Jim Crow — they didn’t simply vanish with the law against segregation.”
Still, there are many who would dismiss Obama, whose political views demand they grant him no legitimacy. Maybe they’d listen instead to Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who rose to the floor of the Senate on Wednesday to give a deeply personal account of his maltreatment at the hands of police officers.
Scott is a rock-solid conservative who rarely agrees with the president about anything. He is also black, and, as he noted, that’s enough to kindle suspicion from some law enforcement authorities.
“In the course of one year, I’ve been stopped seven times by law enforcement officers, not four, not five, not six, but seven times, in one year, as an elected official. Was I speeding sometimes? Sure. But the vast majority of the time, I was pulled over for nothing more than driving a new car in the wrong neighborhood or some other reasons just as trivial,” he said.
That’s a powerful testament to the ways in which the old ghosts still haunt us, even in an age of a black president and two black U.S. senators. We are not post-racial yet, and until we can confront and exorcise the demons of our past, we will never be.
By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, July 17, 2016
“A Shadow Justice System For Police Officers”: Freddie Gray’s Killer Cops Are Walking Away Unscathed
Officer Caesar Goodson, Jr. is a free man.
A year after 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s life came to an end after he fell into a coma while in the back of a Baltimore police van and the city erupted, Goodson, 46, strode down the courthouse steps and into the next chapter of his life. That the 16-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department broke its policies in handling Gray is not in dispute. That Gray got into that van alive, only to be removed later with a devastating spinal injury, is a matter of fact.
Goodson was behind the wheel of the transport van and was accused of giving Gray what proved to be a fatal “rough ride.” Among the six police officers indicted by a grand jury, Goodson faced the heaviest charges, including second-degree depraved heart murder. Thursday, he became the second officer tried and acquitted of all charges in a bench trial before Circuit Judge Barry Williams.
If State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is trying to represent a new generation in criminal justice reform or even a new chapter for Baltimore law enforcement by bringing charges against the officers in the first place, the new book is reading a lot like the old one—with experts erring little chance of a conviction in the remaining trials given the verdicts so far.
Baltimore officials, including Mosby, had to know what few will admit out loud: Getting a conviction would be next to impossible, especially in a system so reticent to see young men like Gray as victims.
“I think that this is a reminder that there is a shadow justice system for police officers,” said social justice activist and former Baltimore mayoral candidate DeRay Mckesson. “This is a reminder that the work to make police officers accountable at the structure level must continue.”
In fact, there was never much chance that Goodson would ever have seen a day in prison, that a jury of twelve or a judge would ever send him to the state penitentiary—not in a place like Baltimore nor almost any other place in America.
In all likelihood, those six police officers—five men and one woman—will walk away scot free. A third trial ended in a mistrial late last year. Prosecutors say they expect to re-try Officer William Porter. But there is little hope that Porter or the three remaining cops (they’ve all opted for bench, rather than jury, trials) will be convicted of anything. In fact, with the Goodson verdict, those cases are in jeopardy and they may never come to trial.
The officers involved may well have done every single thing the public suspects: Intentionally placing an unsecured suspect in a metal-lined police van and then purposely finding every pothole and sharp turn along the way in an effort to send the shackled black man careening across the steel encasement. Then, according to prosecutors, they denied him immediate medical attention. Gray subsisted in a coma for a week until he died from his injuries.
Goodson reportedly had five separate chances to help Gray after his neck was broken and did nothing. His defense attorneys blamed the judgement of the other officers and even Gray himself, when it was Goodson who had the keys to the van.
Unfortunately, at least on some level, as a society we agree with the defense and think Gray deserved it. When they are black and poor, we are culturally prone to exact a moral examination of the victim.
Injustice is injustice no matter who it touches or who they were in the moments before. But we don’t believe that. He had to have done something wrong, right?
When all is said and done, a negotiated civil settlement—worth nearly $7 million—may be the only justice Freddie Gray’s family ever sees. The plain fact of the matter is that jurisdictions across the country—small and large—collectively pay millions to resolve police brutality cases. All the while, few officers are ever charged, tried, let alone convicted on criminal charges—even when the suspect dies, even when that suspect is unarmed.
Even when that suspect is helplessly shackled in the back of a recklessly driven police van.
The proliferation of video cameras has certainly meant more public inspection and, sure, a few more indictments. Prosecutors, who normally sail to re-election now face an additional layer of accountability. However, as the Eric Garner case demonstrates, video evidence can mean next to nothing in a grand jury room. Unfortunately, the same implicit bias that sometimes fuels the actions of officers also functions to protect them in the criminal justice system.
“The police understand how well they are protected from criminal liability,” Mckesson told The Daily Beast. “Clearly, Freddie Gray got into that van alive and left it with his spine severed and there are six people who contributed to that.”
For their part, Baltimore officials did not admit the officers were at fault. They didn’t have to. The money tells the story. However, if one listens closely, the criminal justice system is saying something else: This is all the justice we have.
By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, June 24, 2016
It was the road sign that made it real.
Josh Venkataraman was returning to the University of Florida, where he is a senior, from Orlando earlier this year when he saw it. “Groveland,” it said.
He had read what happened there in Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Devil in the Grove, for a class a few years before “and it touched me.” But seeing that sign did more; bringing home to him that Groveland was a real and tangible place where a real and tangible atrocity unfolded beginning in 1949. That, he says, was when he knew “I really wanted to get involved and change history, essentially.”
So Venkataraman, who, as a high-school student, won a Silver Knight, a service award given by The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, sought out Carol Greenlee, a 65-year-old consultant in Nashville. Her father, Charles Greenlee, was the last of the so-called “Groveland Four.” He died in 2012.
She admits she was skeptical of this 21-year-old kid and questioned him closely. But when Venkataraman asked for her support in mounting a petition drive on behalf of her father and the other men, she gave it. “I’m in the mode of trying to get my father exonerated,” she explains, “and I need all the help I can get.”
The two of them want one thing from you: your name on their petition. It’s at www.change.org/p/richard-scott-exonerate-the-groveland-four. To reiterate: They’re not asking Florida Gov. Rick Scott for a pardon. They want exoneration — recognition that these men were not just innocent of the crime for which they were charged, but that the “crime” itself never happened.
King details in his book how a young white woman named Norma Lee Padgett concocted a tale of gang rape by four black men. A doctor’s exam turned up no evidence of sexual assault. Neighbors who saw Padgett right after the alleged attack said she was neither disheveled nor panicked. They scoffed at the idea she was raped, but refused to testify for the defense. “Wouldn’t do to be called n—-r lover,” one said.
In Klan-infested postwar Florida, Padgett’s flimsy claim was enough for police to essentially start rounding up black men en masse: Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Ernest Thomas, and Charles Greenlee. The men didn’t all know each other. No forensic evidence tied them to the “crime.” But again, this was Florida in 1949.
Before it was over, a white mob would rampage through an African-American community, one man would be killed trying to escape, three would be beaten and tortured, the sheriff would summarily execute one man, and the remaining two would be convicted.
Carol, born shortly after her father’s arrest, says she grew up feeling a “cloud” over the Greenlee name. When she was young, her mother used to take her to visit him weekly “until he couldn’t take it to see me anymore and he told my mother not to ever bring me back there again.” She didn’t see him again until he was paroled. She was 11 by then.
Here’s why this matters: Some people like to pretend the world sprang into existence yesterday. In an era of mass incarceration and epidemic police misbehavior, they earnestly wonder why African-Americans often don’t trust law enforcement. Here, then, is an instructive reminder, past tapping present on the shoulder — justice denied for 66 years and counting.
“You still have innocent people,” says Carol Greenlee, “innocent black men, every day being rejected, being dejected and being put in prison for things they have not done. So we’ve got to find a way to correct the injustice that a group of people have been experiencing for years. I’m 65 years old and I’m still looking for justice for my father, who was wrongfully imprisoned for something he didn’t do and really didn’t happen. Why don’t you correct that?”
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, September 28, 2015
The trumpets of the thin blue line and right-wing news sources have been sounding, piping out warnings of a “War on Police.” You may have heard it on talk radio, seen it on Fox News or even read it in the New York Post, but now the rhetoric of charlatans has reached me in class at my police academy in a Northern red state.
The War on Cops is a grossly inaccurate response to recent police killings which are on track for another year that will rival the safest on record. Gunfire deaths by police officers are down 27 percent this year, according to the Officer Down memorial page, and police killings in general are at a 20-year low, given current numbers for 2015. Police deaths in Barack Obama’s presidency are lower than the past four administrations, going all the way back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Not a single iota of evidence supports a War on Police, but it has become a battle cry among some in the academy.
Over 80 percent of police departments in the United States are facing issues with low recruitment numbers. As an Iraq War veteran I sought to solidify my chance of employment working in law enforcement by attending a local police academy. I enjoyed serving my country as military police and will do such now as a sworn police officer back home.
What are they telling us in a post-Michael Brown academy? The culture of police brutality is infrequently addressed, but what is continually mentioned is the notion that there is a War on Police. By whom? Depends on whom you ask.
Some instructors blame the Obama administration, which has provided extra funding to police departments to hire Iraq War veterans such as myself. Others, citing news organizations and politicians, try to pin it on the Black Lives Matter movement.
How are they attempting to substantiate this? By highlighting a few high-profile police killings in the past few months, especially the tragic, execution-style death of a Texas sheriff at a gas station. Many activists tried to tie the accused murderer, Shannon Miles, to the Black Lives Matter movement in the immediate aftermath as a motive. He had no ties to the movement.
Miles, however, had been previously declared mentally incompetent.
“The Obama administration and Eric Holder are undermining the police. We have officers dying left and right and he’s dicking off in Alaska,” says one of my instructors, referring to the president’s trip to Alaska last week.
Our instructor is likely trying to warn us to take heed of the dangers of the job, and not expect to be thanked by politicians for doing it. But he has made the government and the people we’re meant to serve out to be boogeymen in the process.
Bad guys have been shooting cops for years, but this is neither a new nor growing phenomenon. A whole generation has grown up knowing the phrase “fuck the police” as a song lyric, a response to the mass incarceration culture spawned from a War on Drugs that numbers show disproportionately and unfairly targets black Americans.
I understand as a law enforcement professional—and as someone capable of fairly reading mountains of data—that the Drug War has been unfairly used as a tool of oppression against the black community. It is why the American public overall has shown they have less confidence in police in recent times.
But there is no War on Police. This Us vs. Them mentality still prevails even in fresh academy cadets. Perhaps some of these people will become future jackbooted, truncheon-wielding oppressors. Or perhaps they will encounter the reality that betrays the fear they are taught.
By: Clayton Jenkins, writing under a pseudonym, is an Iraq War veteran training to become a Police Officer; The Daily Beast, September 14, 2015