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“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

June 25, 2016 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Criminal Justice System, Freddie Gray | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Pretty Good Year In A Pretty Bad Century”: A High Point In A Century Marred By The Disastrous Bush Presidency

Imagine the 21st century as a Broadway show. We’re not talking “Hamilton” material. Actually, it’s pretty much a flop. If it were a Broadway show, it would have closed by now.

A year-end 2015 album picture, taken in Paris, showing solemn world leaders gathered to march in mournful defiance of the Islamic state group’s November terrorist attack arrested my attention. There was Germany’s Angela Merkel. There was France’s Francois Hollande. And even Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. But not the American president, Barack Obama. And that seemed strange.

Whatever. But the picture wept. The Islamic State group was our own scary gift to the world, after all, wrapped up during our long war in Iraq; and the tag definitely has George W. Bush’s name on it. Obama has yet to fully face this unforeseen consequence of war, bound to shadow his last year in office. To his credit, he recognizes the futility of going to war once again.

So let’s skip the year in review and go straight to the century in review. It’s a good time to look back over our collective shoulder.

A full 15 years have ended in a pretty pass. At home, we are a nation more roiled by race and police brutality than ever since the 1960s civil rights movement, even with a black president. Income inequality is a plague on our houses. And we are seriously looking at an abrasive reality show host as our next Republican presidential nominee. I mean seriously, folks. Some pundits who urged us onto the Iraq War blithely assert Donald Trump will never win the primary. I don’t put my faith in those wise men. I foresee leading Democratic contender Hillary Clinton facing Trump in the general election.

We’ve seen roughly half and half in Republican and Democratic control this century. Eight years of George W. Bush as president – defined by Sept. 11 and a couple wars – followed by seven years of Barack Obama – defined by picking up the pieces and trying to make peace. A huge economic downturn was also passed along directly from Bush to Obama. The euphoria at Obama’s inauguration lasted about a day in the frigid winter air.

Obama surely deserved better than what he got, but presidents don’t pick their predecessors. Bush had staked all on avenging the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and invested in becoming a “war president.” A Special Forces lightning-like attack on Osama bin Laden, the mastermind, would have been the wiser course of action, as commander-in-chief Obama showed much later. For on 9/11, there was no army against us, just 19 hijackers: Fifteen men from Saudi Arabia, zero from Iraq.

Bush’s slothful insult toward a storied city felled by a hurricane – tipping Air Force One’s wings over New Orleans in 2005 – was the tipping point of his presidency. Suddenly, the dots of his incompetence connected and his approval rating, too, was felled and never got back up again.

Everything that came out of the Bush years – false premises for declaring war, looting antiquities, the Patriot Act, torture, Guantanamo, mass surveillance on citizens, thousands of military and civilian casualties – tarnishes what we are supposed to stand for. In the end, the Islamic State group is the last cosmic slice of “just desserts” for an absolutely meaningless war. Few who thanked soldiers for their service in airports could fully embrace or explain what it was for. Next time, people, get a draft. It’s much harder to go to war with a draft.

As the new century dawned, the omens were plainly ominous. Bush’s victory over Al Gore in late 2000 called into question whether a Supreme Court 5-4 decision is a fair election. It was hard to tell from the timid press coverage, but Gore clearly won the popular vote. Just think how different the last 15 years would have been if the outcome had gone the other way. The peace and prosperity of the Bill Clinton years seem like a dream.

Obama has done much repair work, especially on the economy and foreign policy. In fact, between the Iran deal and the recent Paris Agreement on global warming, the seventh has been his best year in office. In fact, 2015 has been the best year since this century began. But he’s not the best morale-booster. That’s just not his way.

In singing “Amazing Grace” solo at the funeral service of nine murdered black church parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, the president showed amazing grace that moved the nation. For that June day, he became consoler-in-chief. Whether he’ll reach out to the American people to conduct heartfelt dialogues on race in 2016, somehow I doubt it, unless another catalyst arises. An eloquent writer on race in his memoir, Obama seldom put it on the front burner in the White House. But with or without him, it’s a burning subject.

2016, here we come into the maelstrom, a divided country swept by cross-currents. With Clinton in the election cycle, gender may soon join race as a force awakening in the national conversation. Iowa and New Hampshire voters, as usual, will be treated like they know so much. Both are overwhelmingly white states with rural swaths. They do not speak for flash points of violence and pain: Ferguson, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; nor Charleston, South Carolina.

But we can take heart: 2015 was a pretty good year in a pretty bad century, so far.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, December 29, 2015

December 31, 2015 Posted by | 2015, 21st Century, Bush-Cheney Administration | , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

“How Pathetically Low Diversity Is On Capitol Hill”: The US Senate: The World’s Whitest Deliberative Body

In the last couple of years racial politics have dominated our political discourse. Regardless of party affiliation or racial identification, most Americans have probably grown to agree on at least one thing: There are no easy policy solutions for solving America’s racial discord and the inequality that fuels it. But I would go a step further and say this is even truer with the current Congress we have in place. While lack of bipartisanship gets most of the credit, or rather blame, for the ineffectiveness of the American Congress, new data highlight another culprit: lack of diversity among senior Senate aides.

A new report out from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that “(p)eople of color make up over 36 percent of the U.S. population, but only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers.” While the numbers are not good for any ethnic minority population, they are abysmal for black Americans. According to the report, “African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 0.9 percent of top Senate staffers.” This is particularly troubling given how lacking in diversity the Senate already is. There are currently two African Americans serving in the U.S. Senate (Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tim Scott of South Carolina), one Asian American (Mazie Hirono of Hawaii), and two Hispanic Americans (Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.)

But lack of racial diversity isn’t the only problem plaguing Congress. Last year, for the first time in history, the majority of members of Congress reported being millionaires. This in an age in which the median wealth of America’s middle class is just over $44,000.

Now I’m not here to argue that white millionaires should be excluded from Congress. But I am here to argue that they shouldn’t comprise most of Congress.

Why?

Well for starters, ideally we should have a legislative body reflective of the people it represents. But beyond idealism, there is a very real policy deficit we face as a country when we have people who have never experienced problems firsthand, tasked with crafting solutions for those problems.

For instance, for years there has been little done at a federal level to address the issue of racial profiling or police brutality. The reason is not hard to understand: For a white member of Congress who has likely been treated with respect and deference by most members of law enforcement he or she has come into contact with, it’s easy to fathom that he would not consider this a serious or prevalent issue.

Thanks to camera phones, now many elected officials know what black Americans have known all along: There are great members of law enforcement, but there are also far too many who abuse their power and position. Just think for a moment how many lives may have been saved if elected officials, either from their own experiences, or the experiences of their senior aides, had known to prioritize this issue years ago. It is not a coincidence that a black senator, Tim Scott, has been a driving force behind efforts to secure additional federal funding for body cameras for law enforcement to help address this issue.

Similarly, it is not a coincidence that President Obama has made college accessibility and affordability legislative priorities during his time in elected office. Neither he nor his wife came from wealthy backgrounds, and financial aid enabled them both to attend elite universities that allowed them entrée into the halls of power in which they now reside. Is it possible that another president could have been knowledgeable on this issue? Sure. But consider this: Gov. Mitt Romney, President Obama’s opponent in the last presidential election, came from a wealthy and prominent family, so he never endured the hardship of not knowing whether he would graduate college because of his financial status—something I and millions of other Americans have endured.

To be clear, the issue of diversity, or rather lack thereof, within the Senate is not party specific. The Joint Center report notes that while African Americans vote overwhelmingly Democratic, black Americans comprise just .7 percent of top Democratic Senate posts. It could be argued that lack of diversity among Senate aides is even more problematic than lack of diversity among elected officials because senior aides do much of the heaving lifting when it comes to actually writing legislation. So what can be done to change things?

For starters, elected officials and the parties that support them need to make a concerted effort to diversify their internship pools. As someone who started her career as an intern, I speak from experience when I say it is not uncommon to see the most plum internships for prominent candidates and in prominent offices become a resting place for the children of political donors and their friends. These internships can often serve as a pipeline to jobs in the Senate or the White House down the road.

Additionally, both major parties need to begin setting aside some of the money they reserve for attack ads on each other for money to be spent on well-paid racial and class diversity fellowships. Very few young people, except the children of wealthy donors or the wealthy period, can afford to work on campaigns for next to nothing and live with the financial instability early campaign life provides.

But I would say the real responsibility falls into the hands of those of us who claim we’re fed up with our do-nothing Congress. If we’re not happy with them, simply threatening to throw them out during the next election cycle is not enough. We should be asking them the right questions while they’re there representing us. But how many of us bother to ask who our elected officials hire once they get in office? And whether those people are representative of us and have our best interests at heart? In the same way we demand our elected officials keep us updated on their legislative accomplishments, why don’t we demand more regular transparency on who they are surrounding themselves with?

For anything to really change, more of us fed up non-millionaires need to be willing to run for office, or encourage someone we trust to. Or at the very least we need to tell as many bright, young people from underrepresented groups that we can that if they really want to make a difference instead of just expressing outrage on social media, they should become a Senate aide.

 

By: Keli Goff, The Daily Beast, December 27, 2015

December 28, 2015 Posted by | Diversity, Racial Inequality, Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time To Ban Guns. Yes, All of Them”: Urgently Needs To Become A Rhetorical And Conceptual Possibility

Ban guns. All guns. Get rid of guns in homes, and on the streets, and, as much as possible, on police. Not just because of San Bernardino, or whichever mass shooting may pop up next, but also not not because of those. Don’t sort the population into those who might do something evil or foolish or self-destructive with a gun and those who surely will not. As if this could be known—as if it could be assessed without massively violating civil liberties and stigmatizing the mentally ill. Ban guns! Not just gun violence. Not just certain guns. Not just already-technically-illegal guns. All of them.

I used to refer to my position on this issue as being in favor of gun control. Which is true, except that “gun control” at its most radical still tends to refer to bans on certain weapons and closing loopholes. The recent New York Times front-page editorial, as much as it infuriated some, was still too tentative. “Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership,” the paper argued, making the case for “reasonable regulation,” nothing more. Even the rare ban-guns arguments involve prefacing and hedging and disclaimers. “We shouldn’t ‘take them away’ from people who currently own them, necessarily,” writes Hollis Phelps in Salon. Oh, but we should.

I say this not to win some sort of ideological purity contest, but because banning guns urgently needs to become a rhetorical and conceptual possibility. The national conversation needs to shift from one extreme—an acceptance, ranging from complacent to enthusiastic, of an individual right to own guns—to another, which requires people who are not politicians to speak their minds. And this will only happen if the Americans who are quietly convinced that guns are terrible speak out.

Their wariness, as far as I can tell, comes from two issues: a readiness to accept the Second Amendment as a refutation, and a reluctance to impose “elite” culture on parts of the country where guns are popular. (There are other reasons as well, not least a fear of getting shot.) And there’s the extent to which it’s just so ingrained that banning guns is impossible, legislatively and pragmatically, which dramatically weakens the anti-gun position.

The first issue shouldn’t be so complicated. It doesn’t take specialized expertise in constitutional law to understand that current U.S. gun law gets its parameters from Supreme Court interpretations of the Second Amendment. But it’s right there in the First Amendment that we don’t have to simply nod along with what follows. That the Second Amendment has been liberally interpreted doesn’t prevent any of us from saying it’s been misinterpreted, or that it should be repealed.

When you find yourself assuming that everyone who has a more nuanced (or just pro-gun) argument is simply better read on the topic, remember that opponents of abortion aren’t wondering whether they should have a more nuanced view of  abortion because of Roe v. Wade. They’re not keeping their opinions to themselves until they’ve got a term paper’s worth of material proving that they’ve studied the relevant case law.

Then there is the privilege argument. If you grew up somewhere in America where gun culture wasn’t a thing (as is my situation; I’m an American living in Canada), or even just in a family that would have never considered gun ownership, you’ll probably be accused of looking down your nose at gun culture. As if gun ownership were simply a cultural tradition to be respected, and not, you know, about owning guns. Guns… I mean, must it really be spelled out what’s different? It’s absurd to reduce an anti-gun position to a snooty aesthetic preference.

There’s also a more progressive version of this argument, and a more contrarian one, which involves suggesting that an anti-gun position is racist, because crackdowns on guns are criminal-justice interventions. Progressives who might have been able to brush off accusations of anti-rural-white classism may have a tougher time confronting arguments about the disparate impact gun control policies can have on marginalized communities.

These, however, are criticisms of certain tentative, insufficient gun control measures—the ones that would leave small-town white families with legally-acquired guns well enough alone, allowing them to shoot themselves or one another and to let their guns enter the general population.

Ban Guns, meanwhile, is not discriminatory in this way. It’s not about dividing society into “good” and “bad” gun owners. It’s about placing gun ownership itself in the “bad” category. It’s worth adding that the anti-gun position is ultimately about police not carrying guns, either. That could never happen, right? Well, certainly not if we keep on insisting on its impossibility.

Ask yourself this: Is the pro-gun side concerned with how it comes across? More to the point: Does the fact that someone opposes gun control demonstrate that they’re culturally sensitive to the concerns of small-town whites, as well as deeply committed to fighting police brutality against blacks nationwide? I’m going to go with no and no on these. (The NRA exists!)

On the pro-gun-control side of things, there’s far too much timidity. What’s needed to stop all gun violence is a vocal ban guns contingent. Getting bogged down in discussions of what’s feasible is keeps what needs to happen—no more guns—from entering the realm of possibility. Public opinion needs to shift. The no-guns stance needs to be an identifiable place on the spectrum, embraced unapologetically, if it’s to be reckoned with.

 

By: Phoebe Maltz Bovy, The New Republic, December 10, 2015

December 11, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Lives Of America’s ‘Others'”: Requires A Reassessment Of American Values And A Realignment With Reality Today

American discourse often splits along enduring fault lines: Republican and Democrat; majority and minority; citizen and foreigner. Yet our newest fault line is more troubling, intractable, and toxic.

Over the last year, America’s politics and social discourse have grown increasingly unsettled as an array of cracks and fissures became evident in the country’s social contract. Across a wide range of issues, Americans today are confronted by the vocal demands or concerns of “Others,” those sitting outside the cultural and political status quo who feel abandoned, ignored, or attacked by the country’s stakeholders.

These Others are not a cohesive group, nor do they necessarily have anything in common with one another, but their presence and the uncomfortable nature of the issues they raise has fractured the general national dialogue.

Prominent Others include the #BlackLivesMatter protestors challenging police brutality in inner cities and the students taking over college campuses to protest unfair racial norms. They include the Planned Parenthood employees targeted with violence and invective for doing their jobs. And they include Syrian refugees, fleeing a vicious, self-destructive war, who seek to build new lives in the U.S.

The shift in focus this year is uncomfortable for everyone who identifies themselves as being on the inside of the status quo, because it is not a matter of finding a legislative solution or developing a public-private partnership. Americans and our elected leaders would prefer to confront and debate generically universal issues such as unemployment, economic competitiveness, homelessness, and access to education, rather than issues defined by differences in identity, skin color and religion.

The schism wrought by the Others requires a reassessment of American values and a realignment with reality today. But except in isolated instances, we are failing to address these issues in a substantive, productive manner, choosing instead to retreat into to the warm security blanket of a prosperous status quo.

Nowhere is this unwillingness to understand or engage with the Other more starkly evident than in the Republican presidential primary, which has become a populist weather vane for blaming and demonizing the full array of “Others” for America’s ills. Complaints once aired exclusively on the Rush Limbaugh Show have now become talking points to denigrate legitimate concerns and grievances.

Yet pointing fingers at Republican politicians and primary voters alone is a partisan copout. Mainstream America–literally encompassing everyone who has succeeded within the current status quo, including President Barack Obama–is struggling to comprehend and keep up with the upending of a tacit agreement to avoid full-blown confrontations over the needs of Others. The historical passivity and tunnel vision perspective of America’s problems explains why we were caught off guard by the intensity of #BlackLivesMatter and related movements, by the continued existence of anti-abortion terrorists, and by the renewed rejection and demonization of an entire religion.

As recently as last year, firmly establishing a group as an Other made it easier to justify ignoring their needs or rejecting their American-ness. We cannot ignore this array of unrelated challenges to our social fabric; but we must recognize that there are no simple, easy solutions to any of these problems–we waited for them to resolve themselves and that didn’t happen.

In a Midwest restaurant last week, an Indian-American friend was derided by a stranger as a terrorist because of his skin color. The bigot who made the comment didn’t know that my friend was a lawyer. Or a military officer. All he knew was that he seemed like one of the Others. The consequences to keeping groups of people on the outside of the status quo extends far beyond the incomplete debate that ensues; it eventually trickles down to affect even those who are established within American society and do not see themselves as Others.

We are reaching a contemporary inflection point where a significant number of Americans or people who dream of becoming Americans no longer feel welcomed or understood in this country. There is a prevalent sense of alienation among many who could be categorized as Other. And it won’t be dealt with by a partisan sound bite, by giving in to fear and hatred, or by sticking our heads in the sand.

Confronting the wants and needs of Others is uncomfortable. It doesn’t necessarily end with full-blown agreement. We cannot expect to achieve racial harmony, social accord, or multicultural interfaith cooperation. But the comfort currently provided by the status quo will prove to be futile and fleeting if too many Americans or aspiring Americans believe the country refuses to look out for their needs and interests.

We don’t need to solve everyone’s problems. Some problems may not be ours to solve. But we do need to accept that the existence of these Others and their concerns is not itself a problem. Their issues should be mainstream issues. If we truly seek, in the words of Donald Trump, to “make America great again,” the lives of Others must once again become the lives of Americans.

 

By: Brian Wagner, The National Memo, December 2, 2015

December 3, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Republicans, The Others | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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