So it has been awhile since I have wrote anything and I have a few confessions. I wish I could talk about my busy life and how I haven’t had time to read, research and write. But that would be a lie. Although life sometimes gets in the way, I’ve had plenty of time to read and research the excruciatingly long list of judicial, legislative and political turmoil that plagues our country. Frankly, like many people, at this point I am just burnt out and exhausted. Not necessarily by the volume of news but rather the broad failure of our institutions who are supposed to hold power accountable. So here are some things that have been rolling around in my head:
Freddie Gray, Philando Castile and LaQuan McDonald
I can’t stop thinking about these cases. It’s almost an obsession at this point. If you haven’t done so already, checkout the Undisclosed podcast produced by attorney and 2016 Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace Rabia Chaudry, University of South Carolina School of Law Professor Colin Miller, and associate attorney Susan Simpson. You might remember those names from season one of the Serial podcast The State of Maryland v. Adnan Syed. The current season of Undisclosed is titled The Killing of Freddie Gray, where they take a deep dive into the minutiae.
Ironically, The Root recently ran a piece detailing how Baltimore states attorney Marilyn Mosby is being sued by the very cops she tried to prosecute for the death of Freddie Gray. The officers allege that Mosby maliciously prosecuted them in her attempt at getting justice for Freddie Gray. Their theory of malicious prosecution basically means that Mosby targeted the officers for a purpose other than justice and without any probable cause. Recently, U.S. District Court judge Marvin J. Garbis rejected Mosby’s arguments in her motion to dismiss the case and ordered that even in her role as a prosecutor she must turn over her emails and be questioned under oath. The Fraternal Order of Police have been upset with the way the Freddie Gray case was handled from the very beginning, particularly the states attorney office. Yet, even general counsel for the National Fraternal Order of Police notes how rare officers (or anyone for that matter) are successful at bringing these types of claims mainly because prosecutors are supposed to have “absolute” immunity from being sued for just doing their job. Strangely, outside of the decades of history where prosecutors have never had to worry about being personally sued and taking the stand just for doing their job, judge Garbis is allowing the cops case to go through the discovery phase of litigation and eventually on to trial.
Although Mosby could still win this case is a history altering bombshell. Even if she ultimately wins at trial this case should send shock waves to every state prosecutor in America, that if you pursue tough charges against police officers and are unsuccessful the court will have a petty remedy for dealing with you. Remember, the knock on states attorneys’ offices are that they work too closely with police and they only make a half-ass attempt at prosecuting officers. If there was any doubt before, what reason would a prosecutor have now to take a tough approach at holding officers accountable for their actions – which is literally a prosecutors job – when they know they could turn around and get sued by the cops they are prosecuting. Un-be-lievable.
It is worth noting that I have purposely avoided using any terms that would identify the race of any of these people. Let me be clear though, I whole-heartedly believe that race played a part in the death of Freddie Gray, Philando Castile and LaQuan McDonald. Denying that would be like denying that humans have a role to play in the reason the earth is warming. Oh wait. lol But seriously, I challenge you, if you had to guess the race of individuals in the case of the police officer vs. states attorney Marilyn Mosby what would you guess?
Hold on to your answer because I will come back to it in a second.
One of the many plot twisting takeaways from the research in the Undisclosed: The Killing of Freddie Gray podcast is that during the prosecution of the officers, states attorney Marylin Mosby did not follow up on important leads. For example, there were over 12 witness, many of whom are eyewitnesses, who claim that they were never even contacted by the state prosecutors’ office. In fact, community members who saw, heard or even took cell phone footage at one of the six stops never even testified at trial. Ultimately the primary individuals’ stories that were used to craft Mosby’s arguments was that of the officers themselves and the medical examiner. One eyewitness, Alethea Booze, who was interviewed by police said that she heard Gray screaming in pain – an account corroborated by cell phone footage and other witness testimony. The officers testified at trial that Gray was screaming just to get attention and that he wasn’t actually in pain. After the charges against the officers were dropped by the states attorneys, prosecutor Michael Schatzow who was helping Mosby on the case was asked about Aletha Booze’s claim that Gray was screaming in pain and Schatzow said, “I don’t….that name doesn’t ring a bell with me.”
So lets get this all straight, the Undisclosed research says that we should be skeptical of Marilyn Mosby (or alternatively the state prosecutors in general) because she failed to follow up with witnesses, didn’t call key eyewitnesses to testify at trial, and ultimately swung for the fences by aggressively charging the officers with crimes that she couldn’t make even a fraction of them stick. But on the other hand, news media (The Root and The Marshall Project) write sympathetic stories about how we should feel bad because prosecutors were just doing their job and don’t deserve to be prosecuted by the police officers they tried to charge.
Coming Full Circle
To my knowledge the cops who are going after Mosby for malicious prosecution are not going after any of the other state prosecutors. Just her. If earlier you guessed that Marilyn Mosby is black, you were right. If in fact the Undisclosed research is true, Marilyn Mosby is to the states attorneys office what Ben Carson is to Donald Trump’s cabinet. A token black body used as nothing more than a vehicle to perpetuate whiteness, disguised as a sympathetic figure. If the black news media is correct then Mosby is being used as a sacrificial lamb by a judge who is eager to set a new precedent that black prosecutors, particularly outspoken women, will be dealt with individually for not falling in line. Either way you slice it, black folks are going to take an L.
This brings me back to the whole reason I stopped writing for a bit. The feeling that there is no way to win. The obituaries are full of names of individuals who never had a chance. The streets have been filled time and again with protesters demanding that their voices be heard. But in America what do we get in return? Overt racial bias has turned into implicit bias. We get a senate healthcare bill that kicks 22 million people, predominately low income and elderly, off health insurance and gives a tax break to the rich. We have 18 states (36% of the country) that have Jim Crow style voter ID laws. We have a private prison system that gets paid by the government to help them execute their mass incarceration agenda – predominately brown folks. We have a police force, augmented by the us vs. them mentality promulgated by the executive, that can be so sensitive that any critique is translated as a “war against police.” Black folks went from being labeled as (code word) “thugs” to being told that people fear for their life by just looking at us. We are told that our bone chilling cries in pain, which leave neighbors sleepless because they still hear the screams in their head every night, are just a selfish attention seeking jester. Every pillar of American government, from the heartless legislative branch that goes out of their way to ruin the lives of millions of people, to the executive branch who uses the pulpit to enrich their private business ventures and delegitimize the very institutions that hold them accountable, are an unmitigated dumpster fire.
Lost Files: The Forgotten Investigations
Now look, I understand that I shouldn’t paint all of these institutions and the people that work within them with such a broad brush. I get it, not every police officer is horrible and not every news outlet is fake news. So let’s stick to the facts. The Department of Justice did an extensive investigation into the patters and practices of the Baltimore police department. The DOJ found that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of:
- Conducting stops, searches and arrests without meeting the requirements of the Fourth Amendment;
- Focusing enforcement strategies on African Americans, leading to severe and unjustified racial disparities in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Safe Streets Act;
- Using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
- Interacting with individuals with mental health disabilities in a manner that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
- Interfering with the right to free expression in violation of the First Amendment.
- The department also identified serious concerns about other BPD practices, including an inadequate response to reports of sexual assault, which may result, at least in part, from underlying gender bias.
- Another significant concern identified by the department was transport practices that place detainees at significant risk of harm.
The DOJ also did investigations into the Chicago, Ferguson and Cleveland police departments. Any guesses on what they found? Each of the previous links I’ve provided takes you directly to the Department of Justice website so you can read it straight from the horses mouth. Here is one of my favorite quotes from the Chicago investigation, “When officials spoke to recent academy graduates, only 1 in 6 came close to properly articulating the legal standard for use of force.” So when Rahm Emanual says he’s putting 500 news cops on the street, we know that 83 of them won’t know when the appropriate time to pull out their gun and kill someone vs. when to use deescalation strategy.
Silver Lining: LaQuan McDonald
Recently, news broke that three officers who were involved with the shooting of LaQuan McDonald are being charged with conspiracy to cover up what really happened. Now we don’t know if they will ultimately be successful and we also don’t know if the officer who shot him – 16 unjustified times – will be convicted of murder. Remember, LaQuan was shot by police back in October of 2014. CPD spent over a year in and out of the courtroom trying to prevent the release of the dash cam footage, which we now know contradicts the police reports and is the basis of the cover-up charges. Getting justice might be a long and painful process but these new charges should give us reason to be optimistic. Given what we know of the LaQaun McDonald case, the DOJ investigation and findings on the Chicago police department is starting to sound like a precognitive detective. Now sure “every” and “all” cases against the police won’t follow this predictable script, but this one does.
On the legislative side the death of LaQuan McDonald has challenge lawmakers, under the pressure of community leaders, activist and lobbyist, to change how police do business in Chicago. For example, Senate Bill 1304 which was signed into law sets the guidelines for operating body cameras, creates an officer misconduct database, prohibits the use of choke holds, and requires independent investigators for officer-related deaths. Senate Bill 58 which was signed into law requires drug and alcohol testing of police who shoot civilians. Can we just pause for a moment and ask ourselves why some of this was not happening before? Plausible deniability? If you don’t test to see if an officer was drunk before he shot someone then when they get to court everyone can just claim they don’t know. But that is a whole new can of worms and this is supposed to be the silver lining section. Lol
More Heartbreak: Philando Castile
No amount of settlement money in a civil case is going to erase what all of us saw on that video. Sure, the family was able to squeeze $3 million dollars out of the state. Meanwhile a killer walks the streets. What makes this case particularly disheartening is that the not guilty verdict was handed down by a jury composed of 8 men and 4 women – one black man and one black woman. A jury composed of community members. With a 4 year old daughter in the back seat this jury couldn’t find that the officer discharged his firearm in a way that endangers safety. To date the NRA hasn’t put out a single statement regarding what happened, because you know, the second amendment and stuff. If the community members/jury can’t do right by Philando, at the very least they could look out for his daughter who had to watch her dad die. But apparently looking out for children is asking too much.
Finding Sanity In The Corruption
All of this stuff takes a toll on each of us. I know it definitely takes a toll on me. I find myself looking for alternative ways to entertain myself without getting wrapped up in the dysfunction of the political system. But then I turn on ESPN just to hear how Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job or I see the Chicago Cubs going to the white house – for no other reason other than the owner who cuts their checks and is Trump’s longtime friend is forcing them too. The cubs already visited the white house after winning the 2016 world series. Say what you want Joe Madden, but going to the white house like this is absolutely a political statement. Just like not going to the white house would be a political statement.
The amount of crap that we are forced to digest is almost unavoidable. Netflix series are based on it, music artist sing and rap about it, sports figures can’t untangle themselves from it, and society eats that shit up on prime time television (bachelorette I’m talking to you) and then jumps on twitter to talk about all the crazy they just witnessed. Maybe it is just me. Maybe people enjoying the growing stupidity and progressive polarization of our society. Maybe I am turning into the old man who complains about kids on their lawn.