The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Michael Brown’

SOME THOUGHTS ON GRAND JURIES AND JUSTICE

The Grand Jury system comes to us from England where it was implemented by Henry II in 1166.  So named because there are more jurors than a normal panel of twelve (a petit jury), its proceedings are done in secret.  If we were previously unaware of how these juries deliberate, that has been dispelled with the notable reportage on the events in Ferguson, MO and New York City.

One of the king’s motivations in using this secretive jury was to be able to ramrod indictments against those whom the crown wanted to prosecute.  I won’t repeat the much used phrase which explains how easy it is for a prosecutor to get an indictment from such a jury for fear of offending our Muslim neighbors.  That in fact, particularly in the Ferguson case, no such indictment was handed down has caused many to question the reason that occurred.  It is at this point that the facts seem to separate from the emotions and some people choose to infer motivations from the actions of the District Attorneys who were involved in presenting the cases.

Surprisingly, one of the greatest claims by those who reject the St. Louis County Grand Jury’s decision is that the system does not provide transparency.  Well, that is certainly true – and the system is designed in just such a manner,  Attorneys for the Brown family are outraged and believe that an indictment should have been handed down and that a public trial should have been conducted.  In fact, they believe the District Attorney should not have bothered with a Grand Jury but moved directly to trial.  That would certainly provide greater transparency, but one has to wonder whether it would have resulted in a different conclusion.

The level of proof necessary to obtain an indictment from a Grand Jury is far lower than that to convict, “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  There have been witnesses, notably Dorian Johnson who initially made the claim that Michael Brown was running away with his hands raised when he was shot in the back by Officer Wilson – testimony that was disproven by the forensics.  Mr. Johnson also changed other parts of his story in subsequent interrogations.  A reasonable person, even without referring to his own personal run ins with the law, might question his veracity as a witness.

On the other hand, six African-American witnesses testified to the Grand Jury that Mr. Brown was charging toward Officer Wilson when the fatal shot was fired.  They further concurred that they heard the officer order him to stop on two occasions – orders which Brown ignored.  Obviously, there is a vast difference between these two accounts.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that in the Brown case the DA had followed the advice of the Brown family attorneys and gone directly to trial.  Given the glaring conflict in witness testimony, there are two possibilities that the trial jury would return a guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt – “Slim” and “None.”  But the people of St. Louis County would have had to bear the expense of a trial, the cost of additional and ongoing law enforcement presence throughout that trial – and probably the same amount of damage by way of looting and burning because the only “fair” verdict that those who see themselves as being “Brown supporters” will accept is one of “guilty.”

All of this begs the fundamental question – should we be fearful of authority abusing its power over the citizenry?  That is a question that exceeds the particular of race. If we accept, for sake of argument, that people of certain races are “targeted” and we allow that to continue with impunity, then we open ourselves to the possibility of belonging to some particular group which will subsequently fall into disfavor and be equally subject to that sort of persecution.

This is far more dangerous than what we saw in Ferguson or New York because it is an endorsement that people should have the ability to pick and choose the laws they wish to observe and those they choose to ignore.  Sadly, that is precisely the path that both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have been following during their time in office.  When lawlessness is endorsed in actions by those whose jobs are to ensure that we are truly a “nation of laws,” then they give tacit endorsement to others to be law breakers themselves.

Let the riots, lootings and burnings begin.  Perhaps that’s what’s written on the Christmas cards the White House is sending out this year.

HO, HO, HO!

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YOU DIDN’T BUILD THIS

TO THE RIOTERS IN FERGUSON, MO:

YOU DIDN’T BUILD THIS:

 

 

OR THIS:

 

Ferguson

 

BUT YOU DID DESTROY THE LIVES AND LIVELIHOODS OF THE PEOPLE WHO DID.

 

Photo courtesy of the NY Post

 

YOU MUST FEEL VERY PROUD

WHITHER GOEST THOU, AMERICA?

As I write this we are within moments of learning the decision by a Grand Jury in Missouri.  It is as though this one verdict is the most important declaration ever to be pronounced.  To those poised to protest this panel’s expected decision it has significance far more sweeping than Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation” and it has rewritten the Beatitudes.  “Blessed are the troublemakers.”  Most likely there will be violence.  It is expected.  It is planned.  It is an American tragedy.

The Founders recognized that only if the law were applied equally to everyone  would there be the possibility of achieving the Declaration’s proclamation that each of us is entitled to enjoy “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  That was as true at the founding of the nation as it is today.  And it is probably also true that while that goal is admirable, it has never been fully achieved.  That is not a condemnation of this lofty objective but rather a statement about us and how we allow our self-interest to corrupt the ideal.

The judicial system is an integral part of the political system.  Whether the voters directly elect those who are responsible for trying us if we are alleged to have committed an offence or are appointed by those whom we have elected to serve the municipality, state or the nation as a whole, judges are as much political by nature of their office as are our mayors and congressmen.  The Founders recognized that in describing the judiciary as one of three co-equal branches of government.

Of course, before a person is brought to trial there are others who are involved in the process which resulted in a hearing before the bar of justice.  Those are, at the first level, the law enforcement officers who apprehended the accused.  While there are undoubtedly some who discharge that office inappropriately, we rely on our police forces to help maintain some reasonable semblance of safety in society.  By and large, the occasional “rogue” officer who abuses his or her authority and sworn duty are the exception rather than the rule.  To attribute regular unlawful behavior to them is to do them a great disservice – and if that attitude is commonplace, then all of society will suffer as a consequence.  Even those with the greatest distrust of police forces, I suspect, if caught in a crossfire by two rival gangs as an innocent bystander, would hope that a squad car would show up on the scene.

Fortunately, like most Americans, I have had very little interaction with the police in my lifetime.  The first time was as a victim of an assault by three perpetrators wielding switchblades.  The second time was after some workmen stole some personal property while making repairs in my apartment.  The third and fourth times were to report the theft of my vehicle.  The fifth through sixteenth times were to report the theft of my car’s radio.  That’s been it.  I’ve never heard a knock on the door asking me my whereabouts at such and such time because I was a suspect in a robbery, an assault or a murder.  My total interaction was as a victim – not as a perpetrator.

In reference to these various episodes, I suppose that I might choose to be bitter because none of those who either assaulted me or stole my property was ever tried for their abuse of the law – at least not as it pertained to my particular interactions with them.  Perhaps they went on to further crimes and were apprehended for those.  I have no way of knowing that.  Should I therefore conclude that my experience demonstrates that the police are worthless?

Sadly, while it is a commonplace way of viewing life, extrapolating from one individual’s personal experience and drawing broad conclusions from it can be a dangerous and biased path to follow.  I know that police forces do indeed apprehend people who have committed more serious crimes than the ones in which I was involved.  I, for one, am glad that they are there – and I’m glad that they’re armed.  There are sociopathic people in this country who break the law and who constitute a threat to those of us who are law abiding.

While we should certainly remove those in our law enforcement offices who abuse their power and responsibilities, whether that is a local law enforcement officer, an attorney, a judge, the Attorney General or President who are ultimately responsible for seeing that the laws generally are enforced, the best advice on how to avoid confrontations with law enforcement might come from comedian, Chris Rock.

 

 

Perhaps Rock’s advice, had it been followed, might have made it so those of us who before August had never heard of Ferguson,MO, would still be living lives of blissful ignrance about its existence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This principle, although probably lost on the majority of those who might protest the Grand Jury’s verdict, is at the heart of the matter.  They are not so much interested in justice as they are in the confirmation that the only justice that is acceptable is the one they dictate.  They look to mete out the vengeance handed out by vigilantes and the KKK to which some of their forefathers were subject.  They view that as proper retribution for the past misdeeds of others – now long gone to the grave.

IGUALA, MX AND FERGUSON, MO

Forty-three Mexican college students, studying to be teachers, were out fund raising for their college – soliciting money to buy supplies for the school.  They were stopped in Iguala by the police and three of them were shot by these same police.  Apparently, the Mayor of Iguala was concerned that the students were planning to disrupt a speech that his wife was scheduled to give.  The surviving students were turned over to a local drug cartel “to be disposed of.”  And the cartel did its job well.

They executed these kids at a trash dump and then the cartel had a “student roast,” burning the bodies in a fire that lasted for sixteen hours – as the cartel members stood by and watched.  Except in the case of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi who was finally released after six months in Mexican prison for inadvertently entering the country while in possession of legally owned weapons, Mexican “justice” can be inexorably efficient, swift – and terminal.

The mayor and his wife were arrested in Mexico City a week after the students disappeared.  He has had several charges leveled against him and  is currently in jail awaiting further processing.  As of this writing, no charges have been brought against his wife.  Although it is only an allegation, there appears that there may be a tie between these two and the local drug cartel.

Subsequent to the students’ disappearance a search began for them.  The announcement by the Mexican Attorney General, Jesús Murillo Karam that the students’ remains had been found resulted in protests throughout the country with tens of thousand marching in peaceful protest against a government that has corruption at its most basic foundation.  Additionally, other protesters with a less pacifistic view of the events, burned government buildings, cars and blocked highways in Guerrero state where these murders occurred.  In the course of the search, several mass graves were discovered – apparently additional victims of the local drug cartels.

It is probably difficult for most Americans to conceive living in a country where the police, rather than occupying a position of “serving and protecting” people actually function as the judiciary and dispatch summary “justice” with impunity.  Difficult unless you believe that is the same system we have in the United States.  And if you turn your attention to Ferguson, MO and the protests that have been ongoing for the last three months you might believe that is the case.

On August 9, 2014, a shooting occurred in Ferguson, MO resulting in the death of Michael Brown.  The deceased was a young black man; the person who shot him was a white police officer, Darren Wilson.  Those are the facts that no one disputes.  The specific circumstances of causality have now been before a Grand Jury for several months and we are awaiting their determination.

I believe it is fair to say that if, under the same set of circumstances a white police officer shot a white teenager; if a black police officer shot a black teenager; and perhaps if a black police officer shot a white teenager, there would have been no lootings in Ferguson, MO; no businesses would have been burned there; neither President Obama nor Attorney General Eric Holder would have expressed an opinion on the event; and the media would have not covered it.

The only reason for interest and the tension that it has evoked has, unfortunately, nothing to do with the late Mr. Brown.  It has to do with race and, more specifically, the allegation that the black community has no reason to have confidence that the police are there to protect them but rather, Mexican style, are self-serving racists whose ultimate goal is their annihilation.  If that theory were in fact true, there would be legitimate reason for concern by the citizens of Ferguson, MO.  There would then be validation for their peaceful protests – although it is hard to understand how committing additional crimes such as lootings and burnings can be justified, efforts to the contrary notwithstanding.

Neither my readers nor I have all the facts and details of what happened between Michael Brown and Officer Wilson.  Hopefully, the Grand Jury will have those presented to them and will make an informed and fair judgment based on what they review.  And, whatever their decision, it is incumbent on those who truly want to live in a country where the rule of law is respected to accept that verdict.  Otherwise we invite upon ourselves a system of “justice” like that which we just saw in Mexico.  And that is something that no intelligent person would bring down on his own head.

We know how that system played out in Mexico.  We’ll soon see how things work out in Ferguson, MO.

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