|Ex-cop Michael Slager and victim Walter Scott|
Those are the words of the German poet and nobleman Frederich Von Logau, born in the Polish city of Niemcza in 1605.
It's a variation on a theme written by the Greek philosopher Sextus Empiricus back in the 1st century AD based on Plutarch's writings.
It's the origin of the oft-quoted phrase, "The wheels of justice turn slowly but exceedingly fine", and that was the first thought that came to mind when I heard the news that former North Charleston PD officer Michael Slager was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Thursday for the unjustified April 4, 2015 shooting death of unarmed motorist Walter Lamar Scott.
The shocking cell phone video taken by bystander Feidin Santana showing the unarmed 50-year-old African-American man (a gainfully-employed U.S. Navy veteran) being shot five times in the back as he was running away from Slager after being pulled over for a broken taillight, was viewed millions of times and sparked outrage around the world at a time when a number of high-profile cases of unarmed black men and boys being shot and killed by members of law enforcement were making headlines.
Incidents which continue to cloud the state of race relations and justice in America; and undermine trust between local communities and the police who serve them.
That trust was further eroded when Slager walked last year after his first murder trial ended with a hung jury, but as journalists Andrew Knapp and Brenda Rindge reported in an article in the Charleston Post and Courier on Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Norton rejected Slater's claims that his use of deadly force was justified based (in part) on the video evidence showing Scott trying to run away - as well as the fact that Slager intentionally tampered with evidence at the scene of the incident and lied to police investigators about what happened.
|Judy Scott being comforted by North Charleston |
Mayor Keith Summey during a 2015 ceremony
Her comments were part of heart-wrenching "impact statements" delivered by members of the families of both the officer and the victim before the judge delivered his sentence.
Members of both families wept openly as she forgave her son's killer.
Slager's 20-year sentence for violating Scott's civil rights represents one of the most significant examples of the American judicial system holding a police officer accountable for taking the life of an unarmed African-American citizen, but there are clearly no "winners" in this case.
Scott's family and fiance lost a loved one, and Slater is the father of a child who will now have a parent incarcerated in prison.
If there's any positive that can be taken from Slager's decision to pull Scott over for a broken tail light two years ago, it's the fact that North Charleston became the first municipality in the nation to enact a law requiring all of its police officers to wear body cameras.
As the Scott family's lawyer Chris Stewart said after the decision, "I hope the entire nation understands how big this is and what this means for everybody. This is all people crave, accountability. If the death of Walter Scott... can make one officer think one second longer before pulling the trigger and changing an entire nation, then it was all worth it."
It's quite plausible that the decision of the federal judge to impose such a significant sentence was partially influenced by the tone of the Trump administration's divisive rhetoric on race, Trump's constant berating of federal judges, and Attorney General Jeff Session's decision to drastically scale back the involvement of the Department of Justice in holding local police departments shown to engage in systematic patterns of racially-biased policing responsible for their actions.
It's clear that Trump, Sessions and many of the right-wing advisors who are the architects of their public policy positions have decided to try and put the brakes on criminal justice reforms to reduce the incarceration rate in the United States.
|Rensselaer County (New York) DA Joel Abelove|
A number of legal professionals, including members of the law enforcement community, have recognized the need for broad reforms in prosecutions and sentencing to reduce incarceration rates.
I think one could argue that the Trump administration's stubborn ideological opposition to those reforms may well have partially influenced U.S. District Judge David Norton's decision to impose a 20-year sentence on Michael Slager.
Consider the case of Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel E. Abelove.
As Max Rivlin-Nader reported for Injustice Today last Friday, a grand jury in New York State indicted Abelove on charges of official misconduct and perjury for repeatedly interfering in the investigation of a police shooting that resulted in the death of a 37-year-old African-American man named Edson Thevenin - an investigation being conducted by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
So get this: According to Rivlin-Nader's article, a police sergeant named Randall French pulled Thevenin over for suspected drunk driving on April 17, 2016, and not unlike Walter Scott, some kind of chase ensued that ended with French firing eight shots into Thevenin's windshield - killing him.
When AG Schneiderman's office contacted the Rensselaer County DA's office (just hours after the shooting) to request that he hold off on convening a grand jury to rule on the case while state AG's office considered the evidence to determine if it should intervene as required by an executive order signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Abelove ignored him.
Abelove brought the case before a grand jury just four days after the shooting even though the autopsy report hadn't even been completed to determine whether Thevenin had been drunk as sergeant French claimed in his assertion that Thevenin had tried to run him over during the chase.
|37-year-old victim Edson Thevenin|
As Rivlin-Nader reported, the only witness testimony the grand jury heard was from (wait for it...) two police officers.
Now 37-year-old Edson Thevenin might not be a familiar name to many Americans, but that doesn't mean his death at the hands of an apparently overzealous cop didn't warrant a fair review by a jury of his peers.
Based on the evidence that Abelove presented, (not surprisingly) the grand jury cleared French.
By contrast, Rivlin-Nader notes that the grand jury in the Eric Garner case in Staten Island (where Garner was heard repeatedly pleading "I can't breathe" while NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo choked the life out of him after multiple officers confronted him for selling loose cigarettes in broad daylight) took four months before it came to a conclusion.
Take a few minutes to read the Injustice Today article for yourself.
Now I'm not for a moment suggesting that Abelove's conduct is typical of all district attorneys - but as the Injustice Today article observed, "Longtime Suffolk County DA Thomas Spota and one of his chief aides on Wednesday, October 25, 2107, were indicted on federal charges that they were involved in a coverup of former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke's assault of a suspect in 2012."
Again, to be fair these cases don't define the American justice system.
But they do make a mockery of Attorney General Jeff Session's assertions that local police departments shown to have engaged in systematic racial bias would be better served if the Department of Justice pulled back from the oversight of said police departments and local judicial systems.
Now Michael Slager has a right to appeal his 20-year sentence, and the outcome of charges of misconduct and perjury against Rensselaer County DA Joel Abelove remains to be seen.
But as poet Frederich Von Logau wrote over 390 years ago, "The mills of God grind slowly".
And as these cases demonstrate, despite the efforts of the Trump administration to pretend that the federal government has no responsibility to oversee and remedy systematic racial bias within (some) local police departments and courts, the mills do grind.