Thursday, June 11, 2015

Accountability 101

Lawyer Jane Bishkin issues an apology for Eric Casebolt
My efforts to articulate my feelings about corporal David Eric Casebolt's treatment of a 15 year-old girl, his pointing a loaded gun at two unarmed teenage boys, and the two female bystanders seen on video assaulting 19 year-old party host Tatyana Rhodes prompted quite a spike in Web traffic. 

In response to the blog I posted on Tuesday June 9th, titled 'Deep in the Heart of Texas', one concerned reader commented that my criticisms had overlooked the principal of 'Innocent Until Proven Guilty'.

So how do we as a society weigh the innocence or guilt of a police officer who slams an unarmed girl's face to the ground, versus the innocence or guilt of a scared bikini-clad teen running around outside a pool party?

Should Casebolt's actions be examined through the lens of our assuming him to be innocent until he's actually proven guilty?

Casebolt himself has already essentially admitted his own guilt and resigned, but the reader-in-question makes a valid point.

But the harsh reality is that police officers in America rarely see the inside of a courtroom for assaulting or killing someone with dark skin; even when the victim is innocent and unarmed.

Eric Casebolt
Given the high profile nature of this case, it's certainly quite possible that Casebolt (pictured left) will face charges, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

An article in the Dallas Morning News quotes Hannah Stroud, the attorney representing Dajerria Becton (the 15 year-old girl Casebolt slammed to the ground in the video) as saying "Becton attended a pool party Friday to which she was invited and was not trespassing. When she was told to leave by police, she asked for her bag so she could call her aunt. That’s when she was pushed to the ground, grabbed by the hair and had her face shoved into the ground,"

So perhaps the-reader-in-question needs to examine why a police officer would slam a teenage girl to the ground for asking the officer if she could retrieve her bag to get her cell phone so she could call her aunt (with whom she lives) and comply with the officer's request to leave the area.

It goes without saying that a police veteran with 10 years of law enforcement experience like Casebolt bears more responsibility for upholding that principle of American law in a situation like the one that took place last week; even if he did have a rough day before he showed up there.

While subsequent witness interviews suggests the teenagers at the pool party in McKinney, Texas were indeed, not just numerous but extremely rowdy, that doesn't justify Casebolt's behavior at the scene and I don't think I'm the only one who feels that no one was more out of control than Casebolt himself.

That assertion was not only backed up by an analysis of the videotape of the incident by former assistant FBI director Tom Fuentes, but also Casebolt's commanding officer Chief Greg Conley who said in a news conference, "He came into the call out of control, and as the video shows was out of control during the incident." 

In the wake of his resignation, Casebolt admitted in a statement read by Dallas County Police Officer's Association attorney Jane Bishkin (pictured above) that "he allowed his emotions to get the better of him" and that "he apologizes to all who were offended."

It's interesting to consider the concept of innocent until proven guilty given that overwhelming evidence suggests that some members of law enforcement actually believe the total opposite when it comes to encounters with members of racial and ethnic minorities.

As the reader-in-questions suggests, let's look closer at the concept of 'Innocent Until Proven Guilty'.

Consider the case of Amilcar Perez-Lopez, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, who is one of 26 Latinos killed by police in 2015.

Amilcar Perez-Lopez's autopsy conflicts with SFPD report
The San Francisco Police Department alleges that Perez-Lopez, described as a hard working family man by those who knew him, had a knife raised and was lunging for two plain clothes SFPD officers back on February 26th when he was shot and killed.

But according to disturbing details revealed in  an investigation by The Guardian, an autopsy report commissioned by the 20 year-old victim's family clearly shows that Perez-Lopez was shot six times in the back; four in the back, once in the head and once in the right arm (pictured above). 

Look closely at the trajectory of the bullets in the autopsy diagram above - the bullets entered Perez-Lopez's body and head from the back - so how could he have been lunging at the undercover SFPD officers when they shot and killed him?

What's clear is that the two SFPD officers saw Perez-Lopez's ethnicity, decided he was guilty and then executed him on the street before he'd been charged with any crime, entered a plea or appeared in court.

The broader growing awareness of the systematic bias inherent in America's judicial system is reflected in the revision of state laws that incarcerate individuals for low-level non-violent offenses, growing demands to ensure that juveniles are not treated as adults and housed in adult correctional facilities - and of course, a growing demand that police officers be held accountable for the unchecked use of excessive physical force - which is overwhelmingly used against racial and ethnic minorities.

Kalief Browder
Speaking of 'Innocent Until Proven Guilty', we should also consider the tragic case of New York resident Kalief Browder (pictured left) who recently took his own life after struggling with effects of three years of incarceration in New York City's Rikers Island correctional facility.

As you may have heard or read, the case against him was dismissed and he was released but only after enduring three years of beatings at the hands of Rikers Island prison guards and other inmates and the psychological torture of solitary confinement.

After Jennifer Gonnerman's story about Browder's experience appeared in The New Yorker there's been a lot of discussion about the dysfunctional nature of New York City's judicial system in which poor defendants who cannot afford bail are often held in jail for years awaiting a trial.

As summarized on the Website "Kalief Browder was initially arrested on his way home on May 14, 2010, after an unknown individual identified the teenager, then 16 years-old, as the person who robbed him a few weeks prior. Browder was charged with second-degree robbery and, unable to post the $10,000 bail at the time of his arrest, was transferred to Rikers Island. The case never went to trial however, and Browder languished at Rikers Island until the charges were dropped without explanation in June 2013. His stay at the prison included around two years of solitary confinement."

He missed the last two years of high school while languishing in the limbo of a dysfunctional legal system where he was effectively punished from the age of 16 until he was 19 before a court of law actually established his guilt or innocence.

As Browder told WABC-TV in an interview back in November of 2013, "No apology, no nothing. They just said, 'Oh case dismissed. Don't worry about nothing.'What do you mean 'don't worry about nothing? You just took over three years of my life."

And it's important to note that he had a chance to take a plea deal and admit to two lesser misdeameanor charges that would have enabled him to be released, but he was adamant about his innocence and was determined to prove it.

The court system never gave him that chance.

Not unlike the police officers who took the lives of Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Amilcar Perez-Lopez or Eric Garner. Or the cop who showed up and slammed a young girl to the ground - the idea of innocence just never entered their minds.

I respect the reader who questioned whether or not I had considered 'Innocent Until Proven Guilty', I certainly wish police in the United States would do that more often when they encounter people of color.

But I'm not sure the massive backlash against Eric Casebolt or any other officer who assaults or kills an innocent person is really about an abstract legal concept that doesn't apply equally in this nation - I think it's more about Accountability 101.

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