Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Mistrial for William Porter & Jayvis Benjamin's Wait For Justice

Mistrial for Baltimore PD officer William Porter
It was a rather sobering day for those interested in seeing at least some measure of justice meted out by the Baltimore court system for 25-year-old Freddie Gray's gruesome death while handcuffed in the back of a Baltimore PD prisoner transport van.

Earlier today judge Barry G. Williams declared a mistrial after the jury remained hung on whether or not Baltimore police officer William Porter could be found guilty for charges including misconduct, manslaughter and assault for failing to respond to Gray's request for medical assistance and neglecting to properly fasten Gray into a seat belt to secure him in the back of the police van.

As Robert Lang and Tyler Waldman reported for the WBAL radio News 1090 Website:

"Porter testified that he did not put Gray in a seat belt, for fear he might grab his gun, even though Porter said that when he discovered Gray on the floor of the police van, he was having "an adrenaline dump," and was unable to move. Porter and other officers who testified described Gray as having suffered from "jailitis" where suspects try to fake an injury, hoping to be taken to the hospital instead of jail."

While I'm not a police officer, I doubt I'm the only person skeptical of a cop claiming he was worried about his weapon being ripped from his holster by an unconscious injured man laying on the floor of a police van.

Christie trashes Black Lives Matter on Face the Nation
Don't hold your breath waiting for conservatives like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to offer thoughts on what a mistrial in the Gray case might mean for the larger issue of the lack of trust between large segments of the public and police departments caused by the lack of accountability for officers who take the lives of innocent and unarmed people in custody.

Opportunistic reactionaries like the Christies and Trumps of this nation delight in embellishing their conservative street cred by unfairly and wrongly characterizing all protesters aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement (or anyone who protests the rampant abuse and killing of American citizens by police officers) as "anti-police" agitators who advocate the murder of police officers.

As Christie did on CBS during an October 25th interview on Face the Nation when he also clumsily tried to link President Obama to ongoing nationwide protests against illegal police killings in one of his many awkward efforts to pander to the right and prove his conservative credentials by trashing the President over - well pretty much anything.

The six Baltimore PD officers charged in Gray's death
Given the extent of the protests that gripped the city of Baltimore in the wake of Gray's death it's understandable that police are erring on the side of caution to prepare for any possible public reaction to the news of the mistrial.

As I write these words, NPR reports that protesters are gathering in front of the courthouse in Baltimore and chanting "No justice, no peace."

Which of course is their right to do under the Constitution.

But it's my hope that protesters in Baltimore remain peaceful and remember that beginning in January five other officers (pictured above) will face charges in court in Gray's death.

So at least there's still a chance that at least someone will actually be held legally responsible for a man's death while in police custody - a man who hadn't actually committed a crime.

Viewed in a larger context, the fact that State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby actually brought charges against the six Baltimore police officers within months of the incident has to be seen as a positive step.

It took well over a year for Illinois State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to file charges against Chicago PD officer Jason Van Dyke; which she finally did hours before the release of the video footage of Van Dyke emptying his pistol into 16-year-old Laquan McDonald as the teen was walking away from police officers.

Here in "the worlds leading Democracy", the wait for justice for African-American and Hispanic victims of excessive police violence can take even longer - if it happens at all.

Consider the case of Jayvis Benjamin, a 20-year-old college student who was shot and killed by Avondale Estates Police Department Sgt. Lynn Thomas back on January 18, 2013.

Jayvis Benjamin, killed by police in 2013
As an article in the New York Daily News by Shaun King reports, Benjamin (pictured left) was accused by police of having stolen a car when he allegedly ran through a red light and crashed into the yard of a home.

In what has become an all too familiar refrain in America, police officers claim Benjamin tried to attack an officer and Sgt. Thomas was forced to shoot Thomas in the chest, killing him.

But Benjamin was unarmed at the time.

His mother Montye Benjamin says the car he was accused of having stolen actually belonged to his grandfather and he had permission to drive it.

Benjamin also had no police record - so given these circumstances why no charges in the case?

Benjamin's mother says police have videotape of the incident, but they still refuse to release it.

DeKalb County DA Robert James
As King's article details, the prosecutor, DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James (pictured left), and police are coming under fire for dragging their feet in an investigation that's now stretching into almost three years.

For over a year James has been assuring Jayvis Benjamin's family and the media that a grand jury will review the case so what's up?

Is he hoping the case just goes away?

There's a hope that increased public interest in the case driven in part by the national media attention on the prosecutions in Chicago and Baltimore can function as leverage to motivate the DeKalb County DA to make a decision on bringing charges against Sgt. Thomas in the death of Jayvis Benjamin.

Time will tell but there's a sense that the longer they wait in DeKalb County, the more suspicious the absurd length of the investigation seems - two years and counting?

In the past, the refusal of police and the prosecutors they work with to release the video tape of Benjamin's death and the lack of charges of any kind being filed for his death may have once worked as a way to shield police from facing responsibility for the death of an unarmed civilian under murky circumstances.

But given the changes that have taken place in the wake of other high-profile police killings - the lack of action on the part of the DeKalb County DA comes off as the kind of bureaucratic foot-dragging that  blew up in the face of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuele and the heads of police departments in Chicago, Baltimore, Ferguson and elsewhere.

It's been an unreasonably long wait for the mother and family of Jayvis Benjamin to get some kind of closure, but in this age of the rapid evolution of social media the old adage that parents, grandparents and teachers have told generations of children rings more true than ever - the truth eventually comes to the surface.

In the interests of ethics, the public trust and the concept of justice, the DA Robert James and officials within the Avondale Estates Police Department don't want to be on the wrong side when the truth about Jayvis Benjamin's death finally surfaces in DeKalb County Georgia.  

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