Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Time And Time Again

Baltimore cop William Porter must testify 
It was a mixed day for the growing nationwide grassroots movement to curb the systematic excessive use of force against unarmed African-American citizens by members of law enforcement.

Trials for the six Baltimore Police Department officers charged in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray last April had been held up over the second court case involving William Porter.

The 26-year-old BPD officer was the first of the six cops to be tried in Baltimore back in December over his failure to properly secure the unarmed Gray into the back of a police transport van with a seat belt according to police training and guidelines.

Porter faced charges of second-degree assault, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office, but after two weeks a divided jury failed to reach a decision and Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams declared a mistrial on December 16th; he'll be retried in June.

Prosecutors had sought to compel Porter to testify against the other five BPD officers charged in Gray's death and the case went to the Maryland Appeals Court - today they ruled he must testify, opening the door for the other five trials to begin.

BPD officer Caesar Goodson, top right, on trial next
With the court's ruling today, first up will be the trial of 45-year-old BPD officer Caesar Goodson, as the driver of the van most directly responsible for the "rough ride" that caused Freddie Gray's spine to be almost severed, he'll face the most serious charges including second degree depraved heart murder and two different charges of manslaughter by vehicle.

If not for Porter's attempt to avoid testifying in court against the other five officers, Goodson would have faced trial in January.

There's no question that, like anyone else in this nation charged with a crime (or crimes), each of these officers deserves their right to a fair trial by jury; but the city of Baltimore needs some kind of closure in this case in order for the rebuilding of trust between the police, city government and the community to begin.

It's not just Baltimore either, the country needs closure in this case too.

Remember, Freddie Gray was an unarmed citizen who was never actually charged with any kind of legal infraction or crime.

Plus the attorneys for the six BPD officers had already delayed these trials with frivolous efforts to move the trials out of Baltimore based on the shaky claim that their defendants couldn't receive a fair trial in Baltimore due to the publicity generated by the actions of the defendants themselves.

LAPD's finest 
An absurd legal assertion, one based in large part on race, that's often been used by police officers facing trials or charges in order to lessen the likelihood of their being found guilty by trying the case in front of a "more sympathetic jury."

The change of venue was successfully used back in 1992 in Los Angles to move the trials of LAPD officers Laurence Powell, Stacy Koon, Theodore Briseno and Timothy Wind (pictured left), who were charged with the severe beating of motorist Rodney King, from LA where the beating occurred, to the predominantly white community of Ventura County; where their acquittal set off some of the most horrific riots in U.S. history.

Powell and Koon later faced trial in federal court on charges that they violated Rodney King's civil rights and we found guilty in a trial that was held in the city of Los Angeles.

But at least they actually faced a trial.

As was widely reported earlier today, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara issued a statement that federal prosecutors would not seek criminal charges against NYPD officer Richard Haste in the 2012 shooting death of  unarmed black teenager Ramarley Graham.

According to Bharara's statement as reported in the New York Times, NYPD officers from the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit of the 47th Precinct became suspicious of the 18-year-old Graham as he was walking near a bodega in the Bronx because of the way he adjusted his pants.

They followed the teen to his home in the Bronx, and pulled up to the door as he was going inside; he saw the cops and slammed the door.

NYPD officer Richard Haste
The officers forced their way inside and officer Haste confronted Graham in the hallway of the house with his gun drawn and demanded the teen put his hands up.

The scared teen ran into a bathroom and Haste, claiming he felt fear that the teen had a gun, fired a single shot into the bathroom killing Graham.

Graham didn't have a gun, but there was a bag of weed in the toilet he'd desperately tried to flush.

The teenager's grandmother and six-year-old brother were both inside the house when the shooting occurred.

Today on NPR I listened to an interview with Ramarley Graham's mother Constance Malcom as she reacted to the news that no charges would be filed against the police officer who killed her unarmed son.

It wasn't easy to listen to.

She understands that her son died not because her son had a gun, he died because a police officer says he thought her son had a gun - and that thought, that erroneous belief based on fear, is enough for him not to face any legal consequences for taking the life of a teenager who was running from the cops because he had a bag of weed on him.

As far too many cases have taught us, that's a scenario that's played out far too often in this country; the things an officer fears, be it true or not, grants an almost limitless legal discrepancy for violent, even deadly behavior.

This decision not to file charges against Richard Haste illustrates the importance of the decision of the Maryland Appeals Court today to compel William Porter to testify in the trials of the officers accused in the death of Freddie Gray.

It's an important legal point sure, but the larger point, and more importantly the message it sends, is a judicial system saying that legal technicalities, or comparatively obscure points of law cannot be more important than members of law enforcement taking responsibility for taking the life of a person who was unarmed and not committing a crime.

During the interview earlier, Ms. Malcom had some pretty choice words for the NYPD Police Commissioner and the NYPD's police culture - she called the decision not to file charges against her son "a slap in the face".

Her words were a haunting echo felt by many around the nation and the world:

"Time and time again, you see it over and over, this officer walks free, they get a pay raise, they get a promotion and nothing has been done to them. This is sending the wrong message. Even in your own home you're not safe anymore."

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