Earlier this afternoon, news broke that a mistrial was declared in the trial of William Porter, one of the Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. For those wishing to see any of the officers charged with Gray’s death behind bars, this is particularly bad news. Because this could very easily set a precedent in the other trials, leading to more mistrials and possibly even acquittals.
After first hearing about this, I jumped on Twitter to get a bit of a gauge of the reaction on social media. Predictably, Freddie Gray’s name is the top trending topic. But the general mood seems to be much different than it has been with these types of cases. There’s outrage and sadness, sure, but the emotion doesn’t seem to be as palpable as it was the week of Gray’s death. Or the week of Michael Brown’s death. Or the day the Ferguson grand jury announced there’d be no charges for Darren Wilson. Or even last week, when Daniel Holtzclaw was found guilty.
Perhaps my feelings about this are just my own feelings; my thoughts my own, singular, thoughts. But what this relative (non)reaction feels like is a complete lack of faith. An abject pessimism in the justice system. The outrage isn’t tempered because people are being mature and clearheaded and sober. It’s because we’ve become so disillusioned that bad news is expected. Anticipated. We saw a bit of it last week, when the prevailing sentiments after Holtzclaw’s verdict were sincere surprise and relief.
A grand jury met for eight hours Monday to consider evidence in the death of Sandra Bland.
They decided not to return any indictments.
“After reviewing all the evidence in the death of Sandra Bland, a Waller grand jury did not return an indictment in the death of Bland, nor were any indictments returned against any employee of the Waller County Jail,” said Darrell Jordan, a special prosecutor handling the case.
The grand jury will reconvene in January to consider other indictments.
Bland, an African-American woman, was found dead in her cell three days after she was arrested for allegedly failing to use her turn signal on July 10. She was 28.
Officials in Waller County, Texas, have said she hanged herself with a plastic bag. Her family and others have questioned that account.
“The death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy,” [prosecutor] McGinty explained. “But it was not, as the law that binds us, a crime…Bringing charges would violate the ethical canons” of the justice system.
We should not be surprised at the outcome.
Criminal charges against a police officer, suspected of brutalizing or killing a suspect, are extraordinarily rare—in Ohio and everywhere else in the country. When there is an indictment, the probability of a conviction is even smaller.
Convincing 12 people that a member of law enforcement acted with illegal force in the killing of a suspect is a steep hill to climb. When the officer is white and victim is black, the pathway to justice grows that much steeper.
However, if the roles had been reversed—if Tamir (who officers believed was in his “20s”) had shot a plainclothes Loehmann in a park because he feared for his life— we would have seen an indictment within days. Even in an open-carry state, Tamir would likely have been charged as an adult.
“We have never seen a prosecutor try so hard to lose a case,” said Jonathan S. Abady, a Rice family attorney, toldThe New York Times. The officers werereportedly allowed to read personal statements to the grand jury panel “without being cross-examined.”
McGinty is wrong. The law “that binds us” says a boy should be able to play in a public park without the fear of being shot. Failure to aggressively seek charges against the police officers involved violates “the ethical canons” of the justice system.
Today, a grand jury in Cleveland, Ohio does what this system does. They put an exclamation point on the statement that black lives don’t matter. That black children do not matter. That being young, black and free is a crime punishable immediately by death.
For over a year, there has been a chorus of people demanding some semblance of justice for 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s family, without daring to acknowledge that impossible hope that flickers each time another black person falls victim to state-sanctioned terror.
Don’t we know better by now?
Don’t we know after George Stinney and Emmett Till, Trayvon, Aiyana, Kimani and too many others, that our children are at worst viewed as targets, and at best collateral damage in the hunt for other black bodies to destroy? Don’t we know that, unlike 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis, for whom justice was swift and sure, this country does not weep for them?
“The death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy,” said prosecutor Timothy McGinty. “But it was not, by the law that binds us, a crime.”
McGinty said this after stating that Tamir was executed by Police Officer Timothy Loehmann on December 22. Like the grand jury’s decision, that is incorrect. Tamir was gunned down on November 22, 2014—almost two years to the day that 17-year-old Jordan Davis was shot down by white supremacist Michael Dunn for listening to loud music.
But when it comes to a dead black boy, who in the halls of (in)justice actually gives a damn about facts?
McGinty used interesting words in his victim-blaming statement: “The law that binds us.” Us. As if we are really a collective of citizens with the same rights and privileges. It was both warning and reminder that black people are still tethered to a country that views our children as disposable.
A 66-year-old white woman in Connecticut is alive and unharmed, despite brandishing a realistic-looking BB gun outside a police station, then pointing it at officers while shouting “Boom boom boom” and “Shoot me!”
WFSB reports that Elaine Rothenberg of North Carolina was arrested after waving the BB gun outside the police department in Torrington, Connecticut. Rothernberg had purchased the BB earlier in the day. According to police evidence photos, it looks very much like a pistol, without the orange tip sometimes used to flag replica guns as fake.
Police say Rothenberg first pointed the BB at two civilians, asking if they were police officers. They ran away. She then proceeded to raise the BB gun in a “shooting stance,” per reports, while shouting that she hated police, adding, “Boom boom boom!” and then, “What are you doing? Shoot me! What are you, scared?”Rothenberg eventually threw the gun and was arrested, unharmed and alive. She is being charged with first-degree threatening (a felony, also known as terroristic threat), as well as interfering with an officer and reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors.
John Crawford III, 22, was shot and killed by police in an Ohio Walmart after picking up a BB gun. Tamir Rice, 12, was shot and killed by police while playing with a toy gun in a public park. Prosecutors declined to indict the officers who killed either of them. Elaine Rothenberg, again, is fine.
— CNN Tonight (@CNNTonight) December 30, 2015
I’m not saying that I don’t believe in the criminal justice system, But I can understand why other’s don’t. And when they say that they don’t, I listen as to why.