On Monday, December 1, 2014, President Barack Obama was forced to, again, weigh in to assert the citizenship and humanity of the African American Community. Why, in 2014, was that necessary? Well, the immediate answer is because, despite overwhelming evidence of the use of excessive force by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in the death of an unarmed, 18-year-old Black male, a grand jury could not find probable cause to charge Officer Darren Wilson with Michael Brown’s murder.
The larger question, however, is why is it that police officers believe that they can use excessive force, and even murder unarmed Black people with impunity– in broad open daylight, with multiple witnesses who testified that the victim had his hands up in the universal symbol of surrender? The simple answer is the believe it because, in practice, police officers literally get away with murder nearly every time they use lethal force on African American people. They know, because of their training that all they have to do is SAY “I feared for my life”, or that “I feared that this person would inflict great bodily harm upon me.” With those few boiler plate words, our court system almost always finds that the use of force was “justified” under the circumstances described by the officer. That’s it!!! Over and out– officer exonerated!!!
Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. US Const, Amt 14
In 1985, in Tennessee v. Garner,(471 U.S. 1), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that: “deadly force may not be used [by a police officer] unless it is necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
Even when the officer has no reasonable or probable cause to believe that he would be injured, no charges are likely to be brought. He just has to say that he thought he might be harmed, flash a picture of the dead person, and– oh, let us not forget the third piece of the exoneration process– attempt to destroy the character of the dead person. So, good Lawyers who know that this is a bastardization of the law must keep fighting.
My condolences, my deepest sympathies, and my apologies to the families of Michael Brown, and to every other person who has been the victim of excessive force at the hands of police officers. These people who take an oath to protect and serve, act under color of law to mete out what amounts to state-sanctioned street executions without due process of law– and seemingly, without any thought that they might be held accountable. So, good lawyers must keep fighting!!!
Before anyone starts to believe that there is nothing positive here, as you will often hear me say, I believe that all things work together for Good…. I am heartened by the diversity of the people who have showed up all over the country to peacefully protest the decision of the Ferguson Grand Jury. There are men, women, young people, seniors, black, brown and white people. News accounts have shown college professors, journalists, lawyers, teachers, business owners, etc., all express outrage– both at the decision of the grand jury and the inexplicable violence and looting that ensued.
Many have asked why we are so outraged when a white officer murders one of our children, but seemingly accept it as a fact of life when a young African American male murders someone in our community– generally another young African American male. The truth is that we are outraged at both. However, there is a higher expectation in our police officers who are sworn to protect and serve ALL persons within their respective jurisdictions. Some of the apprehension about reporting Black on Black Crime results not only from fear of the criminals, but also from mistrust of the police. That mistrust does not happen in a vacuum. There is a long and storied history in this country of why people of color do not trust police. It does not help when the lives of people of color are blatantly devalued; nor when we are marginalized and dehumanized on a regular basis in the court system.
Today, as prior to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, police officers in the United States may, with impunity, murder members of the public, especially people of color, and to get away with it. Again, all they have to say is that they feared for their lives. But what is left every time no justice is sought in these cases is a segment of society that feels they have no choice but to take matters into their own hands. Citizens have a First Amendment Right to peacefully protest, and good lawyers must keep fighting!!!
There is no reason that a clearly biased prosecutor like Robert McCullough, in Ferguson, MO, should be in office. In fact, McCullough’s failure to recuse himself from the prosecution of Darren Wilson, his passive-aggressive stance in presenting the evidence, and his failure to even ask the grand jury to indict Wilson, at best denied Michael Brown’s family due process and equal protection of law. At worst, it was blatant, egregious malfeasance.
“…Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand….” Matthew 12:25
Peaceful protests are good and an integral part of civil disobedience. It is utilized to bring attention to an injustice, to bring about unity, and to prevent “desolation”.
The bottom line, however, is that there is a very simple solution for elected officials who refuse to hear our calls for justice. VOTE THEM OUT!!! People of good will, including people of color, must vote in every election. Every Election!!! No one, including the prosecutor in Ferguson, MO, is concerned about a community that does not vote.
What McCullough and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (in occupying domestic streets with military force) told the people of Ferguson in handling the Michael Brown case was, if you don’t vote, you don’t count!!!
By Alfreda Tillman Bester
The Drum Guest Columnist
Alfreda Tillman Bester is an attorney in private practice in Baton Rouge, LA. She serves as General Counsel for the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP and Host of Perspective, an interactive community interest radio program which airs on WTQT, 106.1 fm in Baton Rouge every Tuesday from 5:30 -6:30 p.m. Listen live at www.wtqt.org