On November 24th we learned about some of the unfortunate misuse of our judicial system. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch failed to convince a grand jury to send Darren Wilson to trail for killing unarmed Mike Brown. The entire concept of the Grand Jury is meet to a minimal threshold of plausibility to enable a District Attorney to take anyone to court–even a ham sandwich.
The purpose of the grand jury is not to determine guilt or innocence, but to decide whether there is probable cause to prosecute someone for a felony crime. The grand jury operates in secrecy and the normal rules of evidence do not apply. The prosecutor runs the proceedings and no judge is present.
Did you see that? There are no rules of evidence, no judge. It is a dog and pony show, when the prosecutor says whether they want to indict. Robert Paul McCulloch got on stage and lied to you. He misrepresented the entire concept and purpose of the grand jury, and his role in shaping their decision.
He lied to you so hard that the National Bar Association has castigated DA Robert P McCulloch. A Bar Association that represents 20,000 members feels that the only possible explanation for this outcome is that District Attorney McCulloch failed to properly perform his duties as he was sworn to do. The National Bar Association endorses that the US Department of Justice ignore the grand jury and pursue federal prosecution. The National Bar Association feels that no competent prosecutor, or properly informed, functioning jury could have reached the result of November 24th.
It Is About Greed
You may not remember, but there were multiple requests that Robert McCulloch recuse himself from this case, based on conflicts with performing his duties. Among his conflicts of interest are very strong ties to the police department, a history of tanking grand jury investigations against cops, and being the president of an organization (Backstoppers) that collects money on behalf of the police. Beyond that, this particular incident has similarities with an incident that killed Paul McCulloch, Robert’s father.
Robert McCulloch has gotten away with this before. Even in cases where he was forced to go to grand jury (like this one), he usually fails to secure an indictment when the defendant is a police officer. He has a history of choosing the side of his own interests over those of the public, and he does not make any effort to hide that fact.
DA Robert McCulloch is not the only party who stands to gain from this situation. There is, unfortunately, a lot of money in jailing people. John Oliver points out several very disturbing statistics about the US penal system.
- The number of prisoners has grown 8-fold since 1970
- Around 9% of US prisons are entirely private
- Food and medical care are increasingly privatized
- Around 50% of prison population is related to drug offenses
- We spend around $35,000 per prisoner per year
The NAACP, using statistics provided by the FBI, finds that black Americans are 10-times more likely to serve jail time for drug offenses than white Americans are. This is problematic in part because there are 14,000,000 white Americans that report using drugs, 5 times the number of the black population that report using any illicit drug. Black Americans are sentenced to an average of 58.7 months (almost 5 years) for drug offenses. By contrast, white criminals serve an average of 61.5 months for violent offenses. That means that I would serve almost as much time for drug possession as Rose would for attacking a stranger with a bat.
A pervasive characterization of dark skinned Americans as criminal, and scary, leads to not only higher arrest rates, but longer sentencing. So, there is plenty of money in not installing cameras, like Ferguson, or in destroying footage, like Seattle. Body cameras range from $120-$200 from a company like Police One. A taser is $400. A SWAT vehicle is $250,000. The reason that your town doesn’t have cameras is because cameras cut down on profits, not because the police can’t afford them. Ferguson PD claims they spent $6,000 buying dash cams, none of which have been installed. They spent $6000 that could have equipped 30 of their 54 officers with body cameras, but instead chose to buy and fail to utilize car-mounted cameras. Ask yourself why that happens.
Yes, It IS About Race
Even when the cameras are watching, race is still a problem in how we are policed. Time and again, police and civilian surveillance footage makes it clear that emergency personnel carry a clear and disgusting disrespect for black lives and black bodies. John Crawford was shot in a Walmart, not even carrying an air-rifle, in an open carry state (Ohio). After Cleveland police shot twelve year-old Tamir Rice, they left him injured for 5 minutes before first aid was administered. EMTs refused to administer care to Eric Garner after he was choked by NYPD, and Mike Brown was left lying in the street for 4.5 hours.
You just don’t see this level of disrespect being inflicted on other populations. Chokeholds were banned by NYPD in 1993, long before the officer who choked Garner even started his career there. Between 2009 and 2014 the Civilian Complaint Review Board investigated over 1,000 complaints of choking by police officers. Fully 63% of the victims were black.
Tamir Rice was shot within seconds of the police car arriving. They were called to his playground by dispatch, and informed that the weapon he had was probably fake. Knowing that the call was about a child, the officer identified Tamir as a 20 year old black male. Even having back-up, police see black children as a threat. While responding to a dispatch about a youth with a probably fake weapon, the officer was nonetheless afraid enough to shoot first and justify it later.
This is how deeply racism is driven into our system. In NYC, a black person is choked by the police more than twice a week, because the police believe that the rules of conduct don’t apply to them. And unfortunately, It’s not just the police, it is emergency medical personnel, too, who are afraid to treat black American as worthy of basic respect. I promise you that black is not a weapon or a disease, you can’t catch it, and it can’t injure you.
What Can You Do?
The least you can do is change the way you speak. Change the way you talk about these incidents.
Don’t pluralize. Don’t talk about individuals in the plural. Mike Brown was a person, not those people. If someone changes the subject from an individual to these people, that neighborhood, or any other plural thing–shut that person down. No one deserves to die because they are in that neighborhood. If someone is trying to change a conversation about what happened to one person into a generalization about what those people are like, they are telling you that they don’t see black people as human. If someone is trying to dehumanize an individual by calling on generalizations they are a bigot trying to hide. Don’t let them get away with it. Don’t let them cower behind generalizations and pretend that they are anything but a participant in the disrespect of humanity.
Promise me that one thing, that you will stop pluralizing and talk about people as individuals.