image WHY DOJ UNSUCCESSFUL WHEN PURSUING CIVIL RIGHT/ HATE CRIME CHARGES

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I just read a great article in the 3/16/15 Washington Post in the Post Anything section by David J. Leonard and Stacey, titled, “Of course Darren Wilson won’t be prosecuted. Our laws are too weak to bring anyone to justice when black men are killed.” This reporting offers a reasonable if unsatisfactory analysis of why it is almost mission impossible to bring a civil rights/ or hate crime action against police officers who fatally shoot an unarmed suspect of color in instances which were totally preventable. The following are some excerpts:

“In the last two weeks ( February-March 2015), the Justice Department announced that neither George Zimmerman nor Darren Wilson will be prosecuted for federal civil rights violations. Independent federal investigations found insufficient evidence to pursue criminal civil rights charges against the two men who killed unarmed black teenagers.”

DOJ Attorney General Eric Holder
DOJ Attorney General Eric Holder

“But that doesn’t mean those men are innocent. As Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said about the Zimmerman decision, “Our decision not to pursue federal charges does not condone the shooting that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin and is based solely on the high legal standard applicable to these cases.”

“And that’s the problem. The laws for pursuing racial justice when black people are attacked are fundamentally broken. Civil rights prosecutions require proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the violence or killing was unjustified, motivated by racial animus (or hate directed to another group), or driven by the victim’s use of a public facility (denial of person’s civil rights). In the Ferguson case, that meant the prosecutors had to prove Wilson had racist intent — that he pursued Brown specifically because he was black.”

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“These laws don’t account for implicit bias and the entrenched stereotypes that reduce African Americans to criminals; that lead people to see black hands as holding a gun when indeed they are holding a newspaper or a wallet.”

“Further, a killing can be seen as “justifiable” if the killing occurred “under reasonable circumstances.” Fear is often cited in this context; that is “reasonable fear” that a person is in imminent danger is compelling justification for self-defense. But in America, blackness is imagined as criminal, scary, and even savage. Racism can create fear, so much so that studies reveal brain stimulation at the sight of black faces, fear irrational or not, based on racism or not, becomes the justification for these killings. And much of this racism is unconscious. Irrespective of countless studies on implicit bias and anti-black racism, we are told there is no “proof” of racial animus on Zimmerman or Wilson’s part; that race was not a motivating factor in their killing of two unarmed black teens.”

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“The NAACP has vowed to fight for the removal of “Stand Your Ground” laws. Such changes would make it slightly harder for white defendants to murder black people without repercussion. It might impact a culture of guns and the power of an Old West mentality and its ties to white masculinity.”

“But it will not help in cases of police officers and vigilantes killing blacks, Latinos, or Muslims. That’s because the ultimate justification for the killing of people of color will continue to be “reasonable fear,” which in itself means that stereotypes, racial animus, implicit bias, and racism becomes the justification and legal rationalization that exonerates the Wilsons and Zimmermans of the world. Racism is far more powerful that “Stand your Ground.”

“Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder understands this. Last month, he announced that  he would call for a lower standard of proof for civil rights crimes. “I think that if we adjust those standards, we can make the federal government … more a part of the process in an appropriate way to reassure the American people that decisions are made by people who are really disinterested,” he told Politico.”

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“Holder did not say how he would do this, but Justice Department lawyers are looking at reforming the civil rights law, strengthening  hate-crimes laws, and “establishing a broader standard for what constitutes a “deprivation of rights under color of law,” according to Politico.”

“Change will only come through grassroots activism. Black America, along with its allies, will have to be the agents of change. And the changes we need will have to be nothing short of transformative. We need to examine the role of policing and the criminal justice system, explore how the media and society created a culture of anti-black racism; and look at the consequences of economic and political disenfranchisement.”

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“Change is not simply about lowering the standards of proof or more prosecutions, but creating a country where black lives truly matter. That is the lesson of history; that is the lesson of the DOJ announcements this week.”

“Yet, we are not optimistic about justice and a cultural shift. The truth is clear: the Department of Justice, civil rights law, the voting booth, even the president can’t protect black people or their civil rights. These two decisions, like many before them, have essentially told white America that its fear of blackness is justified; that fear, by rigged legal standards, much less cultural and moral standards, justifies any action against people of color, even taking their lives.  White privilege and supremacy is once again restored and exonerated.”

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For the most part I agree with the above commentary. Still, I am convinced that three reforms would start the ball rolling in a better direction.

1.) The establishment of a special independent prosecutors’ division with an independent body of accomplished, competent investigators to be deployed whenever there is a police shooting resulting in a fatality of an unarmed individual of color in which there is any dispute or question as to this action being preventable.

Stand Your Ground cartoon
Stand Your Ground cartoon

2.) Mandatory training of police officers in the skills of  how to better interact in a constructive way with communities of diverse colors, cultures and backgrounds. This training should include emphasis in law enforcement officials resorting to the minimum amount of force, tactics and strategies to be implemented to restrain a suspect. There should be an understanding that the development of better protocols not only would save the lives of suspects but also, of police officers.

3.) The compulsory collection of data from all police departments as to all shootings by police officers which results in the fatality and/ or serious injury to any individual.

4 comments

  1. I will be curious to see how Eric Holder’s successor does with continuing these reforms. I’m optimistic that she will do well.

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