Feeding the Racial Fire
With Rodney King, media and prosecutorial pandering lit the fuse of the war on cops. Will the Freddie Gray trials put it out?
Rodney King 1991: Resisted arrest after a 15 minute, 110 mile per hour car chase while he was under the influence. He suffered a broken ankle and fractured cheek bone and numerous contusions at the hands of the arresting officers.
History knows greater miscarriages of justice but, until Rodney King, they didn’t appear as videos on the nightly news. King, at the time of his now infamous arrest, was a minor criminal, with only two incidents on his record.
Unfortunately, both prior incidents involved acts of violence.
King’s Trouble with the Law Prior to His Beating:
July 27, 1987: According to a complaint filed by his wife, King beat her while she was sleeping, then dragged her outside the house and beat her some more. King was charged with battery and pleaded “no contest.” He was placed on probation and ordered to obtain counseling.
November 3, 1989: King brandished a tire iron and ordered a convenience store clerk to hand over the cash in his register. When the clerk grabbed the tire iron King fell backwards, over a food rack, swung the rack at the clerk and fled with $200. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, second-degree robbery, and intent to commit great bodily injury. King pleaded guilty to the robbery charge and the others were dropped. He was sentenced to two years in prison, and paroled on December 27, 1990.
The next year, King found himself in trouble again, this time for speeding and driving under the influence. He said he fled from CHP officers because he feared his arrest for speeding would lead to a revocation of his parole and a return to prison. “I was scared of going back to prison and I just kind of thought the problem would just go away.” Had King not been on parole, he may have complied and, what followed wouldn’t have happened.
When King’s car finally stopped, Sergeant Stacey Koon, the supervising officer, concluded from his “buffed out appearance” that King was likely an ex-con and assumed therefore that he was dangerous.
This contributed to, if not totally causing what you see in this infamous video:
The video resulted in charges of assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force against four of the arresting officers.
Judging by the video and King’s appearance after his arrest, the case looked to be a slam dunk however, all but one of the officers were found not guilty and the jury deadlocked on the last officer’s charge of excessive use of force.
This is probably because of what the public didn’t see; King assaulting the officers, captured in the same 9 minute video but, carefully edited from the 1 minute 23 second version the media broadcast to the world.
The jury saw the full film and heard from the officers charged and those on site but — didn’t hear from King himself. Prosecutors kept King off the stand because, had he testified, defense attorneys could have presented his record of violent crimes to the jurors — affecting how they saw the case.
In the end, it did’t matter, even without knowing about King’s record, after watching the full video and hearing testimony, though they may have thought the officers negligent, the twelve man jury didn’t see them as criminal.
But, they weren’t charged with negligence, they were charged as criminals.
Chaos ensued. The riots caused in excess of a billion dollars worth of damage.
In a move to placate the public, the Federal Government later charged the arresting officers, not with assault or using excessive force but, with violating King’s civil rights. Even so, two of the officers were acquitted again, but two others were eventually found guilty and given prison sentences.
Why were public perceptions so different from those of the judge and jurors?
The public had seen only the edited film in which King appears to be a helpless figure on the ground. They assumed the officers were guilty and the law was rigged. Was this intentional? Did the networks edit the film to sensationalize it or, was sensationalizing an accident?
Did the networks edit to grab viewers or to indict the LA police?
The juror’s response begs another question: They almost agreed to a charge of excessive use of force; had prosecutors concentrated on this charge, would the jury have found the officers guilty? Was assault with a deadly weapon a step too far that caused jurors to exonerate the policemen involved?
Did prosecutors overcharge to pander to the public or, did they believe the minor and mostly superficial injuries to King were caused by 8 fully armed officers attempting to do grievous bodily harm?
Did network and prosecutorial pandering, intended to placate the public, actually result in the most expensive riots in LA’s history?
Even though these questions were asked at the time, subsequent events would seem to indicate neither news networks nor prosecutors took them seriously.
Fast forward 21 years.
Not because we went 21 years without any questionable arrests or police shootings. In fact, here’s a list of very questionable police shootings of unarmed black Americans, resulting in jail sentences for police officers and/or wrongful death settlements for survivors.
They include: Amadou Diallo, 23, New York, N.Y. — Feb. 4, 1999, Malcolm Ferguson, 23, New York, N.Y. — March 1, 2000, Patrick Dorismond, 26, New York, NY — March 16, 2000, Timothy Thomas, 19, Cincinnati, Ohio — April 7, 2001, Alberta Spruill, 57, New York, N.Y. — May 16, 2003, Ousmane Zongo, 43, New York, N.Y. — May 22, 2003, Timothy Stansbury, 19, New York, N.Y. — January 24, 2004, Shem Walker, 49, New York, N.Y. — July 11, 2009, Steven Eugene Washington, 27, Los Angeles, CA — March 20, 2010, Sgt. Manuel Loggins, Jr., 31, Orange County, Calif. — February 7, 2012.
There were hundreds more that, though unfortunate, involved citizens who were shot while engaged in acts of violence, attacks on civilians and police and so, weren’t as questionable and didn’t result in charges or settlements. But, none of these questionable deaths resulted in riots. Why?
No video. 21 years of no video.
The rioters waited 21 years, for another questionable death that, this time, had nothing to do with police.
Trayvon Martin 2012: Fatally shot at point blank range after confronting and fighting with George Zimmerman.
The police didn’t shoot Trayvon Martin, a civilian neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman did. Zimmerman wasn’t, nor had he ever been a policeman. On the night he encountered Trayvon Martin his mandate was to prevent or solve the burglaries that had plagued the neighborhood but, he had no authority to arrest or detain lawbreakers.
Upon observing a stranger walking through the neighborhood, Zimmerman phoned the police and, while on the phone, followed the stranger, in order to keep him in sight. Minutes later 17 year old Trayvon Martin confronted and assaulted Zimmerman. During the fight, Zimmerman fatally shot Martin.
The media responded by plastering the airwaves with a childhood photo of Trayvon, instead of a more recent photo of the football playing 5'11", 17 year old Trayvon. While the Sanford Florida police department investigated, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton went into action and within weeks collected over 2 million signatures on a petition, demanding Zimmerman’s arrest for murder.
After 45 days, Sanford’s police announced they could find no grounds to press charges. Barack Obama responded with the now infamous: “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Days later, Florida’s governor did an end around the local police and DA, and appointed Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, who charged George Zimmerman with 2nd Degree Murder.
Zimmerman claimed, as he lay on the ground, being pummeled by Martin, he feared for his life and thus, apart from Florida’s Castle Doctrine or Stand Your Ground Laws, was justified in shooting Martin. Initial witness statements nearly unanimously agreed, at the time of the shooting Martin was on top of and punching Zimmerman although, with time several witnesses changed or recanted their initial statements.
The physical evidence however, supported Zimmerman’s claims.
He, not Martin looked the battered party, as documented by police and witnesses immediately after the shooting. It did appear someone had been punching Zimmerman and beating his head against the sidewalk but, the media chose to ignore those photos and continued presenting the public with the 5 year old photo of Trayvon Martin instead.
Once again, the media’s response, along with the prosecutor’s charging decision would have dramatic effects on the public’s perception of the case and the ultimate outcome.
Angela Corey’s decision to charge Zimmerman with Murder with a Depraved Mind meant she’d have to prove George Zimmerman acted with hatred and ill will toward Martin, someone who, until that night, he’d never met. Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz called the charge “irresponsible and unethical.” and said the evidence was so thin, the charge wouldn’t make it past the judge.
If Depraved Mind Murder was such a stretch, why use it, why not charge Zimmerman with something more realistic?
Corey was up for reelection. The electorate in her judicial area was 30.1% black. She announced the charges just before the election filing deadline and won reelection but, after 16 1/2 hours of deliberations, the jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of 2nd Degree Murder.
In spite of the fact that the Zimmerman trial was a continent away, LA erupted in riots again. Why?
What if the media had shown the photos, proving Martin had assaulted Zimmerman? What if Corey had asked a grand jury to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter? She might have convinced the jury that, had Zimmerman not followed Martin, the encounter wouldn’t have taken place and Martin would still be alive — something several of the jurors mentioned after the trial — they thought Zimmerman was guilty but, not of murder.
Had Corey done these things she might have avoided adding to the public’s suspicion that the system is rigged and prevented the riots. But, this time there was no video, not even a photograph so, why did we have riots?
We don’t need videos anymore. We’ve got Barack Obama. And Barack Obama knows it.
Michael Brown 2014: Died of multiple gunshot wounds suffered as he assaulted a police officer while resisting arrest for robbery.
Officer Darren Wilson encountered Michael Brown on the street minutes after Brown robbed and assaulted the convenience store owner in the above photo. The police dispatcher had notified Wilson and given him descriptions of Brown and Dorian Johnson, a friend who’d been with Brown at the time of the robbery.
When Wilson tried to stop the two, Brown reached inside Wilson’s police cruiser and a struggle ensued for the officer’s pistol. The struggle ended when Wilson got off two shots, one of which struck Brown in the arm.
Brown and Johnson fled. Wilson followed on foot. Brown turned, and charged Wilson, whereupon Wilson shot 6'4" 400 lb Brown multiple times from distances of less than 25 feet, killing him. All shots entered the front of Brown’s head, arm or torso except for the shot fired in the car that went through his arm.
Eyewitness accounts confirmed these facts. Dorian Johnson, however, didn’t. In spite of dozens of other witnesses confirming Wilson’s story, Dorian Johnson claimed Brown had been gunned down while holding up his hands and shouting “Don’t shoot!”
In spite of the grand jury’s finding that the shooting was justified, that Michael Brown had assaulted Darren Wilson and tried to gain control of his pistol, and an identical finding by the US Department of Justice, even though there was no inflammatory video, riots ensued, much of downtown Ferguson Missouri burned and two NYPD officers were executed while sitting in their police car by a black man who’s instagram posts declared he planned to kill police officers because of Brown’s death. Why?
Ask Barack Obama. “Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement — guilty of walking while black or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness.” even though Brown died assaulting a police officer while resisting arrest after the commission of a felony. Within hours after he made this statement, a young black man shot and wounded two Ferguson Police officers.
Michael Brown’s death and the resulting riots spawned a movement, Black Lives Matter and, months later we got — Freddie Gray.
Freddie Gray 2015: Died of spinal injuries suffered while riding in the back of a Baltimore City Police van.
In 2015 25 year old Freddie Gray was a petty Baltimore criminal, with 20 prior arrests, most for drug possession and/or dealing, and several stints in prison. On April 12, Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued orders to Baltimore City Police to execute “enhanced enforcement” of drug laws at a specific intersection.
As fate would have it, this was the intersection where Freddie Gray, a known drug dealer stood that morning. He was arrested on charges of possessing an illegal switchblade and, several Baltimore City Policemen placed him in the back of a police van.
The video of Gray’s arrest, although not showing any police misconduct, was replayed endlessly on national news and, by the time Gray died a week later, the fuse was already lit.
The day of his funeral, riots erupted. Black Lives Matter fanned the flames with #BaltimoreRiots and #BaltimoreUprising. The riots didn’t end until the arrival of more than 5,000 local and state police and National Guard troops. The City of Baltimore estimates the damage at $20 million.
Six days later, Baltimore City Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed charges ranging from illegal arrest to 2nd Degree Murder against 6 officers. “I heard your call for ‘no justice, no peace,’ “ she said at a press conference, and “your peace is sincerely needed as I move to deliver justice on behalf of” Freddie Gray.
Alan Dershowitz accused Mosby of overcharging the officers in an attempt to satisfy protesters and prevent further disturbances. Other prosecutors and professors have agreed, further accusing her of incompetence and misconduct.
After 4 trials costing millions of dollars, she has no convictions; 3 officers have been acquitted, 1 trial ended in a hung jury and, as of today, Mosby has announced she will drop all charges against all the officers involved.
Beyond creating the public expectation that prosecutors will always pander to them, then disappointing them by failing to secure convictions based on exaggerated charges, what has Mosby accomplished?
She’s fanned the flames of what we now have, not a protest, not a war of words but, a shooting war on cops; cops who have nothing to do with the cases in question being killed by people who have nothing to do with the cases in question, no matter what color or creed, simply because they’re policemen.
Thanks to prosecutors and political figures, truth and justice no longer matter.
Did the policemen who arrested Rodney King actually assault him with deadly weapons? No. Did they use excessive force? It appears so. Would a jury have convicted them if that were the only charge? Some jurors said yes.
Did George Zimmerman intend to murder Trayvon Martin? Obviously not. He didn’t even know Martin. Did Zimmerman commit manslaughter by shooting Martin? The jury thought so but, that’s not how the prosecutor charged him.
Did Darren Wilson do anything other than defend himself against Michael Brown? Not even Eric Holder’s Justice Department could find anything wrong with his actions.
So, why did Barack Obama and the media not back the grand jury, the district attorney and, eventually the Department of Justice? Who’s side, in this war, are they on, the cops or, the killers?
Did any of the Baltimore Police officers who arrested Freddie Gray murder him? Obviously not. Were they negligent? Maybe but, because the prosecutor pandered to the public, and overcharged them, we’ll never know.
When will this end?
When politicians and news media stops pandering to the public; when they tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about police shootings of black Americans and, when prosecutors charge law enforcement officers with what they’ve actually done, instead of what a hysterical public wants to believe they’ve done.