How A Killer Got Away With Murder

DDNot protesters but the system of American justice is morally and intellectually out of control. Justice is in the hands of vigilantes who are brutes intent on robbing liberty without fear of rebuke, and America is proving false to its own promise, indifferent and deaf to its whirlwinds of cruelty. Much of America revels instead in the brutish delight that shines in its inner soul, as it calls others demons and reveals how it has lost its reverence for providence or truth.

With blood on its hands, it has no legitimacy lecturing the aggrieved about safety or destruction, when it has proven it will not protect the lives of youth unarmed, when its lust for killing spreads unchecked to every border, when a single prosecutor cloaked as an agent of authority manipulates the system and calls its darkest evils fair play, taking a measure of time to display a sentiment of contempt and arrogance, putting a default on liberty without life and improvement. Power pretends concessions as it silently approves citizens’ peril by emptying life from souls lying still against curbstones—bodies left in plain view for all to see the pride of termination taken in the kill and the madness of this accruing demand and the political taste for blood, blood to gratify an exasperated illogic, that bullets weighed on the scale of human powers make some unworthy and inferior, and that their general dislike warrants this impression and sanction of foul play.

Michael Brown’s death was a modern, “justified” lynching. Months after, his killer is uncharged.

Focus in: the local prosecutor, his father a police officer killed by a black civilian, his mother a police department clerk, his family still serving on the force, should have been immediately removed for a special prosecutor. The Governor failed to do so.

This prosecutor then took his knowledge of the system and created a secret jury that tried guilt and determined innocence before charges were brought. The roles of the participants reversed and switched, the grand jury did not take up the matter of guilt for trial, but began to try, by its impressions and its unchallengeable decision, whether the killer of Michael Brown, a police officer on duty, was innocent.

The prosecutor pressed the case and made clear the impression that Michael Brown’s killer had committed no crime. He did not present a bill of indictment to the grand jury. He never specified any offense—manslaughter or murder—or any degree—recklessness, negligence, maliciousness, intent—he as prosecutor supported by law, evidence or testimony of the killer’s actions or guilt.

In putting “all” of the evidence before the grand jury, the prosecutor actually selected what the grand jury would see in secret, changed its function, and presented the killer’s defense. This prosecutor went one step further. He made the case for the defense before an indictment or trial, by relinquishing the role of prosecutor as an advocate and adversary protecting the rights of the people.  In his abdication, he led the jury to protect the rights of the accused by rules of procedure, by questioning testimony, and by avoiding a rigorous presentation of both sides that a trial would bring.

To show how far off course was this prosecutor’s revolt, Supreme Court Justice Antonia Scalia disagrees with his ambitious use of the grand jury, as Justice Scalia firmly spelled out the role and purpose of the grand jury’s proceedings in a 1992 case (United States v. Williams), cited by ThinkProgress:

Justice Antonin Scalia, in the 1992 Supreme Court case of United States v. Williams, explained what the role of a grand jury has been for hundreds of years.

It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

This prosecutor instead paraded and coddled witnesses for the defendant (openly, and publicly calling those who disagreed liars and persons who “made stuff up!”). He let the killing officer testify for hours, and he avoided challenging or probing or any adversarial role—when it was beyond the scope and not the role of the grand jury to hear the officer’s statement in the first place!

One of the “believable” witnesses wrote in his diary that he always called black people “niggers,” including, according to his handwritten diary, the day he witnessed the shooting!

But the key moments come when the killer police officer himself testifies before the grand jury in secret, although the transcript is now released and public. It shows how a skilled, deft prosecutor disobeys his oath of office, abandons his role, and engages by discourse in a legal enterprise of shameless hypocrisy to take the evil and guilt away from a wrongful death.

Consider a few minor examples: think of the size of a car window, its height from the ground. Is it credible to believe that a 6’4″ man can strike blows through a car window and travel through an interior space restricted and obstructed by a steering wheel, to render his killer nearly unconscious by striking his right cheek? Not the left cheek, the side that actually faces the window, but the right cheek, the side of the face away from the window, which is turned and not positioned well for the direct impact of a punch, “a full swing.” The limited redness and swelling in the photograph and its wide area indicate the killer’s testimony is open to question—and doubt. The prosecutor raised none and asked for no explanation, despite the major inconsistency.

Oh, and why not roll the window up? Trapping Michael Brown’s arm?

If this minor description raises questions from common sense and appears to show exaggeration (or lying), how reliable will the killer police officer’s other statements be, especially when compared to eyewitnesses, one of whom was next to the man he shot dead?

In the middle of a fight with a police officer, would you, as the officer described, turn to a friend and say, “Here, hold these,” passing over a pack of cigarillos? Is this credible or surreal?

And from the novels of Herman Melville and the tradition of racial stereotyping, the twice-shot youth, “bulking up,” making a step or a hop from a disputed distance, is stuck by the final bullets that end his life, although he was known to be unarmed.

Well, maybe not. After fighting in the car, running away, being hit by bullets, the killer officer says, he appeared to be reaching (or reached) into his waistband (of his basketball shorts). Other witnesses, like his friend standing next to him, say it did not happen. His hands remained in view, either raised or at his sides. But the prosecutor says they “make stuff up.” No gun or weapon was found. Twelve shots were fired. One person died.

How was that death handled by the local police, fellow officers and colleagues of the killer, according to grand jury testimony, released after its decision? The Washington Post reports:

When Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson left the scene of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the officer returned to the police station unescorted, washed blood off his hands and placed his recently fired pistol into an evidence bag himself.

Local officers who interviewed Wilson immediately after the shooting did not tape the conversations and sometimes conducted them with other police personnel present. An investigator with the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s office testified that he opted not to take measurements at the crime scene.

Injuries to Wilson’s head caused by punches he said were thrown by Brown were photographed by a local detective at the Fraternal Order of Police building.

Maybe some people who testified did make “stuff” up.

The killer police officer told detectives at the scene he fired one shot from inside the car; before the grand jury, with the benefit and knowledge of physical evidence, confronted by the forensics, he remembered firing twice.

Critical of social media for questioning the killer’s account (Wilson has said he would do it again), the hideous prosecutor revolted law and understanding by releasing transcripts that left the no hope for justice from the state, and even shares how he suborned justice by its own hand; by the paradox of evil and choice that lies at the justice system’s crossroads. The prosecutor’s horrible choices failed to obtain an indictment, but he succeeded by his forfeit. Then he took a half-hour of live national television to indict the rest of us. Continue reading How a Killer Got Away with Murder

Drowning in Pain and Anger

DDThere are times when words aren’t heard; their sense is lost, drowned in pain and anger. In our deafness, we only know how to blame. We have forgotten how to heal. We are no longer able to hear. The Sisyphean landslide has burnished and buried our ears’ common sense.

What should we be listening to? In America, the police and many citizens should be listening because American communities are not war zones; the police mission has no inherent right to kill in order to protect. Petty crimes should not involve the loss of life and should not be turned into confrontations and threats that lead to deaths.

Somebody should have been listening to a collective national consciousness of grief and anger that began to break through on the national stage with the death of Trayvon Martin; the death of the unarmed teen Jordan Davis, who never got out of the car through which the bullets entered as the car was speeding away; the death of Eric Garner in front of a Long Island store, whose death was ruled a homicide by the New York City Medical Examiner’s office. There are other cases, lesser known, but well known in local communities.

There are grievances that are historic. In Ferguson, the Justice Department has been told of a 2009 beating by police in which the beating victim was charged with destruction of government property—because his blood spattered onto police uniforms.

Some have pointed to the lack of respect for law and authority that exists within these communities or in the minds of those killed. Few commentators talk about the lack of respect for these communities by police and others; where too often the risk management of police-suspect confrontation ends in death—often with the victim unarmed and dying from multiple bullet wounds. Continue reading Drowning in Pain and Anger

Working Rules

By its nature, a rule produces a reaction which can go in either direction, toward compliance or resistance. The NRA, by its nature, resists all gun rules. It consistently demands extreme freedoms (yes, even freedoms can be extreme!) to own and buy and sell the most dangerous weapons of death available to American citizens. Its strategy to resist rules and regulations has been to wrap guns in the flag, and leverage its ideology with cash from supporters and gun manufacturers. So in the NRA view, guns are no longer thought of a commercial product. They are extensions of the Constitution. The constitutional protections afforded ownership, in the NRA view, should be extended to the marketplace. Background checks, equipment limits, and other rules are seen as interfering with the end result of ownership. In the NRA world, not only is ownership constitutionally protected, the marketplace should be unregulated.

Is a constitutional right abridged if a marketplace connected to that right is regulated? Is the right to own a gun mirrored in the right to buy and sell? More importantly, doesn’t the Constitution protect citizens in a way that they can be free from the intentional and unintentional dangers associated with the use of guns? Does the government have the right under the Constitution to pass laws that make me, you, and others less likely to die, singularly and en masse, at the hands of an instrument that others see as the source of the defense of life and freedom? Should the risk associated with guns be greater for some than for others? Is that risk mitigated or increased if we all own guns?

Of course, cars kill people, too. Society has inherent risks. Yet a study released last May by the Washington-based Violence Policy Center found gun deaths actually exceeded car deaths in ten states in 2009. Bloomberg News reported this will be true as a national statistic by 2015! As the numbers of cars on streets and roads increased, public policy, focused on safety (seat belts, enforcement of driving under the influence laws at the local level, improved safety equipment by auto makers, child seats) have saved lives. Deaths from auto fatalities diminished by 22 percent in just five years, from 2005 to 2010. Dramatic proof of the good use of public policy!

But can parallel effective public policy be crafted to save lives when tied to the one instrument whose ownership involves not only fun, sports and collecting, but also involves a latent but inherent right to kill, even if in the name of public and personal safety and the Constitution?

Research is one way of looking at these questions to determine the impact of policy on gun violence deaths and injuries. Gun violence ranges from suicide (52 percent of all suicides) to mass spree killings, growing more common and commanding public attention. Best estimates (probably slightly understated) say 87 people die per day from gun violence. (I have also seen dramatically larger estimates. Whatever the number, a problem, by fact and comparison exists.) Can policy reduce this number?

In the debate over policy, let’s not forget women are on the front lines. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence says 58 percent of domestic violence homicides committed against women involve a male intimate acquaintance using a gun.

An older study by two Harvard professors found the US has the highest rate of domestic violence gun murders—82 percent of total murders of an aggregate of 25 high-income nations, while having only 32 percent of the aggregate female population. Every study, every statistic indicates that women are at risk from gun deaths in situations of domestic violence and that the risk is not lessened by gun ownership by women in the household.

In fact, for women the home is the most dangerous source of gun violence and murder against women. Guns of all types are statistically more likely to be used to kill women in their households than to prevent crime or personal attacks (self-defense). Continue reading Working Rules

Repeal the Second Amendment!

Paradox” is often a word that appears in this column; it’s a fancy way of saying truth embodies its own opposite—in other words, there are exceptions to our most cherished beliefs, our proudest achievements, to every law, rule and principle, to mathematical models and even divine intervention, as there is one historically reported exception to the irreversible finality of death.

But in the national debate about guns and death, the National Rifle Association (NRA) makes no exceptions. They claim truth without paradox. Their leadership believes and expresses confidence the Second Amendment doesn’t provide for any exceptions. Since no law can stop the use of guns for murder, there should be no laws. Since, in their judgment, old laws were ineffective, there is no need for new laws. Since laws will have loopholes and workarounds, what’s the point? Their logic of default hides a fatal flaw found in the paradox of their absolutes.

That paradox is found not in their faith in the gun but in the law. They think the Second Amendment is set in stone. It’s not. As with all bad law, it can be repealed. In fact, I will raise the ante and hereby call for its repeal. It wouldn’t be the first amendment to be repealed.

Whether successful or not, it opens another political front and will force the NRA to divide its energy and resources. The call for repeal mimics the successful strategy of going after policy issues by swinging for the home run—by going after the law which is the context for the policy. The Second Amendment threatens my safety. I have been a victim of robbery at gun point. The right to bear arms has resulted in 1500+ gun connected deaths since the Newtown incident. This “cherished” ideal is tarnished. I call for the Second Amendment’s repeal. Continue reading Repeal the Second Amendment!

The Void of Blind Comfort

I just finished my new ebook! Writing and editing it made me wonder, is the American eye reliable? Do we observe the telltale details that are flashes of epiphany, the discovery of meaning and insight lodged inside of the blinders of our own vision? Why is it so hard to put down old versions of reality and tuck them away? When’s the last time any of us had a breakthrough? When I look at the media, especially, everybody seems stuck. How can we be more creative and how can that creativity be made trustworthy and true?

That challenge is hidden in my posts each week. Writing is a creative frame that improves my aim. Affirming the past can introduce depth and perspective or leave an idea mired in original error. If I extract an idea, it should not be a misleading “gotcha;” it should illuminate insights.

No-tax-pledge king Grover Noquist demonstrated a “gotcha” error last week that was blind stupidity at its worst. In a Twitter post, he called for higher appreciation for the policy views of House Speaker John Boehner. His reason: Boehner was elected and Obama was a lame duck. This ballooning mockery diminishes our democracy. And finally blinds our own eye. We only see the jeering. The good is damned by dire warnings, threats, fears, demands intended to defeat hope.

No hope existed in hundreds of Twitter posts calling the President a “nigger” and expressing searing outrage that his appearance at Newtown’s memorial for the children and adults of the Sandy Hook school killings interfered with their watching the scheduled weekly NFL game, as the networks covered the memorial rather the rivalry. One post accused the President of making the grief worse, as many parents (and many at home) cried at his words. So blind was their hatred, the posters failed to be moved by this powerful collective moment in our nation’s monumental loss. The deaths of innocent children in a small town’s school was an event they knew—it was on their screens!—but football was king! The President, also the nation’s mourner-in-chief, was assailed with America’s oldest epithet of race—one with a long. demeaning, nasty history containing its own memory and events of violence. But the label blinded his comfort as he stood to speak to grieving families and a grieving nation, ending with a roll call of the names of the child and adults lost, intoned one by one. Continue reading The Void of Blind Comfort

Newtown: Evil May Be Its Source

Have we lost our way? I don’t think so. But we are definitely missing the point. There is a body of wisdom and mistakes that we have accumulated from past millennia that tell us about living, about love and despair. There are voices old and new outside of policy makers, practitioners, and others trained to stick to scripts of talking points and scripts that are great for looking at the components of issues but are at a loss for new ideas or how to use the wisdom of old. Those voices fall short when confronting new challenges outside of their reach and training.

In the face of fear and grief, of hurt and pain, we jump on the visible, the available. We look for single source, sensible cause and solution. I often see people blame Barney Frank for the housing bubble, blaming one man for the out-of-control practices that defined an industry printing faux money in every state, selling its junk as derivatives, backed by thousands of untraceable pieces valued at billions. I see others who ignore the global recession and Europe’s retreat into a second recession with its rise in regional unemployment, and blame President Obama even as the US leads the recovery. Especially, I see virtually no one in our public conversation who provides a sources of new ideas and facts. So we return to the sound bites of old speech (as distinct from ancient speech). Now, we are at a loss. What do we do?

The killing of innocent children breaks our hearts. We fail to understand how or why.

I think we miss a major point of explanation. The killings had to do with the most ancient of forces, evil. Not evil the adjective, the dark, angry monster of the movies and novels, not the paralyzing fear that exists in many minds, nor the ugliness assigned to its carnage; but evil the noun. The thing itself.

Surprisingly, evil is a small force. As a thing, it is closer to a quark or Higgs boson than a hurricane. Think about small forces for a minute: they have incredible power. The transistor and miniaturization of electronics unleashed the tech revolution—and put music, voice, images, and the globe in your hand. But the invisible holds a darkness. The most deadly weapons that create the most massive destruction are tied to small forces—the explosion or implosion of the particles of atoms. The most deadly diseases are global epidemics linked and spread by wee little viruses which rapidly transmit their illnesses, killing thousands daily, in irreversible agony.

Metaphysics says parallels in the material world are signs for things in the world of the spirit. The parallels of destruction and plague point to evil actually being a small force. Evil is also small because it cannot sustain itself; it replicates through other means. That’s a fail safe that adds to our confusion! Because evil goes and comes without our knowing, and ebbs and flows, we deny its role and miss the steps to take to guard against it. We think of it being associated with individuals and lone incidents, but its expression and form is social.

Why is evil ever present if it is not able to sustain itself? It is efficient at finding hosts, yet follows no patterns, and has no preferences. Ironically, it is a creative force, not in terms of ends but means. Evil requires a host. To find a host, it can access pathways and levels in ways that are the non-repeatable real numbers of the dark side. We look for patterns and signs, try to trace its logic, and miss the point that evil absolutely has no preferences for its means. Because of its nature, it can be routed through time and space by very long or quick random changes, and use conditions and people well within the range of social norms. Think about breast cancer, the randomness with which it affects women. All ages, income, race. (With some statistical preferences, but none absolute.)

One of evil’s strengths is its facile randomness, swift and slow; its impromptu shifts, its pattern not repeated, even when the ends are the same. Its randomness makes early detection hard. Without the right personnel, it’s impossible to read. Evil can’t be profiled. Continue reading Newtown: Evil May Be Its Source