Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil
Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray. How many more instances of police violence do we need to witness? How many young black men will die? How many stories of physical abuse at the hands of the authorities will it take to change our culture?
Unfortunately, one more is too many and I fear it will take so many more than one before our culture is moved to really change. For those of us who have worked in indigent defense for years none of this violence by authorities is new. It is shameful and sickening but not new. For years we have met with our clients in jails and seen the black eyes, the bruising, and the marks upon them from “resisting arrest”. For years our clients have reported these instances only to be called liars and have the complaints dismissed.
It is very important to note that this is not a police problem alone. Our justice system has condoned and continues to condone policing practices in our poorest neighborhoods, never questioning the versions of events being presented. Our prosecutors deny the abuse took place and defend the actions of the police. Even today, while the Department of Justice investigates many of these cases, it still argues for more police immunity in court. And many claim the videos we are seeing tell the actions of a ‘few bad apples’. These officers are outliers we are told. They tell us that these videos we see of officers shooting unarmed black men in the back or of a young man having his spine severed and ultimately having his life taken are not evidence of a systemic, cultural failure.
But we have to ask, how can that be true? We have had this level of violence for years. Black men have been killed in numbers and situations that defy belief. Yet, prior to the videos we now see, the investigations in to these prior killings always resulted in reports that used words like “justified” or “righteous shooting”.
In my own state, Ohio, I am reminded of the 2001 riots in Cincinnati. What led up to those riots? The Cincinnati police, during the six years that led to the riots, killed 15 black men. During the same period not one white man was killed by the police. Yet, not one officer was convicted of any wrongdoing. Would the result be the same if we had video of each of those 15 killings?
And now we have Freddie Gray, a young black man who had his spine broken and life taken. No one has been charged and no one has been arrested. Yes, there is an investigation but our culture continues to approach this entire event the wrong way. The police continue to emphasize that Mr. Gray ran away when they approached. News agencies continue to emphasize this point, as if running away from the police is illegal. As if Freddie Gray brought this upon himself and somehow the police breaking his back and taking his life were not beyond any explanation. This is not supposed to be a police state. If you have not done anything wrong, not talking to the police is entirely legal. And no one has alleged Mr. Gray committed any crime or that he was even suspected of a crime. He simply was present in a poor neighborhood of color. Running from the police is entirely legal. And given the violence occurring in our poorest neighborhoods perhaps the right question is why everyone isn’t running.
Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray – their lives and so many others were taken from them. We have to see this evil, hear this evil, and speak about this evil. We must stop this evil.