Last week, we posted about how broken the justice system is if a white police officer doesn’t even have to go to trial for shooting an unarmed black teen. Honestly, we didn’t think it could get any worse than that.
Like most of you, we heard about the Eric Garner case, but it took a backseat to what was going on in Ferguson. That was the story of the year when it came to police brutality and race relations. At least, that’s what we were led to believe. But this week, a grand jury issued another no-bill. And this is the case that should be making headlines.
Eric Garner was killed when an NYPD officer used a chokehold on Garner, who just seconds before told police not to touch him. The officer dragged him to the ground where three other officers proceeded to arrest Garner. The cop in question, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, continued to apply the chokehold. Garner then informed the officer that he couldn’t breathe.
Garner later died. The officers at the scene didn’t administer CPR (they say he was still breathing but unconscious at the time) and Garner died at the hospital an hour later.
All the evidence was presented to a grand jury, which this week issued a no-bill to Officer Pantaleo, setting off another wave of riots.
People are comparing this to Ferguson, and honestly, that’s wrong. In Ferguson, there was ambiguity. We don’t know exactly what happened between Wilson and Brown. We don’t know what went down in the police car or what things looked like when Wilson pulled the trigger on the fatal shots.
In this case, we do know. We have video of exactly what happened.
The officer uses a chokehold, which is a violation of NYPD policy, to arrest a man for selling loosies (single cigarettes). Garner tells the officers he can’t breathe 11 times before passing out and later dying. The medical examiner rules the death a homicide. And yet, the grand jury issues a no-bill.
How can you watch that video and issue a no-bill? How? There is video evidence of the officer using an illegal chokehold which resulted in the death of a citizen. And no trial.
This is justice in America for minorities. And frankly, we’re so upset about it, that’s about all we can say. In fact, Garner’s last words say it best:
It would be fair to say there’s been too much media attention surrounding what’s been going on in Ferguson, Missouri. No one outside of the state probably even heard of the St. Louis neighbor before 2014. But when Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014, that all changed. Wilson was white, Brown was black. Brown was unarmed. Some say he was surrendering when he was fatally shot. Riots ensued around the rallying cry “No justice, No peace.”
That “justice” came earlier this week. Prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch gave a 45 minute speech in which he announced a no-bill for Officer Wilson, meaning there would be no trial. Here’s the full speech:
You’ll note that McCulloch indites pretty much everyone except the officer who pulled the trigger on an unarmed civilian. Our favorite part was when he said the grand jury “gave their lives” to examine all the evidence. Was that really the choice of words you wanted to use there?
Look, we all knew this was coming. And maybe the evidence, if it had gone to a trial, would have supported Officer Wilson. We haven’t looked through the data dump McCulloch’s office provided yet. Frankly, we’ve waited a couple days to write so our post is informative and helpful instead of accusatory and filled with profanity.
The problem here is how this was all handled from the very beginning. It started with the Ferguson police releasing only the information that helped their case. Isn’t it amazing how the video of Brown robbing a convenience store was leaked to the public, but there were no leaks when it came to anything involving Officer Wilson? The official police report was also a joke, so it wasn’t until this week when we actually got to hear the full version of what the police say happened.
Cops protecting themselves isn’t anything new though. But something that is rare is a grand jury issuing a no-bill. At the federal level, attorneys prosecuted over 162,000 cases in 2010. 11 were returned without an indictment. In terms of percentages, that means the chances of Wilson receiving a no-bill was .00679%. If only.
The percentage is higher mostly because McCulloch didn’t do his job. He’s a prosecuting attorney, which means it’s his job to prosecute someone. Instead, he said from the beginning that he wanted to present the grand jury with all the evidence available and let them make an informed decision. Sounds great, right? Except that’s not what grand juries are supposed to do.
Grand juries exist to determine if a case should be sent to trial. And while their is good evidence that Wilson was not guilty of a crime, there was definitely evidence that something went wrong and a jury should probably examine the evidence. Even in McCulloch’s 45-minute grandstand evidence was laid out in a somewhat nonsensical way – McCulloch said Wilson was responding to a burglary, but it was earlier reported that Wilson had no idea a burglary took place. Wilson describes Brown as a “demon” at one point. Isn’t that enough evidence right there?
And can we all agree that when a white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenager, there should at least be a trial?
What McCulloch did was to have a “secret trial” with the grand jury. Even a halfway competent lawyer could have presented enough evidence to push this case to a trial. Instead, McCulloch didn’t present a charge. He didn’t present evidence in a way that would make any sense to a grand jury. He didn’t do his job and Wilson walked because of it.
As we said earlier, maybe the outcome would have been the same had this case gone to trial. But the fact that it didn’t even get that far shows just how broken our legal system still is.
Photo via Wikicommons, CCL
Attorney Generals rarely make headlines. Many people probably don’t even know what their Attorney General does at either the state or federal levels. But after a New York Times article came out just a couple weeks ago, Missouri voters definitely know what an Attorney General isn’t supposed to do.
Chris Koster has served as the state’s Attorney General since 2008, winning re-election in 2012 largely because he’s had a pretty successful track record. As the top law enforcement officer of the state, it’s mostly his job to stay out of the headlines unless he’s prosecuting a major case on behalf of Missourians (and unless he’s switching parties to win an election). But Koster got busted in late October, and in a big way.
Here’s the NYT article, which uses Koster as a springboard to talking about corruption in many Attorney General’s offices throughout the US. If you’re looking for the money quote, here it is:
“Ms. Kalani’s firm [representing 5-Hour Energy], Dickstein Shapiro, had courted the attorney general at dinners and conferences and with thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Mr. Koster told Ms. Kalani that he was unaware of the investigation, and he reached for his phone and called his office. By the end of the weekend, he had ordered his staff to pull out of the inquiry, a clear victory for 5-Hour Energy.”
Like we said: busted.
Now Koster isn’t the only person doing this, especially in the great state of Missouri. See, in the Show-Me state, there’s no limit to what lobbyists can donate and individual donors can contribute. As long as it’s recorded, you can give out hundreds of thousands in one setting, as Rex Sinquefield often does. Very few other states have such lax rules when it comes to “dirty money” like this.
But as the NYT article points out, campaign finance reform and changing the way donations are handled won’t fix everything. It’s the culture that lobbyists create that’s the problem. Lavish dinners and cocktail parties. Lobbyists drafting legislation that more often than not becomes law with minimal changes. These are just a few of the reasons why we’re in the mess we’re in.
The biggest issue here is that Koster was essentially caught red-handed. He’s supposed to be the highest ranking member of law enforcement in the state, and he got caught if not breaking the letter of the law, than certainly the spirit of it. And this isn’t even the first time he’s been accused of such misbehavior. But this is old news – the NYT article is from the end of October, and it’s almost Thanksgiving. So what’s changed? Not much.
Sure, Republicans in the legislature will go after Koster with a commission, and Koster has already said he’ll reform the office. In the end, this is going to amount to a slap on the wrist, though – if that. Koster was planning to run for Governor in 2016, and by then this saga will have blown over. Because in our modern political system, we half expect our politicians to take bribes.