Guess: is this a prosecutor questioning a victim? A prosecutor questioning a defendant? A defense attorney questioning a victim? A defense attorney questioning a defendant?
This isn’t about Michael Brown1. Or rather, it isn’t about just Michael Brown. It certainly isn’t about only this Michael Brown. It’s about race, power and a system that just affirmed itself.
It’s about anger at a system which has trained the powerless to accept their lack of power over and over again. It’s about anger at a system, that despite the promises of the civil rights era, has only affirmed the status quo: some lives are worth more than others. Some people will always get punished more harshly than others.
It’s about anger that those who are the most underprivileged, the most disenfranchised continue to be subjugated under the guise of the best system in the world.
It’s about anger that the ethnic majority has historically viewed and continues to view minorities as dangerous and frightening. It’s about anger that the majority is doing its best to clutch onto its slipping grasp through intimidation and fear.
Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer, like many, many others have been shot and killed by police officers. Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted or charged for that shooting like an overwhelming number of police officers haven’t been charged. While whites are certainly victims of police brutality, minorities are overwhelmingly so.
The anger is because it seems that Michael Brown was shot because of his race – and that doesn’t mean Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown specifically because Michael Brown was black. Rather, Wilson shot Brown because of what he believed about black people; what we’ve all read and heard about black people; what we’ve all been conditioned to realize about black people; what popular media regularly portrayed black people as.
So when he stopped, I stopped. And then he starts to turn around, I tell him to get on the ground, get on the ground.
He turns, and when he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he’s coming back towards me. His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does like a stutter step to start running. When he does that, his left hand goes in a fist and goes to his side, his right one goes under his shirt in his waistband and he starts running at me.
At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him.
And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.
Like an animal. Michael Brown was an animal to Darren Wilson.
That’s what this anger is about. That this non-indictment exposed the gaping race chasm in America: white people love police and authority when it comes to maintaining the social order. That social order is fairly simple: there are the whites who can do whatever they want, then there are the “criminals” and the “minorities” and the “gays”, except those that act like the white people. The system exists to contain the teeming masses of minorities/criminals and to keep them in check. If a black man is killed by a police officer, well that’s his fault.
As I’ve written before, for White America, the police force exists as a private security force, to keep them and their belongings safe and secure and separate from the uncouth, uncivilized and dirty Blacks and Hispanics. (Here’s another must-read on the subject from The Atlantic.)
For the rest of America, the police force is sadly nothing but an oppressor acting with the imprimatur of the greatest Democracy in the World.
That’s what this anger is about. It’s about the death of one boy, for sure, but it’s also about the death of the right to be free and the right to be equal in America.
It’s about the death of Dr. King’s dream.
This is Thomas Jefferson:
Hawver, a Republican and Libertarian once ran for Governor of Kansas and then attorney general and also for Congress.
Needless to say, he failed in his quest for any office.
Perhaps in keeping with his Jeffersonian obsession, he was also a criminal defense attorney. He also failed at that – and spectacularly so – but this time he wasn’t the only one who lost. His client, facing the death penalty, was duly sentenced to death, because perhaps Hawver hadn’t grasped the fact that dressing like Jefferson doesn’t mean anything if you didn’t stand for his principles either:
At trial, Hawver described his client, Phillip Cheatham Jr., as a “professional drug dealer” and a “shooter of people,” according to findings of fact cited by the state supreme court. During the sentencing phase of the trial, he said the killer should be executed. “I had a single mitigator to offer the jury in sentencing,” Hawver said in an affidavit, “and that was my argument that my client was innocent.”
Hawver didn’t investigate alibi witnesses and didn’t track his client’s cellphone to find his location at the time of the murders, the court said.
As a defense lawyer, defending his client against the death penalty, there is generally one unbreakable rule: don’t tell the jury to execute your client.
Hawver also told jurors that they should execute the killer in his closing argument.
Oh. To be fair, this might have had something to do with his unusual tactics:
Hawver had never previously tried a capital murder case and had not tried a murder case in more than 20 years, according to the opinion. He was unfamiliar with ABA guidelines for trying capital murder cases.
And when I say a spectacular failure, I mean spectacular:
Hawver had said he had no funds for a pretrial investigation and he didn’t call the indigent defense board to explore whether funding was available to support his representation. He also said he didn’t recall whether a board representative had called him with an offer to provide co-counsel, investigators, consultants and expert witnesses, but he doesn’t contest that an offer of funding was made.
During the arguments, Hawver identifies Jefferson as his hero and says he wore the outfit because he had a constitutional right to represent the client “as directed, instructed and agreed” by the client, “no matter what the ABA guidelines have to say.”
Hawver explained to the Kansas Supreme Court why he didn’t get cellphone records for an alibi defense. “I had no idea that cellphones had GPS capabilities at that time,” he said. “Did you? I didn’t. If I had known it, I’d have been on it like a dog on a bone.”
Thankfully, in 2013, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed Cheatham’s conviction and just last week, spared any other individual of having to be represented by a Jefferson clone by disbarring Hawver.
The fact that Hawver showed up to the disbarment argument in Jefferson garb might have had something to do with it (A good shot of his attire is at five minutes and 17 seconds; his argument begins at 22 minutes and 38 seconds.):
I’ve written before about how dehumanizing prisons are and how badly inmates are treated by guards and of course I’ve written about the injustices of the system, but you folks seem to all be gravitating toward lists, so here’s a decidedly somber one from one of the funniest sites out there.
Luckily this man’s innocence was proved, but think of how many there are who are still seeking that vindication.
A judge usually wears many hats: jurist, prosecutor, defense attorney. A judge has to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a case in pre-trial negotiations, make offers, impose just sentences, etc.
Prosecutors usually end up being judges once they advance far enough in their careers and have schmoozed the right politicians.
Neil Bruntrager, general counsel for the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association, works part time as a judge where police officers from county jurisdictions sometimes testify against defendants. “There has never been a conflict. If there was I would remove myself,” Bruntrager said. “If anything, being a defense attorney makes me more sympathetic as a judge in terms of scrutinizing the evidence.”
St. Louis County and the Circuit Attorney’s offices both have full time prosecutors that are allowed to work part time as municipal judges. While prosecutors can do it, state law says public defenders cannot.
Here, have a look at how ridiculous it can get:
Attorney Ronald Brockmeyer works as a St. Charles divorce and criminal defense lawyer during the day, but by night he works part time prosecuting traffic violators in Dellwood. He also works part time as a judge in nearby Breckenridge Hills.
“I don’t think that’s a conflict at all,” Brockmeyer said. “Not at all.”
Brockmeyer makes $600 a session and isn’t alone in wearing multiple hats.
“I’m the judge in Ferguson, a judge in Breckenridge Hills, a prosecutor in Florissant, a prosecutor in Vinita Park, and prosecutor here in Dellwood,” he said.
The defense attorney is a prosecutor and a judge and a prosecutor is always a prosecutor and a judge but never a defense attorney and a lawyer for cops is a prosecutor and a judge but never a defense attorney and public defenders are always defense attorneys but never judges and defendants are always screwed.
Human rights, individual rights. We all have rights. We all should have the same rights. Yet we often withhold those basic rights that we’d want for ourselves from others in civilization because we dislike or disagree with them. Why is that? Is that because we’re afraid of them? Some of them, undoubtedly, have forfeited the right to have those protections – either for a short period of time or forever – but the easiest road to stripping humans of their inherent rights is to treat them as inhuman.
We are also incredibly selective in our willingness to recognize the existence of these rights. Some, in America, recognize the First Amendment rights, but only for groups they support. Some recognize only Second Amendment rights. Some are willing to subjugate all the rights to their personal interests without any sense of irony.
We, in America, have built a society upon a foundation of individual freedom and inalienable rights but we constantly pile heaps upon heaps of fear and ignorance on that bedrock to the point that it is now so completely obscured that it remains a distant memory.
It is a difficult thing to do, to be honest: to stand firm on your principles and be honest and true to them in the face of overwhelming fear, emotion and sensationalism. As humans, we are also petty, cheap, jealous, base and vindictive. Tolerance is an achievement, not an inherent state of existence. The ability to hold two conflicting ideas in one’s head takes effort, whereas vilification of some ‘other’ takes nothing but the triggering of some base emotion.
We are also social creatures. We have the herd mentality. We need to be part of a greater whole. We want to be liked. We want to be wanted. We need approval. And approval is most easily gained by further dumping on those that the majority is already abandoning. Joining the crowd and appealing to base instincts of fear and ignorance and hatred is far easier than standing firm against that tide.
This is why it makes perfect sense that judges do, perhaps subconsciously, succumb to negative advertising and shy away from standing behind principles of freedom, equality and due process. That’s why politicians lose their seats because of spurious allegations of “supporting child molesters”. It’s why the Debo Adegbile‘s of the world can’t get the recognition they deserve.
When we decide whether certain rights (guns) should be granted based on whether we like the people who are seeking those rights (gun nuts) then we decide that rights aren’t rights at all, but rather privileges that can be taken away without any recourse.
When that happens, it won’t matter if you’re a child molester or a law-abiding citizen owning a firearm. You’ll be as much of a criminal in the eyes of everyone else.
I wrote last week about the double standard in sanctioning defense attorneys while scores of prosecutors nationwide engage in deliberate and willful misconduct that deprives individuals of their Constitutional rights without any consequences whatsoever.
A helpful reader sent me a link to this CT Supreme Court opinion from 2012 that I’d missed, as a further example. In this case, the defense argued that in order to convict him of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated kidnapping (both require the use of a firearm), the jury must be instructed that he actually possessed such firearm. The operative language of both statutes is similar and it is this:
(1) such person uses or is armed with and threatens the use of or displays or represents by such person’s words or conduct that such person possesses a deadly weapon
The reason for this argument is that it is an affirmative defense that the weapon was inoperable. Thus, it would make no sense for the affirmative defense to be applied to someone who had an inoperable gun, but unavailable to someone who had no gun at all.
The Court agreed with the prosecution that the defense had not preserved this argument and thus declined to consider it. And then it dropped this footnote:
[W]e feel compelled to note that in the section of her appellate brief addressing this issue the state’s appellate counsel, Assistant State’s Attorney Melissa L. Streeto, purported to provide quotations of §§ 53a-70a (a)(1) and 53a-92a but inserted commas supporting her statutory construction without any indication that alterations had been made.
In response to questions at oral argument regarding the accuracy of these quotations, she explained, in justification of the improper insertions, that “I put those there because that is how the statute should be read.”
No matter how a statute should be read, it is for the legislature—and not counsel—to determine how the statute should be written. We strongly disapprove of the tactic employed here, which was at the very least misleading, and we remind counsel that they are obligated to indicate, through the use of brackets or explanatory parentheticals or otherwise, any modification to quoted materials.
Contrary to Assistant State’s Attorney Streeto’s suggestion at oral argument, and notwithstanding her apology for misleading the court, this obligation is not met by including unmodified copies of the relevant texts in an appendix.
A prosecutor, in reproducing something as basic as the text of a statute – something that everyone has free access to – which she must’ve known the parties would be familiar with, decided to pass off as accurate her own interpretation of the statute.
Then, upon being questioned, had the hubris to state “that’s how the statute should be read”.
This is what happens when prosecutors are allowed to run rampant without any oversight. Once again, I’m fairly certain, despite the Supreme Court’s concern and strong disapproval of this “tactic” that was “at the very least misleading”, she was not punished or reprimanded, let alone referred to the grievance committee.
When prosecutors apologize, everything is okay, because they didn’t really mean to deprive you of your Constitutional rights. After all, they’re in it for justice.