WHAT WE AIM TO GAIN FROM THE KNEEL by Kyung Trotter
We’ve done enough talking. No more talking. No more marching. No more singing. No more media coverage of a crowd of people waiting outside of a courtroom just to receive word of yet another failure to indict, of a white cop who has murdered an unarmed black man in cold blood. Not another helpless black mother jumping up and down, sobbing “Ya’ll wrong!”. (Newsone, 2014). Not another empty promise of justice to her that will never come. It’s time to unveil the methods used to keep this scene playing over and over again and eradicate it.
THE U.S. SUPREME COURT LEADS THE WAY
Shockingly, the foundation of continued injustice lies beneath the very entity that one would believe would render nothing but equity- the United States Supreme Court. While most citizens pay close attention to the Executive and Legislative branches, the Judicial branch has been left unnoticed, to the consistent peril of black people. This branch of our government is the reason why law enforcement officers may kill unarmed black men and then go home to a steak dinner and a recliner, instead of the jail cell that they belong in.
Whereas being able to keep one’s life should be revered as the most highly regarded, inalienable right, the U.S. Supreme Court has removed that right from the U.S. Const. amend XIV,
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life,…without due process of law…
and instead, placed it under the U.S. Const. amend IV’s seizure clause. U.S. Const. amend. IV.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In reading the plain language of this clause, one would surmise that it’s applied within the context of securing a person for arrest with a warrant, or retrieving evidence with the same. However, with respect to the black lives taken by white or otherwise, law enforcement, the clause is cunningly, shortened and applied this way. Ibid.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons,...against unreasonable…seizures, shall not be violated…
Subsequently, when a law enforcement officer shoots an unarmed black person, the question examined in court is not whether the black person had a right to keep his or her life, it’s whether the law enforcement officer perfected a successful “seizure”. Cty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 842 (1998) “perhaps” a successful seizure, is a death.
The legal, mind used to finding definitive, final answers from the mouths of the Supreme Court is left scratching one’s head at the word perhaps, left hanging in the air. Falling short of formally, and definitively declaring that a successful seizure is indeed a death seems to be a precedent that the Court knows better than to explicitly state. Nevertheless, leaving the word to ponder from circumstance to circumstance, allows any Court to interpret and apply the same however it so chooses. This purposeful suggestion that a death by a pursuing police officer is a successful seizure, rather than an affirmative announcement that it is, is the license provided by this Court to the states and in turn a license handed to their police, to kill black people, legally.
STATES CREATE LAWS TO KILL LEGALLY
The licenses can be found codified in the state statutes. For example, the state of New York brazenly provides that a person may simply be shot to death rather than pursued and brought to justice. N.Y. Penal Law § 35.30 (McKinney).
A police officer…in the course of effecting or attempting to effect an arrest, or of preventing or attempting to prevent the escape from custody, of a person whom he or she reasonably believes to have committed an offense, may use physical force when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to effect the arrest, or to prevent the escape from custody…except that deadly physical force may be used for such purposes only when he or she reasonably believes that:
(a) The offense committed by such person was…
…(i) a felony or an attempt to commit a felony involving the use or attempted use or threatened imminent use of physical force against a person…
Notice the word was. This indicates that a police officer, may shoot to kill even after an alleged crime has already been committed, or he or she reasonably believes that the person pursued attempted to commit an offense. To put this statute plainly, a police officer merely needs to reasonably believe that a black person attempted to commit an offense in order kill him or her.
This effectively skips the arrest, skips the arraignment, skips the jury, trial, proof of guilt and sentencing and instead places the power to render an immediate death penalty, into the hands of the police. Thereafter, when a black person is dead, the question won’t be whether he or she had a life interest under the 14th Amendment, which could not be taken away without due process. It will be, whether the cop perhaps perfected a reasonable, successful seizure. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 109 S. Ct. 1865, 104 L. Ed. 2d 443 (U.S. 1989).
Claim that law enforcement officials have used excessive force, deadly or not, in course of arrest, investigatory stop or other “seizure” of a person is properly analyzed under Fourth Amendment's “objective reasonableness” standard, rather than under substantive due process standard. 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983; U.S.C.A. Const.Amends. 4, 14.
REASONABILITY VERSUS COLD-BLOODED MURDER
This deliberate reasonability paradigm versus the right to life, could not have been demonstrated any clearer than the recent trial verdict of Officer Jeronimo Yanez. Yanez, shot Philando Castile, a black man, to death while he sat in his car, in Minnesota. Although Yanez shot Castile seven times-on video- he was still acquitted of the scarce charges of Manslaughter and Dangerous Weapon-Discharge Firearm-Endanger Safety which read respectively: Minn. Stat. Ann. § 609.205(1) reads:
A person who causes the death of another by any of the following means is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than ten years or to payment of a fine of not more than $20,000, or both:
(1) by the person's culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another…
Minn. Stat. Ann. § 609.66.1(a)(2)
Subdivision 1. Misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor crimes. (a) Whoever does any of the following is guilty of a crime…
…(2) intentionally points a gun of any kind, capable of injuring or killing a human being and whether loaded or unloaded, at or toward another…
The said statutes were quoted to the jury in their instructions before they deliberated. They had to determine if the facts and evidence that they had heard at trial, fit within the elements of the said statutes. Had they only been given these statutes alone, one might expect a finding of guilty. However, these statutes were not the only ones they received. In addition to considering these laws, they were also instructed to simultaneously consider whether the officer acted reasonably when he shot Castile seven times:
AUTHORIZED USE OF DEADLY FORCE BY POLICE OFFICERS
The statutes of the State of Minnesota provide that the use of deadly force by a peace officer in the line of duty is justified, and no crime is committed, when necessary to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm.
The State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not authorized to use deadly force.
REASONABLE USE OF FORCE
As to each of the counts, the “reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the prospective of an officer acting reasonably at the moment he is on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The reasonableness inquiry extends only to those facts known to the officer at the precise moment the officer acted with force. The determination of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation under circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. (Final-Jury, 2017, pp. 7-8).
So what this basically says is the so-called reasonableness is whatever the officer and only the officer perceived to be the facts at the time. Never mind anything else. That's a pretty narrow instruction.
This element has proven to be easily abused, evidenced by the epidemic of countless bodies of color that have laid and continue to lay dead in the street. Pursuant to state laws like this one, all an officer has to say is he saw something threatening, which caused him to take his so-called, split-second, deadly action. Of course the person dead doesn't get to tell his side of the story. Such instructions like these, cloud the fact that someone has lost their life in absence of due process, with the mirage that a mere reasonable seizure took place. Such a narrow, smoke-screen is the reason why the jury chose to give the latter instructions much more weight than the former as, Yanez was acquitted.
I don't agree with the U.S. Supreme Court and neither should you. When a life is taken, a life is taken- period. It's not a "seizure" under the 4th Amendment. It's murder. So let's go ahead and dunk that "perhaps" in the garbage with a Michael Jordan tongue hanging out. Moreover, if that murder is committed with a racist motivation, it's a hate crime.
Placing life under the 4th Amendment and then handing a jury a generalized way that any officer would react in a moment where one claims to be fearful of one’s life, is an air-tight formula to disregard life and only focus on the job of the police officer. What's more, having a District Attorney convene a grand jury, to determine if charges should be brought, when under the 14th Amendment the DA can charge the officer himself, directly, is another air-tight, secret, means to deprive the bereaved family of any justice in the criminal justice system. There's a saying in the legal community, "You can indict a ham sandwich". That means that a DA who walks into a grand jury intending to get an indictment- walks out with one. The logic is clear. Any DA walking out without an indictment, had no intention of getting one in the first place. That said, those who commit these racist murders should be arrested- like any other alleged murderer, not handed to a corrupt process, closed to the public.
Black and brown people, wake up. Ignorance of the so-called law is the very reason why black mothers will continue to sob and scream outside of courtrooms, when their children’s murderers go free. Until life is placed back under the Fourteenth Amendment, where it belongs, with the protection that it cannot be taken away without due process, instead of perhaps it can, in the form of a successful seizure under the Fourth, black people will continue to be legally lynched with the new noose- the police gun.
When Martin Luther King marched, he marched with a specific demand. It is time to demand that these “kill-a-ni**er” laws, come off the books and the obsolete, corrupt, grand jury process, be abolished. Yes, I said kill-a-ni**er statutes, because when a racist cop sets out to kill, he's not looking for black people. He's looking for a ni**ers and with these statutes and the grand jury, he doesn't have to have a care in the world.