Archive for June, 2020

Maybe It is Time to Build The Wall. The Wall Of Shame.

07 Jun

In 2016 one of Candidate Trump’s big selling points was his promise to build a wall along the U.S. Southern border and that Mexico would pay for it. Of course, when Candidate Trump instrumentalized enough hate and division to become President Trump not only did Mexico not pay for anything, but according to recent data concerning the wall, only a measly 3 miles of (primary) wall have been erected in places where no previous barrier already existed! With a total price tag of 11 billion dollars already, and again none of which Mexico has paid for, Trump’s border wall project has turned into a financial fiasco.

Of course financial fiascos are nothing new for Donald Trump as Trump’s financial disasters run the gamut from operating a phony University, a string of failed Casinos, dubious stock which only robbed investors, a horrendous pro-football venture and three declarations of business bankruptcies. This as an impressive list of failures for someone claiming to be a brilliant businessman. However, as atrocious as these (and other) business blunders have been, they appear to be small potatoes compared to the shaky financial ground President Trump has left America in since he took office. Although I could highlight the millions of dollars he and his family have charged the American taxpayer with for security and rooms at his properties, or the billions of dollars he cost the American treasury with his corporate tax cuts that have (largely) only benefited him and other wealthy elites, the real sum to be concerned with are the trillions of dollars of debt he has racked up in his tenure as President. More specifically, not only was Trump’s promise to wipe out the debt in 8 years another gross lie, but Trump has racked up over 3 trillion dollars worth of debt in under three years in office and now the Federal debt at 23 trillion is the largest debt in American history. One wonders where the fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and Tea Party have gone?

However, financial debacles aside President Trump and his supporters continue to tout President Trumps achievements on non-financial and social matters. It is simply impossible to debunk all of these claims in this piece one-by-one but this author would implore readers to ask themselves what does the eye test tell them? In the last four 4 months over  100,000 Americans are dead to the Coronavirus and America is literally on fire from coast-to-coast. While both occurrences are horrible and tragic, in each instance the magnitude of each tragedy was significantly intensified with the actions (and inactions) of President Trump.

First, Trump was warned for months of the deadly potential of the Coronavirus and for months he did nothing and even dismissed it as a Democratic Hoax. Trump’s abject failure on this front is especially jarring when considering the fact that experts have found that 90 percent of Coronavirus deaths could have been avoided only two weeks sooner, with the Washington Post reporting that 36,000 lives could have been saved if only government officials had acted a week before Trump finally realized there was problem. Again, Trump and his “advisors” denied for months that there was any threat posed by the Coronavirus even though experts in the US relying on international data (and yes data from China) had repeatedly highlighted the danger of the Coronavirus.

Second, on May 25, 2020 George Floyd, an African American, was arrested and subsequently murdered when a white cop, Derek Chauvin, pinned his knee on Floyd’s neck while Floyd was on the ground and kept it there for 9 minutes (2.5 of which while he was unconscious) while at three other officers did nothing to stop him. The video of this incident caused an uproar across the United States with protests spanning all fifty states (notably, the protests also spanned the Globe with millions of  protestors marching in countries like Germany, Syria, Brazil, Canada, England, Australia, the Netherlands, and New Zealand). However, as these protests got co-opted by outside forces and then turned violent, and as America started to burn, there was a notable silence emanating from the White House. For days people waited for President Trump to make some sort of meaningful and unifying message yet President Trump was even incapable of delivering this. Moreover, his tweets concerning Floyd’s murder while initially having a veneer of concern for Floyd and injustice began to descend into the promotion of violent retribution against protestors. Understandably as this did not work to quell the violence, Trump apparently became very rattled when the protestors reached his door and it was reported that he was even forced to hide in White House bunker with the lights turned off. After continued protesting across the country and being forced to flee to an underground bunker one would think that a normal person in Trump’s shoes, would finally wake up, change course in this tipping point moment in American history, and lead the fight for unity. But this is Trump, and of course the worst possible scenario is the result.

On June 1, 2020 at approximately 6:45pm peaceful protesters in Washington D.C. were suddenly attacked by federal and military police who fired tear gas, flash bombs and rubber bullets into the crowd who had assembled across the street from the White House. At the same time President Trump began to deliver a speech from the White House which began with a commitment to peaceful protestors and then devolved into full blown tyranny when the President of the United States pledged utilize the military against American citizens exercising and invade individual states with (occupying) military forces. If this was not bad enough the icing on this rancid authoritarian cake was after his speech, Trump now emboldened by the calculated removal protestors, decided to finally emerge from the White House and walk across to the street to a church for a photo op and incredibly used a bible to help promote his message of violence! This blasphemous act received near universal condemnation from religious persons across the US including the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Rev. Mariann Budde. One wonders where the constitutional conservatives, libertarians, and Tea Party have gone?

Enough is Enough.

If the George Floyd protests are the tipping point, Trumps anti-democratic, self-interested and blasphemous spectacle on June 1st must be the last straw to tip the scales. Not only should every American citizen register and prepare to exercise their vote to elect candidates with lifelong commitments to unity and social reform, but it is time for all who continue to support Trump from this point on to be remembered for their shame and cowardice during a time when America’s liberty is under siege. As such, instead of a meaningless and ineffectual border wall, a wall of remembrance and shame should be erected in the nation’s capital and filled with the names of all those who were complicit, supported, enabled, or even acquiesced to Donald Trump’s Presidency. As such, the ‘Wall of Shame’ should begin with the names of the 51 Republican Senators who voted to acquit Trump following his impeachment in the House (with an underline placed under the names of obsequious Senators Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell and Marco Rubio), should be followed by the Republican House members who voted against impeachment, and rounded out with the members of the media, corporate donors, and MAGA deplorable who espouse hate that continue to support him. Anyone who continues to support Trump is absolutely free to add their name to the Wall so that future generations know exactly who stood with and for the destruction of American democracy. And this is not hyperbole. From attacking the free press, to trampling the Constitution, to his attacks on law enforcement agencies, to welcoming foreign assistance in undermining American elections (and then attempting to cover it up), to seeking retribution on political opponents, to instrumenalizing the military for his own political purposes, to now inciting violence on his own citizens, there is not a single democratic institution Donald Trump and his authoritarian posse have not compromised.

As such, it is not just America that is on fire, America’s very democracy is burning. At best America in now a Hybrid Regime and if Trump and co. are allowed to utilize tactics from their authoritarian tool kit for another four years the United States will be unrecognizable from any totalitarian regime America ever denounced.

It is time. Build the Wall, Remember the Enablers.

Comments Off

Posted in Uncategorized


The Only Effective Way to Hold Police Accountable

07 Jun

The 2016 documentary OJ: Made in America truly was a seminal piece of filmmaking. Ezra Edelman’s Academy Award winning piece was not only a master class for its meticulous chronicling of O.J. Simpson’s early life, football career and his 1994 criminal trial (often dubbed ‘The Trial of the Century”), but its in-depth analysis of race and class as the context for the O.J.’s trial and subsequent acquittal is a true accomplishment for the ages.

While chronicling O.J. Simpson’s journey from obscurity to stardom in the dual arenas of athletics and entertainment, Edleman simultaneously documents America’s vile history with regards to race relations and persecution of minority communities. Edelman’s work while providing an overview of the historical inequality and injustice perpetrated against African Americans, fixates on the experience of blacks in Los Angeles and carefully examines how ongoing atrocities committed by the police and the courts against African Americans led to a complete loss of faith in the justice system by the black community. The true genius of Edelman’s work and what separates it from the myriad of other O.J. related works is the parallel timeline of important milestones in Simpson’s life with the succession of blows the black community endures at the hands of the LAPD and the justice system as a whole. Although Simpson appears to have work his whole life to deliberately distance himself from the black community and its longstanding struggle, these two timelines eventually intersect with Simpson’s prosecution for double murder. The result of course was that Simpson’s defence was successfully able to instrumentalize the historical injustice against blacks by turning the jury’s attention away from the evidence and his Simpson’s obvious motive murder, and towards instead, the idea that a corrupt police force had unjustly pinned the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman on Simpson. After Simpson’s acquittal, the overwhelming support he received from the black community (and a significant portion of the white community) demonstrates that this narrative offered by Simpson’s defense was not only plausible, but rang true because of the historical persecution African Americans had endured by the justice system.

One of the seminal events chronicled in Edleman’s documentary were the 1992 L.A. riots that took place shortly before Simpson’s trial. The riots were set-off following four white police officers being acquitted for the roles they played in the vicious beating of Rodney King, a black motorist who appeared motionless for much of the beatings. While King’s beating at the hands of several (white) police officers was certainly not uncommon according to the black community in L.A. (or America for that matter), what offered the promise of justice was the fact that someone had videotaped the incident and the disseminated video garnered Worldwide condemnation for the brutal beating and abuse of power depicted. Unfortunately for the African Community, the trial and subsequent acquittal of the police officers involved in the incident was not a step towards justice but yet another powerful reminder of their fragile, second-class and marginalized place in America. Enough was enough and Los Angeles went up in flames. As stated by acclaimed film director John Singleton, “By having this verdict, what these people done, they lit the fuse to a bomb.”[1]

Although some measure of solace was achieved following the initial acquittal of the officers following the leveling of new federal charges against the officers and the subsequent guilty verdicts for officer Stacey Koon and Lawrence Powell to believe that the American Justice has reformed and that the systemic injustice perpetrated against minorities, and certainly the African American community is a laughable proposition. Not only are African Americans incarcerated at higher rates than Whites, but blacks also, on average, receive much harsher sentences measured against whites for the same crimes. However, what is especially troubling is that in the decades since the Rodney King beating and subsequent L.A. riots, blacks are still routinely abused by police officers, and this certainly is not limited to those located in Los Angeles.

In 2012, an unarmed child named Trayvon Martin was followed and subsequently killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Despite the fact that Zimmerman had stalked Martin simply because he looked suspicious, presumably because he was black and wearing a hoodie, after interviewing following Martin’s death, let him go free that same day citing Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law which they felt Zimmerman complied with. Unfortunately, Zimmerman’s death was the first in a series of horrific and prominent deaths against blacks wherein the dubious actions of police officers were called in to question. Notably these subsequent incidents often involved police officers being the trigger-person. For example, following Martin’s death Michael Brown an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner an unarmed black man selling loose cigarettes was choked to death following an altercation with police officers in New York. While certainly horrifying, the deaths of Martin and Garner are only two examples across many from 2012 through to the present wherein black Americans were being killed by the police for seemingly innocuous reasons and under dubious circumstances.

Although the Black Lives Matter movement and a wave in social unrest drew attention to the ongoing brutality and injustice continuing to plague the black community, despite some positive reforms (like the use of body cameras by police for example), justice still appears elusive, especially given the overwhelming lack of prosecution for police atrocities and acquittals police officers enjoy despite the evidence (including video evidence) for the atrocities they are brought to court over.

So what is the solution?

In Part II of O.J.: Made in America, Simpson attorney Barry Scheck is interviewed about the difficulty in holding police officers accountable, and Scheck for his part states that he believes that much of the difficulty in bringing police officers to justice is that prosecutors have difficulty in prosecuting police officers simply because they have very limited experience in doing so. While I am very impressed with Mr. Scheck’s track record, not just for his work in the Simpson trial but with his involvement in the Innocence Project, I do take issue with Scheck’s simple assessment that lack of experience is why so few police officers are prosecuted and prosecuted successfully for the crimes they commit. More specifically, while I believe that most prosecutors are highly skilled and fully capable of prosecuting police officers, it is my firm contention that the relationship prosecutors have with their local police force puts them in a very difficult position in regards to prosecuting the very people they rely on as witnesses and experts in most of the criminal proceedings they handle on a regular basis. According to an article in the American Law and Economics Review entitled Convictions versus Conviction Rates: The Prosecutor’s Choice, American prosecutors at the state level have an 85% conviction rate for the felony crimes they prosecute (and 90% at the Federal level), and as such it would appear that prosecutors are entirely capable of effectively performing their jobs. The position that prosecutors are unable to prosecute someone simply depending on who that defendant is not logical on its face without an extraordinary factor accounting for this selective job performance.  As such, it is very plausible, if not entirely explanatory, that it is the relationship between prosecutors and their local police that accounts for not only police being rarely prosecuted for serious crimes like civilian shootings but the vast difference in conviction rates between prosecutors prosecuting police (33%) and prosecuting the general public (85%). Due to the fact that prosecutors often rely on police cooperation in prosecuting the vast majority of cases before them, it is obvious that their ability to gain convictions against civilian members of the public hinges on the positive and collaborative relationship prosecutors enjoy with police and as such, their ability to successfully do their job is dependent on their relationship with (local) police.

In sum, it is the relationship between prosecutors and police which is the logical explanation for why more police officers are not brought to justice and not the theory that they are merely inexperienced in prosecuting police because that theory is dependent on the idea that highly skilled prosecutors suddenly lose their education, training, and years of prosecutorial experience depending on who the defendant is, and of course this is totally out of the realm of possibility. And while some have attempted to highlight that police officers often tend to be believed more than members of the public and that this fact looms large in explaining the disparity in conviction rates between police and members of the public, that rationale while perhaps a factor with respect to convictions, does not apply to the rarity of charges being brought against police officers in the first place. Again, the logical explanation for police avoiding justice hinges on the relationship between prosecutors and police.

It should be noted however, that this relationship problem between prosecutors and the local police departments they regularly rely on can be largely alleviated if members of the police are prosecuted by prosecutors outside the region they normally operate within. For example, while the four police officers accused of misconduct in the Rodney King beating were acquitted at the local/state level by prosecutors, when they were tried by unfamiliar prosecutors at the state level two of the officers were convicted of misconduct. As such, while this is only one example of police being found guilty of misconduct by prosecutors they do not ordinarily have a relationship with, it is logical that once the symbiotic relationship between prosecutors and their local police department is removed, that not only will outside prosecutors not hesitate to bring charges against police officers, but that these cases can be prosecuted on their merits free from conflict of interest. As such, allowing outside prosecutors instead of local prosecutors to try local police officers accused of high crimes is entirely within the purview of justice because it not only eliminates the overt conflict of interest, but lends itself to trials free from bias and privilege.

Finally, it should be noted that a system where outside prosecutors handle matters concerning police misconduct also strengthens the entire justice system as a whole because not only would law enforcement be appropriately held accountable for their actions in instances of wrongdoing, but members of society, including historically marginalized communities, would have greater confidence in the fair administration of justice and in turn, feel safer in their daily lives.

Hopefully the much needed change regarding who prosecutes the few police officers who do not perform their duties in a lawful manner (especially in instances of high crimes) is a change that can come about based on logic and past experience and not one necessitated after another prominent and bloody wave of civil unrest. I suppose only time will tell.

[1] CNN Documentary Race + Rage: The Beating of Rodney King, aired originally on March 5, 2011; approximately 14 minutes into the hour (not including commercial breaks).

Comments Off

Posted in Uncategorized