(Originally Published on Medium)
Is race a driving factor in prosecuting cops for police brutality?
Researching and studying injustice in America is exhausting. Addressing the myriad ways in which the state-sponsored system allows racism to infect every aspect of American society is no small task. Particularly, discussing the law-enforcement apparatus and how it disproportionately targets Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities all over the country. The threats that follow in an attempt to silence us can sometimes make things tedious. But it only strengthens our resolve.
For years, I’ve discussed and exposed how police unions, their contracts with cities, and the exorbitant costs of police brutality are used to protect bigoted cops, corrupt cops, and cops who abuse the system to maltreat those they disagree with or have personal vendettas with. What happened to Breonna Taylor isn’t new, and as horrifying as it was, many of us were hoping to see the officers charged. However, none were surprised by the lack of action taken by the state.
Listening to Daniel Cameron, the Attorney General for the state of Kentucky, one can’t help but notice the many nonsensical contradictions in his news conference when he spoke about the indictments against one officer for shooting at walls. Cameron, a Republican darling because he validates the ideals of the bigoted conservative, said during the Republican National Convention, “Republicans will never turn a blind eye to unjust acts.” Yet here he is.
The party that is known for the racist dog-whistle of “law and order” allowed those tasked with enforcing the law to walk away scot-free in the murder of an unarmed person in their own home. A Black woman, of course. After the officers in the widely broadcast murder of George Floyd were officially charged in his death, the attention that inspired nationwide protests focused on police brutality shifted to the murder of Breonna Taylor and the use of no-knock warrants.
Two years prior, a similar incident occurred in Houston, Texas. A no-knock warrant was obtained based on false pretenses leading to a raid where the homeowner fired back at home invaders who happened to be cops. Both the homeowner and his wife were killed and five officers were shot, leaving one paralyzed. The basis for the warrant was a fake witness and planted drugs.
Almost immediately after the raid in Houston occurred, an investigation was underway to determine what happened. What was uncovered were two officers who falsified information, provided false evidence, and a false witness statement from an informant that didn’t exist. They were eventually charged with the lead detective facing a double murder charge. The difference? The victims were white and the lead officer was Black.
Racism in policing isn’t limited to what happens in the streets. It’s a system-wide issue that affects officers in the line of duty every day.
What is Justice?
Justice can mean different things to different demographics in America. For example, the Black community doesn’t know justice the way the White community does because of the disparities in how justice is delivered. To minority communities, justice means being overpoliced and regularly racially profiled. It means being charged more often and left to serve longer sentences for the same crimes committed in lesser policed White communities. Justice is not the same for all.
So, what is justice? Justice is justice, right? We all deserve to have it when we have been wronged, right? While we all know that’s how it should be we also know that’s not how it is. When you hear minority families, Black families, cry out for justice, stop asking why. The reality is, minority communities don’t receive justice as White communities do because the oppression of non-white communities is built-in. It was meant to be this way.
A one-sided system of justice is a harsh truth no one seems to want to discuss.
The commonalities in the no-knock raids of Breonna Taylor’s home in Louisville, Kentucky, and the home of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle in Houston, Texas are far too uncanny to ignore. Not because they were all killed in similar fashion by police, but because of the rationale police used in obtaining each of the warrants that led to their deaths and the ensuing cover-ups that occurred shortly after each incident. It all seems so textbook.
From lying about evidence to obtain a warrant to providing planted evidence to fabricating witness statements to willingly covering up the crimes of officers to falsifying reports of what occurred, the similarities in so many of these cases are astounding. It seems textbook because for so many cops it is. These very same aberrations occur in case after case every day.
Similar anomalies occurred in the death of Botham Jean. Amber Guyger, the officer who entered Jean’s apartment and shot and killed him while off-duty was receiving advice just minutes after shooting and killing Jean from her union president who was also granted access to the crime scene before investigators arrived. In other words, she was coached and it was all conveniently overlooked.
What happened in the two no-knock raids was no different than in Botham Jean’s case or so many other cases. Officers involved were granted access to crime scenes that they were to otherwise remove themselves from as soon as possible to allow investigators to work. In each case officers involved were able to tamper with evidence. Officers also routinely take the stand and lie in court in what is referred to as “testilying” to convict innocent people while covering for each other.
We can not achieve justice for all when the system that enforces those laws is so purposefully broken. It was never built to deliver justice equally and it certainly won’t magically fix itself. The idea of reforms is novel, but will it ever be enough? Or should we be rethinking the whole idea of criminal justice in America? On paper, it sounds great. But in practice, it’s a giant hunk of shit and everyone knows it. You just have to admit it so we can move forward.
But that’s not the end of racial injustice.
When the System Turns on Itself
The institutional racism that governs many of our civil services, including but not limited to the institution of criminal justice, also impacts the servants tasked with dispensing that justice. Including Black officers and officers of color who appease the biases of the system in order to pacify their colleagues. For a police officer in America, going against the law enforcement apparatus in the United States is like snitching on the mob. At least that’s how cops and police union bosses make it seem, quite publicly I might add.
When it comes to justice, the system seems willing to turn on itself and go to great lengths to prosecute non-white officers further highlighting just how deeply biased America’s system of justice really is. In Houston, six officers were charged with tampering with a government document for falsifying information in obtaining a warrant that got two people killed. Of the two lead detectives, one a white man named Steven Bryant, the other, a Black man named Gerald Goines, Goines is the only one charged with double-murder despite Bryant being a clear accomplice.
The prosecution of narcotics officer Gerald Goines isn’t an outlier. Many Black officers have been excommunicated from police unions and had representatives turn against them almost immediately after being charged with a crime. The case against Mohamed Noor, a former cop in Minnesota who was convicted of murder in the shooting death of a White woman, Justine Damond, also brought attention to the disparities in Black cops being convicted in officer-involved shootings when the victims are White.
Noor was the first cop convicted in an officer-involved shooting out of 179 cases in the state dating back to the year 2000. This is not to say Black officers don’t also get away with police killings. Recently in Milwaukee, a Black officer wasn’t brought up on charges in the killing of a Black teen who police claim was armed and pointed a weapon at the officer. This was the third time officer Joseph Mensa killed someone in an officer-involved shooting.
It seems that if the victim is Black, it doesn’t matter who the killer is. I’m not painting the picture for you, I’m merely describing the mural created by the system over hundreds of years. For example, in an article penned for Vox News, a former Black St. Louis police officer writes: “It is not only white officers who abuse their authority. The effect of institutional racism is such that no matter what color the officer abusing the citizen is, in the vast majority of those cases of abuse that citizen will be black or brown. That is what is allowed.”
The law enforcement apparatus will turn on itself instantly to appease the calls for justice by White America. However, when Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities demand justice we are met with excuses justifying the murders of our friends and family. Again, these cases are not outliers as some might suggest. These cases are common and they’re built on a history of white supremacy in law enforcement and the justice system. Americans are starting to see it for what it has always been thanks in large part to the technological advancements of the 21st century.
But the battle for racial justice is only just beginning.