Paul R. Lehman, Americans and the challenge of the criminal justice system

November 13, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, Bigotry in America, black inferiority, blacks, criminal activity, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, interpretations, justice, justice system, law enforcement agencies, police force, Prejudice, Race in America, racism, respect, skin color, skin complexion, social justice system, The Associated Press, Tulsa, white supremacy, whites | 1 Comment
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When Americans think of the criminal justice system in America they usually recognize it as a reasonable, rational, and fair agency of society. What we often do not see relative to the criminal justice system is the American society that is represented by the criminal justice system. We focus generally on the law enforcement agencies or courts rather than the people in society that make-up and contribute to the system. The fact that most of the law enforcement agents, police, are set freed or shown as not guilty of killing unarmed African Americans reflect on the people responsible for adjudicating justice. We acknowledge that the culture of the criminal justice system in America is biased against African Americans, but the system actually reflects the biased society.

A case in point is that of Betty Jo Shelby, a European American (white) female and a former Tulsa police officer who was acquitted in the fatal shooting and killing of Terence Crutcher.  According to media reports, Shelby was on duty when she saw an SUV that was stopped in the middle of the street, the vehicle belonged to Crutcher.  We learn that “Shelby testified at trial that she was scared because Crutcher appeared to be under the influence of drugs, didn’t obey her commands and looked liked he was reaching inside his vehicle.”(Justin Juoapavicus, Associated Press, 10/26/2017)

Videos of the incident did not coincide with Shelby’s testimony in that Crutcher was shown to be at least fifteen feet in front of her with both of his hands up in the air; the windows of his SUV were rolled-up. A fellow officer was standing next to Shelby when she fired her weapon killing Crutcher. After Crutcher was shot, no aid or medical attention was given to check on his well-being until after several minutes had passed.

The fact that Shelby shot and killed Crutcher cannot be disputed since the incident was captured on video. However, the reasons for the shooting by Shelby can be brought into scrutiny relative to those adjudicating her case, the jury. For the court to acquit Shelby of the shooting leaves us to question their qualifications to make such a judgment. The primary reason for the shooting according to Shelby was her fear of Crutcher. How can we explain the jury’s actions of a not guilty finding if police officers feel threatened or that their lives are in danger when an unarmed African American walking away from them with his hands in the air? If Shelby is simply afraid of African American men, then she should not be working in law enforcement or any other place where she will encounter African American men.

Since the jury accepted her defense of fear of African American men, we might assume that they consider it a legally accepted defense for European American (white) officers shooting people of color. What happens when officers walk into a supermarket or mall or church and there they see African American men? Do they fear for their lives in these circumstances as well and so would be justified in shooting them? Many of the videos in recent years have shown this to be the case. We must ask where is the reasoning, rationale, and justice for the actions of the jury?

One of the conclusions we must draw from these actions is that of ethnic bias of the jury. Since the majority of the jury make-up in American is European Americans (whites), we must also conclude that they do not represent for the African Americans a ‘jury of their peers’ but more a jury representing the European American (white) officers. Since fear of African Americans and people of color appears to be a problem for many European American (white) law enforcers, why are they hired? And if hired, why are they not educated to treat people of color with the same decency and respect they would give other citizens?

The answer is simply because of their social conditioning which underscores the privilege accorded to them, European Americans (white), for their skin complexion. Simultaneously, European Americans (whites) are conditioned to view people of color as inferior in general, but to view African Americans with fear, anger, and dream because they are dangerous. Many European Americans (whites) do not realize their bigotry because their acquisition was acquired through everyday life at home, school, church etc. As a cognitive scientist, Justin L. Barrett, noted, “What we learn through testimony or through behavioral imitation is importantly influenced by social context biases.” He added that “we model our thought and behaviors on others based upon what we perceive most others think and do (conformity bias), favor prestigious individuals for role models (prestige bias) and prefer to ape those whom we see as similar to ourselves or whom we want to be (similarity bias).” So, to many European Americans (whites) ethnic bigotry is not something that is unusual or viewed as out of the ordinary life experience.

What we find puzzling about the actions of the Americans citizens who serve as part of the criminal justice system is how they equate reason, rationale, and justice with their actions. For example, shortly after being acquitted for the shooting and killing of Terence Crutcher, that portion of Betty Shelby’s record will be removed, and subsequently, will be expunged: “District Judge William LaFortune also ordered all documents involving former Tulsa officer Betty Jo Shelby’s case sealed and kept with the court. The case will only be accessible through a court order and can be destroyed after 10 years, according to the law.” (Justin Juoapavicus)

What we can observe from Shelby’s case is that after shooting and killing an innocent American citizen because she was in fear, not threatened or felt to be in harm’s way, she was acquitted of all charges and walked away from the incident with no repercussions. We have learned that she has been recently employed in a law enforcement position in a nearby town. In 10 years, no one will even know what she did except the family and friends of Terence Crutcher, Shelby, and the jury. After all, it was incumbent on the jury to administer a finding based on reason, rationale, and justice, but they failed in every respect. We, Americans, cannot allow this form of injustice to continue because whether we realize it or not, the mistreatment of any American affects us all. Act–find a way to make a difference.

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Paul R. Lehman, No justice from ‘A jury of one’s peers’ in U. S. court system

July 14, 2017 at 11:33 am | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, amygdala, Bigotry in America, blacks, criminal activity, Department of Justice, discrimination, equality, Ethnicity in America, European Americans, fairness, grand jury, justice, justice system, law, law enforcement agencies, Media and Race, minority, Oklahoma, police force, Prejudice, Race in America, racism, respect, social conditioning, social justice system, The U.S. Constitution, Tulsa, white supremacy, whites | 3 Comments
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Recently in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a judge declared a mistrial, for the third time, in a case involving a European American former police office, Shannon Kepler. The officer acknowledged shooting Jeremey Lake, a 19-year-old African American male who had been dating Keller’s daughter, Lisa. While Kepler claimed that he was defending himself when he shot Lake, no weapon was found on Lake or anywhere near the scene. An article on abcnews.go.com provided the following information: “Kepler, who retired from the force after he was charged, was a 24-year-police veteran who said he was trying to protect his daughter, who had run away from home and was living in a crime-ridden neighborhood.”

Americans in general and African Americans in particular, should not be surprised at the mistrial or even a not guilty decision from this trail and the many others involving African American men and police officers. We should realize by now that the criminal justice system, especially the courts were not meant to serve justice to people of color. We must be constantly reminded of the fact that American is a biased society and that people of color are viewed as objects that cause fear and anxiety to European Americans. Many of our laws, regardless of what they might intend, are meant to keep the concept of two different groups of people separated. That separation is underscored in the court system and especially the jury system in America.

For African Americans as well most Americans in general, the phrase “A jury of one’s peers,” is meaningless, and because it is meaningless, few people ever experience having a member of his or their jury a peer. In an article by Eric Peters (3/23/2012), “A Jury of One’s Peers,” he notes that while this phrase is not found in our Constitution, the concept comes from English Common Law from which our Constitution was based. The phrase was intended to describe a situation where “The men of a community would gather to weigh evidence presented against someone—someone they knew. Unfortunately, what we have today is an altogether different animal. You may find yourself tried in front of a jury—but they will not be your peers.”

Today, in Oklahoma, anyone 18-years-old and older with a valid driver’s license can be randomly selected to serve on a jury. The individuals are not selected from a particular community, but usually from the county in which they live. If members of a jury were selected from specific communities where people of similar social, religious, economic, political, and education tend to live, then individuals facing charges from those communities would have a reasonable chance of being judged by a peer. Unfortunately, that is not the way things work.

In America, three things work against African Americans when they involve European American police officers, and juries—a lack of people of color on the jury, law enforcement bigotry, and systemic cultural bigotry. Most juries will consist of few people of color for any number of reasons, first of which is availability. Fewer people of color are chosen (at random) for jury duty and few are chosen to serve on a jury once reporting for jury duty. The lack of representation of people of color on the jury for an African American can make a difference in the jury’s final decision. Also, the presence of one or two persons of color serving on a jury of predominately European Americans can be intimidating and stressful to them.

In his recently published book (2017), CHOKEHOLD, Paul Butler, a former prosecutor and law professor at Georgetown University, stated that “Cops routinely hurt and humiliate black people because that is what they are paid to do. Virtually every objective investigation of a U.S. law enforcement agency finds that the police, as policy, treat African Americans with contempt.” He further stated that “The most problematic practices of American criminal justice—excessive force by police, harsh sentencing, the erosion of civil liberties, widespread government surveillance, and mass incarceration—are best understood as measures originally intended for African American men.” The many jury verdicts involving the shooting by law enforcement agents have demonstrated that the repercussions for a European American or an officer killing a person of color are little and none, which underscores Butler’s point. The fact that European American law enforcement agents use the aspect of fear in their defense of their actions is one that does not differ from the fear that European Americans experience generally when coming into contact with an African American male.

European Americans are socially conditioned to view African Americans with fear and dismay unless the African Americans are known to the European Americans. This conditioning is a natural and a normal part of everyday life and not viewed as a bias towards people of color. Butler referenced  in his book a study entitled “Transforming Perceptions: Black Men and Boys,” by the American Values Institute (3/2013), that noted the following: “When people [European Americans] see black men they don’t know, they have a physical response that is different from their response to other people. Their blood pressure goes up and they sweat more.” He also noted another study that stated: “When a white person sees an unfamiliar black male face, the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes fear, activates.” So, the reference to the fear experienced by European Americans law enforcement as noted is part of the American experience for them and bad news for African Americans. The challenge for all Americans is to replace that fear with reason and understanding, knowing that we all belong to the same family of mankind. We must all work to replace the present criminal justice system or continue to be victims of it.

Consequently, we need to practice justice and respect towards one another because we realize as Peters noted: “Court proceedings should, of course, be impartial—but not to the extent of being obtuse. And obtuse—even evil—is precisely what we have today. Mindless worship of statutes as opposed to the spirit animating them. No harm done (or intended) no longer matters. Just ‘the law’—as interpreted by twelve random strangers.” While we can no longer practice the concept of “a jury of one’s peers,” we can certainly underscore the humanity we all possess. We must be the change we need.

Paul R. Lehman, Terrence Crutcher and the Tulsa jury,another instance of injustice by reason of being African American

May 19, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, blacks, democracy, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, justice, justice system, Killings in Tulsa, Prejudice, Race in America, social justice system, The Oklahoman, tolerance, Tulsa, white supremacy, whites | 1 Comment
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The jury in Tulsa found Betty Shelby not guilty and in doing so told the world that African Americans and other people of color have no rights that a police officer need to respect. Once an African American is stopped by a police officer, his or her life is forfeited to that officer. Facts and evidence play no part in the reason for killing an African American by a police officer if we follow the accounts of the shooting of Terrence Crutcher.

Once police officers stop African Americans, the African Americans lose the right to speak because anything they say can be interpreted by the officers as disrespectful or threatening, whichever they choose. The African Americans lose the right to move because any movement might be seen as a threat to the officer’s life. So, what can the African Americans do when stopped by a police officer? A frequently used bit of advice is to comply with the officer’s command. The problem with that is if the African American starts the compliance too slowly then the officer is forced to take action. That action might involve the use of a taser. When someone is shot with a taser, he must remain perfectly still or his movement will be seen as resisting arrest and not complying with the officer’s command. In other words, the African Americans are damned by whatever they say or do as far as the police are concerned.

Some people will say that no one loses his or her rights when stopped by a police officer. If that is not the case, then why are the victims of a fatal police shooting always viewed as guilty of a crime when they never had an opportunity to present their side of the event that led to the shooting? The victim’s side is always challenged even with clear and concise video shows what happened. The problem is with the justice system and the non-thinking jury that fails to use common sense or follow facts and evidence in order to clear an officer of any wrongdoing. Shelby’s reason for shooting Crutcher indicates that she is a danger to the public or the African American public. She stated: “…she fired her weapon out of fear because she said he didn’t obey her command to lie on the ground…”One has to wonder as to what caused her fear. The video showed Crutcher walking a distance in front of her with both hands in the air. If this posture created fear in her, then the entire public is suspect. What was she afraid of that caused her to shoot?  She said that it was when he “appeared to reach inside his SUV for what she thought was a gun.” The report noted that Crutcher was unarmed, the window as up, and no weapon was found in his SUV.

In the article, “Jury finds Tulsa officer not guilty,” (The Oklahoman 5/18/2017) stated the following: “Prosecutors told jurors that Shelby overreacted. They noted Crutcher had his hands in the air and wasn’t combative—part of which was confirmed by police video taken from a dashboard camera and helicopter that showed Crutcher walking away from Shelby, hands held above his head.” We should note that Shelby was not alone on the scene; she had a fellow police officer near to her. One wonders what caused the jury to rule the way they did in view of all the visual information available to them.

In addition to being afraid, we learn that “Shelby also said she feared the influence of PCP, a powerful hallucinogenic known as Angel Dust that makes users erratic, unpredictable and combative.” However, as stated earlier, Crutcher manifested none of those characteristics.” After an autopsy was performed, PCP was found in his system and also in his SUV. That information was discovered after the shooting, not before. One concern about this incident is why was Crutcher stopped? Could a force less lethal have been employed to effect Shelby’s purpose? What kind of instructions was the jury given in their deliberation in this case?

Evidently, while the questions posed are important for the victim’s family, they are seemingly meaningless to the jury when a police officer is involved. Our criminal justice system must be changed to one that acknowledges and respect the rights of all citizens, regardless of what they look like. The system also needs to reflect the fact that all police officers are not perfect and that they should experience repercussions for their misdeeds.  As it stands today, an African American’s words have no value against that of a police officer. He is always presumed guilty until proven innocent. The reason for that presumption is due to the system of European American supremacy and African American inferiority, the social conditioning European Americans receive in America from birth—African Americans and people of color are to be feared; they are viewed as dangerous and to be suspect. When a European American becomes a police officer, that social conditioning does not change. So, when Shelby said she was afraid of Crutcher, she was not lying, and the members of the jury identified with her and that fear. So, if that is the case, then where is the justice for the African Americans?

When the statement was made earlier that African Americans lose all their rights when stopped by a police officer was made, it was not based on conjecture, but facts and evidence. All one has to do is look at the litany of cases where an unarmed African American or person of color has been shot and killed when alternative uses of force were available. The fact that the Tulsa jury overlooked justice in this case underscores the need to replace the criminal justice system in America. People need to join in with groups who are working to change the system and do whatever is necessary (protest, petition, run for office, support organizations) to help effect change.

Fear is not a monopoly of European American police officers, because communities, family, friends of African Americans and other people of color experience it also, every time they are stopped by a police officer. Fear should never be the reality because the responsibility of all Americans is to ensure life, liberty, and justice for all. We have a lot of work to do; let us get to it.

 

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