Public Trust: The Reward of Political Courage

Public Trust: The Reward of Political Courage

Taking root throughout the nation is a ground swell of suspicion and justifiable mistrust of the law enforcement practices that have operated well beyond the minority communities of Ferguson and Baltimore. 

By RA Monaco

“Baltimore’s where America turns the corner,” said JaqueLine Nivens during an interview last month after State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s decision to seek the indictment of six Baltimore Police Officers for the death of Freddie Gray.  She actively campaigned for the young, newly elected Marilyn J. Mosby and resides in the Baltimore District of Mosby’s husband, City Councilman Nick J. Mosby.

JaqueLine Nivens first met Nick and Marilyn Mosby as she exited a packed-house community meeting one evening into a blizzard where the two were passing out campaign literature. Impressed with their willingness to brave the elements and walk the neighborhoods Nivens decided that she would get involved in Marilyn Mosby’s campaign.  “I believe in my Baltimore number one, and I believe in Marilyn on a personal level,” said the concerned citizen who seemed proud to have “stood face-to-face, toe-to-toe” with Mosby.

Standing behind Mosby’s courageous decision, despite public concerns about her conflicting interests and the continuing willingness of police to respond to crime, JaqueLine Nivens’ remained unhesitant, “It’s going to make a change across the nation, I really and truly believe that.”

Establishing a New Political and Social Reality

Consistent with the desire for “a change across the nation” shared by JaqueLine Nivens—who did not protest in Baltimore—Deray McKesson observantly tweeted last week, “if it weren’t for the protests, the agitation in the streets, there would be no national conversation.”

Dedicated to a movement of radical liberation, Deray McKesson—a Ferguson protestor—in an open letter proclaims, “We, the protestors, are here to build community that is empowered to establish a new political and social reality that respects and affirms blackness and the humanity…of all marginalized people.”

“In order to fulfill the democratic promise of our union,” writes McKesson, “The time is urgent, but the work is long.”  The unfortunate truths to the realities of McKesson’s words are captured in this opening phrase from poet Ocean Vuong, “The end of the road is so far ahead it is already behind us.”

Importantly, Deray McKesson—a Bowdoin Alum— recognizes that protest makes space for change, that it is a necessary precursor and not the solution.   Hundreds of miles away in cities like Chicago, New York, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, the space for change is becoming more noticeable and at work, steadily.

Space for Change is Steady

On Sunday, protesters gathered in front of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home demanding that he fire LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and take action against officers for the fatal shooting of unarmed Ezell Ford who, according to an autopsy report, was shot three times, once in the back so closely that the muzzle of the officer’s gun left an imprint.

A civilian panel in Los Angeles oversees all serious uses of force by LAPD officers, including whether the tactics used throughout the encounter are acceptable.  Both officers acted improperly when they drew their guns according to the commission.  One officer acted improperly in both approaching Ezell Ford and using his gun.

Earlier in the week and only a few miles south along Interstate 5, protesters marched on the headquarters of the Long Beach Police Department demanding more information about the death of an unarmed 20-year-old Long Beach State University student Feras Morad who was killed by police last week.

Growing public dissent may also be creating space for change with federal prosecutors, who recently indicted two former high ranking Los Angeles County law enforcement officials in an investigation related to inmate abuses in county jails.

Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former Sheriff’s Capt. William “Tom” Carey have both surrendered to authorities on charges of federal obstruction of justice.  Moreover, federal prosecutors have yet to rule out the indictment of LA’s former top cop, ex-LASD Sheriff Lee Baca.

California Tops the List in Police Killings

Taking root throughout the nation is a ground swell of suspicion and justifiable mistrust of the law enforcement practices that have operated well beyond the minority communities of Ferguson and Baltimore.

In 2015 alone, police have already killed 500 people and still counting which begs the public question: Who should we fear?

California tops the list of states with 80 police killings so far this year, followed by Texas (49) and Florida (30).

As a matter for comparison, British police officers last year, in total, actually fired their weapons three times.  The number of people fatally shot was zero. 

Political Courage Spreads

Acts of political courage are growing as Charleston County Solicitor Scarlet Wilson announced the indictment of former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Thomas Slager for the April murder of Walter Scott.

Following a Monday morning news conference Solicitor Wilson said, “I think the people of the 9th circuit elected me to be accountable to them, and that’s what we intend to do.”

The terminated South Carolina police officer was recorded in a widely-circulated video, shooting Walter Scott in the back as he ran from the officer.  If convicted, Slager is facing a prison sentence of 30 years-to-life.

AP Poll Signals Support for Political Courage

NYPD commissioner William Bratton is unwavering in his “broken windows” approach to policing where innocent people of color are seen as collateral damage in targeting quality-of-life violation under a theory that addressing small crimes creates an atmosphere that discourages larger crimes.

The protests in New York that followed the grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner eventually burst into overt police dissension at the funeral of two officers who were subsequently shot to death in their patrol car by a mentally disturbed man.

The Associated Press reported that 69 percent of New Yorkers disapproved of police officers turning their backs in silent protest of Mayor Bill de Blasio at the funerals of these officers. Evidencing concern about brazen police defiance, the AP poll also signals important support for the much needed political courage to restore the public’s trust.

Judicial Courage Challenges Deep Systemic Corruption

In a slam-dunk case against the deadliest killer in county history, California Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals disqualified all 250 prosecutors in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office—an uncommon act of both political and judicial courage.

In a decision that should go a long way toward restoring the public’s trust in our system of justice, Judge Goethals took action against widespread corruption that he saw violating the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

Citing false testimony and the withholding of evidence Judge Goethals explained,  “an entire computerized data base built and maintained by the Orange County Sheriff over the course of many years which is a repository for information related directly to the very issues that this court was examining as a result of defendant’s motion—remained secret, despite numerous specific discovery orders issued by this court.”

Judge Goethals ruling suggests a continuation of the deeply systemic corruption carried over from the county’s disgraced ex-sheriff Mike Corona— who is just being released from federal prison following his 2009 conviction.

Beyond the salacious on duty conduct of ex-sheriff Corona, the FBI’s investigation revealed a long list of corrupt activities that included his spending of illegal campaign contributions, cash bribes, rampant jail-deputy corruption, doctored records, sanctioned false statements, tolerated misconduct and suborned perjury intended to thwart the federal grand jury probe.

An Apology in Chicago

In another uncommon sign of political courage, the City of Chicago issued a formal apology to the people victimized by ex-commander Jon Burge.  The apology—a term actually negotiated—was approved together with a $5.5 million reparations fund by the Chicago City Council.

While a formal public apology is uncommon, dark revelations about Chicago policing are not. Reporter Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian was the first to break the story about the Homan Square police facility.  It’s been described as the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site—an off-the-books interrogation compound where those inside, some as young as fifteen—are unable to be found by local attorneys or their family.

As victims continue to come forward, Spencer Ackerman’s revelations have come from interviews of more than ten people—including Brian Jacob Church of the “NATO Three”—who have spoken to The Guardian about being taken to the non-descript Homan facility and kept shackled for prolonged periods without legal counsel, unaccounted in official booking databases.

Atmosphere of Unquestioning Media Coverage

Troubling is that Americans must rely upon foreign publications like The Guardian and their reporters to break this type of domestic news, despite the activity occurring for years in the backyard of celebrated publications that have become far too reliant solely upon official sources.

The endless escalation of policing powers that’s spawned militarized policing, the absence of meaningful oversight, the lack of political will and the over-the-top policing responses to protestors around the country, have largely occurred in an atmosphere of complicit and unquestioning media coverage.

Signs of Hope

JaqueLine Nivens has also lived in South Central Los Angeles and said during our interview that in Baltimore she likes having “a relationship with [her] elected city officials, state officials and more importantly with [her councilman].”

Originally from Harlem and a seasoned woman of some years, Nivens says she herself was the victim of police misconduct in 2011. “I just cannot believe the way I was treated by police” Nivens said reluctantly.

Declining to dredge up the details of her experience Nivens knows, “It’s not uncommon, what happened to me that night.” Overcoming a detectable emotional reluctance, the resilient senior added, “I know what they did to me and I live with it every day—but those were bad cops.”Q with Police Officer

Marilyn Mosby’s charges are a sign of hope for JaqueLine Nivens and many others in Baltimore and other cities demanding police accountability.

Public Trust are the Rewards of Political Courage

Shootings of civilians by police—justified or not—are fueling mistrust.  Protests have opened our squinting public eyes wide enough to recognize that police conduct at a recent pool party in McKinney, TX is a reflection of an unacceptable enforcement culture that too often exceeds public approval.

Protests and justifiable mistrust focused on aggressive police enforcement practices are beginning to give judges, prosecutors, councilmen and mayors much needed political courage to take actions that restore the public’s trust.

Restoration of our public trust however, is the reward of political courage, where the road is so far ahead it is already behind us.

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