The Battle for Justice and “The Language of the Unheard”

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The Grand Jury decision to not indict Officer Wilson for shooting Michael Brown 12 times, including even when he was injured and had his hands up, has brought to surface facts about the criminal (in)”justice” system in America that should have been clear a long time ago. One of these facts that have come to light is that prosecutors, especially white prosecutors, who are assigned to present a case against cops who shoot and kill unarmed citizens, especially if they’re white and the victim black, often do the opposite and act as the officer’s defense attorney, with the complete silence, complicity and even cooperation of the presiding judge. That’s what the Assistant District Attorney did in the case of Grand Jury investigation of Officer Wilson’s shooting and killing of Michael Brown. She basically told the jury that, according to an old Missouri law, which has long been reversed and deemed unconstitutional, a police officer had the right to shoot a suspect, if he runs or won’t comply with the officer’s orders or is belligerent. The US Supreme Court ruled in 1985 against that practice, which used to result in cops executing people on the streets for minor violations or just the suspicion of a violation, on a regular basis, making that practice illegal. She clearly must have known that when she was citing that old defunct law to the jury. In fact, after telling the jury that blatant lie, she vaguely added that the Supreme Court had issued a different opinion about “part” of that law, which was another lie, even while trying to not be too obvious about what she was trying to do in that courtroom. The Supreme Court deemed the entire law unconstitutional, not just a part which she didn’t even elaborate What part she was talking about. And, when a juror asked if the Federal law overrides the Missouri law, instead of telling the truth, which was an obvious and unambiguous “yes”, she said: “don’t worry about that”! One could have expected such immoral falsification of the truth from a defense attorney, who wants to win at all costs, even if it takes lies and trickery, but not from the prosecutor. On the contrary, the prosecutor’s job is to prevent such duplicitous defense, when the defense team resorts to it.

Let’s say it as it is: this was not negligence or incompetence or a “mistake”, as Lawrence O’Donnell, who, to his credit, discussed it on his show on MSNBC, called it, but rather, a conspiracy to mislead the jury and was an obstruction of justice meant to shield the officer from facing Justice and therefore is a crime. But, we’d be naive to think that this was an isolated case. In George Zimmerman’s trial for shooting to death Treyvon Martin, both prosecutors and the judge deliberately made the erroneous point that the case had nothing to do with race or racism, when it clearly had everything to do with it. In fact, it was the motivating factor.

What also should be clear to us all is that it took protests to even arrest George Zimmerman and took even more protests to form a grand jury to investigate Officer Wilson. Meanwhile, while we protest the injustice in Ferguson, none of the New York police officers who killed Eric Garner, a black father of six, with an illegal chokehold, have been indicted. And, just yesterday the police in Cleveland, Ohio shot and killed a 12 year old boy who was playing with a toy gun. They shouted at the child to show his hands (what child would immediately understood such a command and comply in less than 2 seconds?) It took a mere 2 seconds for the officers to open fire on the 12 year old!

After the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles, in 1992, it took massive riots to make even some limited and superficial “reforms” in the LAPD. During those riots that continued for weeks, the entire Los Angeles police force went into hiding and not a single one dared to stay in the streets. But, while “a riot is the language of the unheard”, as Dr. Martin Luther King pointed out, it isn’t enough. What’s needed is a nationwide and protracted movement with nonstop and militant protests like the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s that will combine the demand for social justice with the struggle for economic justice that will also include the demand to put an end to US crimes, acts of terror, wars and massacres overseas, against the poor of the world, for the enrichment of the .1%, at the expense of the vast majority of the population of the world and our environment.

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4 responses to “The Battle for Justice and “The Language of the Unheard””

  1. Ricardo Roxas says :

    What Really Happened in Ferguson?
    When eyewitness testimony collides with contradictory evidence

    by Michael Shermer

    Psychologists have known for decades that memory does not operate like a video camera, with our senses recording in high definition what really happens in the world, accurately stored in memory awaiting high fidelity playback on the viewing screen of our mind. Instead, fragments of scenes are processed by our senses, filtered through our emotions, biases, and prejudices, and put into context created by earlier memories, subsequent events, and the interpretations of our social group and culture. The world-renowned memory expert Elizabeth Loftus, in her 1991 book Witness for the Defense—a critical analysis of eyewitness testimony—explained the process this way:

    As new bits and pieces of information are added into long-term memory, the old memories are removed, replaced, crumpled up, or shoved into corners. Memories don’t just fade…they also grow. What fades is the initial perception, the actual experience of the events. But every time we recall an event, we must reconstruct the memory, and with each recollection the memory may be changed. Truth and reality, when seen through the filter of our memories, are not objective facts but subjective, interpretative realities.

    Loftus turned her research acumen to this problem when, in 1987, she was asked to testify for the defense of John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian-born Cleveland autoworker who was on trial as “Ivan the Terrible,” the Nazi who murdered tens of thousands of Jews at Treblinka during the Second World War. But was Demjanjuk really Ivan? A witness named Abraham Goldfarb initially recalled that Ivan was killed in a 1943 uprising, but when he saw Demjanjuk he changed his story, now identifying him as the mass murderer. On the heals of Goldfarb’s testimony another witness named Eugen Turowski changed his original story of not recognizing Demjanjuk, now fingering him as the killer. The prosecution presented five witnesses who positively identified Demjanjuk as the man they had seen at Treblinka, but the defense countered with 23 other survivors of the concentration camp who could not positively ID Demjanjuk as Ivan the Terrible. An initial guilty verdict was overturned when another man was found guilty of the crimes.

    In the 1990s there were two eyewitness-driven moral panics—the Recovered Memory Movement and the Satanic Panic—both of which involved court cases that turned entirely on the memories of eyewitnesses to satanic ritual abuse and sexual abuse claims, all of which unraveled before the facts (or the lack thereof), but not before destroying the lives of countless innocently accused. The Innocence Project, founded in 1992, uses DNA evidence to exonerate people on death row who were wrongfully convicted, the vast majority of which based on faulty eyewitness testimony—a total of 321 so far.

    This process of mixing fantasy with reality to such an extent that it is impossible to sort them out is called confabulation, and Loftus has conducted numerous experiments showing how easy it is to plant false memories in people’s minds through simple suggestion and repetition, until the fantasy becomes a memory of reality. She famously concocted a story for little children about how they were once lost in a mall but rescued and returned to their parents—an event that never happened to any of her child subjects—and by merely asking them to recall details of the incident her child charges were able to recollect rich details. It was a chilling reminder of the frailty of human memory.

    These historical examples should be kept in mind when assessing current events, most notably what really happened between 12:01pm and 12:03pm on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri when police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed teenager Michael Brown during a physical altercation after Wilson confronted Brown who had shoplifted cigarillos from a local market. When a grand jury failed to indict Wilson for murder, moral outrage trumped rational analysis and rioting ensued. When the documents reviewed by the grand jury were made public, however, it became clear why an indictment was dropped. The eyewitness accounts that would have indicated criminal wrong-doing on the part of the police officer were inconsistent, unreliable, provably wrong, changed over time, and even fabricated.

    One woman, for example, reported that there was a second police officer in the passenger seat next to Wilson, a white “middle age or young” man in uniform. Wilson was alone. A number of bystanders said Wilson shot Brown in the back, including Brown’s friend standing next to him, Dorian Johnson. Johnson’s initial story that Wilson’s shot “struck my friend in the back” contradicted his grand jury testimony that the shot caused Brown’s body to “do like a jerking movement, not to where it looked like he got hit in his back, but I knew, it maybe could have grazed him.”

    Another eyewitness said Wilson shot Brown in the back and then “stood over him and finished him off.” Under oath in front of the grand jury, however, he admitted that he made it up “based on me being where I’m from, and that can be the only assumption that I have.” His recantation was classic memory redaction based on new information. “So it was after you learned that the things you said you saw couldn’t have happened that way,” a prosecutor pressed him, “then you changed your story about what you seen?” The witness responded, “Yeah, to coincide with what really happened.” Whatever really happened we know what didn’t happen: the autopsy report concluded that Brown was not shot in the back.

    More memory confabulation was apparent in another eyewitness who told a federal investigator that when he heard the first shot fired he looked out the window to see a police officer with his gun drawn and Brown “on his knees with his hands in the air. I seen him shoot him in the head.” When later told by the investigator, “What you are saying you saw isn’t forensically possible based on the evidence,” the man admitted that he based his account on what someone else told him because he was in a stairwell at the time and didn’t see it.

    The moral outrage is understandable if Brown had his hands up or was face down in surrender, which would imply that Wilson executed him in cold blood. Knowing that is not what happened, however, should give us all pause before we dial up our moral modules to 11 and seek self-help justice in the form of rioting and looting, rather than the criminal justice system that, flawed as it is, still insists that indictments be based on facts instead of emotions, which are fed by long-simmering prejudices and all the cognitive biases and memory distortions that come packaged in the human mind.

    —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —-
    The above article is not intended to discredit your other criticisms, as well as condemnation, of many things that are wrong in this country and elsewhere. But, if facts matter, then let them have their day in the minds of your readers, as well as in your writings. Yes, the system is ‘corrupt’ (depending on how it is defined). But use facts to your advantage. We will all be better for it!

    • Sako Sefiani says :

      First of all, your implication that i don’t use facts is insulting, unfair and untrue. I must have a great imagination to fabricate things, which i know i don’t have. Secondly, as far as facts are concerned, psychologists also know, since you referred to them, that facts aren’t all that matter. What really matters is which of the facts are selected, how they are presented and what nonfacts are added to direct the jury for a particular outcome. The prosecutor, gave the jury a piece of Missouri legislation that had long been defunct and judged unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court; in other words, it was not the law. It said an officer could shoot a fleeing or uncooperating suspect, which was not the case. When she then supposedly tried to remedy that misrepresentation, she was asked by a jury if the Federal law overrided the old Missouri law, she said: “don’t worry sbout that”, instead of the correct answer, which was “yes”. The “fact” is – since you stressed “facts” – that prosecutors don’t like to charge police officers since they rely on them for doing their job. That’s a conflict of interest. The fact is also that in a grand jury trial, only one side is presented, not both and there is no judge to stop prosecutor misrepresentation or errors, etc. The fact also is that there is racism in this country, which influences the entire process and conduct of the parties involved in the criminal justice system. And, above all, it’s a fact that too many police officers shoot and kill before asking questions. Pulling up to a 12 year old (Tamir Rice of Cleveland, Ohio) who was playing with a toy gun and shooting him dead in less than two seconds because they thought he had a real gun, even though the dispatcher had told them twice that he may be playing with a toy gun, or choking an unarmed man to death (Eric Garner) and many others – according to FBI, 441 such fatalities on average, each year, with many more going unreported, putting the real number at close to 1000 a year – is emblematic of a larger problem. which needs to be addressed and dealt with. Before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, which corrected some wrongs, but not all, there were also individuals who, argued, like you did here, with all due respect, that not everything pointed to or proved alleged injustices in this country, but, the criticisms, notwithstanding some possibly contradictory “facts”, were correct. Despite your criticism of my article, the overall facts do point to some gross injustices and wrongs that need to be addressed and that’s what I try to do. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Ricardo Roxas says :

    Strange … It was on, off, and after my Dec 18 query and your follow-up “… see your reply …” reply, it’s back on. … Am glad. Thanks.

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