Killings of Arbery and Martin tragically similar

Photo: MGN

This article first published 6/4/20 by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Will the outcomes prove similar as well?

News Analysis

As the preliminary hearing gets underway in Georgia for Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William Bryan in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, it has not gone unnoticed that the fatal shooting of Arbery, an unarmed Black jogger in February by two White men, bears a striking resemblance to another slaying eight years ago—that of Trayvon Martin.

Both the 17-year-old Martin and the 25-year-old Arbery were accosted by self-appointed White vigilantes who shot them at point-blank range after a scuffle. In both cases, prosecutors initially declined to prosecute and charges were filed only after weeks of sustained pressure from the Black communities in both Deep South states.

In the Arbery case, charges were brought against the McMichaels only following protests and the release of a gruesome cellphone video that depicts a clearly unarmed Arbery merely jogging down a neighborhood street in the city of Brunswick in the southeastern part of the state.

No attorney would’ve called the State’s case against George Zimmerman for murdering an unarmed teenager “airtight.” But prosecutors were so ineffective in the 2013 trial that it left more than a few trial lawyers and legal scholars wondering aloud whether the prosecution didn’t intentionally lose the case.

In a 2016 law review article, Boston College law professor Mark Brodin wrote that prosecutors in Florida bungled the Trayvon Martin case by “committing the most inexplicable strategic and evidentiary blunders of a type that experienced prosecutors would very likely not commit in a more earnest effort to convict.”

Of the prosecution’s many missteps, Brodin wrote that the most damning might’ve been the failure to “to convey to the trial jury this simple narrative of racial profiling and stalking by a vigilante not acting under color of law.”

Calling the trial an “homage to racial vigilantism,” Mark K. Spencer, a former deputy state’s attorney in the Washington D.C. suburbs, concurred with Brodin’s assessment of the prosecution’s failure. “The Trayvon Martin case represented one of the gravest miscarriages of justice I’ve ever seen,” he said.

The default position of the criminal justice system, according to Brodin and many other attorneys, is to reflexively protect the killers of Black males, particularly if they are law enforcement officers or their surrogates. This raises a profound question as the state of Georgia prepares to try the McMichaels: Are prosecutors in it to win?

In an email to the Spokesman-Recorder, Brodin wrote: “This ‘playing to lose’ strategy is a theme that runs through many ‘prosecutions’ of White police or vigilantes who have killed Black men. As you know, there are structural and institutional barriers that interfere when police officers commit crimes, as they are viewed as part of the ‘law enforcement team’ by prosecutors.

“And then systemic racism (tainting judge and jurors) often raises its ugly face at the trial when it’s a White cop and Black victim. Thankfully we have a few progressive prosecutors (Philadelphia, Boston, Brooklyn) who are starting to fight the influence of race and class in our criminal justice system, but they are clearly the exceptions.

“The result has been a greenlighting of gross police misconduct across the nation.”

Zimmerman was, of course, only a police “wannabe” although he was friendly with patrol officers in the community. The elder McMichael, on the other hand, was a retired officer who had worked as an investigator with the local prosecutor’s office.

The Thin Blue Line

The video of the assault on Arbery is damning but it is not, in and of itself, enough to win a conviction, explained Spencer, who presently serves as inspector general for the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Department. The often cozy relationship between prosecutors and police tilts the playing field in favor of law enforcement, he said.

During his early days as a prosecutor nearly 30 years ago, he said it was not uncommon for the prosecutors to encourage defendants to sign a waiver absolving police officers of any liability for the use of excessive force or other misconduct.

“The challenges with accountability for potential acts of police misconduct were, are, and will always be problematic because of the structure of our justice system,” Spencer said. “In my experience most prosecutors avoid being assigned police accountability cases because there has been little reward in pursuing them. The cases are always difficult to assess and present because each of the working parts involves many sometimes interlocking relationships.”

He continued, “Imagine prosecuting a case where the police are the principle or only source of evidence. The police were the first responders to a crime scene or complaint. The police control the crime scene and the quality and quantity of evidence that is collected.

“And the police are potentially the principal witnesses or sole witnesses to an event that may have included police misconduct. Trying to pierce the ‘Thin Blue Line’ is mostly a daunting task.”

The Martin case is by no means unique. When the Bronx district attorney in 2000 failed to procure a conviction against four New York City police officers for the fusillade of gunfire that killed an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, some immediately questioned whether the State intentionally undermined its case to shore up support for the City’s aggressive police tactics.

One African American juror, Lavette Freeman, told reporters at the time that she understood the protests that followed the verdict, but jurors felt they had no choice but to acquit. ”I have to take it back to the district attorney’s office. They didn’t give me anything. Nothing.”

Another complication in the case against the McMichaels will undoubtedly be the state’s “Stand Your Ground” statute, which was cited by the original prosecutor in the case, George Barnhill, in declining to pursue charges.

Stand Your Ground effectively overturns a legal principle dating back to 17th century British common law requiring that a claimant demonstrate a defensive posture before using lethal force. The Castle Doctrine, however — a man’s home is his castle — provides an exemption in the case of an intruder or burglar.

Stand Your Ground laws expand the legal justification for lethal self-defense and give prosecutors broad discretion to apply the law. While Zimmerman’s lawyers did not rely on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in their defense, jurors in Martin’s murder trial were instructed to consider the law in their deliberations. “Trayvon Martin was betrayed by the entire American legal community,” decried Spencer.

Healthcare industry bias portends trouble for Blacks during pandemic

Photo: MGN

This article first published 4/24/20 by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

University of Miami Health System physician Armen Henderson was loading supplies into his van recently, preparing to test the city’s homeless population for the coronavirus under an I-95 overpass, when suddenly a City of Miami police officer pulled up behind him.

From his patrol car, the uniformed officer began to innocuously question Henderson, who is Black. Henderson described the encounter like this: “He [the officer] just said, ‘Are you littering over here? Do you live here? Do you work here?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I live here. This is where we put our bulky trash and the City comes to pick it up every week at this same place.”


Photo courtesy Dr. Armen Henderson. “Dr. Armen Henderson being handcuffed”

Suddenly, the encounter turned sinister, Henderson said. The officer jumped from the car “and started yelling, ‘You call me sir or sergeant when I’m talking to you.’ I never said I was a doctor. But I didn’t cuss,” Henderson told the MSR. “He just grabbed my arms and cuffed me.”

Henderson said when the officer started to handcuff him he called for his wife to bring him his ID. A video of the incident taken by the couple’s home security cameras shows Henderson’s wife exiting the house moments later with what appears to be a driver’s license.

The video shows the officer releasing Henderson from handcuffs several moments later. The video has been viewed over seven million times on various social media forums.

“He just got in his car and drove away,” Henderson told the MSR, “without apologizing.” The confrontation between the two men on the last Saturday in March helps to explain why the coronavirus pandemic is nearly twice as deadly for Blacks and Latinos as it is for Whites. There are, in point of fact, two scourges for two Americas—one biological, one man-made.

While Whites need only concern themselves with the first, People of Color generally, and 42 million African Americans especially are tasked with surviving the worst global pandemic in a century. They must do so with no more material resources than their ancestors owned on New Years’ Day in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

What this means is that the same racist attitudes that compel law-enforcement officers to terrorize Blacks in the streets are often shared by some medical professionals who treat African American patients with a cold indifference.

A recent study by the American Bar Association concluded that, aside from wide racial disparities in access to health care, “Black people simply are not receiving the same quality of health care that their White counterparts are receiving.”

The ABA continued, “For example, one study of 400 hospitals in the United States showed that Black patients with heart disease received older, cheaper, and more conservative treatments than their White counterparts. Black patients were less likely to receive coronary bypass operations and angiography. After surgery, they are discharged earlier from the hospital than White patients—at a stage when discharge is inappropriate.

“The same goes for other illnesses. Black women are less likely than White women to receive radiation therapy in conjunction with a mastectomy. In fact, they are less likely to receive mastectomies. Perhaps more disturbing is that Black patients are more likely to receive less desirable treatments.

“The rates at which Black patients have their limbs amputated is higher than those for White patients. Additionally, Black patients suffering from bipolar disorder are more likely to be treated with antipsychotics despite evidence that these medications have long-term negative effects and are not effective.”

Henderson said that only four percent of licensed physicians nationwide are Black, meaning that on top of the litany of cradle-to-grave disadvantages that help to weaken African Americans’ immune systems—from living in food deserts and atop environmental dump sites, to the proliferation of water and utility shutoffs, to homelessness, to prison overcrowding, to high-stress levels—Blacks are often treated by doctors who share the same racial biases as the police officer who handcuffed him.

Studies have shown that the affluent are tested for the virus at a rate that is far higher than low-income people; as evidence, Henderson noted that a testing site in Miami’s historically Black neighborhood of Liberty City opened only three weeks ago.

Moreover, he said, he’s heard of doctors charging Black patients in South Florida as much as $200 for the $40 test. “I can definitely see bias creeping into decisions about who gets ventilators and who gets [do not resuscitate].”

People are testing positive and getting sent home, and how can you quarantine when you live in a [crowded] two-bedroom apartment? There is no protocol, and if there is no protocol, doctors can do what they want. I definitely think that unconscious bias is playing a role in the way that things are happening the way they are.”

Submitted photo [MSR]. “Dr. Armen Henderson”


These disparities are part of the reason that Henderson and activists with the nonprofit groups Dream Defenders and Showering Love began an outreach effort in the city’s Overtown neighborhood at the beginning of March. “We’ve been out there once or twice a week handing out tents, toiletries, masks, socks,” he said.

“We’ve been testing individuals for COVID-19 because it’s the most vulnerable population. If you want to control the spread, you have to go right to the source and take care of these individuals first.”

The 35-year-old Henderson grew up in a hardscrabble neighborhood of North Philadelphia. He was first introduced to racism in medicine when the White dean of a prominent Ivy League medical school advised him to consider a career as a nurse rather than as a doctor, despite the fact that he had a 3.8 GPA and had participated in three clinical trials as a researcher.

Studies have shown that doctors’ racial attitudes color much of the disparate health outcomes for Blacks, resulting, as one example, in a tendency to under-prescribe pain medicine for Blacks because of the myth that they have a higher tolerance for pain and higher rates of addictions. Whites, on the other hand, are more likely to be over-prescribed.

“I’m not saying it’s all doctors, but we know that these biases are passed down from one generation to the next,” Henderson said.
Racial bias, combined with a failed market-based approach to health care, is simply ravaging Black America.

Six years ago, Eric Garner’s final gasping words while trying to fend off a police chokehold, “I can’t breathe” came to symbolize the asphyxiation of African Americans’ dreams for a better life.

Similarly symbolic is a coronavirus patients’ breathless question earlier this month as a New York city nurse anesthetist connected him to a ventilator: “Who’s going to pay for this?”

Bloomberg’s Democratic opponents live in glass houses

Photo: MGN

This article first published 3/2/20 by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Had they been battle rappers rather than Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would almost certainly have been booed off the stage in the Nevada debate, excoriated by his peers for among other things, his administration’s “stop-and-frisk” policy that terrorized Gotham’s Blacks and Latinos.

In his first debate, the billionaire publisher offered the most tepid and unconvincing responses to the withering assault, defending stop-and-frisk as a sound law-enforcement policy “but it got out of control.” I lived in New York for Bloomberg’s final two terms in office and witnessed Manhattan’s biblical transformation, from a hive of tribal energy and cultural expression into the world’s largest gated community that is hostile to the working class generally, and people of color specifically.

Yet while I am loath to give Mad Mike any useful advice, I do think that he should return fire next time by borrowing a page, perhaps, from Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for the Republican nomination.

Here is how he might more effectively respond to criticisms on his law-enforcement policies leveled by his Democratic rivals:

“Was stop-and-frisk a racist policy that unfairly, and unconstitutionally brutalized Black and Brown men in New York City? Of course it was and we all know it. But who on this stage wants to cast the first stone from their glass encampment? Joe Biden, who got his start in national politics by railing against integrated schools, and who authored the draconian 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill that has done more to swell the nation’s prison population than any single piece of legislation in American history?

Surely not Senator Klobuchar, who as the top prosecutor in Minneapolis sent a Black teenager to jail for life for the accidental killing of an 11-year-old girl. There was, according to the Associated Press, “no gun, fingerprints, or DNA. Alibis were never seriously pursued. Key evidence has gone missing or was never obtained, including a convenience store surveillance tape that . . . (some) say would have cleared him.”

And I am sure the Black residents of South Bend, Indiana would find Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s reproach of me for racial insensitivity curious, given his firing of a popular African American police chief and his support for a White sergeant in his police department who fatally shot an unarmed 54-year old Black man.

Call me a cynic, but I think it odd that I would be singled out for my brutalization of Blacks in a country that has routinely brutalized Blacks for 400 years, by a party that has doubled down on its “get-tough-on-crime” mantra since Bill Clinton won the White House 27 years ago in an effort to woo White voters enthralled with Ronald Reagan’s articulation of White supremacy.

And for anyone in our audience who thinks I am lying, ask yourself this: my last two terms as mayor coincided roughly with the Obama administration’s two terms in office; if everyone was so concerned with my mistreatment of African Americans, why didn’t Vice President Biden and his boss instruct their Justice Department to intervene?”

At issue here is not Bloomberg’s innocence, but White guilt that stretches back to chattel slavery, and a fear as old as the Republic of the fire next time. The historian John Hope Franklin wrote:

“Even before the war, White Southerners had frequently entertained a wild nightmarish fear that the slaves would rise up, slay them, and overthrow the institution of slavery. It had happened in Haiti. Perhaps it would happen here. In 1865, Southern Whites “knew” that there was nothing to hold back the tide. Wild rumors flashed through the South that the freedmen would strike in vengeance. Some Whites were even certain of the date. It would be New Year’s Day 1866, they said. How could they keep their minds on rebuilding when their former slaves were poised to complete the destruction?”

The custodian of White anxiety is the criminal justice system, which is designed and upgraded to mete out maximum punishment to Blacks while affording maximum protection to Whites. Consider the proliferation of so-called Stand Your Ground Laws that began to criss-cross the country at almost exactly the same time that Blomberg was ratcheting up “stop-and-frisk”

Since 2006, 33 states have passed “Stand Your Ground” laws, which are based on a 400-year old British common law requiring a claimant to demonstrate a defensive posture before using lethal force dating back to the early 1600s. The Castle Doctrine, however—a man’s home is his castle—provides an exemption in the case of an intruder or burglar.

“Stand Your Ground” laws nonsensically expand the legal justification for lethal self-defense and in giving prosecutors broad discretion, the law grants Whites a license to kill an unarmed Black or Brown man if they feel threatened. For all practical purposes, the consequence for killing an unarmed African American in Florida is often less than that for killing a beaver in Maine.

In fact, in fending off his rivals, perhaps Bloomberg should execute the first “mic drop” in presidential debate history, and walk off the stage after concluding with a line often attributed to Oscar Wilde: “All criticism is a form of autobiography.”

Negative reactions to Kobe’s death not as straightforward as they seem

Photo: MGN. “Kobe Bryant”

This article first published 2/13/20 by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

For everyone within earshot of these virtual disputes over whether Kobe Bryant deserves our mercy in death, do NOT think this is some isolated argument about a celebrity with a checkered past.

It is about the fire next time, and who, exactly is going to be engulfed in flames.

The obvious racial schism in this debate underscores the oligarch’s success in transforming a class war into a race war. History is fairly clear about what comes next: White and Black will reconcile, and we will fight together against our rulers; or Whites will turn on us violently, and America will revert to 1919 or Nazi Germany, or some combination thereof.

Am I saying that all White people must agree with me or with Black people generally? I most assuredly am not. What I am saying is that if White people understood that the ONLY way they will be saved is by collaborating with us as full and equal partners, they would, at the very least, respect our losses and our community as we always have theirs. Their dehumanizing language, contemptuous tone, and binary narratives (“you’re either with us or against us”) tells me that Black people better brace to defend ourselves and party like its 1919 all over again.

I was not a Kobe fan especially. Had Allen Iverson or Dwyane Wade or LeBron died in a helicopter crash, I would likely be beside myself with grief. And I certainly understand anyone who says that they are not mourning a celebrity, with a checkered past, who they did not know. But I remember Kobe’s dad when he played alongside my childhood idol, Dr. J, and I remember how Kobe gave such joy to so many children, Black and White, the way Dr. J did for me. What’s more, I know that at 41, he might well have redeemed himself for the tremendous pain he inflicted on that young woman in a Colorado hotel. His death saddens me, if only because it saddens others, and because he may have contributed great things to this world before all was said and done.

What I don’t understand, however, is the gracelessness of people who cheer his death, the way some cheered him on the court. But for some reason, the White settler needs the Black man, and the Black woman on the stake, like Jesus, suffering, dying, for your sins, for no other reason, I believe, than that it reassures them that no matter how much things change, they will forever be the master, and we will forever be their slaves. For this reason, and only this reason, the laboring classes in America are a defeated people, and will remain so for as long as we walk this earth.

And if you think I am wrong, if you doubt what I am saying is true, then answer this question: would White women who are so outraged by Kobe be so animated, so contemptuous, so hateful, if his victim had been Black?

Jon Jeter is an author, political commentary writer and long-time journalist.