On July 12, 1967, Newark, New Jersey erupted into flames and rioting when two white police officers stopped and beat a black cabbie for "passing by them" in his cab. By July 17, 26 people were dead and more than 725 were injured.
On December 17, 1979, four City Of Miami police officers beat Arthur McDuffie to death, after he was seen speeding on a motorcycle. In May, 1980, after an all white, all male jury acquitted the officers in Tampa (Judge Lenore Nesbitt acquitted one of the four on a rule 29 motion), residents of Overtown and Liberty City rioted, after a protest at our courthouse- then known as the Metro Justice Building, turned ugly. By the end of that week, as Miami burned, lawyers and litigants were walking into a Justice Building guarded by armed national guard soldiers.
The LA Watts riots. The Rodney King riots. Two more riots in the 1980's in Miami over race and the police.
The meta-data strongly suggests that when white police officers are acquitted after killing black suspects, people riot.
So why are people rioting?
Because the Justice System is broken.
When you think of the American Justice System, what do you think of? Exceptional cases where people are vindicated? Or horror stories of innocent people plea bargaining in the face of overwhelming government coercion? Innocent people spending decades on death row until exonerated by DNA. And this includes people who "confessed" even though innocent.
If the Justice system doesn't provide justice, are we surprised that angry and disenfranchised people take to the streets? The people who are arrested for petty crimes like disorderly conduct or resisting arrest without violence or failure to obey the lawful order of a police officer and are processed through a system designed to wear them down and beat them down to the point where they eventually take a plea, with the promise all they have to do is pay a small fine. Until they realize that the arrest follows them for the rest of their life and they can't get a decent job, they can't qualify for government housing or benefits, and all they have left is their anger, and rage and the streets.
That's why people flip police cars and loot and burn the stores of innocent store owners.
We stood with our friend in the Liberty City riots while his family butcher store, which had served the neighborhood for over thirty years, was burned to the ground. He cried, not for the loss of the store, but because he recognized the children of people he had done business with for decades, looting his shop- rage in their eyes, blinded by anger and hatred and with no other way to express those feelings.
Race matters. It always has. It always will. We may someday become a society where a man or woman is judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. But how do we judge the content of the character of man or woman with a string of petty arrests for which they had no way to fight back?
Close your eyes? Imagine Rumpole, a middle aged lawyer of some renown, writing this blog.
Did you see a black man or a white man? Be honest.
Race will always matter. It's what we see when we see someone.
But race does not have to mean rage. It can mean the same kind of wonderful differences that make all humans special and unique.
But until we have a justice system that dispenses justice, race will always have a component of rage. Until we stop rewarding judges for the total number of cases they close out every year, and instead reward them for their fairness and honesty and their ability to see a wrong and make it right, race will matter to the black child who sees her father in jail, again, powerless to fight back, incarcerated by a system geared not to giving him justice, but to closing out his case as quickly as possible.
This is why Ferguson is burning. Whether the officer was right or wrong, it doesn't matter. What matters is the perception that when it comes to court, race matters and the game is tilted in favor of the white police officers. This is why Newark burned, and why Miami burned and why Los Angeles burned, and this is why our cities will continue to burn.
Because race matters in country where justice doesn't.
See you in court unless the damn building is burned down before Monday.
JUSTICE BUILDING BLOG
WELCOME TO THE OFFICIAL RICHARD E GERSTEIN JUSTICE BUILDING BLOG. THIS BLOG IS DEDICATED TO JUSTICE BUILDING RUMOR, HUMOR, AND A DISCUSSION ABOUT AND BETWEEN THE JUDGES, LAWYERS AND THE DEDICATED SUPPORT STAFF, CLERKS, COURT REPORTERS, AND CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS WHO LABOR IN THE WORLD OF MIAMI'S CRIMINAL JUSTICE. POST YOUR COMMENTS, OR SEND RUMPOLE A PRIVATE EMAIL AT HOWARDROARK21@GMAIL.COM. Winner of the prestigious Cushing Left Anterior Descending Artery Award.