I'm now writing a weekly column for the legendary Chicago Defender. This is my first one.
Justice Needs New Eyes
By Monroe Anderson
When it comes to black men in America, justice isn’t blind--it’s cockeyed.
For the latest evidence of this fundamental fact, take a look at what happened in suburban Park Forest. In July of 2013, the cops were called after an unruly old man at the suburb’s Victory Centre assisted living facility refused to voluntarily go to get checked out for a suspected urinary tract infection.
By the time the police arrived, the old man, possibly experiencing dementia, was leaning on his cane with one hand and yielding a 7-inch fillet knife with the other. He was ordered to drop the weapon. He refused as police rushed his room. One of the cops attempted to taze him but missed. The next cop fired, hitting the old man with four beanbag rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun. Hours later, the old man died.
We’ve seen this scenario in one sequence or another so many times before and since that it is nothing more than a cliche: The hapless perp goes to the morgue. The warrior-cop goes free.
No crime here, folks, now move along.
And for more than five months, it looked like it was going to be the same old story.
Then last April, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez did something virtually no other American prosecutor had done in the 461 deadly police confrontations that had happened in 2013. Rather than come up with the usual conclusion that it was “justifiable homicide,” Alvarez accused the trigger-pulling cop of using “unjustified” and “unreasonable” force and charged him with reckless conduct.
And that’s when the cock-eyed Justice appears to have reared her ugly head. In this case, the cop squeezing off the rounds, Craig Taylor, was black. The man on the wrong end of the barrel, John Wrana, was white.
There were a few other wrinkles making the Park Forest case different from the standard-issue deadly force police encounter. Wrana was a 95-year-old World War II veteran. Married with five children, Taylor is an 11-year-veteran of the Park Forest Police Department with an exemplary record. He is also the only black cop on the force.
During last week’s trial, prosecutors argued that Park Forest police could have, should have waited Wrana out; that they had other options besides Tazing or bean-bagging a frail 95-year-old man.
In testifying in his own defense, Taylor trotted out the law officer’s old tried and blue. He said that he was ordered by his superior to fire on Wrana and that he was following police procedure. Taylor claimed that he feared for his life therefore his actions were justifiable. “When I saw John Wrana with the knife in his hand,” he said, “threatening to kill me and my fellow officers, I was afraid, in fear of my life, and felt I had to do something.”
Whether the law thinks Taylor did the right thing or not will be determined by February 5. His bench trial at the Markham Courthouse ended Friday and Cook County Circuit Court Judge Luciano Panici promised he would hand down a verdict by then.
Whatever the judgement, it is easy for a casual observer of American justice to find this case curious. How is it that an armed white man in Park Forest is accidentally killed by a police weapon that is intended to be non-lethal, and the one black cop involved in the incident goes to trial?--while the outcome has been totally different elsewhere?
In Missouri, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, at least six times, twice to the head, in front of eye witnesses. Even though 16 out of the 18 eyewitnesses testified that Brown had his hands up, when he was shot to death, St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch presented a case before the grand jury that was so incompetent or insincere, it that looked like he was the defense attorney for the white cop and the prosecutor to the black teen.
In New York, there was a now famous video showing police gang tackling Eric Garner for selling single cigarettes. We saw office Daniel Pantaleo ride the black father of five, grandfather of two to the hard pavement. We heard Garner say “I can’t breath.” Like McColloch, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr. managed not to be competent or dedicate enough to get the grand jury to find probable cause.
In Ohio, we also saw another video. This time it was a 12-year-old black boy, Tamir Rice, playing cops and robbers on a Cleveland playground with a toy gun all by himself, when he was shot and killed by a white cop,Timothy Loehmann, two seconds after his squad pulled up to the child. The trigger happy cop has been canned but has not yet been brought before a grand jury.
Maybe Justice needs new eyes that see more clearly the injustices being perpetuated in our legal system day in and day out.