Keeping Track

There are so many issues that reach the national consciousness that it’s hard to keep up with them some times. This is especially true when it comes to court cases and incidents involving African Americans. There is the initial furor over alleged acts of violence or racism. Minorities decry these situations and demand justice. But sadly, justice is often denied. There are, however, rare instances when these things are actually brought to light and they enter the legal system. Gaining some insight into this system by attending law school has made this writer uniquely aware of these cases. Nonetheless, it’s at this point that the general public often loses touch.

Because when speaking about some famous – and infamous – court cases I often encounter Black folk who outright believe justice didn’t prevail, I decided to write this post about just some of the cases involving racially-charged issues that found resolutions. These would be cases that many people either don’t know what actually resulted form the prosecution, or are laboring under the mistaken belief that the perpetrators “got off.”

1. O.J. Simpson [The People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson]

Time to lay off the Twinkies, Juice.

What you know

His was truly the trial of the decade. No child or adult of the nineties could escape the wall-to-wall coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. I only have the vaguest memories of this case back then. But it exists in the collective conscious of the United States. All-star Football Player-turned-actor-turned-defendant was charged with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman. You remember the “Low-speed chase.” You remember Cochran’s now-famous ‘If the glove does not fit you must acquit’ catchphrase. And certainly Black people the world over remember that O.J. for lack of a better term “got off.” I think Black people were genuinely shocked that a Black man could be charged with killing a White woman and not be found guilty.

What you may not know

He was tried again. In civil court. For wrongful death. Yes, you can do that. No, it doesn’t violate Double Jeopardy. A judgment was issued in favor of the plaintiffs, the parents of Ronald Goldman and the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson. Simpson’s children got 12.5 million dollars and the families of the victims got 35 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

2. Rodney King

Mr. King, minus the ass-whoopin’

What you know

You’ve likely seen the grainy video footage. King appears to be fully subdued while many of LAPD’s finest are hauling off on him. Hitting him repeatedly with batons. I personally met one of Federal prosecutors in the case and he brought in one of the batons. Like the Wu Tang, those things aint nothing to fuck with. It was a shocking video. Even the President at the time, George H. W. Bush said,

Viewed from outside the trial, it was hard to understand how the verdict could possibly square with the video.

The officers charged – LAPD officers Koon, Powell, Briseno and Wind – were found not guilty. There were riots in LA and as far away as Toronto, Canada.

What you may not know

The officers were tried again. In Federal Court by the Department of Justice. Yes, that can happen. No, it doesn’t violate Double Jeopardy because the Federal Government is a different sovereign than the state of California. The jury here found officers Powell and Koon guilty. They were sentenced to 32 months in prison. The other two officers were acquitted.  The judge here stated that only the last six or so blows by the officers on the tape were unlawful. You decide.

3. Oscar Grant

What you know

On New Year’s day, 2009, Grant and some friend were being detained on the BART after BART police responded to a fight. It was 2:00am. Grant and his friends were seated lined up on a wall. According to the officers, Grant, who was not handcuffed at the time, attempted to stand and at this point the officers tried to subdue Grant. While two officers, Pirone and Mehserle, were restraining Grant, officer Mehserle inexplicably pulled out his gun, and fired a single shot into Grant’s back. The bullet went through Grant, ricochetted off the concrete and punctured Grant’s lung. Grant died 7 hours later. The astonishing aspect of this tragic incident is that it was all caught on tape via cell phone cameras. The video is shocking.

What you may not know

This is an instance where the officer who shot Grant, was actually tried and convicted. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years. However, the sentencing judge granted Mehserle double credit for time served and overturned the gun enhancement. Since being released, officer Mehserle appealed his conviction in order to return back to police duty. The conviction was upheld and the California Supreme Court refused to review the decision.

A stunning film entitled “Fruitvale Station” chronicles the story. One of my fellow writers, Fivefifths, has seen it and assures me it is powerful and moving.

It is my hope with this post to inform our readership that it is important to keep track of these kinds of cases. Be informed about the results. By all means lament a system that allows injustices to happen, but be knowledgeable when at least a bit of justice is done. As always,

Continue to Question the World Around You.


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