GCN Opinion

It's Open Season On Cops
There Is Plenty Of Blame To Go Around In The Deaths Of Hattiesburg Police Officers Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate.  Be Prepared For A Long Hot Summer.

By Perry Hicks- Special to GulfCoastNews.com     5/11/15

The murders of two police officers Saturday bring to the number thus far killed in 2015 to  44.  Deen's and Tate's deaths follow two other Mississippi officers, Warren County Deputy Sheriff Johnny Gatson and Mississippi Gaming Commission Director of Investigations, John Ballard Gorman.

While two of the four Mississippi officers were not murdered (Gatson died as a consequence of injuries sustained in an on-duty car accident, and Gorman died during a training exercise,) it remains that the Magnolia State is indeed a dangerous place to work in law enforcement.
 
Nationally, the numbers over the last five years had trended down from a high of 180 officer deaths in 2011 to 114 in 2013 before ticking up again to 127 last year.  However, those numbers include all causes of deaths.  What is more significant is the number of assaults by various means and deaths from non-accidental gunfire.

Deaths from stabbings, physical assaults, vehicular assaults, and non-accidental gunfire also trended down until 2013 before significantly ticking up last year.  While these numbers are nowhere near their highs, and considering the civil unrest the significant numbers of non-fatal injuries sustained by police, one must ask:  Has it really become open season on cops?
 
The answer to that question may well be yes.
 
Increasing Contempt For Government
 
Juxtapose the numbers of law enforcement officers killed against the numbers of the public killed by law enforcement: 624 last year with 2015 so far on track to reach nearly 600.  In the last 5 years the total number of fatalities at the hands of police is an astonishing 2,141!
 
While police supporters would argue that these were all justifiable homicides, eroding  trust has many in the public saying not so fast.
 
For example, consider the following unambiguous incidents:
 
1.      Freddie Gray 25 killed during transport to the Baltimore lockup.  This incident ignited a week of rioting which ended only after 6 police officers were charged with crimes ranging from unlawful imprisonment to “heartless homicide.” The thrashing heard by another prisoner was probably a seizure resulting from Gray's head and spinal injuries.
 
2.      Walter L. Scott 50 was fatally shot in the back by North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager.  Initially, the officer attempted to cover the murder by claiming that he feared for his life.  Later, a video surfaced of the incident showing the sickening crime in its entirety.  Police haven't been permitted to shoot fleeing suspects since Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 in 1985.
 
3.      Eric Courtney Harris 44 was fatally shot in the back while officers were attempting to handcuff him.  The officer who shot him claimed he thought he was holding a taser.  The shooting was caught on video.
 
However, there are other recent if less clearcut cases that have sparked public protest such as that of the alledged choking death of Eric Garner 43 in New York, fatal shooting of Michael Brown 18 in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Neighborhood Watch shooting of Trayvon Martin 17 in Sanford, Florida.
 
In the Brown and Martin cases, well financed operatives manipulated public emotions by portraying the deceased as fully innocent children to include photos of Brown and Martin taken years prior.  Later revelations from social media and even video showed these depictions to be manifestly untrue.  Brown weighed 300 lb.
 
In Mississippi, the public's perception of law enforcement has been severely damaged by the depredations of Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd and Harrison County Sheriff Leroy Hobbs.  Indeed, in 1985, the FBI actually designated the entire Harrison County Sheriff's Department as a criminal enterprise.
 
The courts are no better off, either.  Attorney Richard Scruggs, brother-in-law to former US Senator Trent Lott, pleaded guilty to several attempts to bribe judges.  While Mississippi Third Circuit Court Judge Henry L. Lackey did report the attempted bribery and cooperation, Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Bobby Delaughter did not.
 
This begs the question, what was Scrugg's experience that would lead him to believe he could bribe not 1, but 2 judges?  How many more unknown bribes could there be?  Could this be how he had won other high profile cases?
 
The Face Of Government
 
African-American frustration with the criminal justice system is visceral, borne of horrendous experiences dating back through Jim Crow all the way to slavery.  One cannot simply dismiss it in the misguided belief that the situation is better today.  Particularly for those trapped in a cycle of poverty, it is very real.
Richmond, Virginia civil rights activist Sa'ad El-Amin has likened the criminal justice system to an assembly line stamping out convictions.  He is correct.  Consider how the bulk of criminal convictions go to the indigent and how they are treated during that process:
 
1.      Defendants are routinely overcharged and then coerced into accepting plea bargains.  Statistics on this are difficult to obtain, but in Richmond, there is an appearance that 97-98% of all cases never go to trial, but end with a plea.  Other venues are known to trend in the low to mid 90s.
 
2.      Indigent defense attorneys are grossly underpaid.  Again in Richmond, the attorney's fee for trying a felony is only $445.  This low fee structure incentivizes quick case disposal resulting in plea bargains being pushed at the behest of  prosecutors.
 
3.      In Richmond, it is the courts that distribute indigent defense appointments, and data collected over a 3 year period indicate the attorneys who vigorously defend their clients are denied appointments.  Those who keep the prosecutors happy are awarded the most.
 
4.      In an extreme example again seen in Richmond, a defendant with privately retained counsel was forced to take representation appointed by the court.
 
5.      Prosecutors are permitted to conduct extensive pretrial publicity for the purpose of biasing the potential jury pool.  However, defense attorneys are sanctioned if they relate anything more than the bare minimum to the press.
 
6.      All over the country exculpatory evidence (that supporting innocence) is so routinely denied defendants that the practice has to be a matter of policy. Inculpatory evidence (that supporting guilt) has also been known to have been manufactured, thus wrongfully convicting the innocent.
 
To many minorities and even Caucasian youth, the police then become the face of a malevolent government hellbent on destroying their lives.  Furthermore, even with the transference of power from white to black officials, some African-American activists privately lament that nothing has really changed.
 
Dismissing their feelings as wrongheaded is to proverbially put one's head in the sand.  The depredations of the past are just as real and present to them today.
 
Granted, the bulk of those charged with crimes are not wholly innocent, and neither is every defendant guilty as charged by virtue that they have been charged.  What is wrong is the failure to give the accused their constitutional right to due process.
 
The prison experience is no better.  Consider how Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner, Chris Epps resigned back in November 2014, just a day before pleading guilty to massive corruption charges.
 
The Clarion Ledger has exposed the extent to which MDOC officials have turned over Mississippi's prison system to gangs, and have done so motivated purely by personal profit.  The Clarion Ledger characterized the MDOC corruption as both wide and deep.
 
It is an understatement to say the system has to be cleaned up.
 
A Long Hot Summer
 
We are now only just entering the summer months.  Well financed professional agitators will be anticipating the next death at the hands of the police.  Facts will not matter.  They actually have a whole other agenda that has nothing to do with proper policing and true justice.
 
Nor will the criminal justice system act to reform itself.  There is too much money to be made at every level from initial arrest through prison release.  Too many political careers to be built on a mountain of convictions.
 
Be prepared for more demonstrations.  Be prepared for more images of militarized police facing off with enraged protesters. Be prepared for the unrest to spread.  Be prepared for more criminals to feel justified in killing cops.
 
And so, tragically, be prepared for more stories like Hattiesburg, where two heroic young officers- ironically 1 white and 1 black- died for absolutely no good purpose at all.


Additional Information:

 

About the Author.....

 

Perry Hicks is the senior writer and Washington correspondent for GCN. He is a former Mississippi Coast resident and was a correspondent for the old Gulfport Star Journal. He has appeared on Fox News Channel. Perry has also hosted his own radio talk show on the auto industry with a mix of politics. Perry is a frequent contributor to GCN writing on stories of national importance with local interests. His articles can be found in the GCN Archive.

 

Contact the Author: bsalightning650@live.com



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