Michael Brown, a victim of “broken windows.” His alleged crime was walking on the street instead of on a sidewalk
The release of two African-American men from prison in North Carolina after 30 years of incarceration for a murder they didn’t commit is yet another example of the American justice system’s racist targeting of African-Americans as the supposed primary criminal class in the country.
Between this outrageous case, the recent police broad daylight execution of Mike Brown, and the chokehold killing of Eric Garner, we must ask: isn’t it time we launch a movement to defeat the racist law enforcement and criminal justice system’s systematic war on Black-America?
Why do we still pretend as if these are random isolated unconnected occurrences? This week’s news of the release of Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown after 30 years in jail for the 1983 rape and murder of an 11 year-old girl, represent another case of the gross miscarriage of justice.
McCollum and Brown were finally exonerated after North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission tied existing DNA evidence to another man named Roscoe Artis. The two men were convicted, in 1984, for the rape and murder of 11 year-old Sabrina Blue.
At the time, Mr. McCollum, who was 19, and his half-brother Mr. Brown, who was 15, were questioned—in September of 1983—about the rape and murder of Blue. In a case eerily similar to the Central Park Five Case, just settled for $41 million—where five Black and Latino teens were targeted by New York Police Department (NYPD) officers, and, apparently railroaded by criminal justice officials—McCollum and Brown were coerced in making false confessions by officers in the Red Springs Police Department.
Both boys—who were known to suffer from intellectual disabilities—were questioned for lengthy periods of time, until the wee hours of the morning when they signed confessions, after being assured they would be able to go home. In an interview with The News and Observer, Mr. McCollum talked about how he made up the story so he could go home—and about the conduct of the detective who interrogated him.
“I was like sitting in a chair. He got all up in my face, hollering at me. That kind of—that kind of shook me. It scared me up a little bit, because I had never been in no police station before, being questioned by a police. Then he’s talking about, ‘You know you killed that girl. You know you killed that girl.’ I said, ‘Man, I didn’t kill nobody, man. I ain’t seen that girl that night.’ And he said, ‘When I come back in here, you better tell me the truth,’ and all that, right? I said, ‘I told you the truth, where I was that night.’ He said, ‘No, you told me you was at home.’ I said, ‘That was where I was: at home. I wasn’t out no 12:30 at night.’ I’d say he came back in like five minutes later. I had made up my mind, right, because I had never been under this much pressure, with a person hollering at me and threatening me and all that crazy stuff. So, what I did, I gave him a false name and made up a story, this is the way the crime happened, when a crime didn’t really happen that way and all that, right? Because I was trying to go home, I gave him false confession.”
McCollum and Brown would recant their confessions to no avail. Of course, like in the Central Park Case, McCollum’s and Brown’s coerced confessions were the sole “evidence” that led to the state’s convictions of both teens in 1984. And, although Roscoe Artis had confessed to a similar crime around the same time as the rape and murder of Sabrina Blue he was not investigated for the crime.
This story is a horrible reminder of the dangers Black people face from a criminal justice system that is at war with us. As scholars, like Michelle Alexander, author of the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” have pointed out Black people continue to be arrested in mass numbers even as crime, for decades, has steadily fallen.
The August 9 killing of Mike Brown, in Missouri, and of Eric Garner July 17, in New York, have spurred debate regarding the manner in which Black neighborhoods are racially policed by a law enforcement infrastructure that teaches police that Black people are criminally-inclined.
These discussions are good. But we must mobilize and focus our attacks on the two-headed monster of a law enforcement and criminal justice apparatus which is systematically criminalizing and oppressing our people. Attorney General Eric Holder has just announced that the Ferguson Police will be investigated for possible discriminatory policing practices by the Justice Department.
This is a welcome response given the abrasive posture Ferguson Police took toward peaceful protesters—as well as other allegations of general misconduct. Structurally Ferguson’s police department has a major problem; only three of the 53 police officers are Black.
In fact, there are many police departments—including the New York Police Department (NYPD)—that should be investigated for their bigoted behavior towards Black people. For years, over and over again, we’ve heard of similar stories where men like Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown have spent decades of their lives incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit, often duped by deviously deceitful police and prosecutors.
And, in most of these cases, it is obvious police and prosecutors withheld evidence that would’ve lead to the accused being exonerated. How many African Americans are today languishing behind bars –people without any means to hire attorneys or private investigators– for crimes they did not commit?
Where are the investigations into the police and prosecutorial misconduct that lies at the heart of the convictions of men like Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown? Are there no consequences into such violations? Even in the Central Park case, after paying out $41 million as settlement, the City of New York maintains there was no misconduct by law enforcement.
The truth is America’s criminal justice system, especially in relation to African-Americans, has never been about justice. It’s about controlling Black people-and thwarting the growth, prosperity and future aspirations of our people, period.
Our history with American police and the courts has always been about that. For years, many of us have heard the criminal justice theory which posits that Black people commit crimes at a disproportionately higher rate and that this is why police resources are flooded into Black communities. These are the justification of demonization of the African-American community and adoption of discriminatory and abusive policing such as “broken windows” and “stop-and-frisk.”
These are the big lies—unfortunately, they are repeated so often that even many African-Americans accept them. What they are really saying here is something many White people have been saying about Black people for centuries: that we are genetically- inclined toward bestial criminal behavior.
Of course, this is nothing more than a tactic to project, and justify, the criminal conduct that have been visited on Black people—even as their labor was used to enrich those who exploited them. The father of “broken windows”, professor George Kelling is at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank — he is a consultant to the NYPD. The alleged theory holds that aggressive policing against minor incident — such as breaking windows– will deter later serious crimes.
While the “theory” may sound cute to Kelling, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, African-Americans pay the price. It’s officer Daniel Pantaleo’s aggressive approach towards Eric Garner that caused the Staten Island resident his life. Experts such as Kelling never ever want to talk about the poverty that has been manufactured and manipulated, by White supremacy and institutional racism, to create chaos and crime in Black communities—which, then facilitates the self-fulfilling crime “statistics” used to rationalize and justify the attacks and the neglect by the power structure, which includes the police forces.
The media plays its role by constantly broadcasting the “perp” walks.
Erudite experts like Kelling don’t want any discussion about links between crime and poverty in the Black community. Such a serious discussion would eviscerate all the pathological falsehoods they inculcate in the White masses, and in Black people, about the alleged innate criminal nature of Black people—who, by and large, have been the overwhelming victims of the perverted prejudice and brutal bigotry of the establishment. These stories should awaken us all to the reality.
The American justice system has been devouring and destroying Black people’s lives for centuries. How much longer will we continue to accept this perverted “justice” meted out by this corrupt system?
When is enough already really enough already?