The Odor Seeping Out of Our Criminal Justice System
I just thank God I’m out of this place.
- Henry Lee McCollum
First there was Ferguson, Missouri and the gunning down of an unarmed black youth and the ad-nauseum follow-up emphasizing over-and-over the shooting officer’s fear. Now it’s the release of two half brothers in North Carolina clearly railroaded into convictions and death sentences by a notoriously remorseless, good-'ol-boy district attorney.
Once a fair-minded superior court judge actually looked at the evidence and declared the emperor had no clothes, any eighth-grader could see the criminal justice system in this nice little North Carolina community had cynically set up Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown, two intellectually vulnerable African American teenagers, to clear the docket of a sensational, vengeance-demanding child murder case. Until the judge's ruling, everyone had simply assumed because they had been convicted and were in prison these men were guilty. In 1994, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia even cited the barbarous natures of McCollum and Brown in defense of the death penalty.
The Ferguson case of a police homicide in broad daylight on a public street has been intentionally placed on a secret, very slow wheels-of-justice track that can only benefit Officer Darren Wilson's expected argument in court that he felt fear, which in the realm of courtroom narrative and reasonable doubt means he walks. In common US jurisprudence, a police officer’s fear and his or her perception of threat -- even if shown to be unfounded -- is sacrosanct and excuses pretty much anything.
On the other hand, fear is never permitted as an excuse when an ordinary citizen responds violently to a police officer. If Michael Brown had had a gun and, with a couple non-lethal rounds in his back, had turned and got off a lethal shot at Officer Wilson, every court in the land would have sentenced him to lethal injection or life in prison. There can be no self-defense against a police officer. Any kind of violence directed at a police officer can only be additional provocation, demanding an escalation of violence from the officer. The Law looks out for its own.
In North Carolina, Superior Court Judge Douglass Sasser had the courage to declare McCollum and Brown innocent after 30 years in prison. They were convicted in 1983 of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl. Thirty-year-old DNA evidence on a cigarette butt at the scene pointed to a known violent pederast who lived near the 11-year-old girl's house. While the already malodorous Ferguson case awaits shoes yet to drop, the McCollum/Brown case released a particularly loathsome pent-up stench that reaches all the way to the US Supreme Court.