Vice President Joe Biden can address the systemic racism and inequality in our justice system in ways that even President Barack Obama couldn’t. In just a few minutes remarks, the presumptive nominee for president of the Democratic party summed up centuries of injustice and terror, saying, “And it is long past time we made the promise of this nation real for all people. This is no time for incendiary tweets. This is no time to encourage violence. This is a national crisis, and we need real leadership right now.” He spoke after meeting with George Floyd’s family, after nights of peaceful then violent protest and just before the officer who caused his death was arrested for murder.
Once again — the words “I can’t breathe.”
An act of brutality so elemental, it did more than deny one more black man in America his civil rights and his human rights. It denied his very humanity. It denied him of his life.
Depriving George Floyd – as it deprived Eric Garner – of the one thing every human being must be able to do: Breathe.
So simple. So basic. So brutal.
The same thing happened with Ahmaud Arbery. The same with Breonna Taylor. The same thing with George Floyd.
We’ve spoken their names aloud. Cried them out in pain and horror. Chiseled them into long suffering hearts.
They are the latest additions to an endless list of lives stolen–potential wiped out unnecessarily.
It’s a list that dates back more than 400 years: black men, black women, black children.
The original sin of this country still stains our nation today.
Sometimes we manage to overlook it, and just push forward with the thousand other tasks of daily life. But it’s always there.
And weeks like this, we see it plainly.
We are a country with an open wound.
None of us can turn away.
None of us can be silent.
None of us any longer can hear those words — “I can’t breathe” — and do nothing.
We cannot fall victim to what Martin Luther King called the “appalling silence of the good people.”
Every day, African Americans go about their lives with constant anxiety and trauma, wondering — who will be next?
Imagine if every time your husband or son, wife or daughter, left the house, you feared for their safety from bad actors and bad police.
Imagine if you had to have that talk with your child about not asserting their rights — and taking the abuse handed out to them — just so they could make it home.
Imagine having the police called on you – for just sitting in Starbucks or renting an Airbnb or watching birds.
That is the norm for black people in this nation — they don’t have to imagine it.
The anger and the frustration and the exhaustion — it’s undeniable.
But that is not the promise of America.
And it is long past time we made the promise of this nation real for all people.
This is no time for incendiary tweets. This is no time to encourage violence.
This is a national crisis, and we need real leadership right now.
Leadership that will bring everyone to the table so we can take measures to root out systemic racism.
It’s time for us to take a hard look at uncomfortable truths.
It’s time for us to face the deep, open wound we have in this nation.
We need justice for George Floyd.
We need real police reform that holds all cops up to the high standards that so many of them actually meet — that holds bad cops accountable, and that repairs the relationship between law enforcement and the community they are sworn to protect.
And we need to stand up as a nation — with the black community, and with all minority communities — and come together as one America.
That’s the challenge we face.
And it will require those of us who sit in positions of influence to finally deal with the abuse of power.
The pain is too immense for one community to bear alone.
It is the duty of every American to grapple with it — and grapple with it now.
With our complacency, our silence — we are complicit in perpetuating these cycles of violence.
Nothing about this will be easy or comfortable. But if we simply allow this wound to scab over once more, without treating the underlying injury — we will never truly heal.
The very soul of America is at stake.
We must commit, as a nation, to pursue justice with every ounce of our being. We have to pursue it with real urgency. We have to make real the American promise, which we have never fully grasped: That all men and women are not only equal at creation, but throughout their lives.
“Equal Justice Under Law,” is what is inscribed above the entrance to the Supreme Court.
No One is Above the Law. Justice Without Fear or Favor.
Alas, these clichés can be thrown onto the ash heap of myths that are really only fantasy, along with American Dream, American Exceptionalism and the biggest lie of all: one person, one vote.
What we see all around is the ability for the wealthy, the powerful and the connected to evade justice. One way is by simply affording a battery of top lawyers which poor people, dependent upon funds-strapped public defenders, cannot, so are pressured to accept plea deals even if they are innocent and then branded for the rest of their lives, while wealthy people can have their arrest record expunged, or excuse their crime as the result of “Affluenza,” as Texas teenager Ethan Couch, did despite driving drunk without a license and killing four and injuring nine people. On the other hand, when 16-year old Cyntoia Brown, killed the pimp who kept her as a sex slave and had been beating her, she was tried as an adult and sentenced to life without parole.
If Paul Manafort, accused of 11 counts including money laundering millions of dollars, were a poor black teenager, he would be in jail for weeks, even months, instead of comfortably ensconced in one of his multi-million dollar homes (and that’s only because of the strong argument that he has the money, means and foreign ties to make him a flight risk – otherwise he would be out and about).
How different from Kalief Browder, a Bronx teenager held at Rikers Island for three years without ever being convicted including 400 days in solitary confinement, was so damaged the 22-year old committed suicide when he was finally released. Or the thousands of people held in jail because they can’t afford bail, losing their job, home, family.
Ivanka Trump and Don Jr. get waved aside for defrauding buyers in their Soho coop after their lawyer makes a hefty contribution to DA Cy Vance’s election campaign, but Eric Garner gets put in a choke hold, thrown to the ground, and suffocated to death for selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street. That’s called a “quality of life” crime and it apparently is a capital offense. So is an innocuous traffic violation: Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, was arrested during a traffic stop and found hanging in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, three days later.
Imagine a defendant claiming “I didn’t remember, but after reading the newspaper accounts, it jogged my memory,” as an excuse for lying to federal officials and Congress. And this is the Attorney General, who has taken such a strong stand for Law & Order, along with his boss, Donald Trump, who has no problem at all breaking laws, dismissing laws, ignoring or overturning Constitutional protections. Actually Jeff Sessions, as a prosecutor and Senator, didn’t harbor any sympathy for anyone who “can’t recall” – prosecuting a rookie police officer whose memory failed, and, of course, Hillary Clinton, but he’s used that phrase dozens and dozens of times in his own hearings, and even outright lies (I never met with any Russians during the course of the campaign; didn’t know of anyone in the campaign who did) – perjury, lying to Congress – will likely go without consequences.
Instead, the nation’s highest law enforcement officer has stopped prosecuting hate crimes, police brutality, systemic discrimination in sentencing and prosecution, and voter suppression, and authorizes Gestapo-like tactics to round up undocumented immigrants without due process and the relaunch the “war on drugs” as a pretext for heavy-handed policing. Meanwhile, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy Devoes is no longer taking steps against sexual assault on college campuses.
Nowadays, the wealth in the justice system is also related to threatening lawsuits to anyone who dares bring a complaint, such as sexual assault (Trump, Roy Moore), or literally buying up the Fourth Estate so that the press is no longer free and no longer the watchdog against abuses of power (Sheldon Adelson, Rupert Murdoch, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts buys chain of local papers to shut them down). Latest: Koch Brothers’ investment arm providing $650 million toward $2.8 billion acquisition of Time Inc. Won’t have effect on editorial? Well, the big donors to PBS used its weight to prevent the documentary, “Citizen Koch” from being televised.
The Rule of Law is now routinely trampled by Trump: attacking a judge’s impartiality because of his Hispanic heritage; challenging the ruling of the 9th Circuit against his unconstitutional Travel Ban, pardoning Sheriff Arpaio (sending a message to other conspirators) and supporting Roy Moore for the US Senate, who not only has had credible accusations of committing felony pedophilia and sexual assault, but twice was removed for defying Supreme Court rulings, otherwise known as the “Rule of Law.”
Here are just some of the many ways the justice system and Rule of Law is being overturned:
Obstruction of justice: Trump has not only dismissed the federal prosecutors like Preet Bharara who were investigating Trump’s dubious financial dealings including money laundering for Russian oligarchs, but is now personally interviewing candidates in the regions where Trump has business investments. This follows his dismissal of James Comey as FBI director for failing to give his oath of loyalty and ending the investigation into Michael Flynn and Russian meddling into the 2016 election.
Politicizing justice: The pressure from Trump to get Sessions’ DoJ to launch a special counsel investigation into Hillary Clinton and the Uranium One deal and (yet again) her emails (ironic considering Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Steve Bannon were all found to use private emails once they got into the White House), is a Banana-Republic move against a political opponent.
As Sally Yates (who exposed Michael Flynn and was fired as Acting Attorney General by Trump for refusing to enforce his unconstitutional Travel Ban), the Justice Department isn’t there to “go after his enemies and protect his friends”
For the first time since Nixon era, the Department of Justice has sought to block a merger of a telecom company (then it was ITT, today it is ATT), for personal reasons. AT&T is seeking to acquire Time Warner – which on face of it, especially for a consolidation-happy, bigness is bestest administration that has no problem with monopolies and oligopolies, even to the point of overturning regulations to allow Sinclair to massively control local TV stations. But Trump has made clear he hates CNN, and has made it a condition of allowing the sale for Time Warner to divest of CNN. The DoJ is doing Trump’s bidding.
Stacking courts with political hacks: Trump has a flurry of judicial nominees who are political and ideological hacks, enabled by the way Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has abused his power in the first instance to withhold the confirmation process for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and now, by overturning the long-standing tradition of a Senator using a “blue slip” to blackball a judicial nominee – something that Republicans used incessantly to block Obama’s ability to make appointments, leaving a staggering number of vacancies. Yet four of Trump’s nominees – an unprecedented number – have been designated as “Unqualified” by the American Bar Association. Among them Brett Talley, with just three years practicing law, has never tried a case, and who was rated unanimously “not qualified” for a federal judgeship by the American Bar Association — their lowest rating; who withheld from his Senate questionnaire that his wife is the chief of staff for the White House counsel, who has pledged support for the NRA, mocked gun control, retweeted Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory that Sandy Hook was a hoax, and called for Hillary “Rotten” Clinton to be locked up.
Controlling the press/de-fanging the Fourth Estate: the role of a free press is to serve as a watchdog on those in power, especially the government. Trump has waged an actual de-legitimizing campaign, calling every story and every media organization which raises questions about his governance and his administration as “fake news”, actually threatening to take away a broadcast license, and now, sending his DoJ to challenge a merger between AT&T and Time Warner not because it is monopolistic, but to force Time Warner to shed CNN. And yet, the Trump Administration’s FCC, under Ajit Pai, a former Verizon executive, has no problem with the merger of ultra-conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group with Tribune Media which would violate existing regulations intended to block a monopoly of political viewpoints in a media market; the merger would mean that “Trump TV” would reach 72% of American homes. This follows Pai’s determination to overturn net neutrality, which is designed to give a level playing field across the now ubiquitous and essential cyberspace,
Just this week, James O’Keefe, whose scams have brought down Acorn and Planned Parenthood, through his Project Veritas, tried to scam the Washington Post in order to bolster Roy Moore. O’Keefe should be prosecuted for industrial sabotage and fraud. They are intent on damaging the Washington Post’s reputation, which costs them money, and force the real press to spend more time and money in their investigative reporting which obstructs publication. What they did is no different than poisoning a Tylenol bottle. But a politicized DoJ, under Sessions, won’t prosecute.
On the other hand, a West Virginia reporter was arrested simply for shouting out a question about health care at (then) HHS Secretary Tom Price and a Code Pink activist was arrested, prosecuted and tried for giggling during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing.
Unequal Justice: Take for example how George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s murderer, was acquitted based on Stand Your Ground laws, but Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot to scare off her enraged estranged and violent husband who was about to beat or kill her, was found guilty after just 12 minutes of jury deliberation and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Personhood laws that states are trying to install set up more imprisonments of mothers who lose their children to miscarriage, who are shown to drink or do drugs during pregnancy, or who seek to abort a pregnancy. (A hidden provision of the Republican tax plan would create personhood for a fetus, and pave the way for abortion to be illegal and mothers prosecuted for miscarrying or bad behavior during pregnancy, stripping the woman of civil and human rights.)
The way that women who have been victims of sexual assault, become victimized by the predators with the assistance of the judicial system is the reason that so few have come forward before to charge Trump, Roy Moore and others.
Discrimination in sentencing: African-American men serve prison sentences that average almost 20 percent longer than those served by white men for similar crimes, according to a study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. There has a consequence for voting rights as well, with as many as 6 million blacks (one in 13) disenfranchised because of a prison record.
School to prison pipeline: 67,000 preschool kids, 3 and 4 years old, are being suspended or expelled a year for ‘infractions’ that might be considered normal development, but African American kids are twice as likely to be punished in this way, setting the stage for failure in school and ultimately a path to prison.
Privatizing Prisons: Meanwhile, AG Sessions has abandoned efforts to reform sentencing guidelines which profit private prison companies and have made the US the most incarcerated country on earth. His renewed War on Drugs policy – overturning Obama’s effort to empty prisons of unfairly sentenced individuals – assures they will be full, and profitable.
Raise your hand if you believe Jared Kushner will ever go to jail for lying to Congress and federal agent, conspiracy, treason, dealing with sanctioned Russian banks and oligarchs, and obstruction of justice? Can you imagine what would happen if instead of Don Jr., it was Chelsea Clinton who met with the Russians? But as long as you can imagine a different result depending upon who is president, judge, prosecutor or defendant, or which party is in control of Congress, there is no “Rule of Law” or equal justice.