Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Entire Country Needed a Guilty Verdict in Chauvin Case--But Laws Still Need to Change (by Prof. Njeri Mathis Rutledge)

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Convicting a police officer is rare.   

Juries are hesitant to second-guess split-second decisions. The killing of George Floyd was unique. This case did not involve a split-second judgment call on whether to shoot. Instead, video evidence showed that rather than a split-second decision, Derek Chauvin made a 9-minute-and-29-second decision while Floyd and traumatized bystanders pleaded with Chauvin to stop.  

Moreover, the decision for the police chief and other officers to cross the blue line and speak out against Chauvin’s behavior was nothing short of historic.

Chauvin’s callous action of placing his weight on Floyd’s neck traumatized a nation.  It was so horrific to watch and so blatant that it turned people from around the world into allies.  

Even police officers were seen taking a knee and joining protesters. It was truly a watershed moment where a large part of the community said "enough." Sadly, the country has a long history of injustices being committed by the police against people of color without accountability in court.

The country needed a guilty verdict. So did the family, the communities of color and law enforcement.  

The guilty verdict validated Floyd as a human being who deserved to be treated with dignity regardless of his past flaws or mistakes. For others, the verdict is overshadowed by the most recent victims of police violence, 13-year-old Adam Toledo and 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Despite protests and calls for reform, the body count of unarmed children and adults killed by police continue to grow.  

For practical purposes, a guilty verdict means accountability. The jury had the opportunity to consider three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.  The jury could have returned a verdict of guilty on any or all of the three charges. The jury chose to convict the defendant on all charges.  

To convict the defendant of any charge, the jury had to determine whether Chauvin’s actions were justified by the use of reasonable force. The reasonable officer standard usually favors the accused police officer, but this case was different. In this case, several police officers took the stand to support the point that Chauvin’s actions were not reasonable and not in line with police policy.  

The jury had to also conclude that Chauvin’s actions were a substantial causal factor in Floyd’s death. The law did not require that Floyd had to be in perfect health.

For practical purposes, the fact that Chauvin was convicted in Minnesota will have no binding impact on the laws in other states. In fact, the uniqueness of Chauvin’s case combined with the rarity of a conviction might only reinforce the belief that the police may act with impunity unless there are multiple surveillance videos and police officers willing to testify against the defendant.

Unless the law changes, the public should not expect an increase in convictions involving police misconduct. Most state laws allow the police to use deadly force if a suspect poses a serious threat to others or the officer. In the rare instance that charges are filed and there is a trial, the issue tends to focus on whether the officer’s fear of harm was reasonable.  

Many legal experts expected Chauvin to be found guilty of something. The disturbing fact is 98.3% of police killings failed to trigger criminal charges. One case in point was the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Although the city settled the civil lawsuit, the officer who killed Rice was never held accountable in a courtroom.

When charges are brought, officers are rarely convicted.  According to the Police Integrity Research Group, only four out of the more than 100 nonfederal officers charged in a person’s death were convicted of murder; 18 were convicted of manslaughter or reckless or negligent homicide.

True change cannot come from jury verdicts but through legislation. Recently, President Joe Biden has signaled his support of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would include banning certain police practices like chokeholds and federal no-knock warrants and reform qualified immunity laws.  

The story of Floyd cannot merely end with a jury verdict. If we are to make the statement by Floyd’s daughter, 6-year-old Gianna, true that her “daddy changed the world,” we must change policing by changing the law.  

 

Njeri Mathis Rutledge is Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law Houston. Follow her on Twitter: @NjeriRutledge

This article was originally published at USA Today on 4/20/21. You can read it here.

 

 

April 28, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Religion's Challenge to the Carceral State

Felber

Review of Garrett Felber, Those Who Know Don’t Say: The Nation of Islam, the Black Freedom Movement, and the Carceral State (2020).

Garrett Felber’s book, Those Who Know Don’t Say, offers a fresh and fearless new intellectual and activist history of the Nation of Islam (NOI), which situates a critique of the carceral state as central to the Black Freedom movement. Felber is a historian, who has become a recent cause celebre among academics for his firing by the University of Mississippi as retaliation for calling out the school’s allegiances to racist donors over public service. His firing has been a buckshot warning that academic freedom and free speech are not as free as we might think. In response, over 5,000 scholars and professors signed on to an “open letter” to his school demanding he be reinstated.

While Felber might be viewed as terminable by his home institution, his research is anything but, and instead, opens up academic study in new and exciting directions. Grounded in excavations of archival sources, court documents, and religious records, he offers meticulous, high-caliber scholarship that revises a portion of civil rights history and the NOI’s place in that history. The author shows that Muslims in America have been subject to surveillance and Islamophobia for decades.  This, in turn, has helped fuel the Muslim community’s decisively antagonistic view of the prison system.

The book is styled as a vehicle through which to explore forgotten sites and forms of Black struggle confronting the carceral state. Its central claim is that challenges to policing and prisons were central to the postwar Black Freedom movement—and that the NOI was the at the forefront of these struggles. The carceral state, in turn, expanded through what the author calls a “dialect of discipline,” a phrase that intends to describe the relationship between disciplined Black dissidence and state penal discipline. To combat Black protest, the state responded with new, carceral modes of surveillance, punishment, and ideological knowledge production.

Accordingly, these developments laid the groundwork for the modern carceral state and the movements that oppose it. The dialectics played out in multiple arenas of Black protest, including prisons, courtrooms, and in the street.  These collective efforts elicited harsh responses by police, prison guards, and other agents of the state. The tension between resistance and surveillance thus came to define the relationship between Black resistance, often led by NOI leadership, and state authorities.

Felber details how the NOI often had to struggle along two different lines. In addition to confronting police and prisons, the NOI also contended with Black leaders who saw the group as violent and pro-segregation. As such, the NOI often had to defend its civil rights struggles not simply against the carceral state, but also against other Black leaders who saw the NOI’s agenda as an obstacle to their own, especially their efforts to end segregation. Malcolm X was once called the most dangerous man in America, but he was not feared by whites alone.

What emerges from these struggles is the NOI as the most active and vociferous antagonist of the carceral state. Indeed, the litigation efforts alone reveal an organization dedicated to appropriating courts to challenge state oppression. In many ways, litigation by Muslims in prison advanced the status of prisoners in a way that paralleled civil rights struggles on the outside. This legacy of incarcerated Muslims taking their protest to court has impacted prison law and policy so profoundly that any discussion of prisoners’ rights in America would be incomplete without recognizing the contributions made by NOI followers.

One individual highlighted in the text is Martin Sostre, a convert to the NOI, who embodies practically all aspects of the dialectics of discipline thesis. Sostre became active in prison and worked to advance the rights of Muslims and other prisoners. His efforts earned him extra punishment in solitary confinement, but his mistreatment only fueled his determination. He would study law in prison and go on to become one of the fiercest jailhouse lawyers the country has ever known, garnering federal court victories, including rulings that curbed the use of solitary confinement and allowed Muslims greater religious freedoms. He also drafted legal templates that were used by others in prison for their own lawsuits. When released from prison, Sostre opened a revolution-themed bookstore that extended his resistance into the streets. Reinforcing the dialectic, the police would later raid the bookstore and Sostre would ultimately be returned to prison.

As such profiles suggest, there is a long-lost history that this book brings to life. It is must-read material for students of African-American history, criminal justice, Islam in America, and scholars of social movements that tells a sordid story that links to current protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement. Through its pages we learn that the carceral state did not expand without cause, but instead, the expansion was part of the reactionary measures to control Black protest. In outlining Black resistance in America and the growth of the American penal system, Felber has uncovered a definitive political and intellectual history of the NOI and its relationship to the broader civil rights movement.

 

This article was originally published on 4/26/21 at JOTWELL Criminal Law. Read it here.

April 27, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 26, 2021

Identity Crisis

Belonging.  To Be. To Long for.  To long to belong in a space where one feels safe, wanted, normal. 

Is to belong to be normal? Who is normal?  Who decides? Who sets the norm? for you, for me, for us. 

But for us to exist, there must be a them

So does belonging axiomatically require exclusion, boundaries, insiders, outsiders,

                                              us versus them?

Belonging. A word in every culture’s lexicon; a word whose definition is rarely questioned.  You know it when you feel it.  When you feel dignity, equality, respect – you belong. 

The affective component of belonging, however, can blind you to the material consequences of (not) belonging     though the two cannot be disconnected.

So what do we mean to belong? More importantly, what do we want it to mean?

In law, we look beyond the affective.                                The most reductivist definition:              citizenship.

Your passport officially declares that you belong to this nation, this geography, this culture, this people. The piece of paper is frail and meaningless.

                                                              unless you and I are not just citizens of the same state, but also equal citizens. 

So long as we are equal, we both belong, right? 

                Equal but Separate schools,

                       Equal but Separate neighborhoods,

                                Equal but Separate experiences in the same nation.

With the same passport, The same citizenship. 

So we both belong.     wrong.

But we all have the same rights under the law, don’t we?  The U.S. Constitution applies to all of us.  The law protects all of our civil rights.  Isn’t that enough to belong, for everyone in the same geographical space defined by artificial borders be a collective “us.”

NO – a resounding no –

                                    cries George Floyd when he begs for his life as the White police officer murders him under his knee.

NO – a resounding no-

                                    cries Eric Garner when he begs for his life as the White police officer chokes him to death.

NO – a resounding no –

                                    proclaim the Muslims who cannot see their spouses, mother, father, and children banned from setting foot on U.S. soil,

                                                                               banned from soiling our soil with their very presence

NO – a resounding no – say the Black and Brown children in public schools under-resourced as compared to white children across the country.

But, maybe just maybe, if you behave yourself the way “we” want “you” to, just maybe we will grant you the permission to belong,

Conditionally, Revocably

The first rule: English only.

We are a reasonable people, for we make exceptions to our rules. In this case, only upper middle-class people of European origin may speak other languages – for that makes them competitive in the neoliberal, global capitalist economy in the 21st century.

    But no Spanish for Mexican Americans.

         No Arabic for Arab Americans.

             No Urdu for Pakistani Americans. 

                  No Hindi for Indian Americans. 

English only, or else you have betrayed this nation. You have decided you do not want to belong, so you can’t blame us for making you part of “them.” And while we are on the topic of blame, how dare you come to our country – the land of the free, the home of the brave – and criticize it. 

Our criticism is constitutionally protected dissent, patriotic. 

Your criticism is treason, disloyal.   Your decision that you do not want to belong. 

We let you in, and this is how you thank us – by speaking these foreign languages we cannot understand, eating these foreign foods that we cannot digest, wearing these foreign clothes and using foreign names we cannot pronounce.

This is how you thank us? By threatening our identity, our hegemonic culture, as we define it.

If you want to belong, you cannot be different. From us.  We can be different among ourselves, because there is no question that we belong.  But you must constantly persuade, convince, prove that you belong. 

               Everyday, with every word, every action.

               Assimilate, emulate, copy, be the same

as Us

We don’t care where you came from, for we are proudly a nation of immigrants, but we most certainly care how you behave, look, talk, eat, and live now that you are here.  Now that you want to belong here, with us, you must accept us as superior, smarter, more beautiful, more civilized.

America is the land of Belonging.       To Be. To Long for opportunity, the pursuit of happiness. 

But can you belong without dignity?  Without respect?  Can you belong when legal rights apply only to some in practice?  Can you belong when your very skin color reminds the powerful of your difference?

Belonging is identity.

Spoken Word Version of Identity Crisis (Sahar Aziz)

 

-- by Sahar Aziz, Professor of Law and Author of The Racial Muslim: When Racism Quashes Religious Freedom

April 26, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics

 

At a recent book talk hosted by the Rutgers Center for Security, Race and Rights, Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell Plitnick discussed a question percolating among American progressive political circles: why are so many progressives not applying their commitments to counter racism, settler-colonialism, and human rights violations to Palestinians?  What explains what is commonly known as PEP - Progressive Except for Palestine?  Hill and Plitnick's book Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics wrestles with these questions.

Watch their book talk here and below.

 

 

April 20, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 12, 2021

Call for Proposals for the Third Annual Equality Law Scholars’ Forum

Below is a message from Professor Tristin Green about submitting proposals for the Third Annual Equality Law Scholars' Forum.  I participated in this event back in 2017, and I would strongly encourage any young scholars working in the relevant areas to submit a proposal.  It is a great opportunity on many levels.

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Last year, we had to cancel our two-day, in-person Spring 2020 Equality Law Scholars’ Forum scheduled at the University of San Francisco Law School (we held a small feedback session virtually for several junior scholars in Fall 2020), but we’re back in full for Fall 2021!   Building on the success of the Inaugural Equality Law Scholars’ Forum held at UC Berkeley Law in 2017 and at UC Davis Law in 2018, and in the spirit of academic engagement and mentoring in the area of Equality Law, we (Tristin Green, University of San Francisco; Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Boston University; and Leticia Saucedo, UC Davis) announce the Third Annual Equality Law Scholars’ Forum to be held in Fall 2021.  We are planning for the even to be held in person at the Boston University School of Law. 

This Scholars’ Forum seeks to provide junior scholars with commentary and critique and to provide scholars at all career stages the opportunity to engage with new scholarly currents and ideas.  We hope to bring together scholars with varied perspectives (e.g., critical race theory, class critical theory, feminist legal theory, law and economics, law and society) across fields (e.g., criminal system, education, employment, family, health, immigration, property, tax) and with work relevant to many diverse identities (e.g., age, class, disability, national origin, race, sex, sexuality) to build bridges and to generate new ideas in the area of Equality Law.  

We will select five relatively junior scholars (untenured, newly tenured, or prospective professors) in the U.S. to present papers from proposals submitted in response to this Call for Proposals. In so doing, we will select papers that cover a broad range of topics within the area of Equality Law.  Leading senior scholars will provide commentary on each of the featured papers in an intimate and collegial setting.  The Forum will take place all day Friday through lunch on Saturday.  Participants are expected to attend the full Forum.  The Equality Law Scholars’ Forum will pay transportation and accommodation expenses for participants and will host a dinner on Friday evening.  

This year’s Forum will be held on November 12-13, 2021 at the Boston University School of Law

Junior scholars are invited to submit abstracts of proposed papers, 3-5 pages in length, by June 1, 2021.

 

Full drafts of papers must be available for circulation to participants by October 29, 2021.

Proposals should be submitted to:

Tristin Green, University of San Francisco Law School, tgreen4@usfca.edu.  Electronic submissions via email are preferred.

April 12, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

RELIGION, RACE AND IMMIGRATION. WHAT ABOUT THE IMMIGRATION AND NATIONALITY ACT? By Christopher Ogolla

The recent surge of migrants in the southern border has thrust the issue of immigration to the forefront of public discourse. It is so much so that House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and Republican members of Congress visited the border in March 2021 to highlight the crisis.[1] During the Trump Administration, it used to be the Democrats who visited the border to highlight the migrant crisis. To quote Yogi Berra, “its déjà vu all over again.” But I digress.

On February 18, 2016, Pope Francis, while on a trip from Mexico to Rome, was asked by reporters about the then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S. Mexican border, if elected. The Pope responded, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel."[2]

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order[3] banning foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the U.S. for 90 days. Additionally, the Order suspended entry to all Syrian refugees indefinitely and prohibited any other refugees from coming into the country for 120 days.[4] This Order became popularly known as the Muslim ban.[5] In an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit filed by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson seeking to have key provisions of the Executive Order declared unconstitutional, the American Civil Liberties Union (W.A.) argued that the Order gave preference to the processing of Christian refugees over Muslim refugees.[6] The Supreme Court later upheld the Order in Trump v. Hawaii.[7]

In April 2018, the then-Attorney General Jefferson Sessions announced a zero-tolerance policy “for offenses under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a), which prohibits both attempted illegal entry and illegal entry into the United States by an alien.”[8] This policy was in response to an increase in the number of immigrants crossing the southwest border. The hallmark of this policy was the family separation practice that caused public outrage and opposition from some members of Congress.[9] On June 14, 2018, in a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sessions defended the zero-tolerance policy by citing the Bible to justify immigrant family separations. He said, "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order".[10] In a nutshell, Sessions was saying that “the practice of separating families is consistent with the teachings of the Bible because persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution.”[11]

Responding to Sessions’ use of the Bible to justify family separation, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said, “I appreciate the fact that Attorney General Sessions refers to the Bible. The quote that he used from St. Paul might not be the best. For one, St. Paul always says that we should obey the law of the government if that law is in conformity with the Lord's law. No pun intended, but God's law trumps man's law. I don't think we should obey a law that goes against what God intends that you would take a baby, a child, from his or her mom. I mean, that's just unjust. That's un-biblical. That’s un-American. There could be no biblical passage that would justify that."[12]

These examples show that religion and immigration are inextricably intertwined. But that is of little novelty. What is more telling is that the Immigration and Nationality Act (“The Act”) does not speak much on religion. Religion only appears in three sections of the Act, one as a ground for asylum, second as preferential treatment for special religious workers, and a third on naturalization requirements. Regarding asylum, the Act defines a refugee as “any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.[13] The Act also allows an alien, who- has been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the United States to enter the country and work as a minister for a religious denomination, in a religious vocation in a professional or nonprofessional capacity, or a religious occupation either in a professional or nonprofessional capacity.[14] Finally, to complete the naturalization process, a non-citizen is required to swear an oath of allegiance to the United States.[15] The oath ends with the words, “so help me God.”[16] A non-citizen is allowed to waive this part of the oath. Part of the rule provides that when a petitioner or applicant for naturalization, by reason of religious training and belief or for other reasons of good conscience, cannot take the oath with the words “on oath” and “so help me God” included, the words “and solemnly affirm” shall be substituted for the words “on oath,” the words “so help me God” shall be deleted, and the oath shall be taken in such modified form.[17]

So, despite the paucity of religious edicts in the statute, why resort to religion to explain the zero-tolerance policy? This could be partially explained by the fact that race, religion, and nationality matter in immigrant selection. They are still used in the contexts of admission and enforcement to serve different purposes, such as border security.[18] Even though the Establishment clause prohibits the government from favoring one religion over the other, immigration presents an area where the government can favor or disfavor a religious group. For example, in Trump v. Hawaii, even though the proclamation said nothing about religion, it overwhelmingly targeted Muslim nations.[19] The Majority found that even though five of the seven nations in the proclamation had Muslim-majority populations, that alone did not support an inference of religious hostility. Naturally, this leads to the question, does the Act allow for discrimination based on religion? Sadly, the answer is yes, if nationality is equated with religion.

[1]Mariam Khan & Ben Gitlleson, GOP Lawmakers Slam Biden After Visit to Migrant Detention Center at Border, ABC News (Mar. 15, 2021), https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/gop-lawmakers-slam-biden-visit-migrant-detention-center/story?id=76476391.

[2] Daniel Burke, Pope Suggests Trump ‘is Not a Christian’, CNN (Feb 18, 2016), https://www.cnn.com/2016/02/18/politics/pope-francis-trump-christian-wall/index.html.

[3] Exec. Order No. 13769, 82 Fed. Reg. 8977 (Jan. 27, 2017).

[4] Timeline of the Muslim Ban, ACLU, https://www.aclu-wa.org/pages/timeline-muslim-ban (last visited Apr. 3, 2021).

[5] Id.

[6] Brief for the ACLU-WA as Amicus Curiae, Washington v. Trump, 858 F.3d 1168 (2017) (No. 2:17-cv-00141), file:///C:/Users/cpogolla1130/Downloads/026-1._aclu_amicus_brief%20(1).pdf.

[7] Trump v. Hawaii, 138 S. Ct. 2392 (2018).

[8] See Press Release, Jeff Sessions, Attorney General, DOJ, Announces Zero Tolerance Policy for Criminal Illegal Aliens (Apr. 6, 2018), https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/attorney-general-announces-zero-tolerance-policy-criminal-illegal-entry.

[9] See, e.g., The Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance Immigration Enforcement Policy, Cong. Res. Serv. 1, 2 (Feb. 26, 2019) (noting that “The family separations have garnered extensive public attention.”).

[10] Richard Gonzalez, Sessions Cites the Bible to Justify Immigrant Family Separations, NPR (June 14, 2018), https://www.npr.org/2018/06/14/620181177/sessions-cites-the-bible-to-justify-immigrant-family-separations.

[11] Diocese of Savannah, Bishops Across U.S. Condemn Separation, Detention of Migrant Children, Southern Cross, June 21, 2018.

[12] Jennifer Hansler, Cardinal Dolan: There is No Bible Passage to Justify Family Separation, CNN (June 16, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/16/politics/cardinal-dolan-family-separation-cnntv/index.html.

[13] INA § 101(a)(42).

[14] INA § 101(a)(27)(C).

[15] INA § 337.

[16] 8 CFR§ 337(a)(1).

[17] 8 CFR§ 337(b).

[18] Liav Orgad & Theodore Ruthizer, Race, Religion and Nationality in Immigration Selection: 120 Years After the Chinese Exclusion Case, 26 Const. Comment. 237, 261 (2010).

[19] Trump v. Hawaii, 138 S. Ct. 2392 (2018).

*Christopher Ogolla is an assistant professor of law, Barry University School of Law. 

April 7, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 5, 2021

Am I Angry? You Bet I Am! Watching the George Floyd Murder Trial (by Prof. Shelly Taylor Page)

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We have come a mighty long way in our criminal justice system. We have gone from a period of time when people of African descent were not considered humans and were deliberately excluded from serving on jury panels to seeing Black judges, defense attorneys and prosecuting attorneys taking part in selecting more diverse juries. Progress has been made, but how far have we really journeyed, and are the vestiges of racial animus and discrimination from the Jim Crow era truly eradicated? One need not look further than the current criminal trial we are witnessing of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, to see that the answer is an unequivocal and resounding, no.

This past week we witnessed a cadre of State’s witnesses, many of whom are Black, who were being portrayed by the defense as “angry” and as a violent, threatening mob who posed a clear and present danger to the arresting officers. One witness, Donald Williams, was repeatedly questioned by the defense attorney about being “angry.” Mr. Williams steadily and continually replied that he showed “controlled professionalism” and that he was not an angry Black man. As if being an angry Black man was an abomination.

As the world had the unfortunate opportunity to witness the murder of George Floyd by a law enforcement officer, we saw what a prolonged, deliberate, methodical and calculating homicide looks like. As a crowd began to almost immediately form around the scene of the crime, it soon was evident that these officers had no intent on ensuring that Mr. Floyd’s rights were recognized, honored and adhered to. Within seconds of approaching George Floyd’s vehicle to inquire about an alleged counterfeit $20, the first officer on the scene demanded that Mr. Floyd place his hands on the steering wheel. Officer Thomas Lane, on his fourth day on the job, almost immediately upon approaching Mr. Floyd’s vehicle drew his service weapon and yelled at Mr. Floyd, “Put your f-cking hands up now!” This expletive laden exchange continued as Mr. Floyd called the officer “Sir” and begged repeatedly and urgently for his life and not be shot by the officer. Mr. Floyd was clearly in distress and afraid for his life as he was accosted by the police officers.

As Mr. Floyd was handcuffed and the officers were attempting to arrest him, a small crowd formed. Many in the crowd became increasingly concerned for how Mr. Floyd was being treated by the arresting officers. He was handcuffed with his hands behind his back and was lying face down, on the ground. Almost immediately after being placed on the ground, Officer Derek Chauvin put his knee onto the neck of George Floyd. Members in the crowd could easily see that Mr. Floyd was having difficulty breathing. If it was not obvious to anyone looking, you could hear Mr. Floyd saying he could not breathe.  He said he could not breathe more than twenty times. He begged for water, said that he needed to sit up and that his stomach and “everything” was hurting. Despite the pleas for his life and the crowd begging for help for Mr. Floyd, Derek Chauvin continued to dig his knee deeper into the neck of George Floyd.

Watching this crime on social media and on television is gut wrenching and heart breaking. Imagine watching it live and in person. That is what the witnesses saw: a man murdered by those sworn to serve and protect. But the strangest part? These witnesses are being villainized and vilified for expressing anger after what they saw.

As Black and Brown lives have been scrutinized, monitored, experimented upon, dissected, mistreated, objectified and maligned for centuries, we are now at a point in our nation’s history where we are even denied from expressing the full spectrum of human emotions. We are being told we cannot and should not express anger after watching a helpless, handcuffed man being killed by three police officers bearing their entire body weight upon the length of the victim’s body.

But is this really a change from the past? NO. It is not. As we reflect back on the 1857 Dred Scott case which formally ruled that Blacks were not American citizens, we see how Black bodies have been controlled and manipulated for the sanctity and solemnity of white supremacy. Black people were not allowed to be considered humans and as such were not allowed to be viewed from the lens of a full, rich, human being. One with emotions, and ideas, and thought processes and lives worthy of living. By dictating when a person is allowed to express an emotion, and when an individual can show feelings and exhibit what is happening inside of them internally, we then have the ability to dehumanize that person. By shaming Donald Williams for perhaps feeling anger, we have effectively taken away his full humanity. When a Black person is discouraged or dissuaded from being angry, we have taken away from that person’s ability and right to fully and freely express who they are in that given moment.

We all have a right to be angry at times. That anger can be expressed in constructive and destructive ways but it should be left up to that person to decide how that anger will manifest itself. Expressing anger should be available to anyone regardless of their race or ethnicity.

Minneapolis firefighter, Genevieve Hansen, was asked if while standing at the scene if she was angry. She responded by saying, “I don’t know if you’ve seen anybody killed, but it’s upsetting.” This statement goes to the crux and heart of the matter. If witnessing a handcuffed Black man, begging for his life, in clear pain as his face is pressed to the ground with a cop’s knee on his neck be murdered cannot engender anger in Black people, then what can? If Black people cannot be angry after watching the life snuffed out of a man not posing a threat to law enforcement officers who eventually kill him, then what does it take to be righteously angry?

Black people have every right to be angry. After all of the atrocious, horrific abuses and travesties we have witnessed as a people, we should be angry. And no one has the moral authority to dictate what our emotions are or should be, especially the people that have caused and instigated that anger in the first place. White people push Black people into corners, harass, malign, belittle, demean, disenfranchise, abuse, mistreat, exploit, maim and murder us and then have the unmitigated gall to attempt to tell us we cannot and should not be angry? Even the Bible says to “be angry and sin not.” Anger is a completely appropriate response along with action to effectuate genuine, systematic and universal change. Perhaps that is why the attempts at making us feel shamed for feeling the emotion of anger is so persistent and concerted: they know when we get angry we will be motivated to action. Action that will be the beginning of the end of their reign of white terror.

Prof. Shelly Taylor Page is a Visiting Professor at Florida A&M University College of Law.

April 5, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)