Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden is against defunding police departments. He instead wants to disarm police officers who can then “de-escalate things.”
This was to be the post I wrote for These Stone Walls two weeks ago. Most of America was in the throes of protest and urban riots over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin while other officers passively looked on. To the horror of once-civilized America, life was crushed out of Mr. Floyd with an officer’s knee on his neck in full view of cameras in a nine-minute video. I first covered this story in these pages in “The Death of George Floyd: Breaking News and Broken Trust.”
This threw America into political, social, and moral chaos in the final months of a contentious and volatile presidential election year. This nation was already reeling from a global pandemic that took over 110,000 American lives in a matter of months. As a direct consequence of the pandemic, economic recession choked the life out of businesses and terminated millions of jobs in what had been the strongest economy since World War II. And then the George Floyd injustice happened and millions of Americans who have just “had it” took to the streets.
It also drew the problem of police abuse and other misconduct into the public forum, but not for the first time. Cooler heads will eventually prevail, but as of this writing, movements like the tone deaf “Defund Police” are gaining momentum. You might imagine that behind these stone walls I am surrounded by men who would be right on board with such a movement, but that is not so.
It may seem surprising that some of the “cooler heads” we need to prevail are right here in prison and none of them want to put police out of business. As the Law Clerk in a prison law library, I have fielded hundreds of George Floyd related questions and comments in the recent weeks. Prisoners watch the news. Many compensate for being separated from the world by watching the news relentlessly.
Every prisoner where I live is aware that New Hampshire currently has one prisoner on death row even though the state repealed the death penalty a year ago, and outvoted the governor’s veto of the repeal effort. The one prisoner on death row is an African American man who shot and killed Manchester, New Hampshire police officer, Michael Briggs. Officer Briggs and his assailant were both armed in that Manchester alley.
Officer Briggs’s partner, John Breckinridge, was also there. His description of what took place is a riveting account in which he spoke of his insistence upon the death penalty for Michael Briggs’ killer. Mr. Breckinridge also told the story of how his long road to Catholic reversion led him to Divine Mercy and a reversal of his position on the death penalty in “A Matter of Life and Death” (Parable, Jan/Feb 2014).
From what I have read, I know of the chilling likelihood that two police officers may have died on that night in Manchester, New Hampshire if they were the only ones there who were unarmed. Turning all this into political theater, former Vice President Joe Biden stated his opposition to the “Defund Police” movement. He suggests instead that officers should be disarmed so they can “deescalate things.” No one should take up that hapless solution without first talking to John Breckinridge.
POLICE MISCONDUCT TAKES MANY FORMS
I have seen no evidence of any glee among prisoners in any of this. Not one has spoken in favor of defunding or in any way diminishing police in our society. On the contrary, few Americans have a more accurate sense of what would happen in this nation without police. Believe it or not, prisoners want their families well protected. Like most, prisoners want crime prevented when possible, investigated when not, and perpetrators prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
They just want it done justly and evenly. They want police who are colorblind, without manipulation or entrapments, without planted evidence, without beatings, without coerced plea deals, without “testilying” or any of the other malfeasance with which some police – but certainly not all – have abused their power without a physical knee on someone’s neck.
Michael Gallagher’s recent TSW guest post, “A Teacher’s Worst Nightmare,” was an eye-opener for many and a painfully familiar account for me. Too many people believe that protecting the civil rights of those accused of crimes just provides the guilty-accused with an avenue to “get off” on a technicality. But what about the innocent-accused? They exist in greater numbers than most Americans know. Mike Gallagher’s haunting story presents a compelling case for protecting the rights of the accused.
The police misconduct in that case was not as glaring as in the case of George Floyd, but the story leaves no doubt that it was destructive, and not only for Mike Gallagher and his family. The erosion of trust in the American justice system is the most enduring fallout of stories like Mike’s.
Court rulings have upheld the practice of some police to lie to the accused during the investigation of a suspected crime. When teacher Mike Gallagher took and passed a polygraph test, for example, he was told by police that he had failed it miserably. As dirty as the tactic was, it is not technically considered police misconduct because it is not against their rules.
But it was a different story when the police told the District Attorney prosecuting the case that Mike failed the polygraph. The police in that case, as in so many other accusations of child sexual abuse, justified the lie because they presumed from the start that Mike must be guilty.
From that point on, the search for evidence in the case was filtered through a powerful bias in favor of guilt. There are volumes of studies showing how “investigator bias” among police leads to wrongful convictions. When the police officer lied to the District Attorney by stating that Mike failed the polygraph test it could have had only one cause. The police bias was so strong that any evidence to the contrary was suppressed.
As unfortunate as that case was, Mike Gallagher himself is a very fortunate man. The case fell apart of its own accord because an honest District Attorney had doubts and tested them out. If the case remained in the hands of the biased police, Mike would only just about now, some 25 years later, be emerging from prison.
There are many more nefarious examples of police misconduct that lead directly to wrongful convictions. This includes a long list of illegal infractions like withholding exculpatory evidence, inventing fictitious crimes, planting evidence, and the widespread practice of “testilying,” a term police use instead of perjury to describe lying under oath to bolster their case.
Coercive plea bargaining is then used by over-burdened or unethical prosecutors to get a conviction without having any of the above practices exposed and tested in court. Of nearly 80,000 defendants in federal criminal cases in 2018, just two-percent of them went to trial. The other 98-percent were resolved by plea bargains.
In the Southern District of New York in 2018, the plea bargain figure was almost 95-percent. This holds true in almost every jurisdiction in America. The real danger is that innocent defendants will end up spending much longer in prison than guilty defendants who are well motivated to take the deal.
About 25-percent of the DNA exonerations in America involved cases in which innocent defendants were coerced to plead guilty to avoid spending the rest of their lives in prison. This is a practice I wrote about in “Plea Deals or a Life Sentence in the Live Free or Die State.”
DEFUND PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS THAT COVER-UP CORRUPTION
A lot of ink is now being invested in an analysis of what happened to General Michael Flynn. In 2016, he served just 24 days as President Trump’s National Security Advisor before being ensnared in an FBI probe about fictitious Russian collusion now entirely dismantled as a fraud heavily hyped by the get-Trump-at-all-costs media.
General Flynn’s decision to accept a plea deal, which was also a fraud, was coerced with lies and threats from the investigating FBI agents that they would arrest and charge his son. The nation today can agree on only one thing. The FBI used to be better than this, and could be again if and when this whole truth comes out.
In the case of the late George Floyd of Minneapolis, the officer who killed him had 18 prior abuse complaints in his record. They resulted in just two letters of reprimand in his personnel file, a file that is beyond the reach of citizens thanks to the “progressive” city’s collective bargaining with the police union.
One of those cases involved a 2006 case in which Derek Chauvin was one of six officers who fatally shot 42-year-old Wayne Reyes. The prosecuting attorney in the case was Amy Klobuchar who reportedly declined to place the matter before a grand jury for indictments. Ms. Klobuchar is now Senator Klobuchar, a former Democratic presidential candidate and potential running mate for Joe Biden.
In fairness to senator Klobuchar, she explains that she was elected to the U.S. Senate before that case was resolved without prosecution by her successor. She added that she in hindsight believes that using the grand jury to decide prosecution of this and multiple other cases of alleged police misconduct in Minneapolis was a mistake. The point I want to make is that all of this was kept from the public by levels of secrecy secured by the police union.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey exhibited leadership and courage when he stood up to a chanting mob recently in opposition to defunding and disbanding his police department. He was screamed at, taunted, called names, and violently harassed by the mob as he walked through them after courageously stating views considered heresy by the mob. The Minneapolis City Council caved in completely with a call to dismantle their police force.
Even before the protests and riots this year, several other Democrat-controlled “progressive” cities saw marked increases in violent crime. In the first six months of 2020, shootings in Minneapolis had risen 60-percent. In New York City shootings had risen 18-percent; in San Francisco, 19-percent; in Philadelphia, 51-percent. Mr. Biden would have the police as the only unarmed characters in these urban dramas. We all know how that would end.
There were 492 homicides in Chicago in 2019. Only three of them involved police. The vast majority of others involved crimes perpetrated by young African Americans upon other young African Americans. This points to a serious problem in American cities, but not necessarily the one CNN and other venues are telling you.
This does not mean racism does not exist. It certainly does, but in my world it is overshadowed by something much more subtle: racial bias. The current President’s appointment of General Charles Q. Brown to be the first African American to serve as Air Force Chief of Staff has raised a discussion about racial bias. It was raised by General Brown himself whose appointment was in the works well before the current racial tension in America. In a brilliant video address on June 5, General Brown stated:
- “I’m thinking about my Air Force career, where I was often the only African American in my squadron, or as a senior officer the only African American in the room. I’m thinking about wearing the same flight suit, with the same wings on my chest as my peers, and then being questioned by another military member: ‘Are you a pilot?’ I’m thinking about how some of my comments were perceived to represent the African American perspective when it’s just my perspective…” (General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., June 5, 2020) [Editors note: please watch the following video for the full context.]
That such subtle bias still exists in the blind corners of our attitudes should be a cause for soul searching for all Americans. I am proud to be in a nation that can look past such bias and recognize greatness in General Brown. We are a better – and safer – nation for his service.
AS FOR DISARMING THE POLICE…
One widely Tweeted solution to police misconduct was this: “Almost every role in our community a police officer fills would be better handled by a social worker.” I asked other prisoners about Mr. Biden’s idea that police should be disarmed, and about the suggestion that police could be replaced by social workers. I never got any straight answers. They could not stop laughing.
The real criminals around me – they are not all real criminals but the real criminals are in the majority – sneer at these suggestions. Then they express worry about their families who still live in the same Blue State broken communities from which their offenses were committed.
But what they sneer at the most is the revelation that the City of Minneapolis received over 2,600 citizen complaints about just a small percentage of abusive police officers since 2015 and took action in only twelve of those cases thanks to the public sector police union’s political clout. If real reform is the real goal of protesters, #DefundPublicSectorUnions, and not #DefundPolice, would be our antiphon to the memory of George Floyd.
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- Stay of Execution: Catholic Conscience and the Death Penalty
- Walking Tall: The Justice Behind the Eighth Commandment
- Thy Brother’s Keeper: Why Wrongful Convictions Should Matter
- Will Fr. Charles Engelhardt’s Prosecutor Take a Plea Deal?