Latest police shooting shows why athletes kneel

If you have wondered over the past few weeks why San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other black professional and amateur athletes kneel when the national anthem plays, look no further than Tulsa, Oklahoma where this past weekend, Terence Crutcher, 40, became the latest unarmed and non-threatening black person to be shot and killed by police officers on camera.

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What makes Crutcher's killing all the more disturbing is that he was not under suspicion for having committed a crime; rather, his car was broken down and the very officers who swear oaths and get paid to "protect and serve," which often includes rendering assistance drivers in distress, chose to treat him like a criminal and kill him instead.

Crutcher's senseless death comes at a pivotal time in the election season not just with respect to the presidential race between Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to name longtime aide Blinken as secretary of State: report Understanding mixed results in Pennsylvania key to future elections What's behind the divisions over Biden's secretary of Labor? MORE and Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE, but in district and state's attorney races across America where decisions regarding the prosecution of reckless or murderous officers are determined.

Tom Wolfe, in his classic "Bonfire of the Vanities," quoted New York Judge Sol Wachtler's quip that you "can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich." Wachtler's comment is well-known to criminal lawyers like me, who know the ease with which criminal prosecutions can be commenced.

But in America, the indictment of a police officer for killing an unarmed citizen is a rare event because what few outside of the judicial system realize is that the police and their always-ready-to-defend unions are joined at the hip with prosecutors. At times, when a prosecutor shows a willingness to indict officers, like Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby did following Freddie Gray's still-unexplained death while in custody of Baltimore police, such prosecutors soon find themselves in the cross-hairs of police union bosses who help fund and support challengers during election season.

As such, many prosecutors lack the desire to prosecute reckless or murderous cops because they fear losing their position and pension more than they care about holding police officers accountable the same as any other citizen.

Indeed, this lack of accountability is why the Black Lives Matter movement sprang forth several years ago. The movement's intellectually dishonest opponents often fail to observe that the implied "too" in that slogan does not hold that black lives are more important than the lives of other Americans, but that where the police are concerned, black lives and constitutional rights are disproportionately disrespected.

Movement opponents often seek to shift the conversation to "black-on-black" crime, but as a former prosecutor and longtime defense lawyer, I know full well that the justice system indicts and imprisons black defendants on a daily basis. But more often than not, whenever a suspicious officer involved shooting occurs, the responsible officer is placed on administrative leave, an "investigation" takes place where the police and their prosecutorial friends determine that the offending officer was justified, and business goes on as usual.

This is why Kaepernick and other athletes kneel and why Black Lives Matter protesters of all races protest across America: to call for reform of a criminal justice system that is the last vestige of Jim Crow in that results are colored by race and class far more than any other factors.

On this last issue, both major presidential candidates have had their deplorable moments with respect to how the police treat black citizens. Trump was endorsed last week by the Fraternal Order of Police because that union is confident that they will have an ally in their efforts to defend any and all police shootings regardless of the circumstances. Thus, Black Lives Matter protesters and supporters view him with extreme suspicion.

Clinton, too, is viewed with suspicion by many Black Lives Matter protesters. Early in her campaign, Clinton had an acerbic private exchange with several protesters who felt as if Clinton was talking down to them and being dismissive of their efforts. Additionally, many black voters remain wary of the fact that police forces expanded and became more militarized under her husband's administration in the 1990s, and that she castigated black men as "super-predators" while giving remarks on the 1994 crime bill that her husband signed into law.

While Clinton has apologized for the latter and sought to atone by featuring on the campaign trail Sybreana Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, and other mothers of young blacks killed by vigilantes or the police, again, many black voters remain skeptical.

Understanding this reticence for either candidate by some black voters, it will be interesting to see whether Hillary Clinton will develop plans to decisively address such as federal district court oversight of state and local police shootings of unarmed citizens. Or will she merely offer platitudes in hopes that the typically reliable black vote will magically turn out in high numbers to counter Donald Trump, whose chant of "All lives matter" and unfettered support of the police regardless of the circumstances is viewed by many blacks as his flashing a middle finger to our legitimate concerns about excessive use of force by police. Indeed, time will tell.

Hobbs is a lawyer and award-winning freelance writer based in Tallahassee, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @RealChuckHobbs.


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