The danger of using race and politics to declare guilt or innocence

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In a blatant display of self-righteous posturing and political pandering, presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) were among those who capitalized on the fifth anniversary of the death of Michael Brown — a black teen in Ferguson, Mo., who was shot by a white police officer after a physical altercation — as evidence of the deeply embedded racism that exists in our country. 

Their self-promoting tweets branded the incident as murder and dismissed the finding of the Obama administration’s Justice Department, whose investigation found “there was no credible evidence” that the officer willfully shot Brown as he was attempting to surrender or otherwise not posing a threat.  

Warren and Harris, likewise, overlooked the riots and violence that followed the incident, coordinated by operatives from the outside, which devastated the vulnerable inner-city community. And they seem oblivious to the state of “police nullification” that prevailed after the demonization of the police, an atmosphere in which officers fail to vigorously enforce the law and withhold the protection of black communities to avoid charges of racism and brutality. 

Warren and Harris may be unaware that street crime skyrocketed in Ferguson after the violent protests and that major cities throughout the nation experienced, on average, a 17 percent increase in homicides. Rahm Emanuel, then mayor of Chicago (where homicides surged by 54 percent and shootings by 70 percent), suggested that a nationwide backlash against police had led to officers disengaging and a subsequent rise in violent crime. This trend throughout the country came to be so common that it is known as “the Ferguson effect.”

For more than a decade, accusations of police brutality and racism have been used to shield even brazen criminals such as Lovelle Mixon, a convicted felon in Oakland, Calif., who was wanted on a parole violation and in 2009 ended the lives of four police officers with the semiautomatic handgun and rifle he wielded before being brought down. Citing Mixon’s rampage as “resistance to police brutality,” local activists coordinated a rally in his honor, including a parade in which children carried his portrait. They shouted taunts while marching through the streets: “OPD, you can’t hide — we charge you with genocide!” 

Mixon’s “sainthood” was unaffected by the finding that his DNA matched that of the perpetrator who raped a 12-year-old girl who had been dragged off the street at gunpoint. Investigators believe he also robbed and raped two young women just hours before the police shootings.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that the only protection of a minority and their hope for justice is moral consistency — the application of the law equally among all racial, ethnic and income groups. He lived through a time when perpetrators went unpunished, white or black, if their victim was black. 

During the days of the Jim Crow South, law enforcement and the rule of law were clearly on the side of whites. If a black committed a crime against another black, it often was not prosecuted, or the penalty would be less harsh. If, on the other hand, a white committed a crime against a black, it often was ignored. The harshest treatment was reserved for blacks accused of crimes against a white person. 

We have entered a dangerous time. Any shooting where the police are white and the victim is black, many assume brutality and racism were involved.

King did not seek revenge — he sought equal justice, and proclaimed that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. He taught that when we adopt a relativist attitude toward right and wrong, we are revolting against the very laws of God. Baseless accusations such as those perpetuated by Harris and Warren are dragging us back to the sham of justice in the pre-civil rights era. 

We enter dangerous turf when guilt or innocence is determined not by the facts of a case but by the race and political affiliation of the victim and perpetrator.  

Warren and Harris tweeted simply for a bump in political polls. They should be held to account for their irresponsible, racially-charged statements that needlessly inflame racial tensions between police and residents, especially in dangerous neighborhoods where police are most needed, and for ignoring conclusions reached by our criminal justice system. 

Robert L. Woodson, Sr. is the president and founder of the Woodson Center. Follow him on Twitter @BobWoodson.

Tags Civil rights movement Elizabeth Warren Ferguson effect police brutality Race and crime
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