Prosecuting Black Victims
The United States is a country which openly and unashamedly targets Black people for police surveillance, prosecution, incarceration and death. Racism is the fuel which feeds the monster of criminal injustice, making a mockery of any claims of democracy and equal treatment under the law.
Those words are backed up by cold, hard facts. The United States has the dubious distinction of putting both a greater percentage of its population and the largest number of people overall in jail and prison than any other country in the world. The country with five percent of the world’s population has 25 percent of all prisoners. Black Americans, who make up roughly 13 percent of the population are 38 percent of all those behind bars.
The situation has always been an ugly one for Black people when faced with the wickedness of the law enforcement system. Many people have been brutalized by police only to have insult added to injury and been charged with resisting arrest or assaulting an officer. While the tactic isn’t new, the punishments are becoming more cruel and indefensible.
On September 14, 2013 in New York City, a mentally ill man, Glenn Broadnax, walked into vehicular traffic in Times Square. There are laws against this behavior and rightly so. Unfortunately officers of the New York City police department, trained to be trigger happy, fired at Broadnax, claiming that they thought he had a gun. Broadnax was brought down with a police Taser but New York’s so-called finest also shot and injured two innocent bystanders in their efforts to subdue him.
Now Manhattan’s district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., has chosen to prosecute Broadnax for assaulting the two victims who were in fact shot by the police. Broadnax has a history of mental illness and put himself in danger more than he did anyone else. He was originally charged with menacing, drug possession and resisting arrest. Prosecuting him lets the police off the hook and aids the city of New York in defense against law suits, but a man guilty of not taking his prescribed medication is facing the possibility of up to 25 years in prison because of an act carried out by other people.
The Broadnax story isn’t even the worst case of police abuse turned against a victim. On January 10, 2010, 18-year-old Kwadir Felton was shot in the head by a Jersey City, New Jersey police man and blinded as a result. He was recently tried and convicted of assaulting the officer and faces a possible penalty of 35 years in prison.
The case against Felton is an outrage and should be well known around the country. It ought to be a rallying cry for anyone who wants justice and equal treatment for all citizens. Instead his story is just a blurb on the police blotter in the local paper.
The district attorney of New York County is an elected official and the Hudson County, New Jersey, prosecutor is appointed by the governor. As such they ought to be accountable to the people on whose behalf they file charges. Unfortunately there is no organized citizen constituency that keeps them from committing prosecutorial abuse. There should be groups of Black elected officials, attorneys, and activist citizens prepared to voice disapproval when prosecutors run amok in their quest to find more Black lives to destroy. If this were so, these egregious cases would not see the light of day.
Prosecutors are rewarded for misconduct and overreach in part because the Black misleadership class is unconcerned with the plight of the people who are targeted by the system. Mentally ill men and teenagers shot by the police don’t rank on their list of priorities. If district attorneys knew that they would face opposition at the ballot box or an outcry from the public and prominent people, Felton and Broadnax would not be facing jail time now.
The state of New Jersey has a NAACP and Black office holders and groups of attorneys but none of these organizations or individuals took action to make Kwadir Felton’s name a household word and his cause a rallying cry. Protest and publicity could not only have stopped this gruesome punishment from being carried out but might also have forced the police officer who blinded Felton to face justice himself.
As for the Manhattan district attorney, he should have feared that prosecuting Broadnax would endanger his chances of successfully running for re-election later this year. The harsh prosecution facing Mr. Broadnax should have been unthinkable, but there is no one to speak up for him. New York City is full of the high and mighty and famous but if they don’t raise their voices to speak up for those on the lowest rungs of society, their prominence is worthless.
How many more Feltons are serving hard time because they were victimized? The American gulag has a voracious appetite indeed. If all the victims of brutality were to be heard, the protest would be endless.
Kwadir Felton is scheduled to be sentenced on January 14, 2014. It is late in the process to stage protest or advocate for lenience but it would be even worse if he were imprisoned amidst silence. Endless protest should be the order of the day.
—Black Agenda Report, January 6, 2014