As events have unfolded over the last couple of weeks I have watched and tried to process it all. I watched the senseless killing of a handcuffed black man. I have watched peaceful protests. I have watched violent protests and looting. I have seen numerous things that make me angry, but I have also witnessed many things that give me hope. I finally see a lot of people who didn’t really know about, care about, or understand the Black Lives Matter movement finally start to get it. That gives me hope. But I still see a lot of people who I believe are well intentioned and think they get it, but still really don’t.
I have seen a lot of people trying raise the issue of George Floyd’s past, or the fact that he was accused of passing a counterfeit $20, or that he may have consumed or possessed drugs. None of these things have any relevance to the issues people are protesting against. Whether he had committed a crime or not is 100% irrelevant. Whether he was a good man or a bad man is 100% irrelevant. The death of a person in police custody isn’t any less outrageous because they had a bag of cocaine or heroin in their pocket. To steal and paraphrase a slogan from the NYPD, he should face 12 people in a jury box, not 6 people carrying his body in a pine box.
This is the same with the Ahmaud Arbery case. Was he just jogging when he was chased down and shot? Was he possibly casing a house to burgle? Had he previously committed thefts? None of those things have any relevance whatsoever. He was presumed innocent under the law and he was executed without trial. The bottom line is that if you are black in America and accused of a crime, you are far more likely to die before you ever get to see a judge than if you are white. Period.
There exists a criminal justice system where people accused of crimes are guaranteed due process of law and if after receiving that due process it is determined that they broke the law, the system administers a punishment which we as a society have also agreed is appropriate and just. The reality of the situation is that these black men, and many others, were denied the same rights similarly situated white people get. Did Floyd or Arbery commit crimes? We will never know. In too many cases the police are not ONLY the police, they are also the judge, jury and executioner. In the Arbery case it wasn’t even the police but an armed father and son vigilante squad. That’s the injustice. Period.
I have been inside the criminal justice system for 20 years defending people of all backgrounds charged with crimes. Hawai’i is a unique place without any real racial majority. No single identifiable race constitutes 51%+ of our population. I have represented hundreds or probably thousands of people of all races. We like to think of ourselves as progressive and different from the mainland when it comes to race, and in a lot of ways we are. I will tell you from my own experience, however, that if you are black and accused of a crime in Hawai’i, your bail is likely to be at least double what it would be if you were pretty much any other race. On petty misdemeanor traffic crimes such as Excessive Speeding or Reckless Driving, if you are local or white and are pulled over for these offenses you are likely to get a citation with a court date and then allowed to continue on your way. If you are black and pulled over for one of these charges, you are significantly more likely to be arrested, have your car towed, and required to post bail if you want out of jail. While these men aren’t dying in these situations, they are clearly not being treated equally. I have been aware of the inequalities my entire career and have occasionally talked about them, but no one seems to ever care. This week has made me optimistic, however, that non-minorities seem to finally, maybe, hopefully, see the situation through a similar lens.
I encourage everyone going forward to practice intellectual honesty when it comes to race. If you aren’t familiar with that term, google it. It probably doesn't mean what you think it does.
I encourage you to stop and think about,
“What advice would I give my teenage son about dealing with the police if he were 18 and headed off to college?”
Then ask the same question but imagine your son is black. If you haven’t been living under a rock and say you would have the same conversation, you are engaging in some serious intellectual dishonesty.
It is for all the above reasons that I fully and proudly support and stand behind the Black Lives Matter movement. I feel change is coming.