One of the disputes I run with a constitutionalist friend is whether police killings and cop abuse of blacks is a racial issue — or something more significant.
I tell my fun-loving and opinionated American counterparty that the Cutcher execution in Tulsa and others are a race issue.
By David Tulis / AM 1240 Hot News Talk Radio
I cite the Baltimore justice department report of incessant abuse of blacks. I cite the Hanson Melvin case in Chattanooga where a family man is arrested simply walking in his parking lot and refusing to show a driver license or give an SSN to a passing Chattanooga police officer, David Campbell.
Blacks receive the brunt of the abuse and are disproportionately represented in charges, plea bargains, sentencings and imprisonment. The local Just Busted tabloid is full of brown faces, and so are websites such as that run by John Wilson, editor of Chattanoogan.com, or the Chattanooga Times Free Press in “right to know.” So I argue that there is a systemic abuse against black people.
But my constitutionalist friend, Confederate Mike, insists the story is better than white power vs. black poverty. I am being inflammatory, lacking objectivity and “taking sides” to argue as I do, he says. I am missing the story to frame the Hanson Melvin story as a “walking while nigger,” as I have reported.
Probable cause — bright line of defense
The execution of innocent people by trigger-happy law enforcers and the harassment is a development that should be enlarged beyond race, he says. The story is about state actors’ believing they have authority to stop, arrest, seize, taze, tackle, execute by bullet “in fear for their personal safety” — and to enact such safety measures without probable cause or reasonable pretext for their actions against a member of the public.
The great danger to you is not that you might be black, 21 and driving an old car, but that the police officer does not accept the restraints imposed upon him by the Constitution and statutes. That is the origin of the danger. It source is not your status, but the cop’s training and raison d’etre, and his neglect of probable cause, which doctrine intends to restrain his zeal and indignation against the member of the public.
The issue is larger than that presented by Black Lives Matter and much of the liberal press. It’s more significant than conservative radio talk hosts such as Mike Gallagher and Sean Hannity describe it, as well.
In short form, the issue is the state against the individual. It’s not so much white vs. black or police officer vs. black. But it’s the power of the state to impose without restraint its steel and will upon individuals who disproportionately black.
I believe Confederate Mike is right and that I am wrong. The larger issue is not black vs. white. The larger and more compelling framework is police vs. the citizen. Or, perhaps, the modern state vs. local economy.
It might get less media attention to frame the issue that way, and might not generate as much anxiety and commotion in the hearts of listeners and readers.
Probable cause a crucial barrier
It’s more fruitful to view police abuse and courtroom tyranny as abuse of the law by the state against the people. In that framework it doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white, yellow or tan. What matters is that the officer has drawn his gun and fired or arrested someone without probable cause.
Probable cause is a barrier over which he must climb to stop you, arrest you or seize you.
Here in Chattanooga, the Melvin case is a perfect example of the problem that affects ordinary people. Most everyone are intimidated by the state, its courts and its pretentious claims about representation. Not just common people are bullied by accusation by cop and the court into which he has dragged them. Well informed people who read news, vote, care about politics and government don’t know how to assert their rights, or hesitate to pay an attorney to defend them.
So people play along in lower courts. They let cases be heard outside constitutional protection (in city, traffic or sessions courts). They enter plea bargains.
Because of lack of funds, time or energy, commoners and the poor are those most damaged by police abuse, whether black, Hispanic or white. They don’t know how to deal with the officer, they don’t know how to assert their rights, and many times they are too poor to hire counsel, so they take advice from the public defender’s office whose attorney counsels a plea bargain. As a state office, its job is to get people to plead guilty and make the case go away.
Many people realize that when they plead guilty they have a blot on their record not easily erased. If they are young, they will find that stain drags down job applications. They effectively ruin themselves by pleading guilty. To an employer, property manager or lender, the state’s record about the individual is prima facie evidence of bad character and unreliability.
Defendants in Chattanooga and beyond should demand a trial by jury rather than plead guilty. It is inconvenient to plead guilty because it means the ignorant will be in court defending themselves. Likely there they face humiliation from incompetence. But plea bargains are devastating to working class people such as Mr. Melvin and thousands of others in Chattanooga who are not entrepreneurs and who need employment.
So are police officer executions in aggressive encounters hyped by hair-trigger training racist? Or are they the fruits of statism and progressivism?
Neal Pinkston, the Hamilton County district attorney general, and criminal court Judge Don Poole dismissed the Melvin case. An internal affairs report about Mr. Melvin’s grievance is pending. It alleges perjury, lack of probable cause and oppression.
All colors, all classes at risk
Black Lives Matter puts the emphasis in the wrong place. It puts the emphasis on blacks’ being abused by whites or blacks being abused by police. The larger issue, the one that is the most compelling and the one that will bring the most public support, is simply: The abuse of police of the citizenry.
That again is a citizenry of all colors and of all classes. It’s trite to say “all lives matter.” Getting beyond BLM, it’s more useful to say, “All probable cause matters.”
If citizens unite as against the state, and disbelieve its virtue, its intelligence, its goodwill, Chattanoogans will go far in turning back the thousands of prosecutions today that addle families, deplete their members’ energy, add needless friction in their lives and humiliate them among friends, neighbors and ogling readers of Just Busted.