Published Jun 10, 2010 12:08 PM
On April 25, 2009, a concerned father dialed 911 and requested Cleveland police mediation because he feared his adult daughter would drive her vehicle after coming home from a dinner date where she’d consumed alcohol. CPD responded to the call — with two officers which increased to 10-12 later who were all Caucasian — the family is African-American — in the Collinwood area by punching the daughter in the face and body, kicking, body slamming, and tasering her. They then charged Rebecca Whitby with assault on them and a myriad of other felonies while charging the mother (also named Rebecca) with multiple charges including obstruction of justice for attempting to use her body as a shield to protect her daughter from the vicious beating.
This abridged version of these events, which Caucasian neighbors corroborate, is explained in detail on the family’s website at thealhambraincident.ning.com. The purpose of this narrative however, is to explore a different aspect of this case.
Firstly, despite GOP opinion, this is not a post-racial society and every racial discrimination claim is not an unjustifiable playing of the “race card.” There are powerful people in law enforcement, government, business (and the judiciary) who believe their perceptions of minorities fueled by generational odium, superiority complexes, long-standing racial entitlements forged by hundreds of years of accepted societal practices, as well as other associated malignancies, give them the latitude to augment the rights and liberties of others in a manner inconsistent with evaluations of similar circumstances involving their own family members or those who reside in areas resembling “their neighborhoods.”
Prosecutors would have you believe that a 125-pound, 23-year-old female college student with no criminal record and no reason to throw her freedom away, attacked two police officers each weighing nearly two hundred pounds and was able to take both their weapons. This despite the fact that police officers are specifically trained in submission tactics designed to subdue assailants much larger than young Rebecca.
Additionally, one of these “stellar” public servants allegedly lied on a Bureau of Workman’s Compensation claim saying young Rebecca was high on “wet” when she supposedly attacked him although the toxicology report clearly showed only alcohol in her system. If this officer can make such statements to obtain Workman’s Compensation payments, why would I (or any juror) believe he wouldn’t do the same under oath?
Police brutality is rampant in America. Even Paul Craig Roberts, the former assistant secretary of the Treasury during the Reagan Administration wrote an article in 2007 entitled “America’s Police Brutality Pandemic.” Roberts said police are often guilty of “unprovoked gratuitous violence against persons offering no resistance such as the elderly, women, students, and elected officials. Americans are not safe anywhere from police. Police attack Americans in university libraries, in public meetings, and in their own homes.” Young Rebecca was a student and both mother and daughter endured this travesty “in their own home.”
Another powerful conveyance by Roberts targets the sidestepping of responsibility by police. Roberts states that rather than own up to their misdeeds, “Instead the cops cover up their own crimes by arresting their victims on false charges that are invented to justify the unprovoked police violence against citizens.” He went on to add, “No matter how gratuitous and violent the police brutality, a ‘free’ American citizen can defend himself only at the expense, if not of his life, of a long stay in prison.”
A local journalist, Kathy Wray Coleman, wrote an intriguing article on May 22 tying together common threads of concern with respect to legal incongruities in the Whitby case, the case of Joaquin Hicks — who received 61 years for a crime his family and activists say it was impossible for him to have committed — and the Collinwood students arrested during a protest over teacher layoffs and school closings.
Coleman states that Judge Kathleen Sutula’s appointment to the Whitby case after Judge Stuart Friedman recused himself for fear of being perceived a “racist” is more than a bit suspect. Coleman goes on to say Administrative Judge Nancy Fuerst handpicked Sutula rather than using the conventional “judge’s pool” mechanism of selection.
Was this abuse of process? The evidence clearly points in that direction. Sutula has since recused herself as well and openly apologized to the Rebeccas.
In an imperfect world we have to tolerate imperfect systems, and yes that includes our criminal justice system. This is not to say, however, that we are to accept the notion that an honest mistake should ever be considered synonymous with premeditation and malice conveniently masked as error. It is said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link; likewise, a criminal justice system that a society must depend on is only as honorable and just as the least ethical component within the framework of its practical application.
Former union leader,
a civic activist in Cleveland
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