Regarding the murder of Darren Goforth

I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for a long time. I didn’t intend for things to quite literally hit close to home before I posted. It’s just the way it played out. I had intended to write specifically about the goings-on in Ferguson, Missouri, shortly after one of the major developments.

Before I go into the timeline leading up to this event, I acknowledge that the murder of Darren Goforth made national (US) news, if not international. I certainly don’t like it when my hometown makes the news like this, and I am pretty sure I’m not the only one.

Now, some of the events preceding this, so we may understand how we got here (not intended to be an all-inclusive list):

  • 2009 January 1: Oscar Grant is shot and killed by Officer Johannes Mehserle of the BART Police, when the officer claims he mistook his gun for his Taser. This incident was dramatized in the film Fruitvale Station, which I wrote a post about shortly after having watched the film.
  • 2010 November 5: Mehserle is sentenced to two years for involuntary manslaughter.
  • 2011 June 13: Mehserle is released on parole, having served only 11 months.
  • 2011 June 30: BART settles a wrongful death lawsuit with Oscar Grant’s mother and daughter for $2.8 million. A similar lawsuit from his father was denied.
  • 2012 February 26: Trayvon Martin is shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Florida. The circumstances of the shooting are considered dubious by many. Zimmerman is initially not charged with a crime, but later would be charged with second-degree murder.
  • 2012 July 13: George Zimmerman is acquitted of second-degree murder in the shooting.
  • 2014 May 21: BART settles a wrongful death lawsuit filed by five friends of Oscar Grant for a total of $175,000 split between them.
  • 2014 August 9: Michael Brown is fatally injured by gunshots fired by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson (suburb of St. Louis, Missouri) PD. He was a suspect in the theft of several packages of cigarillos, during which he allegedly shoved a store clerk (which might make it a robbery, turning what would be a Class A misdemeanor into a Class B felony). Michael’s body was left at the scene for over four hours, sparking outrage from the majority-black population in Ferguson.
  • 2014 August 10-12: Memorials for Michael Brown begin peacefully, but at least one evening candlelight vigil gets out of hand, and some looting takes place.
  • 2014 August 14: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky denounces the shooting as a tragedy and calls for the demilitarization of police forces.
  • 2014 August 15-30: Information about the Michael Brown shooting was released. At first Ferguson PD refused to name the officer involved due to security concerns (death threats against the officer). Eventually Darren Wilson is identified as the officer who fired the fatal shots.
  • 2014 November 24: The grand jury in Ferguson no-bills Darren Wilson.
  • 2014 November 29: Wilson resigns from the Ferguson PD with no severance, due to security concerns, and through his attorney states he “will never be a police officer again.”
  • 2014 December 20: Two NYPD officers are shot and killed in the Bedfort-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn in an apparent revenge for the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
  • 2015 March 4: The US Department of Justice announces Darren Wilson will not be charged in the shooting of Michael Brown.
  • 2015 August 28: Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth is shot and killed at a gas station in Cypress, Texas (suburb of Houston).

Now for my thoughts.

With every fiber of my being, I condemn the murder of Darren Goforth. I know very little about Darren’s career as a sheriff’s deputy, only that it lasted ten years, which is a rather long time in any line of work. Given what little I have read seems to point to Darren as a good person, if not a good cop as well, I feel comfortable giving the benefit of the doubt.

A lot of the previous posts on this blog may have left readers with the impression I’m “anti-cop”. Strictly speaking that is not true, though I am not shy in the least about speaking out against law enforcement officers, law enforcement agencies, judges, and other people and elements of our legal system, who have done rather reckless and stupid things in the name of the law. To the best of my knowledge, Darren wasn’t one of those cops.

To say the least, Darren’s death was undignified, brutal, and barbaric. He died as the result of an absolutely senseless crime. He didn’t deserve this. Nobody in decent society deserves to die like this.

In the United States, we are a society governed by laws enacted to maintain order and civility. We are not governed by the law of the jungle, and we aren’t just a bunch of wild animals. In that vein, I would like to remind everyone out there that, according to our laws, the suspect in this case is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The suspect in this case has the right to due process of law including a fair trial, the right to a trial by jury (if desired), the right to not incriminate himself (Fifth Amendment), and the right to effective counsel (a defense attorney), the same as any other suspect accused of a crime.

The trial is probably months away, maybe even over a year away. But regardless of the outcome when it is decided, I am asking everyone to keep the peace, particularly in the Houston area. Rioting as a result of the outcome, either way, won’t accomplish anything either. Peaceful protesting is fine, but the key word is “peaceful.” Violence will not solve any problems at hand here, it can only make them worse.

That’s all for now. I’ll have more to say on the topic in a followup post.

My thoughts on the film Fruitvale Station and the Oscar Grant shooting

So back when it was still in the theaters, I saw the movie Fruitvale Station. For those that still aren’t aware of the movie and what it’s about, it’s an attempt to document the final living days of Oscar Grant, who died after being shot by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police in the early morning hours of 2009 January 1.

Without spoiling the plot too much, the movie makes no bones about Oscar’s checkered past and criminal history. But at the same time, Oscar is portrayed as someone who was just about to get his life back together when it was tragically ended. During a period in which my mom and I would go to the theater every weekend (sometimes twice in the same weekend), I had picked this one almost out of mere curiosity, going by the Wikipedia article linked above accessed from my mom’s Android phone (if you want to get technical, I believe this version of the article was either the exact version I was looking at or very close to it). I didn’t write down nor do I remember what our other choices were, but I don’t regret this choice one bit.

I know there are some who will happily dismiss this movie, and even walk out or eject the DVD the moment they see the first scene with Oscar in prison. And they will have no idea what they missed. Suffice it to say that in my particular case, I saw quite a bit of myself in the portrayal of Oscar on the screen. And a lot of people should; for a majority of people, it’s not getting arrested for drug dealing that brings the dark spot in their lives, but something else like losing a job or losing a bunch of friends all at once.

Part of the purpose of our corrections system is to rehabilitate. If we as a society do not allow those sentenced to prison to prepare for their eventual release and become productive members of society, we may as well just put revolving doors on the front of the prisons because the prisoners will wind up going back to crime yet again. The film shows Oscar’s efforts to become a law-abiding and productive member of society during the final days of his life. We will never know if he could have been successful.

What I find particularly unjust is that the officer who shot Oscar, Johannes Mehserle, would serve less than a year after being sentenced to a mere two years. Even though he has a conviction on his record which will keep him from securing employment in law enforcement, two years is way too lenient, before factoring in the sentence reductions that allowed his release in less than a year. The maximum for involuntary manslaughter in this case was four years (one article said six years), but that charge gives Mr. Mehserle the benefit of the doubt and says this was an accident.

Based on what I have seen so far, I don’t think this was an accident. It would take a lot to convince me that this was voluntary manslaughter, and not second-degree murder. I recognize that the jury saw it differently, but at the same time I must say in as many words I think the jury got it wrong.

Thankfully, the civil courts are seeing things differently and awarding the survivors sums in excess of $1 million (Oscar’s daughter got $1.5 million and his mother $1.3 million; the case brought by his father is still pending).