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.

A hoodie, Skittles, iced tea, and a homicide

I’ve probably let this story cool down a bit more than I should, though technically it is still topical. So, it’s high time for me to weigh in on it before it goes completely cold. For those of you who have completely tuned out of the news over the past 6-8 weeks or so, I’m talking about the death of Trayvon Martin.

As the story goes, on the night of Sunday, 2012 February 26, Trayvon Martin was walking back to The Retreat at Twin Lakes where he was visiting his father and his father’s fiancĂ©e at their townhome in the complex. Trayvon had walked down to a 7-Eleven convenience store, purchased a bag of Skittles and a can of AriZona iced tea, and was walking back when he was spotted by George Zimmerman, the captain of the neighborhood watch.

What exactly happened is still under investigation. We know Trayvon was fatally wounded by a gunshot at the scene, from Mr. Zimmerman’s gun. Mr. Zimmerman was not charged and arrested until today (Wednesday, 2012 April 11), shortly after a new state’s attorney, Angela Corey, took over the case. For further detail I refer you to the Wikipedia article and/or your favorite search engines, as news coverage of this story from whatever news service one may prefer is plentiful.

That said, even though this case is under investigation, there are plenty of things to comment on at this point in time, that are known to the public.

Quoting the Miami Herald’s news story:

Police Chief Bill Lee said that although police do not encourage watch program volunteers to carry weapons, he recognizes a citizen’s constitutional right to do so. No arrest was made, Lee said, because there was no evidence to disprove Zimmerman’s account.

The exercise of one’s legal right(s) is not always a good idea. While the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press (among others), it is not always best to tweet, Facebook, or blog everything. I personally am right now, in a situation where it is in my best interests that I not reveal certain things in a blog post, at least for the time being (not exclusively my own best interests, of course, and I know this is probably a temporary situation).

And such it is with Mr. Zimmerman’s Second Amendment right to carry a firearm. Does he have this right? Yes. That doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea in this situation. Especially in light of the fact that neighborhood watch captains are discouraged from acting as vigilante police. On one hand, I want to say if the problem is that out of hand, a neighborhood watch is just putting potentially vulnerable people in harm’s way and a real armed security detail (either private security guards or real off duty police officers) need to be on patrol for a while. On the other, if it’s known that the neighborhood watch patrol is armed, it can act as a bit more of a deterrent.

Mr. Zimmerman also followed Trayvon in spite of the request of the 911 operator that he not do so. I’m not sure why Mr. Zimmerman did this, but in general, disregarding instructions of a 911 operator is a bad idea. I don’t see anything that would make it a good idea in this instance following the timeline to this point–even without knowing the eventual outcome.

I will admit Trayvon’s death is tragic, but an even bigger tragedy would be an injury to our Second Amendment rights as a result. Yes, there will be the occasional idiot with a gun that somehow qualified for a concealed carry permit despite clear evidence it was a bad idea. No, this doesn’t mean we should institute stricter gun control, it simply means that even the best laws may fail us once in a while.

It doesn’t help that the shooting appears to be racially motivated and/or an instance of racial profiling. As sad as it is, I believe we would not be having the great controversy about the case were it a white victim of similar age in the same situation. I believe racial profiling is wrong regardless of the race profiled against, but the reality is news agencies would not see the profit in sensationalizing the possible murder of a white male in a similar situation.

While I don’t pretend to know everything about the case, at first glance I don’t see any way Mr. Zimmerman has out of this without getting at least a manslaughter conviction. I may follow up on this shortly before or during the trial–and I do believe this case will go to trial–or sooner if more facts become known that would change how I feel about this. I will certainly be following up after the trial.