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Beyond Reasonable Doubt

The differing standards of proof for criminal and civil cases is well known.

While civil cases require a preponderance or balance of probabilities, criminal cases require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. How though does “beyond reasonable doubt” translate? No doubt that reasonableness and doubt are in the eye of the beholder—or in our justice system in the eye of a juror (or judge).

This is why, over the past year, cities such as Baltimore, St. Anthony, Ferguson, New York City and Charleston paid over $20 million dollars [$3.0 million (Castile), $6.5 million (Scott), $5.9 million (Garner), $1.5 million (Brown), $6.4 million (Gray] in settlements with families of black men who died when their police officers used lethal force under doubtful circumstances. Not one officer in any of these high profile cases was convicted of a crime (in one a police officer plead guilty to a lesser charge) let alone manslaughter. Facing the lower legal standards of proof for a civil lawsuit, these cities settled before going to trial.

In a single case—a specific circumstance, the standard of proof will depend on what is being determined regarding culpability.  What though is the “standard of proof” for a body of evidence—for multiple cases, all with specific and unique circumstances but all sharing a common denominator of potential prejudice and or racism?

Clearly, the threshold of preponderance or balance of probabilities has been met–$20 million is a concession to that standard of proof. The question that remains: Is it beyond a reasonable doubt that Black Lives don’t matter?

Here we come to the eye of the beholder. For people of color and for many others the preponderance of one after another police killing and officer acquittals in the deaths of black men are ample evidence that Black Lives don’t matter has met the standard of beyond reasonable doubt.

It is not enough to grant civilly a pay out to families—to admit culpability at the level of probabilities—we have to encourage that our police officers apply the standard of beyond reasonable doubt when confronting any situation, but in particular when facing a question of their own safety and use of force when a suspect who is of color is involved.

Education and empathy are critical to the needed social discourse on color and prejudice-racism in America. We all must confront our own prejudices and overcome both reasonableness and doubt to move beyond the racial divides that fissure our country and deny the dream of Martin Luther King.

david

P.S. Please consider enrolling in the summer film class “ Black Lives Matter” or read either Ta Nehisi-Coates’ Between the World and Me or Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers. We will be discussing the films: Loving, Hidden Figures, I am Not Your Negro, Fences and more.

Comments 3

  1. I am acting in a play called,”12 angry jurors” and the play has me all knotted up. Juror 3 is a an extremely strong,forceful man with a streak of sadism,and accustomed to forcing his wishes and views upon others. Juror 7 is loud, flashy and has more important things to do than sit on a jury. Juror 10 is an angry,bitter person who antagonizes almost at sight. Also a bigot who places no value on any human life. Juror 12 is a slick, bright advertising professional who thinks of human beings in terms of percentages, graphs and polls, and has no understanding of people. This play is written in the 1950’s…and not so much has changed…I saw the movie version of this play with Henry Fonda as Juror 8, who is quite, thoughtful and gentle. He sees all sides of every question and constantly seeks the truth. A person who wants justice done,and will fight to see that it is. I have played major roles in most plays I have got involved in…but this play in particular had me at the brink of calling its off and just not having any thing to do with the play…It triggered such intense feelings in me…that I really wanted to throw in the towel, and say PASS…I have copied you in on the letter I sent the director…where I tell her that I came to this country as an immigrant…honestly seeking justice…and having suffered so much injustice in America…This is what I shared…
    I realized this, after days of wresting with my dreadful feelings…as too many friends, I know, have had their children incinerated for issues that would have landed them in drug treatment facilities in Europe…I also visited a detention center myself and was shocked to see so many people of color behind bars.
    I seem to be in a heightened state of sheer anxiety,fear and feeling stuck…This play gets ugly, and reveals all our dark shadows…
    But reason,logic and compassion rules the day…
    The play is a hard pill for me to swallow,as Clarence Moses-El ,a man in Denver was innocent and convicted of rape and assault,as the victim said it came to her in a dream…that the assailant was her neighbor…You can’t dream these things up!!!
    In 2015,a Denver judge overturned his conviction…
    I have never sat on a jury,and don’t ever intend to do so.
    I am afraid that we are still haunted as a society by deeply held prejudice, and I would not want group think in jury to end up with a runaway jury…and this play…plays into my deep fears.
    I grew up in Kuwait…The richest country in the world…Not boasting here…
    I get deep chills when I hear of places like the one we are dealing with in the play…broken down and crime infested…People ending up victims of abject poverty.
    The blatant disregard of so many women who have come forth recently- The me too – movement…
    The crassness of Cosby’s attorney…The president himself threatening to sue the women he abused…The many women who feel like deers in the head lights,when they take an abuser on…
    This play cuts through the heart of the matter…There is no humor in the play. And sadly on humor in our courts either.
    I am gracefully swallowing the play in morsels, as so many inmates have been charged on flimsy evidence…more blacks than whites.
    I think the young man is spared and sees a flicker of hope,instead of the darkness of imprisonment.
    1 out of 9 black men are in jail…reeking havoc in the black community…I know I am preaching to the choir…
    I know I was quite the chameleon in the other plays…but this one is hard to shake, in the back drop of our newly appointed court justices…
    This play fleshes it out…and may be…The next time I am asked to be a juror…I might just muster up the courage to actually be counted and not ask for a leave absence…like I have done in the past…This play may just be that shape shifter in my life…lastly…golly…Am I the only one who is wrestling with this play? I am left with a lump in my throat…The play is hard to swallow…But it gives us a slice of real life…the life behind closed doors.
    Where the scales of justice don’t always free you from vengeance,race issues,recrimination…
    Be Blessed Anita…

  2. JIM, the slave from Huckleberry Finn

    So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter – and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

    Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

    I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

    It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

    “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” – and tore it up.

    – Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

  3. FREEDOM LANGUAGE HELPED ME to understand the grief and rage of Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile who witnessed his killing by a police officer in 2016.

    Reynolds arrived at an early morning protest in St. Paul, Minn., a few hours after Philando’s death. I heard her tell her story to a small crowd gathered on the street. Weeping, she shared how impossibly stuck they felt in the 74 seconds between stopping their car for the police and Castile being shot multiple times.

    Castile was never given a chance to show identification because he was shot as he reached for his wallet. He tried to tell the officer about his legally licensed handgun, but the screaming officer didn’t seem to hear.

    As Castile, Reynolds, and her young child ran errands on that summer night, civil rights laws did not protect their “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 allowed for Castile’s employment at an elementary school and made legal their right to move through town. But these rights were not enough to protect Castile’s freedom to live.

    What is democracy?
    As U.S. Christians and others fight to defend the space for justice created by civil rights movements of the past, another theme rises: What does freedom mean in America today? What does Reynold’s rage require of people of faith?

    At a minimum, it requires moving beyond a Sunday school version of democracy, as Southern Freedom Movement leader and historian Vincent Harding put it in 2002. “A solution of the present crisis will not take place unless … [we] work for it. Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle. … This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action,” Harding said, quoting Martin Luther King’s Stride Toward Freedom.

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