Do any Gentle Readers remember the 1991 Rodney King incident, and the trial that followed? Do you remember that, though provided with a complete video recording of the incident, Los Angeles news station KTLA chose to show only the most damning, easily misinterpreted part? Do you remember that once the whole video had been made available, three of the four policemen charged with assault / excessive force for that encounter were acquitted of all the charges?
Riots ensued that ripped Los Angeles asunder. Fifty-three people died, many others were injured, and there were many millions of dollars in property damage. The chaos and destruction were worse than the Detroit riots of July 1967, which had to be quelled by Army and National Guard troops.
One of the worst consequences was the nullification of the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee against double jeopardy. The L.A. policemen were tried a second time, this time on a bizarre, extra-legal federal charge of “violating King’s civil rights.” Two were convicted and imprisoned; two were completely acquitted.
Justice, if the video recording of the King incident can be believed, was of little interest to that second trial. It was held entirely to mollify the mobs that threatened to destroy California’s largest city.
It wasn’t long afterward that a second travesty of justice occurred in Southern California. The evidence for O. J. Simpson’s guilt in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and bystander Ronald Goldman was overwhelming. The jury, which was predominantly black, acquitted him anyway. This time, the second trial was a civil one: a damage suit against Simpson by the families of Brown and Goldman, in which the plaintiffs prevailed despite the earlier acquittal.
Bizarre, eh? But it wasn’t unprecedented, at least not qualitatively. The 1922 Teapot Dome scandal, in which Interior Secretary Albert Fall accepted a huge bribe from oil magnate Edward Doheny in exchange for a federal-lands oil lease, resulted in Fall’s conviction…and Doheny’s acquittal. Thus, a Cabinet Secretary was convicted for accepting a bribe that, according to the court verdicts, had been paid to him by no one.
Yes, the above is plenty bad, but there’s more and worse coming.
No doubt all our Gentle Readers are familiar with the name of Derek Chauvin. His is a notoriety characteristic of our race-inflamed times. He’ll soon be tried for murder for the death of George Floyd. The facts in the case are sufficiently muddled that I can’t allow myself an opinion about how it “should” come out. Anyway, that’s why we have courts and juries, isn’t it?
The likelihood here is that, as with the cops involved in the Rodney King affair, Chauvin’s acquittal would touch off riots that would utterly destroy Minneapolis. That’s the way violence-inclined Negroes and their white supporters must be expected to react should Chauvin be exonerated. The probability is even higher than in the King case, owing to the rioting, looting, and vandalism that have already plagued Minneapolis this past year. The violence-inclined may be perfectly sure that the “forces of order” will do nothing to impede them, much less stop them and arrest them.
What, therefore, are the prospects for a fair trial – i.e., a trial whose outcome has not been decreed before it begins? If judges, prosecutors, and jurors face the specter of personal suffering for acting on their consciences – if the high officials of a city already crackling with racial animosity and barely repressed violence must anticipate that one possible verdict, however just and fair, would result in the demolition of their city – what future has justice?
Worse, the minorities of the continent are watching. If violence or the threat of it can predetermine the course of a criminal trial, violence-prone groups from coast to coast will draw the moral. Success, after all, breeds emulators. Precedents will be set. Incidents in other cities and towns will be used as a pretext for looting and vandalism.
But sooner or later there will be a reaction. Americans, the best armed citizenry in the history of the world, won’t sit idle forever. Citizen militias will take to the streets of the afflicted cities. Many persons will die…including, no doubt, some who deserved to live.
The great tragedy here is that, had the police of Minneapolis and other riot-torn cities reacted immediately and with their full powers to quell the rioting, far fewer persons would pay the ultimate price. We’ve already seen the cost of not acting swiftly and with decisive force in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.
Minneapolis is braced for impact. The evidence is ambiguous. There’s much fear abroad of what could follow the “wrong” verdict. Stay tuned.
Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! — Thomas Jefferson