Ever since the passage of slave code laws throughout American history, White folks have been legally authorized to murder Black folks. For example, a 1705 Virginia law states that if a “slave … shall happen to be killed … (while being beaten by his master), the master shall be free of all punishment … as if such … never happened.” A 1712 South Carolina law states that “every slave… out of his master’s plantation without … leave in writing from his master … shall be whipped.” And that includes deadly whippings if the master prefers. A 1724 Louisiana law states that “The slave, who (even in clear self-defense), having struck his master, his mistress, or the husband of his mistress, or their children (and thereby) shall have produced a bruise, or the shedding of blood in the face, shall suffer capital punishment.”
And don’t think things have changed since the 1700s regarding the legally-sanctioned murder of innocent Blacks by authorized Whites. Just last year alone, predominantly White police murdered 102 innocent non-threatening Blacks. That’s an average of about two Blacks murdered each week by cops. And that’s higher than the rate of lynchings from 1882-1890 when about 67 Blacks each year were hanged, burned at the stake, or beaten to death by mobs. As horrifically frequent as that occurrence was, it happened to about 1.25 Blacks each week compared to the nearly two each week just last year.
Speaking of the legally-sanctioned murder of Blacks, don’t forget the 212 Black death row inmates who had been arrested by predominantly White police departments, prosecuted by predominantly White D.A.s, found guilty by predominantly White juries, and sentenced to death by predominantly White judges in 37 states since 1989. If it weren’t for the Black, White, Latino, and Asian attorneys at the Innocence Project (innocenceproject.org) who fought D.A.s relentlessly to introduce exonerating DNA evidence, those predominantly white cops, D.A.s, juries, and judges would’ve happily lynched/executed those 212 Blacks just like their ancestors did before, during, and after that 1882-1890 time period.
Consider the September 16 shooting death of Terence Crutcher, the 40-year old college student and father of four ranging in age from 4-15. He was killed in Tulsa by Police Officer Betty Shelby. He was unarmed. He had his empty hands up. He was not approaching Shelby. He was not reaching for a weapon. Nonetheless, he was murdered by her. Each of the 50 states are similar in the way they generally define murder and manslaughter. And they generally include first, second, and third degree murder along with voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
First degree murder is a killing that is “premeditated.” Second degree murder is a killing that results during the commission of a felony (like robbery, rape, or kidnapping). Third degree murder is a killing that results when the perpetrator was merely intending to injure, as when she or he fires a shot into a victim’s foot. Voluntary manslaughter is a killing that results from “sudden and intense passion,” as when the perpetrator leaves work early, returns home, and is shocked to find her/his spouse in the marital bed with someone else. Involuntary manslaughter is a killing that results from recklessness, as when a texting driver hits a child riding a bike.
In general, these types of definitions exist in Oklahoma as well. In particular, Murder in the First Degree is defined in that state in 21 O.S. Section 701.7 as follows: “A person ‘unlawfully and with malice aforethought causes the death of another human being.’ Malice is defined as ‘deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a human being.’” Shelby wasn’t charged with first degree murder, though. She was charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree, which could result in a measly four-year sentence if she miraculously happens to get convicted. That charge is defined in 21 O.S. 711 as follows: “When perpetrated without a design to effect death, and in the heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or by means of a dangerous weapon; unless it is committed under such circumstances as constitute excusable or justifiable homicide.” But how could it be manslaughter since she shot him in the chest? A chest shot, unlike a foot shot, is clearly “designed to effect death.” And what about this “heat of passion” nonsense? There was no fighting, no threatening, no reaching, no arguing, and certainly no sex.
As you can clearly see, the fix is in. The DA is giving Shelby’s defense attorney a way out. And that way out is the “circumstances as constitute excusable or justifiable homicide.” Her lawyer already outlandishly said she was “deaf “during the incident, which led to “auditory exclusion.” This is a medical term that pertains to a condition in which people in high-stress situations cannot hear anything. Her lawyer is actually arguing that. He’s actually claiming that she was “deaf.” And that means he thinks we’re dumb and blind. But there is some method to his madness. He’s not making that ridiculous argument to us. He’s making it to them- and them is the predominantly white Tulsa, Oklahoma jury that will be impaneled to acquit Shelby in 22 minutes, which is one minute less than the 23 minutes it took for the police to speed her through the “white cop justice express line” that consisted of being brought into the police station, booked, fingerprinted, photographed, processed, and released on bail. In Philly, nearly all of my young Black male clients who are accused of killing people get charged with first degree murder and never get released on bail because Pennsylvania law doesn’t allow bail on first and second degree murder charges. And my young Black male clients who are charged with third degree murder or manslaughter get bail set at millions of dollars, which means they never get released on bail.
So what’s the solution? Stay tuned by reading upcoming articles in this “Freedom’s Journal” column immediately after Shelby’s November 29 preliminary hearing.
The spirit often moves me to end my weekly columns, whenever appropriate, with a particular inspirational quote from both David Walker’s Appeal, published in 1829, and Christopher James Perry Sr., founder of The Tribune in 1884. But the spirit has recently moved me to add a more updated particular inspirational quote that also will be included whenever appropriate. And it’s from one of the greatest rappers in Hip Hop history. In his song entitled “One-Nine-Nine-Nine,” Common said and I’m now saying “Check it.
It’s like I’m fightin’ for freedom, writin’ for freedom…. My ancestors, when I’m writin’ I see ‘em and talk with ‘em. Hoping in the promised land I can walk with ‘em.”