The spectacle made by the judge in rendering his not guilty verdicts in the Brelo case in Cleveland yesterday was appalling. I doubt many people were surprised at the verdict itself, but as I watched the spectacle unfold live on WKYC TV, watched as the judge pointed to this, that and the other entry wound in mannikins set up in the courtroom to represent the bullet-ridden bodies of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, claiming as he did that there were so many bullet wounds, he just couldn't tell whether any of the 49 shots fired buy Officer Brelo were the ones that killed the pair, and therefore the officer could not be found guilty of manslaughter. Then from the bench Judge O'Donnell claimed that every use of force, including that of Officer Brelo as he climbed up on the hood of Russell's car and fired again and again and again and again into the quivering, bullet-ridden bodies of Williams and Russell was "reasonable," given that every single officer who fired into that car was in fear of his life and the safety of others, and Officer Brelo, in particular, wasn't certain that the (later found to be nonexistent) threat from Williams and Russell had been neutralized until he stopped firing.
Insane actions by police were justified because... they were afraid of phantoms and believed they must kill Negroes. And the law protects them.
Yet the ones who actually had reason to fear, Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, were each shot dead, 23 and 24 bullet wounds, by wildly out of control police officers intent on making a kill no matter what, based on nothing more than their errors of perception and their fears and ages of impunity -- and the fact that a couple of Negroes were trying to run away, fearing quite reasonably for their lives. And the law protects them not at all.
Shades of Judge Taney and his statement in the Dred Scott decision that the negro had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.
The judge ruled that because so many officers said they were afraid for their lives and the safety of others and so many officers shot at Williams and Russell, he couldn't find Brelo guilty of manslaughter -- because he couldn't determine beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo had fired the fatal shots. The lesson learned, of course, is that if you set out to kill Negroes, do it with a large enough number of fellows that who fires the actual kill shots can't be determined with certainty.
Further, the judge couldn't find by a preponderance of the evidence that Brelo had acted unreasonably because every other officer was deemed to have acted reasonably under the circumstances by the prosecution's own expert, therefore there was no evidence that Brelo was unreasonable under the circumstances. The lesson: do what you will but do it with others. You can get away with just about anything.
Citing law and precedence and Scalia, after an hour of yadda-yadda, Judge O'Donnell found Brelo not guilty of all charges and ordered his immediate discharge.
Once again, the law and the court vindicated a killer cop. It is what the courts do. It is what they're set up to do and it's what the law "forces" them to do.
If O'Donnell had ruled against Brelo, it would have been considered an aberration, and the ruling would have been immediately appealed. The farther up the legal chain the appeal went, the likelier would be a reversal and admonishment of the judge for overstepping his bounds.
Yet O'Donnell spent his entire preamble pointing to the constant complaints of police brutality and over-policing and police murder and essentially agreeing that police do overreact and are brutal and that complaints about violent policing are frequently justified.
But in this case, legally, no.
The law protects and vindicates police use of force in this case.
And so Brelo walks free. For now.
It's not justice, not even its simulation.
It is injustice writ large and ugly.
It is the reality of our vaunted and grossly imperfect legal system.