WE the PEOPLE: It Really Is About WE THE PEOPLE.. Right?

My Dear Readers,

Writing the last several weeks of the “At The Crossroads” segment on the beating of the motorist in Detroit, MI has been a whirlwind for me.

Initially, I was outraged by what was clearly a racially motivated physical assault upon an innocent white motorist as he sought to assist a black child he struck with his car as the child darted into the street.

I acknowledged being bewildered and confused by the actions going on within the trial, particularly the trial judge’s comments to one of the defendants that he “needed a dad, someone to beat the hell out of you when you make a mistake.”

The following week, I felt both angered and disappointed, feeling justice had been denied to the motorist, Mr. Steve Utash, upon learning that the total number of years of incarceration received for ALL five defendants was 7.6 years.

My anger, bewilderment and disappointment in the judicial system led me to write an open letter to the jurist regarding his comments.  No doubt Judge Callahan has received many messages for others expressing similar feelings, but I admit that I was wrong.  I allowed my emotions to speak for me.  In doing so, I failed to follow one of my own teachings:  the Five R’s of Relief, a therapeutic model of empowerment that I base my clinical practice upon.

The model involves the following steps:

  • Respite– step away, taking a breather
  • Reactions– own them because these are yours and no one else.
  • Reflections– processing the combination of feelings and thoughts
  • Response-achieved from the process and communicated to the external world
  • Reevaluation-review, reframe and refocus on the perceiving acts or actions

In my rush to criticize a clear wrong, I failed to adequately initiate the model that I devised.  Where did my failure begin?

I did the same thing that the mob and the pursuing crowd of 100 onlookers did following the accident that day. I failed to take a respite, to step away from the moment temporarily, and address it calmly.  The mob and ensuring crowd assumed that the motorist was wrong.  Likewise, I assumed that the trial judge, due to his comments and light sentences for the defendants, was wrong and that a grievous injustice had been done.

I also failed to own my reactions.  Like the crowd of 100 onlookers and the mob, I was unable and unwilling to engage in the processing of my feelings and thoughts. I was unwilling to reflect on the entire situation, which would have allowed me to see this from all perspectives, and not just my own. As a result, I allowed my anger, outrage and disappointment in the judicial system to be my response and this is what I communicated to the external world.

The actions were the same, but the consequences were different for my reaction and the reactions of the onlookers. Where my reaction resulted in a letter to the judge, the reaction of the mob resulted in the beating of the motorist.  Nevertheless, the issue is that neither I nor the mob took the time to adequately reflect, and needless suffering, whether physical or emotional, resulted.

Hindsight is 20/20.  In looking back, one is able to evaluate past choices more clearly than at the time.  Now that I have this chance to re-evaluate, I’m beginning to truly listen and see the situation for what it really was.

It was during this re-evaluation time that I realized that the trial judge and the judiciary were being used as scapegoats for the media and the fury of an angry and disappointed public audience.  Where were the civic leaders?  Where were the community activists? Where were Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al?  Where were the civil rights organizations?  Why are they all silent on this issue?

Light sentences for juvenile offenders in serious cases are not rare. In 2013 in Fort Worth, TX, 16-year-old Ethan Couch received a sentence of 10 years probation following killing four pedestrians in a car accident, after the judge determined that the youth suffered from “affluenza,” a pseudo-psychological condition in which the adolescent is unable to fully comprehend the consequences of his actions because of the fact that he was born into a wealthy family.

In the Detroit MI assault case, 19 year-old Latrez Cummings, a defendant who was a minor at the time of the beating, was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation.  What was the justification for the light sentence?  He did not have a father figure in his life.

In re-evaluating this, it is important to  review, reframe and refocus on the specific actions, because one is susceptible to jump to easy conclusions, such as blaming the judiciary for the outcome of these cases.

However, both cases merely demonstrate something that we have always known—that the judiciary is inadequate in the administration of justice when race and ethnicity are called into play. Therefore, the judiciary and individual judges cannot be used as the barometer for measuring changes in the general public.

Closing Remarks

I began this writing by indicating that the last several weeks have been a whirlwind for me. And, as the trial judge handed down the punishment he felt was fair, I too have the right to verbalize my opinion regarding the ruling and his comments.

This is what you do in a “just and moral society.”   One does not seek justice in the streets.  As we see, it is often the innocent that suffer the consequences for the mistaken perceptions of others.

Only five of the 12-20 males involved in the brutal assault of the motorist were brought to trial to answer for their actions.  Although I may strongly disagree with the penalties they were issued, as least there is some accountability.

However, the major concern that I have is the silence that came from the crowd of 100 onlookers and the community in which they reside.   They either stood by in silence or acted in concert, rooting as that innocent motorist was being pummeled by the mob.

It is that crowd and that community that failed to cooperate with the police investigation in identifying the remaining assailants of the 12-20 individuals involved in the attack. In effect, the crowd and the community are working in collaboration with the remaining assailants by refusing to cooperate with the ongoing criminal investigation.

This would indeed be a great opportunity for our civil rights organizations to not only condemn rage and poverty as a justification for violence, but to initiate the process of community empowerment with the cooperation of law enforcement and the judiciary.

It is often that communities will complain about the lack of policing and protection in their areas, and comment that other areas are given more attention.  However, for policing and protection to be successful, law enforcement and the judiciary are dependent on the cooperation of the community in the identification of those who seek to harm others.

There are another 15 suspects out there.  The community may know who they are.   There is no free ride; in order to gain the benefits of protection, the community must cooperate with law enforcement.

WE the PEOPLE can continue pointing the finger at each other or we can choose to accept responsibility and work for change in how we relate and interact with each other.

It really is about WE the PEOPLE…right?


Until the Next Crossroads…The Journey continues.

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