I have lived in the Bountiful bubble for a long time, and I didn’t have any experience with Black lives until I showed up for Army basic training at Fort Ord decades ago.
I was in the Utah Legislature when the first bill was proposed to commemorate Martin Luther King’s birthday, but in Utah (and other places) King was suspected of communist ties, and a birthday holiday was too radical for Republicans.
For as many times as my lead foot has had me pulled over by gendarmes, I’ve never feared for my life and I’ve often been waved on with a warning. However, the steadily increasing volleys of police gunshots aimed at Black males these last several years have echoed even inside the bubble where I live.
I was channel-surfing the night of the first George Floyd protest in Salt Lake City, and I randomly turned to KUTV, as station reporters were covering it. I was glued to the TV for the next four hours. I was stunned by the Trump photo-op in Lafayette Square, and watched in disbelief the mayhem in Portland featuring protesters and a federal strike force outfitted to do battle in the Apocalypse.
Still, my default reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement (the consequence of my increasingly tenuous Republican affiliation) has been pandemically passive.
I came across a stunner of a federal district court case, Jamison v. McClendon, out of the Southern District of Mississippi.
It’s 72 pages of an eye-popping, riveting history of Black Americans’ tragic and shocking history with white law enforcement and a largely white judiciary that eloquently articulates everything that the protesters’ chants and homemade signs can never fully capture.
If my fellow bubble occupants are having a hard time understanding what all the fuss is about or why emotions, jeers and actions in protest marches go from calm to boiling in a matter of minutes, read the decision.
If you believe some red paint on the streets or a building is a lawless act of anarchy, read the decision.
We in the bubble are good at tut-tutting someone else’s rage, and it’s especially easy since it’s not our own.
He was never my guy, but even Barry Goldwater famously stated, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
The Jamison case is about a Black welder who was driving from Arizona to his home in South Carolina in a newly purchased car. He was pulled over in Pelahatchie, Mississippi.
Judge Carlton Reeves’s decision is not written in judicial argle-bargle; he puts the hay down where the goats can get it.
The decision begins with, “Clarence Jamison wasn’t jaywalking. He wasn’t playing with a toy gun.” He wasn’t doing any of the other 17 named acts that have gotten blacks killed after traffic stops. “He was a black man driving a Mercedes convertible. Jamison was pulled over and subjected to 110 minutes of an armed police officer badgering him, pressuring him, lying to him, and then searching his car top-to-bottom for drugs.” Nothing was found; the officer brought out a dog to sniff the car; the dog found nothing.
The 72 pages recite the history of Section 1983 civil rights protections, the Klan, racial terror; and then, under the heading, “Qualified Immunity: The Empire Strikes Back,” Judge Reeves meticulously and painfully explains why this legal doctrine allows bad cops to get away with murder and lots of other stuff.
Tortured analyses of “good faith” have “shielded a police officer who shot a child while attempting to shoot the family dog; prison guards who forced a prisoner to sleep in cells covered in feces for days; police officers who stole $225,000 worth of property; an officer who shot an unarmed woman eight times after she threw a knife and glass at a police dog that was attacking her brother;” and on and on.
Qualified immunity required Judge Reeves to dismiss Jamison’s constitutional claims against a lying police officer, but there will be a trial over the $4,000 of physical damage done to the Mercedes.
I was angry when I finished reading.
And then I read that Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill is charging some Salt Lake City protesters, who resorted to red paint on Gill’s office building, with combined criminal counts that could potentially imprison them for life. Right here in River City. Cleaning costs estimated at $50,000.
Sic ‘em, Sim.
David Irvine is a Salt Lake City attorney and an Alliance for Better Utah board member.