Friday, April 25, 2008

Sharpton Reaction To The Bell Verdict: The Reverend Has The Right Idea, Just The Wrong Place ( Do Not Protest in Front of The Judge's House.)

Let me begin by saying, if one is not happy with a policy or action by there government, one of the best ways of expressing that dissent is through peaceful civil disobedience. Another good idea is to protest in places where your words will have an effect. Pressuring legislators and executives is a part of our liberty rights.

This type of pressure is inappropriate in front of the house of a Judge, even if you don't like him, trust him, or understand his rulings.

The Rev. Al Sharpton can be a polarizing force here in NY. Unlike the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, "The Reverand Al" as we sometimes refer to him, hasn't always sounded like someone who was seeking a peaceful protest. As he has gotten older, and as he has moved toward understanding the possibilities that he could actually be the leader that black America has sought since the Death of Dr. King, He has gotten far more studious of King's way. He is also taking advice from better advisers and lawyers (Michael Hardy who is Mrs. Palwtry Bell's lawyer for one) than he used to get.

One has to remember, Rev. Al is a Brooklyn boy who grew up on those mean streets. He is loud and occasionally obnoxious. He is like a mix between the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Muhammad Ali.

Sharpton has been at the side of some of NY and America's neediest families as they face the devastation of racial prejudice at the hands of Authority. He was there for the family of Amadou Diallo, the Jena six and now for Sean Bell's family.

After hearing Queens' Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman's decision in the Bell manslaughter shooting case, He went back to his Harlem Headquarters and said he intended to close New York City down. He called for peaceful protest and peaceful disobedience in front of One Police Plaza in Manhattan, in front of the Supreme Court House in Queens and in front of the home of Justice Cooperman. Given the position he and his followers are taking in this case, one could argue he has the right medicine but in calling for protests in front of the home of Supreme Court Justice Arthur Cooperman, he has prescribed the wrong dose.

No matter how peaceful, a large protest in front of some one's home is threatening and scary. It is wrong. It is meant to send a message. I understand the messages being sent from the protest in front of One Police Plaza (we will not stand for police officers who risk the lives of innocent people to spare their own) and the one in front of the Courthouse (we do not believe we received a fair verdict in this case) but the only message I understand from protesting in front of Justice Cooperman's home is "if you are the next judge in a case like this, and you rule against what we want, we will be in front of your house and it may not be a peaceful protest we bring." Even if that is not the message Sharpton wants to send, it is the one that the legal community and the court system will get. He should not ring an attack on judicial independence and as lawyers and citizens we need to criticize his decision to do so. His decision is both short sighted and dangerous to the very people he claims he wants to help.

Judicial independence is important. It is especially important to the people who Sharpton says he speaks for, the poor, the minorities, the disaffected. Judicial independence means that judges are free to decide cases fairly and impartially, relying only on the facts and the law. It means that judges are protected from political pressure, legislative pressure, special interest pressure, media pressure, public pressure, financial pressure, or even personal

It is very difficult for people charged with heinous crimes to get a fair trial. If Judges think they or their families face potential danger, what is the chance they will stick their neck out to help the accused. Far more poor, minorities, and disaffected people are charged with heinous crimes than Police officers.

Judges like juries experience the world through their own eyes. Much like many of us, judges believe what they hear based not only on the words but also the demeanor and background of the person giving the testimony. When there is a culture clash like in this case and such as in the of O. J. Simpson and Bernhardt Goetz, the view the finder of fact sees may be far different than what the supporters or detractors of the parties views. Sharpton is right to admonish the court that some one's prior criminal record does not mean he can never be believed on the stand or that he gives up his right not to be shot down by police. On the other hand, Judges have a right to be wrong. It is one of the ways they get the other branches of government to look at issues and think about them differently. In the area of criminal justice, Judges who make mistakes sometimes force change in the system which in the long run will favor Sharpton's supporters far more than if they fear to make those mistakes.

As the late Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Adolpho A. Birch, Jr., said: "Judicial independence is the judge's right to do the right thing or, believing it to be the right thing, to do the wrong thing."

The Reverend Sharpton is wrong to call for any protest at Justice Cooperman's home. Hopefully someone will remind him of this and he will call off any such protest there.
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