Justice Prevails … Finally

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Andrew Coffee IV

A great deal of attention has been given to the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who was found not guilty by virtue of self-defense in the killings of two men and the injury of another in Kenosha, WI last year. There’s been a lot of outrage over Rittenhouse’s being found not guilty by those, including President Biden, who identified him as a White supremacist and who insist that, had Rittenhouse been Black, he would have been convicted.

Less attention — well, really, virtually none at all — has been given to the trial of Andrew Coffee IV. Coffee, a Black man, was put on trial in Indian River County, FL for one count of second-degree felony murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, and one count of shooting or throwing a deadly missile.

On March 19, 2017, Coffee was asleep in his bedroom at home. His girlfriend, Alteria Woods, was in the room with him. A Sheriff’s Office SWAT team raided the home looking for Coffee’s father, Andrew Coffee III, for selling drugs. The Sheriff’s team had a warrant and insists that they announced themselves, and witnesses confirm this. They arrested Coffee III and found him in possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. But Coffee IV said he was asleep and didn’t hear the SWAT team announce themselves. Coffee said he didn’t hear anything until the SWAT team broke into his bedroom. Coffee awoke and saw a rifle pointed at him from through the window. He grabbed his gun, a .45-caliber pistol, and shot at the window two or three times. The SWAT team returned fire and, tragically, Woods was killed.

The state regarded Coffee as responsible for Woods’ death because he fired at the SWAT team, triggering them to return fire. Coffee claims he fired his weapon in self-defense of what he perceived to be a robbery. The jury heard the evidence and determined that Coffee was innocent of the charges of the second-degree felony murder of Woods and attempted murder of the law enforcement officers based on their judgment that his claim that he perceived himself to be in danger from an armed robbery was reasonable and, therefore, he had grounds for self-defense. The same jury, however, found Coffee guilty of one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. Coffee had been convicted in 2010 of fleeing from law enforcement and in 2011 of battery of a law enforcement officer. He will be sentenced on January 13, 2022 and faces up to 30 years in prison. For their part, Woods’ family had previously filed a federal lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office for their daughter’s death, but in 2017 a jury exonerated them of criminal responsibility and an internal investigation found no evidence of the SWAT team not following department policy.

Coffee’s not guilty verdict doesn’t necessarily prove unfounded the claim by some that Rittenhouse would have been convicted if he were Black. We’re talking about different circumstances and different juries in different states, and there is certainly a long history of Blacks being treated more harshly than Whites by the justice system. Even still, the fact that Coffee, a Black man and an already convicted felon, was found not guilty by a Southern jury after firing on law enforcement is encouraging, given the evidence, and probably explains why his trial and not guilty verdict hasn’t received a great deal of attention in the media. Coincidentally, Coffee’s verdict came on the same day as Rittenhouse’s verdict. Coffee’s trial and not guilty verdict doesn’t support the media elites’ narrative, so it doesn’t get play. The same is true for why we don’t know the names of the two dozen or so unarmed White people who are killed by the police each year, or why most don’t know the name of Shanice Young, the Black pregnant woman who was shot by her Black ex-boyfriend at her baby shower. There is a narrative that the media support, and that narrative is that out-of-control police are regularly killing many unarmed Blacks every year as a result of systemic racism. Any event outside that narrative is of no interest to the media elites and their political allies.

According to a 2021 poll by the Skeptic Research Center, almost 54% of self-described “very liberal” Americans and 39% of self-described “liberal” Americans believe that police killed 1,000 or more Blacks in 2019 (almost 8% of “very liberal” and 5.5% of “liberal” Americans actually said the police killed more than 10,000 Blacks in that single year!). The records are incomplete, but the data suggest the actual number is between 13 to 27, but may be as high as 60 to 100. There is no question that each of these deaths is a tragedy, but why is the perception of so many so inconsistent with the reality? When the media report every Black person killed by the police, often regardless of the circumstances, and never report when a non-Black person is killed by the police, the perception is easily formed that many Black people are killed by the police, and that police killing a non-Black person is rare or extremely unusual. In fact, when one considers the number of interactions people have with the police, it’s actually pretty rare for anyone to be killed by the police. In 2019, there were over 55,800,000 contacts between citizens and police, and 998 deadly use of force contacts. 998/55,800,000 = 0.00001789. So, about 0.0018% of all police contacts with citizens resulted in the death of the citizen in 2019. Now, it is also rare for a police officer to be killed by a citizen. In 2019, there were 670,279 active police officers in the U.S. and 48 were killed by citizens. 48/670,279 = 0.00007161. So, about 0.0072% of active police officers were killed by citizens in 2019.

It would be interesting to know the racial make-up of Coffee’s jury given the concerns that were raised over the racial make-up of the jury that sat in judgment of Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryant, who were convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man, while Arbery jogged through their neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia in February, 2020. The jury included 11 White jurors and only 1 Black juror, in a county with a Black population of 27% and an original jury pool that was 25% Black. Prosecutors argued that the defense purposefully rejected Blacks from the jury pool based on race, but defense attorneys argued race had nothing to do with it. Ultimately, the judge determined there was nothing he could do about the racial make-up of the jury. According to a study by Duke University, all-White juries were 16% more likely to convict a Black person than racially diverse juries, but that this gap disappears with the presence of even one Black juror. Those concerns, however, proved unfounded in that the jury found all three men guilty of Arbery’s murder.

The conclusion of yet another trial this week made headlines. In a bench trial (no jury, the verdict was made by the judge), former Kansas City, Missouri detective Eric DeValkenaere was convicted of second-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the killing of Cameron Lamb in December, 2019. DeValkenaere was the first White officer to be tried for killing a Black person in Kansas City since 1942. Lamb’s movements were being monitored by the police on that night because he was suspected of following his girlfriend who was trying to get away from him. However, that incident, whatever it was about, was long over when Lamb was approached by two officers while he sat in his pickup truck in the driveway of his home. DeValkenaere claimed that Lamb pointed a gun at his partner, which is why he said he shot him. A gun was found on the ground under Lamb’s arm, but another police officer testified that no gun was there when he first arrived on the scene, raising suspicions that the gun had been planted. DeValkenaere’s conviction also came on the same day as Rittenhouse and Coffee’s verdicts.

Also in Kansas City, MO, a judge ordered the release of Kevin Strickland, a 62-year-old Black man who was convicted by an all-White jury of a triple murder and spent 43 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Strickland was convicted on the basis of the testimony of a sole survivor of the murders, who later admitted that she was wrong and herself sought the help of the Innocence Project to exonerate Strickland. There were dozens of fingerprints at the crime scene, but none belonged to Strickland. His family testified that he was home watching TV at the time of the murders. Those who confessed to the crimes testified that Strickland was not involved. Yet, he was convicted and it took 43 years to get his conviction overturned.

Strickland’s release came on the heels of the overturning of the convictions of two men, Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam, for the assassination of Malcolm X. Aziz and Islam each spent around 20 years in prison, Azis being released in 1985 and Islam released in 1987. Azis is now 83 and Islam died in 2009. They were convicted even though they had alibis for being in other locations at the time of Malcolm X’s murder and the confessed killer, Mujahid Abdul Halim, said they had nothing to do with the assassination. The exonerations were the result of a 22-month investigation that revealed key evidence had been withheld.

No system is perfect. There is no question, however, that so many injustices over the years have been the result of more than imperfections, but gross misconduct perpetrated by unscrupulous police officers, detectives, prosecutors and, in some cases, judges and even juries. Reform is necessary. But it is hoped that these recent developments testify to a new attitude among those responsible for meting out justice to both the guilty and the innocent.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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