Even in times of great conflict, like the divisions facing the world today, there seems to be one norm everyone follows: human beings tend to be more reactive than proactive.
In a way, this is understandable. There is, after all, a natural hesitancy to spend valuable time, resources, and money on a potential problem that might never happen.
But some problems are so clear, and the outcomes so predictable, that I would argue it is nothing less than criminal to ignore them.
For example, I'm sure many readers have experienced living in areas with dangerous intersections and saying, "There needs to be a stop sign or a stop light there, or somebody is going to get killed.”
Yet what invariably happens? Nothing! Not until somebody does get killed, and then sleazeball politicians, who ignored the problem for years, suddenly pretend they were "concerned” about it all along.
Although the horrific situation I discuss in this article isn't funny, I will begin with a joke that illustrates the inherent biases in America's legal system:
One judge was complaining to another about his frustrations by saying, "Everyday I have to go into the courtroom and deal with the scum of the earth, and then I have to deal with their clients!”
This, of course, is a common quip against defense attorneys. Even everyday language is against them. For example, when criminal defense attorneys get clients acquitted, it is never remarked that a potential wrongful conviction was avoided. Instead, it is said that this attorney, usually through dubious legal machinations, "got his/her client off.” By contrast, wrongful actions by prosecutors, whether it's convicting the innocent or not filing charges even when they are merited, are always said to have simply been "mistakes.”
But what is forgotten in this dichotomy is that people rarely, if ever, require a criminal defense attorney unless they are charged, or face the prospect of being charged, with violating the law. Prosecutors, on the other hand, are the gatekeepers-the ones who decide whether to place a person's property, liberty, and even life in jeopardy. And I will submit to you that some of the worst criminals in America operate everyday under the guise of judges, justices, and prosecutors. And they are also the most dangerous because their actions, no matter how egregious, are insulated from civil liability due to perverse "immunity” doctrines, and even when their actions are criminal, they are rarely prosecuted.
In fact, there have been countless instances where prosecutors had knowingly withheld exculpatory evidence to win wrongful convictions that resulted in an innocent person spending years, sometimes decades, in prison, yet rarely was anything done to punish them. In some cases, these prosecutors have even ridden their misdeeds to judgeships or other political offices.
This is why I was both relieved and disappointed to learn that a former Georgia prosecutor named Jackie Johnson has been indicted on both felony and misdemeanor charges for her handling of the murder of an African American man named Ahmaud Arbery-relieved because her alleged misconduct was acknowledged, and disappointed because these charges came too late.
For readers unfamiliar with this case, in February of 2020 Arbery was shot and killed by three white men while he was jogging near the town of Brunswick in Glynn County, GA. According to NPR, one of these men had previously worked for Johnson, and she had allegedly used her influence to initially prevent their arrests.
But, according to a 2018 article by Pulitzer Prize winning commentator Leonard Pitts, this isn't the first time Johnson abused the power of her office.
In 2010, a thirty-five-year-old white woman named Caroline Smalls was followed by police after being suspected of using drugs. After driving a short distance on four flat tires, she was hemmed in by squad cars. Despite being trapped and unable to move her vehicle, she was shot eight times by officers Robert C. Sasser and Todd Simpson, who then joked about hitting her "right on the bridge of the nose.”
According to Pitts, Johnson then aided or supported these officers and their department as they "tampered with the crime scene, manufactured misleading evidence, and interfered with a supposedly "independent' investigation.”
No shock there, since the cases of Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, and countless others have shown that prosecutors ignoring or, in some cases, covering up police misconduct is often a routine part of doing business.
But the true depths of Johnson's depravity would tragically be revealed just a few years later. Sasser had become embroiled in a bitter conflict with his estranged wife and her new boyfriend. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this conflict resulted in Sasser being arrested twice-once for domestic violence, for which he was released on bond, and a second time after a nine-hour standoff with police, where, again, he was released on bond.
As the Journal-Constitution reported, an officer injured in this standoff was not permitted to testify at Sasser's bond hearing, even though he planned to state that "he feared Sasser was a threat to both himself and Sasser's wife.”
While free on this second bond, Sasser encountered his estranged wife and her boyfriend at a restaurant and "aimed his finger like a gun at them.” Although the boyfriend reported this, and even though, as a condition of his bond, Sasser was not even supposed to be in Glynn County at the time, he was not arrested.
Just two days later Sasser murdered his estranged wife and her boyfriend.
So, when I read that Ahmaud Arbery had been slain in the same county where Johnson served as district attorney, I knew it would be, as baseball great Yogi Berra once said, "Déjà vu all over again.”
And it almost was.
Now one of the most despicable monsters to ever inhabit America's so-called criminal "justice” system has been indicted. Still, I won't hold my breath awaiting a conviction because I'll most likely suffocate.
But even if Johnson is convicted, her moral crimes will continue to go unpunished, and, in addition to Caroline Smalls being denied justice, two other people were murdered because of them. What is particularly egregious is Johnson's conduct in the aftermath of the Smalls case was heavily reported upon, especially in her local area; thus, had the legal system been proactive it would have recognized and penalized her abuses of power long before these two murders, and the "above the law” mentality that possibly led to Arbery's death, even happened.
So, whenever you hear someone sanctimoniously say that in America "justice is blind” and "nobody is above the law,” just whisper these two words to them: Jackie Johnson.