“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Usual Suspects Riot in Oakland

California (Reuters) - A white former transit police officer was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in a videotaped shooting death of an unarmed black man last year in Oakland, California, sparking a wave of looting and destruction in the city on Thursday.

The verdict prompted a peaceful protest by up to 1,000 people in downtown Oakland, which gave way after nightfall to some people looting stores, smashing car windows, throwing powerful fireworks at police and lighting fires in trash cans.

The police, numbering in the hundreds, made more than 50 arrests, but Oakland police expected that figure could double.

"This city is not the wild, wild West," Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts told a televised news conference. "This city will not tolerate this activity."

A Los Angeles jury deliberated for about six hours over two days before reaching their decision about the shooting on a train platform in Oakland, indicating they deemed it a tragic accident rather than the intentional act of a rogue cop.

The defendant in the racially charged trial, Johannes Mehserle, 28, testified that he mistakenly drew his gun instead of his electric Taser and shot Oscar Grant, 22, while trying to subdue him during a confrontation on New Year's Day 2009.

Was their riotous indignation over this?

Dontae Morris

TAMPA — Dontae Morris rode his bike through the projects of east Tampa, Filas on his feet, crack in his pocket, money on his mind.

He hung out under the stairs at Jefferson and Kenneth Court, gray concrete-block buildings near his grandmother's house, where rent is $400 a month and the signs say no trespassing, loitering, gambling or alcohol.

He drank Seagram's gin from the bottle, smoked weed with his boys, and when police stopped him to ask for ID, they got his Florida inmate release card.

He cut a few rap tracks in a group called Gangreen. He bounced shirtless on the hood of a car in a music video. He rapped about the drug game and dead friends and not snitching.

Treat my gun like a pit bull, shake 'em baby.

But folks who live around the neighborhood say they never really knew the skinny guy with six siblings. He was a shadow under the streetlights, there but not really.

The details of Morris' life sit in evidence inventories, court testimony and jailhouse records.

"The only thing I can tell you about Dontae Morris," said Tampa police Chief Jane Castor, "is that he's a cold-blooded killer."

"I don't think he's a cold-blooded killer," said Devon White, 26, who has lived at Kenneth Court for two years. "I've seen him before. He never was a threat to nobody."

Many have seen him. Few knew him. It was hard to find people who spoke well of him.

Tamara Smith, 65, was riding her bicycle a few years ago when she hit a pothole, crashed and broke her ankle. Morris stopped his car, picked her up and drove her to the hospital. "He has always shown the utmost respect to me,'' she said.

Morris' parents won't talk to reporters, but their pastor, the Rev. John D. Anderson of New Testament Missionary Baptist Church in Thonotosassa, said they're shocked. "They never expected anything like this to happen."

Friday morning, Morris' mother, Selecia, had all seven of her children listed on her Facebook page. By the afternoon, she had removed Dontae Morris and left the remaining six. By evening, she had removed them all and replaced them with the words "PSALM 27."

Though an army besiege me,

my heart will not fear

Morris' childhood is missing. He doesn't show up in Department of Children and Families records. He repeated 10th grade at King High and dropped out in the 11th. He played wideout for the football team, briefly. One coach doesn't remember him at all. Another does, vaguely. "Just a kid going to high school, playing football."

If he left impressions, it was with bullets.

Police call him a suspect in four slayings. A man named Derek Anderson in May. A man named Harold Wright in June. Two police officers on Tuesday.

He was a suspect in another shooting in October 2005, in a case that fell apart in court. But the testimony of his friends paints the picture of a low-level punk with nothing to lose.

His friend Maurice Dyal told police and attorneys that Morris approached him at Kenneth Court.

"He asked me, did I want to go hit a lick," Dyal said.

"What's that?" an attorney asked.

"A robbery."

A few hours later, a man named James Wright had 100 shotgun blast pellets in his chest and shoulder. Police stopped Dyal's car. Morris was sitting on a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun. In his booking photo, he had heavy, bloodshot eyes.

Morris was acquitted. Five years later, Wright's scars still show. He lost his job and ran up $150,000 in medical bills, he wrote to a judge at the time.

"I lost everything," the 50-year-old said recently. "You don't know how bad that messed up my life. I wanted to see that guy behind bars five years ago."

Morris did spend time in prison, but for drug charges — three years between 2004 and 2008. Just three people visited him on his latest stint, from March 2008 to this April. His brother Dwayne Callaway Jr. visited Mayo Correctional Institution in the Big Bend region three times. His sister Audra Callaway visited once.

Cortnee Brantley, who drove the car when Tampa police officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab were shot and killed, visited four times. She signed in as a "personal friend."

On a March 2009 visit, the two were ordered to keep their hands above the table.

"Inmate Morris, Dontae, and visitor Cortnee Brantley was sitting side by side with inmate Morris' hand on her leg with her skirt pulled up," according to a prison report. "Inmate Morris and Ms. Brantley was advised for the second time of unauthorized physical contact. Was advised to sit across the table from each other for the remainder of their visit."

He was disciplined 10 times during that prison term, records show, mostly for petty stuff like disobeying officers. During a March inmate search, an officer found Morris with stolen property. Morris had hidden two books from the prison library.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, 1947-1969, by Edmund Wilson, and The Art of Happiness, by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.


  1. involuntary manslaughter

    I've followed this story, and God bless our juries, I think they came up with the appropriate decision, as they most often do, left to themselves. My old lawyer, who was a district judge, told me one time, "Bob, they almost always get it right" talking about juries, and his experience with them. This was a tragic event, but if you are a cop, you should know you right hand from your left, and your pistol from the stun gun.

    The jury got it about as right as you can do in this life, and there is no excuse for this rioting.

  2. Oakland is a piece of crap, by the way. My sis worked at a hospital there for some years, and my brother in law had a business. I visited them many times, and I can tell you, I'm glad they are outta there. Just too damn much tension in the air, and my sis was actually afraid sometimes to walk from the parking lot to the hospital. A good place to leave from.

  3. LOS ANGELES -- The U.S. Department of Justice will conduct an independent review of the Johannes Mehserle case in order to determine whether or not the shooting merits federal prosecution, according the department.

    "The Justice Department has been closely monitoring the state's investigation and prosecution," the department said in a statement.

    Did the justice department give a shit when two white cops were killed by Dontae Morris?

    Were they closely monitoring the situation?

  4. PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' initial reactions to the U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against Arizona's new illegal immigration law are more negative than positive, by a 50% to 33% margin.

  5. No surprise here. Race is everything to Obama. He is everything I thought he would be when I first heard Rev. Wright.

  6. As bad as that guy was, he doesn't scare me nearly as much as a police force with a license to murder.

  7. That is correct, Rufus, that guy is just trying to improve himself:

    "The Art of Happiness, by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama"

    Pigs are the real problem.

    That and private medical care.

  8. The cop stood up, backed away, pulled his gun, and shot him, Doug.

    The cop either didn't know the difference between a taser, and a handgun, or he murdered him.

    If the jury had believed that the cop didn't know the difference between a taser, and a handgun they would have found him Innocent. They didn't; they found him guilty. Of "unintentional" manslaughter - whatever that is.

    If that had been your son on the ground, or mine, we would be screaming to high heavens right now.