Continued Without a Finding

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

In March, I told you about a well-known sports figure who was arrested hereabouts on charges of arguing while black. I didn’t give his name because I didn’t know how widely the story would be reported and didn’t want to contribute to his public humiliation. Well, the story was widely reported, including on ESPN.com, where he is a columnist. His name is Howard Bryant.

Bryant was arrested after arguing with his wife on a shopping street in a town not far from where I live. Bryant is black; his wife is white.  Some observers called the police — one called the town police, another called the state police barracks — and someone said the black man was choking his white wife. The Bryants got into their car and drove off, unaware of the calls to police.

The police saw none of this. They caught up to the car, pulled it over, and arrested Bryant. To the charge of domestic abuse, for which they had no real evidence, they added resisting arrest and assault on a police officer.  As a reporter, I’ve been around police enough to know that if you ask some officers why they’re arresting you, that qualifies as resisting arrest.  I also know that if any part of you — say an elbow, as the arresting officer is yanking your arms behind your back to handcuff you — touches the officer, that qualifies as assault on a police officer.  The idea in making an arrest is the police add on as many charges as they can think up a story for so that if one is thrown out, there are others. I know, because of what came next, that this is how it went.

When Bryant was in court to be arraigned, his wife came with him. If Bryant had choked her, there would have been marks on her neck, which was visible in the photo that accompanied the newspaper article. If the marks had been visible the day before, when Bryant was arrested, they would have been described in the arresting officer’s report.

At a pretrial conference in the local district court last week, the case was continued without a finding for six months. The Northwestern (Franklin County) District Attorney’s office reported to the court,

A careful review of all the statements of percipient witnesses that have been collected do not support allegations that Mr. Bryant struck, choked, pinned (Ms. Bryant) against a car or inflicted violence upon her.

The conditions of the continuance are that Bryant must not violate any municipal, state, or federal law for six months. At the end of that time, the charges will be dropped.

OK, so let’s look at this: There was no evidence that Bryant did anything wrong. If the DA had thought there was a case and the people who called in the cops didn’t want to testify in court, he could have subpoenaed them. Instead, he said in effect that there was no reason for them to call the police, hence no reason for the police to arrest Bryant. Nothing was said about resisting arrest or assaulting a police officer because those charges were pure bunk.  If they hadn’t been, Bryant would have been tried on them, if not on domestic violence.

So why didn’t the judge just throw out the whole thing?  Because that would be saying the police were wrong.  So to let the police save face, the judge hung an albatross around Bryant’s neck for six months.  He’d better hope a tail light doesn’t burn out while he’s driving.  He’d better be sure to use his turn signal before he pulls away from the curb. He’d better not drive a mile over the speed limit (around here the cops spot you 10 miles, but not if you’re a black man they want to hassle.)

There’s no doubt in my mind that nothing would have happened if two white people had an argument on a shopping street in Buckland, Massachusetts, in front of a pizza parlor. There is no doubt in my mind that if a white man had been arrested mistakenly, as Bryant was, the case would have been dismissed on the report of the Northern District DA’s office. Things are differen if you’re a black man, especially one married to a white woman, even in the most liberal part of liberal Massachusetts.

It’s not worthy of any of us.

Related links:

Arguing While Black

Imagine

Food for Thought

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