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Fred Watson

Fred Watson

“A murder which shall be perpetrated by …by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or which shall be committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of any … other felony committed or attempted with the use of a deadly weapon shall be deemed to be murder in the first degree,”

That’s how North Carolina’s criminal statutes define first degree murder. Any other murder is defined as second degree murder.

Willful? Deliberate? Premeditated? Committed using a deadly weapon? Let’s consider the possibilities. A man wanting to kill or injure other people at a public demonstration maneuvers his car to be inside police lines, able to drive into a crowd without police intervention. Is that premeditation? Is it deliberate? When the man gets into the car and accelerates it to high speed while driving into a crowd of people on foot, is that willful? Is it deliberate? Is a high powered ‘sportscar’ a deadly weapon when used to run down pedestrians? What should we call it when the driver, having struck numerous pedestrians, shifts into reverse and drives over bodies lying in the street?

According to North Carolina prosecutors, none of those activities, and the combination of all those activities satisfies the requirement for a charge of first degree murder - IF the man is white, and a member of white supremacy activists, trying to intimidate opponents of white supremacy.

For black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian readers, this did not seem as surprising as it might to many white readers. The idea that a prosecutor might make a decision about what charges to file, based on the race or gender or politics of the perpetrator or the victims offends many. But it surprises many fewer.

The murder of non-whites by police – officers of the state – horrifies and distracts people. But there are less dramatic crimes, every day, that shape the lives of black people, and people of other colors. 

The murder of non-whites by police – officers of the state – horrifies and distracts people. But there are less dramatic crimes, every day, that shape the lives of black people, and people of other colors. Two news stories from the week of September 11 reveal how the power structure keeps itself in power, despite the efforts of black men to rise above their designated stations.

In Farmington Hills, Michigan, a white teaching “consultant” grabbed 11-year-old Stone Chaney out of his chair, from behind, because Mr. Chaney didn’t stand during the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Stone Chaney is religious and informed, and a student leader. But he is also black. The teacher “consultant” is white. A teacher “consultant” is a teacher with extra skills, on whom the school relies to teach other teachers.

There is NO dispute about a student’s right to remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. The U.S. Supreme Court settled that question in 1943. 1943, not 2013. In 1943, while the U.S. was immersed in WW-II, fighting both Imperial Japan and the author of the Donald’s favorite speeches, the U.S. Supreme Court said that people had the right to remain seated and not pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth.

But the white teacher “consultant” didn’t care about that settled law. What she cared about was some uppity black kid who thought that he had a right to his own freedom of expression, just because a bunch of black robes in Washington said so. After the first assault on Stone Chaney happened, another teacher got involved, also verbally abusing Mr. Chaney for asserting his rights.

everyday indignities

stone chaney

Notice that I have named the 11 year old, but not the teachers. Usually, the names of children are kept out of news stories, while the names of adults accused, but not yet convicted, of misconduct are freely named. But not in this case. The school doesn’t mind naming the black boy involved, who offended the system by asserting his rights.

But the school system has not released the names of either of the white teachers who abused a black child for standing on his rights. The news media has also decided to protect the privacy of the white teachers while destroying the privacy of the 11-year-old black child. Local reporters could (and probably did) ask school administrators, other teachers and students who the teachers are. But the editorial decision is that only the black child be exposed to the glare of the press spotlights.

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It is not merely with guns and prosecutorial decisions that black lives are disrupted. Stone Chaney now gets to be away from his homework, doing TV and radio interviews, going to school board meetings, and answering all sorts of ‘adult’ questions, rather than being an 11-year-old, playing with friends, participating in sports, or music or church activities. And his school file will always contain a note that he was involved in an “incident” that brought negative attention to the school.

Whatever could a school do to compensate for those disruptions in an 11-year-old’s life?

What will Stone Chaney think, in the future, whenever a white authority figure questions his actions, no matter how certain he might be that his decision is right?

Also last week, Fred Watson walked free from criminal charges in Ferguson, Missouri, five years after being arrested for driving violations he never committed. In August, 2012, while parked in a public park, watching a ball game, Fred Watson was approached by a white police officer who asked him “do you know why I stopped you?” Watson replied that he had been parked, and the police officer hadn’t stopped him.

Enraged, the Ferguson cop took Watson’s driver’s license, car registration, and insurance information. Then the officer wrote Watson up for driving without a license, without registration and without insurance. Calling for reinforcements, the officer threatened to shoot Watson, but ‘graciously’ only arrested him.

Watson was a U.S. Navy veteran, with a high security clearance, working in cybersecurity. He was a black man working within “the system”, earning good money (way better than the Ferguson cop), buying a home, and moving up the ladder. The arrest, based entirely on fabricated claims by a racist white cop, cost Watson his security clearance. Losing the security clearance cost him his job, and the home on which he had been making mortgage payments. A middle class, employed black man became just another black man unemployed and living on the street, a bum, worthless, lazy, shiftless, “typical” of how “they” all are.

The charges against Watson fell apart almost as fast as the racist cop had fabricated them. But the local prosecutor, perhaps upset that demonstrations after the Michael Brown killing had disrupted the system of race-based traffic and other fines that made life comfortable, easy and profitable for local prosecutors, clung to the idea of prosecuting Watson.

The federal investigation of patterns of official misconduct and unconstitutional policing in Ferguson came out in 2015. The report spent some time analyzing and condemning Fred Watson’s arrest and prosecution. Yet the prosecutor clung to the case.

Now, five years after Fred Watson was arrested, and two years after a federal investigation pilloried the case, a new prosecutor has dropped all charges against Fred Watson. Fred Watson has filed a lawsuit against Ferguson and against the racist cop who stopped him, then made intentionally false reports about Watson’s conduct and arrest.

But what amount of damages will compensate Watson for five lost years? What amount of damages will compensate for a lost, high tech career? What amount of damages will compensate for all the people who will go on believing that if he was arrested, he must have done something wrong? Remember Ed Meese saying that the police never arrest innocent people?

Police murders make for great headlines and fund raising opportunities and chances to demonstrate and protest. But for every one of the far too many police murders, there are hundreds of cases like Stone Chaney’s and Fred Watson’s. They are “small indignities”. But they are designed to, and do inflict race-based injury on black men and women and children, every day in every state of this nation.

These are the modern age’s “lunch counter” segregation. They are the sort of daily discrimination that “teaches” non-whites to “behave,” to “know their place”. They are the sort of thing that Rosa Parks and SNCC and dozens of college and church groups once rose up and refused to continue tolerating.

Today, we want dramatic confrontations on grand scales. We want AntiFa and Alt-white to fight it out on our video screens, from I-phone to HD newscasts. But I wonder if progress might be faster and more lasting if we spent some time identifying and publicizing the names of racist teachers, and city officials and doctors and businessmen who make little decisions to discriminate every day, counting on anonymity as their greatest protectors.

Tom Hall

Tom Hall