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This isn’t about Black vs. White. It is about a Broken System.

I hate to rehash too many facts here, so I will try to be brief and just get people up to speed on the basics.  You can find a lot of detail (and the surveillance footage on a lot of other sites).  But essentially, the case revolves around a West Point Cadet at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, in plainclothes, waiting for his brother to pick him up by the curb.  He was on the cell phone when Patti LaBelle’s three bodyguards decided to take turns knocking him down.  He his head on a concrete pylon and suffered a concussion.  He was wheeled away by a paramedic, and you could see the blood on the shirt and his face and on the concrete.   In the video, you can see that it took at least 3 attempts for him to get back up to his feet prior to the paramedic arriving.  

There is some dispute as to whether he laid his hands on somebody in her entourage first.  It appears, from the tape, that he didn’t.  That he was just walking and talking on the cell phone. 

The Houston Police Officers who arrived did not arrest the bodyguards, or even file a police report against them. Instead, the Houston PD took pictures with Patti LaBelle, while the city workers were mopping up the blood from the concrete a few feet away.  Someone in her entourage filed a police report stating that the Cadet had touched the cheek and caused a bruise.  The HPD noted on the report that the complainant “had a bruise” and that the Cadet “appeared to be drunk.”

What happened next was that someone in the HPD called West Point to report that one of their Cadets (a Senior who was 3 months away from graduating as a 2nd Lieutenant) had been “drunk and disorderly” at the airport.  West Point decided to dismiss him from the Academy, demote him to a Private (E-1) and then put him on a probationary active duty deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan at the end of which he might be allowed to return to the Academy.  He also was a defensive player for the Army Football Team. 

Due to his concussion, he will be unable to ever play football again, and due to the HPD report to West Point, he will likely never be an officer and may never return to the Academy, as well as being demoted to an E1 Private with a  black mark on his record.

The Cadet has just filed a lawsuit against Patti LaBelle and her 3 bodyguards this week for punitive and other damages.  His attorney was able to obtain the footage of the airport surveillance video, and it appears that the Cadet’s story is largely corroborated by this video.  There is about 1 minute where the Cadet is just barely out of range of the video, but he appears to be on the phone the entire time, and he appears to be making hand gestures while on the phone.  It is debatable whether he is gesturing AT one of the LaBelle entourage, or just gesturing while talking as some people are prone to do.

The blogosphere and news cycle is beginning to light up with this incident.  At issue are several key things.  1) Why didn’t HPD file a police report against the bodyguards?  2) Why are no charges being brought against the bodyguards? 3) Why did they take a picture with a potential suspect and witness at the site while failing to secure a potential crime scene? 4) Why did HPD call West Point prior to completing its investigation of all sides of this incident? 5) Did HPD even obtain the airport surveillance footage prior to relying upon the claim that the Cadet had bruised the cheek first? 6) Why did HPD attribute the Cadet’s staggering walk to alcohol without taking a breathlyzer or blood test?  7) Why didn’t HPD realize that a concussion could have resulted in the same type of staggering?

On the web, I am seeing an increasingly disturbing trend.  The injection of race and racism into this discussion.   And what is not helping is the fact that certain websites are automatically justifying the behavior of the three bodyguards while other websites are saying this is “reverse racism.”


Hip-Hop Wired’s spin:

West Point cadet Richard King will think twice before he gets near a celebrity again.

Take a look at the video below and tell us if you think the West Point cadet has a case, or if he should just take his a** whooping like a man and move on?

The New York Daily News: (look at the comments too)

If this dude was so drunk, he’ll have to depend on the tapes because between the alcohol and the beating, he can’t remember much of what happened. How is it he recalls LaBelle lowering her window to order her guards to beat him up. First of all, LaBelle is as people friendly as any entertainer that’s ever lived. That she would do such a thing is unbelievable. This white dude is obviously trying for the white ghetto lottery. Military hero my ascot. The guy was drunk, like that kid who was killed by cops in New Paultz. Remember how you railed that he deserved to die? Well this alchie cadet deserved to get the latrine beat out of his white ***.

and this…

The 23 yo cadet was not drunk and besides is entitled to have some drinks on holiday. Even if he was drunk and was not watching where he was going that would still be no excuse to have 3 apes attack him.Who does this old Aunt Jemina look alike think she is? I hope the cadet takes every last penny she has so she has to go back to mopping floors for a living.

The Houston Press (look at the comments!):

Come on people! You don’t really believe this incredulous tale of airport villainy, do you? Why is it that whenever there are fables of “dark skin misconduct”, the verdict must be guilty as charged. Does the ghost of D.W. Griffin cast its racist shadow still? #FearofaBlackPlanet.

and this….

You can take Shaniqua out of the ghetto, but you can’t take ghetto out of Shaniqua.  I hope cadet King sues this piece of washed up trash for rvery thing she’s got.

There is no reason for this kind of racial division or racial baiting in this incident.   If people who are black tend to defend her bodyguards whereas people who are white tend to defend the Cadet, then this will only get worse.   What people will have not realized is that the Houston Police who mishandled this situation were being awed by MONEY and CLASS and CELEBRITY – not by black or white.

And I want to finish by making sure we don’t forget a few basic concepts in all this. 

Sec. 22.01.  ASSAULT.  (a)  A person commits an offense if the person:

(1)  intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another, including the person’s spouse; 

(2)  intentionally or knowingly threatens another with imminent bodily injury, including the person’s spouse;  or

(3)  intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.

Sec. 22.02.  AGGRAVATED ASSAULT.  (a)  A person commits an offense if the person commits assault as defined in Sec. 22.01 and the person:

(1)  causes serious bodily injury to another, including the person’s spouse;  or

(2)  uses or exhibits a deadly weapon during the commission of the assault.

In other words, if the Cadet threw a punch that bruised the cheek of the driver, then he might be guilty of the Assault charge.  And based on the videotapes, the bodyguards probably could be guilty of Aggravated Assault.   And people  may claim that he “had it coming” or that “he mouthed off” or that “he was drunk” or “he was too close to her limo” or “he didn’t move away” but in the United States, and in Texas, none of those arguments will be considered an Affirmative Defense to the charge of Assault.

We have a right to stand on an airport sidewalk, look at somebody, and even talk on the cell phone loudly.  We have the right to a few drinks on an airplane, and we have the right to wait for our ride outside the airport.   These bodyguards were not law enforcement personnel.  They did not have a right to tell him where to stand, and they didn’t respond to an imminent fear of bodily harm.  They were responding to their egos and their machismo.  And no matter what this Cadet did, he did not deserve to be beaten to the ground by three people to the extent that he would suffer a concussion.  That is excessive force.  IF the argument was that he should have moved back, then the chest bump by the first body guard appeared to accomplish that.  There was never a reason for that body guard to land a punch.  Let alone for the other 2 to join in and land their punches.

It is also evident  that the Houston PD is conducting an internal investigation  now that the Cadet’s lawyer has made the Airport Surveillance footage public!  It appears by initial reporting that the officers on the scene did not take the time to look at the footage before accepting the word of one of the actors against the word of the Cadet they wheeled off to the hospital.  It is also still unclear who in HPD put in a call to West Point (which ruined this Cadet’s career) prior to completion of their investigation. 

I will be the first person to condemn a bunch of white cops beating up a black kid in handcuffs. 

But I will also be the first person to condemn three black bodyguards for beating up a white kid who was no threat to them.

This isn’t about race.  But if we allow it become that, then we will all lose out, as Americans, and as human beings.  I know FDL is not filled with Obama supporters.  But, the right wing news media is already gearing up to make this about Obama and Liberals being shallow and supporters of reverse-racism and players of the race-card.  I encourage supporters of Obama to refrain from automatically defending Patti LaBelle’s actions simply because she was also an Obama supporter.   And I encourage Republicans or Tea Partiers or Libertarians or Progressives who are anti-Obama to also refrain from any ill-crafted analogies or comments.

This kind of monolithic herd-think mentality will never solve our society’s ills.  If we are looking for a culprit here, then I would offer this as a way to see it:  This is the breakdown of a system that engages in a cult of personality and adoration of money and celebrity.

It didn’t matter who was black or white.  It mattered that the police on the scene wanted a celebrity photo shot, and they cared nothing about doing their job, securing the scene, and gathering all possible evidence in an objective and professional manner.  HPD should punish the two officers taking those pictures, should make amends by retracting its potentially defamatory phone call to West Point, and should drop the claim that the Cadet was drunk when made no effort to secure a single piece of evidence to that effect.  If the claim is based solely on the officers’ observation of his “dizziness” and “inability to stand” then they are clearly misreading his concussion for drunkeness.    And District Attorney Pat Lykos should take every effort to make sure that this kind of assault at Houston’s largest airport is punished.   Whatever that Cadet did, he didn’t deserve to be beaten up to a bloody pulp, for his football career to be ended, and for his hard work at West Point to be tossed out on the word of a cop in her county who failed to perform his job in a professional manner.  

If Mayor Parker and DA Pat Lykos care about the future of Houston, they will do what they should to make sure this misconduct is investigated and rectified.  If the Cadet was worthy of being demoted and punished at West Point, then he should have been charged with a crime and prosecuted FIRST.   But this business of trial by innuendo, and punishment by slander/defamation is completely foreign to our Constitution and to the principles of this nation, this state, and this city.  Its an embarassment.   And it doesn’t matter if the Cadet threw the first punch or not.   Self-defense doesn’t attach when the immediate threat of harm has stopped.  A punch thrown 5 minutes earlier doesn’t justify a beat-down by three people.  That’s not self-defense. That’s revenge.  And that isn’t a justification or a defense under the law.

I am sure Pat Lykos has at least one Assistant DA on her staff that can make this kind of argument to a jury and secure a conviction for the bodyguards.  To do otherwise is to pander to celebrity and to whitewash or diminish the misconduct of a couple of cops. 

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Attorney and Activist in Texas