Openly black motorists got a bit of good news this week when Steven Hildreth Jr.explained to the world that since he made it through a traffic stop without being murdered by cops, that whole #BlackLivesMatter thing was a mess of bunk. As long as you're polite and respectful and listen to officers' commands, you won't get shot, black people!
Well, you've got maybe a 50/50 shot, as it turns out. A little over a year ago, medical courier Levar Jones took off his seat belt as he pulled into a gas station, and wound up handcuffed, bleeding on the ground from gunshot wounds. Here's how South Carolina State Police Lance Corporal Sean Groubert described the events at the time:
"Before I could even get out of my car, he jumped out, stared at me, and as I jumped out of my car and identified myself as I approached him, he jumped head-first back into his car. I started retracting back towards the rear of his vehicle telling him, 'Look, get out of the car. Let me see your hands.' He jumped out of the car. I saw something black in his hands. I ran to the other side of the car yelling at him, and he kept coming towards me. Apparently, it was his wallet."
Gripping, to be sure, but not at all true, as the dash-cam video would shortly reveal.
What really happened was Jones was already parked at a gas station and convenience store when Groubert noticed Jones wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, and pulled up behind him. He told Jones, who was already out of his car, to produce his license. When Jones reached into the open door of his car to get his license, Groubert screamed at him to get out of the car, and as Jones immediately obeyed, Groubert opened fire on him. Even after he was shot, Levar Jones continued to all the officer "sir," and even apologized for getting shot:
Lucky for Jones, Groubert was a lousy shot, and only managed to hit him once in the hip. Even after being cleared of wrongdoing, though, Jones said he remained handcuffed at the hospital until after midnight, and was told to go home and take some Tylenol. He later received a settlement from the state, but because of a South Carolina state law, the amount was restricted to just $285,000.00 for an incident that will haunt him for a lifetime.
Groubert was fired soon after the dash-cam video emerged, but not before South Carolina Solicitor Dan Johnson saw the video and reportedly described the shooting as “clean.”
Unlike many of the high-profile cases we've seen, Sean Groubert was also arrested and charged in the shooting, and faces up to 20 years in prison on a charge of Assault and Battery of a High and Aggravated Nature. He was freed on a $75,000.00 bond last September, and after several pushes to delay his trial, Groubert's trial is still nowhere in sight.
That doesn't mean Groubert hasn't had his day in court, just not for shooting Levar Jones. On Monday, Groubert was in court over charges he and his wife were shoplifting from a Columbia, SC WalMart on October 18. The hearing was to determine whether his bail would be revoked, but court records also revealed that the Grouberts have apparently fallen on hard times, and were allegedly shoplifting food by switching pricetags:
"Please keep me out of jail," Groubert asked the judge, so he could continue to support his family by working as a truck driver. Groubert told the judge his wife is pregnant with their first child.
His defense attorney told the judge the merchandise Groubert is accused of stealing was food. According to prosecutors, the couple is accused of switching price tags on merchandise so that they purchased $135 worth of food for about $30.
...Monday the motion to revoke bond was denied. But the judge modified the bond, ordering Groubert to remain under house arrest with exceptions for work, court, doctor or church.
I guess they never heard of Extreme Couponing.
Before you go all weepy about the plight of former trooper Sean Groubert, try to imagine how his tale of woe stacks up to the average black shooting suspect. It took more than two weeks for Groubert to even be arrested, and now, over a year later, he doesn't have a trial date yet, and when he gets caught committing another crime while he's on bail, they still let him stay out of jail and go to work. Yes, it's sad, but only white people sad.
No, what's really sad is that Groubert will probably face justice for that shoplifting charge before he's ever tried for shooting Levar Jones, and when that trial ever does occur, he's got every chance of getting off scot-free. It is exceedingly difficult to obtain a conviction against a police officer in use-of-force incident.
With a halfway-decent lawyer and a middling jury selection, history tells us that Groubert doesn't have that steep a hill to climb. Sure there's video, just as there was for Eric Garner and John Crawford and Rodney King, but Groubert's got psychology on his side. On any given day, a jury can be convinced that a cop's job is so dangerous that he deserve almost absolute benefit of the doubt, so even though Groubert lied, and even though he told Levar Jones to produce his license, the jury will relate to Groubert's panic as Jones reaches into the car and out of sight. When they hear about the 2012 shootout for which Groubert was awarded a Medal of Valor, it will be game over.
Perhaps that's why it's taking so long for Groubert's case to come to trial, because even with such clear evidence, the prosecutor must know how crummy his chances are. If enough time goes by, maybe people will forget. For all the progress that #BlackLivesMatter has made in bringing incidents like these to light, justice has been in short supply. When the very worst of these people finally do come to trial, it will be a brand-new test of that progress, and sadly, in this case, I wouldn't bet on black.