OPINION: We need justice for George Robinson

Posted on Mar 21 2019 - 5:50am by Ryan Oehrli

Two years ago, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba promised to make Jackson, “the most radical city on the planet.”

Progressive media from around the country flocked for interviews, eager to see what was in store. It was said that Jackson would be the new home for worker cooperatives. People’s assemblies would reintroduce an old but reliable form of democracy by allowing citizens to air grievances and plan solutions to local problems. Participatory budgeting would let them handpick a project to fund with city dollars.

Some of these projects have advanced more than others. They are all worth seeing through, but, if we put aside economic justice momentarily, we’ll see that a different kind of justice is missing right now.

George Robinson died on Jan. 14. He was body-slammed and possibly beaten with a flashlight by police during a stop for a low-level offense the day before, according to eyewitness accounts. An autopsy confirmed he suffered blunt force trauma to the head, but the coroner could not determine the cause of death.

To date, the names of the officers who stopped Robinson have not been released. In fact, the city of Jackson and the Jackson Police Department, despite promising transparency in their internal investigations, have said very little about Robinson over the last two months. What’s more, they’ve repeatedly sidestepped or outright ignored journalists’ questions.

This isn’t new.

A January WLBT report says the news station has “in more than one case” been forced to threaten legal action over details in officer-involved shootings and the number of active-duty officers on the force. It also says that JPD altered crime statistics to make Jackson look safer.

Ironically, Mayor Lumumba is one of 16 mayors who joined the “Smart on Crime” initiative, which seeks to promote and implement “smarter approaches to public safety and criminal justice that are both fairer and more effective than outdated tough-on-crime tactics.”

How can Jackson adopt smart-on-crime policy when officers who killed a man aren’t held accountable by the public? Bettersten Wade, Robinson’s sister, deserves to know who killed her brother. So does the press. So does Jackson. And they deserve to know who committed this crime before facts are distorted, as has been done in the past.

Police are supposed to protect the community, not body-slam and beat old men to the point they die soon after. We need more body cameras, prosecution for officers who go beyond the law and, yes, internal investigations. Unfortunately, though, the record shows that JPD is not ready to face uncomfortable truths and be proactive. That’s why it’s necessary that the press knows who the three involved officers — public servants — were. Rare moments in crime transparency under Lumumba have come from public pressure.

There has been a considerable amount of wrangling to avoid consequences. Despite the fact that the name of any officer who shoots someone is required to be released within 72 hours, Lumumba has said it’s not appropriate that we know who killed George Robinson right now. After all, he was beaten with a flashlight and body-slammed, not shot to death.

Lumumba was elected because he promised to bring radical change to Jackson. Until he acknowledges that police, too, must answer for murder, that change won’t come.

Ryan Oehrli is a junior political science major from Washington, North Carolina.