The news feeds of 2020 in the United States have been dominated by three narratives: a presidential election, a global pandemic of unseen proportion, and the scale of racial inequality in the criminal justice system. By the time this article is published, 150,000 Americans will have likely tragically died from COVID-19, and both major political parties will be gearing up for one of the most divisive elections in U.S. history. Regardless of the scale of these two features, the protests and the gravity of the tragic path of the criminal justice system often comes to the forefront. The catalyst for this movement has undoubtedly been the tragic death of George Floyd, but is spurned on by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and others. Countless other deaths at the hands of police, such as Elijah McClain are now being investigated. One of the primary narratives of this movement is of course what set it off, the tragic deaths of individuals seemingly targeted solely based on the color of their skin. The soul of the problem goes far beyond this issue though, the true tragedy is a systemic disproportionate treatment of people of color. Today, cell phones and other recording devices have allowed the public to see through the façade and recognize that race is often weaponized.
Racial Hoaxes- The Weapon of Karen in the Age of Technology
The term “racial hoax” appears to have been coined in 1999 by author Katheryn Russell-Brown. The term exists to explain the phenomena of false criminal accusations based entirely on the race of the alleged perpetrator, and further confirmed in the minds of police by those racial characteristics. This term does not hold a place among contemporaneous lexicon, but the behavior now does after the acts of Amy Cooper. Amy Cooper was confronted by an African American male with her violation of city ordinance (leash laws), and proceeded to call 911, saying she feared for her life and explicitly repeating his race to the operator. Fortunately, the victim of her threats was able to videotape the encounter. Victim is the appropriate term in these circumstances, as Ms. Cooper hoped to weaponize the police in her favor. In the era following George Floyd, with racial tensions at their pinnacle between people of color and police, Amy Cooper attempted to solicit a police response of force when no such force was justified, and she was in no danger. While morally reprehensible, the incentive for this behavior is clear, the criminal justice system does not care; “[i]t’s because they can get away with it. They do it because the criminal justice system is not going to give them consequences.“
Fortunately, the court of public opinion did not feel the same. The internet quickly began to label such behavior, as “Karen-ing.” While certainly unfair to all who are named Karen, this has allowed the public to create a societal labeling for the racial hoaxes that have been occurring in day to day life. This has fueled the public outcry for what have now been dubbed “Karen” laws, and the public urging of false reporting to be treated equally, even when the accuser is white. Racial hoaxes are not a new phenomena, unfortunately only the video evidence is the new development.
Black individuals make up roughly 13% of the U.S. population, yet 47% of the individuals present on the National Registry of Exonerations. Innocent black people are 7 times more likely to be convicted of Murder, 3.5 times more likely to be convicted of sexual assault, and 12 times more likely to be found guilty of drug offenses. These numbers skew even more severely when looking specifically at DNA exonerations. DNA exonerations are very common in circumstances where eyewitness testimony was the primary evidence. These types of cases often have very little physical evidence one way or the other, allowing eyewitnesses and circumstantial evidence to carry a conviction. The advent of DNA testing has allowed many of these types of convictions to be challenged. According to the Innocence Project, 70% of DNA exonerations are for people of color and 63% of DNA exonerations take place when the accused is black. 75% of these exonerations involved misidentification of a witness, 42% of which involved-cross racial identification issues. Not only are African Americans more likely to be wrongfully convicted, it is estimated that the vast majority of these wrongful convictions go undiscovered. For those which are discovered, wrongfully convicted black individuals wait a 133% as long before exoneration. The problem is pervasive throughout the United States, but there is hope for reform and change in the future.
What Can be Done?
The trend of recording these interactions and these false accusations is a positive one, and has seen results for those such as Amy Cooper, she was fired from her job and now faces criminal charges (but only after public outcry). Some have even called for these perpetrators to be put on a “National Hate-Crime Registry.” Unfortunately these cases are not always cut and dry. It’s not always a bird watcher and an outspoken bigot on clear video in a well-lit park. Often there is no video, there is no proof, and a person goes to jail, or is killed, because of the color of their skin. There is no clear solution, but the message put forth by the social justice movements across the country is clear, enough is enough. There must be reforms to police training, and there must be accountability for those who make these accusations. Body worn camera use is a very helpful development in that direction. Video is not enough, societal shift is necessary. Between 15 and 26 million people have taken to the streets, making this movement one of – if not THE largest movement in U.S. history. The history and the tragedy that is societal and criminal racial injustice is one of – if not THE largest issues our country has ever faced, and the response is well deserved. Now is the time to turn to politicians, urge those in office to foster change, and vote out those who refuse. A single wrongful conviction or a single false accusation going unpunished, is too much. Our nation can do better, and now there may finally be momentum to create that change.
Criminal Justice Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida
Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm are dedicated to the unearthing of false accusations and the exoneration of the accused. Don Pumphrey has decades of experience fighting for the rights of Floridians in Tallahassee and across the state. The results speak for themselves and show that we are dedicated to defending the rights of clients in any circumstance and will fight for the best possible result. Call a Florida defense attorney today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today to discuss your rights during an open and free consultation with our legal team.
Attorney Don Pumphrey, Jr. is a former prosecutor, former law enforcement officer, and a successful and experienced criminal defense attorney. Don has achieved over 100 not guilty verdicts at trial and over 2,000 dismissals.