Cook County State’s Attorney overturns drug convictions for 15 black individuals

 

Can black police officers make a difference or does implicit biases make fair treatment impossible?

By Frederick H. Lowe

The Cook County, IL, State’s Attorney has vacated drug convictions of 15 black individuals after determining that a former Chicago police sergeant who is black and 13 men working under him planted evidence and lied in court to ensure their convictions.

Former Chicago police Sergeant Ronald Watts

The convictions not only raise questions about black-on-black hatred but implicit biases, which may make fair treatment of black men by police impossible.

The overturned convictions–the largest in Chicago history—were announced by Kim Foxx, the State’s Attorney.

“I ran for this office committed to rebuilding public trust in our justice system,” Foxx said. “When our review of these cases revealed police misconduct that called their validity into question, we work diligently and promptly to correct.”

Cook County Judge LeRoy Martin Jr., presiding judge of the criminal division, threw out the convictions en masse.

Their release came about after Joshua Tepfer, an attorney for the University of Chicago Exoneration Project, filed a consolidated petition for relief on September 12.

The petition requested a judgement to overturn 18 wrongful convictions of 15 victims (14 men and one woman) from a corrupt Chicago Police Department tactical team that terrorized the Ida B. Wells housing project on Chicago’s South Side for more than a decade by planting illegal drugs on residents.

The petition charged that Sgt. Ronald Watts and his squad framed the 15 individuals between 2003 and 2008. All but two of the residents have completed their prison terms. They remain in prison on unrelated charges.

Some of those convicted were sentenced to as long as nine years in prison. Others were sentenced to 5 years, 4 years, 2 years and probation.

According to the Exoneration Project, police falsified charges and reports and solicited bribes. When Ida B. Wells residents refused to pay or couldn’t pay, police planted drugs and perjured themselves to ensure convictions.

Leonard Gipson was sentenced to four years in prison in 2007 after Watts planted heroin on him and falsified reports and charges. Gipson went to court to fight the charges but the judge sided with the police. Watts eventually served time in prison although he is out now.

The overturned convictions raise another matter:  the role of black cops.

African Americans have mixed feelings about the police. Some want more black police officers because they believe they are more fair than white or Hispanic cops.

In his celebrated book, Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of “Between The World and Me,” wrote about a black cop in Prince Georges County, Maryland, who shot to death an unarmed Howard University student after the cop claimed the student attempted to run him over with a Jeep. Coates didn’t believe the cop’s story. The cop was given time off and later returned to work, which angered Coates.

Black cops act a lot like white cops because of implicit bias in which society expects the worst of black men, according to a Yale University study. The study reported that school teachers spend more time watching black boys because teachers expect the worst from them.

Walter S. Gilliam, a Yale University psychology professor and researcher, said implicit biases does not begin with black men and the police, It begins with black preschoolers and their teachers, if not earlier.

“Implicit biases are just that —-subtle, often subconscious stereotypes that guide our expectations and interactions with people,” reported the Yale study.

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