Touch of evil

Socialist Worker's Danny Katch, author of Socialism...Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation, introduces you to a hard-boiled detective working a baffling case.

This Week in Capitalism | By Danny Katch (Eric Ruder | SW)

IT'S A cold night in the city. All the regular nice people are snuggling in bed with their loved ones. My bed is a ripped-up couch in my private detective's office on the lonely side of town, and I'm curled up with a fifth of Jim Beam, staring a hole through the latest newspaper headline: "Judge declares mistrial in Walter Scott shooting case."

I remember the case. Last April, a South Carolina cop named Slagel fired eight rounds into the poor guy's back while he was running away--the whole thing was caught on cell-phone video. Seemed like an open-and-shut case. But not so fast, according to the South Carolina courts.

Now I've got to add Walter Scott to the list. It's the only thing in my life that's growing faster than my bar tab--the file of people getting offed by some unknown killer who makes it look like the cops did it. A thousand people have died that way this year--and another 1k the year before that.

Of course, lots of people think the cops are guilty and the courts are turning a blind eye. But that idea stinks worse than the dumpster in the alley, where the rats come to drink the backwash from my whisky bottles.

The justice system is the only goddamn thing that still works in this lousy place. Why, it works so well that 95 percent of defendants plead guilty before they even go to trial. They know the system is such a rubber-stamp of guilty verdicts that they might as well plead out and hope for a lesser sentence.

So you're trying to tell me that there's a whole army of murdering police officers out there? And this perfect machine of swift justice we have is just letting them off scot-free? Sorry pal, but you'll have to find another sucker to buy that bridge.

But if the fuzz didn't do it, who did? That's where I come in. For over two years, I've been working The Case of the People Who Seem to Have Clearly Been Killed by Police, but Apparently Weren't.

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THE FIRST death I looked at was Eric Garner. Millions of people watched the cell-phone video of his chilling last words--"I can't breathe"--while he was put in a chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo. When a grand jury refused to indict the cop, I knew something was fishy. Someone must have somehow made sure that Garner died at precisely the moment a cop was suffocating him.

Then there was Michael Brown's death in Ferguson. An entire city took to the streets in anger, thinking that Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed him, but again, the grand jury didn't indict. So now I knew I was dealing with a criminal mastermind capable of simultaneously committing murder and causing dozens of eyewitnesses to hallucinate.

Then Chicago cop Dante Severin was acquitted in the killing of Rekia Boyd on the grounds that the charge was manslaughter, and if anything, Severin had actually committed murder. So the judge ruled that it would be better for Severin to spend no time in jail than not enough time in jail.

By this point my head was spinning. I was angry, and I wanted answers. I pounded the pavement, prowling the seediest streets in town, looking for my underground network of lowlife informants.

I found Tony Bones in his usual spot, running a three-card Monte table for visiting businessmen in his corner office in the mayor's Department of Economic Development.

"Good morning, detective," Tony said with his flashiest smile, excusing himself from the game. "What can I do for you?"

I was in no mood for small talk. "You tell me, Tony," I said. "I've got all these murders that look like they were done by cops, but they're not. Somebody's lying, and I intend to find out who."

"Uh, it's the cops," Tony said. "What's the mystery?"

I got mad and slammed Tony up against the office wall. "Don't give me that crap, Bones!" I yelled. "Police officers don't lie. Most people get locked up based on nothing more than the testimony of a police officer. If we couldn't trust them, it would undermine the whole justice system."

I stormed out, more angry and confused than when I came in.

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IT'S ONLY gotten worse since then. More killings that look like they were done by police, more acquittals. The more obsessed I grew with cracking the mystery, the further away I seemed to get. My marriage broke up, I lost all my clients, and now, I'm five months behind on rent for the office.

And the unsolved murders keep on coming. University of Cincinnati cop Ray Tensing pulled over Sam DuBose and shot him. Tensing got off when he told the jury he thought Dubose was trying to drag him with his car, even though his own body camera showed no such thing. So now I have to add to my suspect's profile the ability to move an entire car without being seen on camera.

The people who think the cops are guilty point out that Tensing was wearing a t-shirt with a Confederate flag under his uniform the day DuBose was killed. As if that proves anything.

When the family of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. filed a wrongful death lawsuit against police in White Plains, New York, Judge Cathy Seibel didn't allow the jury to hear about the racial slurs shouted by cops because that would be "too prejudicial."

People like Judge Seibel are the only reason I still get any sleep at night. There's a murderer on the loose, but at least we have honest people in charge of our justice system making sure that juries aren't improperly biased by anger at racism, eyewitness testimony or clear video evidence.

I polish off my last bottle and lay my head down on the couch to toss and turn. The mystery killer wins another round.