04 June 2012
Community leaders, activists and concerned citizens are searching for answers and justice in the wake of the acquittal of former Houston police officer Andrew Blomberg. Charged with official oppression, a misdemeanor, Blomberg was recently found not guilty by an all-white jury even though he and other former HPD officers were videotaped beating and kicking then 15-year old Chad Holley, a burglary suspect who surrendered after being chased.
Statements denouncing the verdict along with meetings seeking justice strategies continue as the three other officers involved in the March 2010 beating – Drew Ryser, Philip Bryan and Raad Hassan – wait for their trial dates to be set.
Robert Muhammad, head minister of Muslim Mosque No. 45, said outraged citizens plan to organize the community for a protracted struggle to bring about real justice.
“Real justice means systemic change that will not ever allow police to beat suspects, or for there to be all-white juries, or for those who committed felonies to be charged with misdemeanors, or allow for the hopelessness and helplessness that leads to frustration which causes a breakdown in civility and social order,” said Muhammad.
Holley’s lawyer, former Houston City Attorney Benjamin Hall III, said in a statement after the trial that the Blomberg verdict reveals a flaw in the judicial system.
“Today’s ‘not guilty’ verdict in the Chad Holley case does not rectify a wrong that this entire city has witnessed over the last two years,” Hall said. “The verdict exposes a shortcoming in our judicial system when an out-of-control police officer is permitted to escape criminal consequences for his actions.
“The public loses respect for a system of justice that treats non-police officer suspects differently than police officer suspects. Justice is clearly not blind in Houston, Texas. She appears to wear a badge and blue uniform while peeping behind her blindfold,” Hall said.
Hall further stated that the Holley family requested the U.S. Justice Department to intervene, in addition to Holley filling a federal civil rights suit against Blomberg and the three other officers involved.
Houston Congressman Al Green met with Justice Department officials requesting they investigate the case.
Comparing the Holley video to the 1991 video of the Rodney King arrest and beating, Green said: “Although I support the Houston Police Department, I do not support what I saw on the video of Chad Holley’s arrest… Chad Holley and his family deserve a fair and just federal civil rights investigation.
“The Houston Police Department deserves a fair and just federal civil rights investigation. We must not allow the actions of some officers to become the image of the entire department,” Green said.
One area of frustration for those unhappy with the Blomberg verdict was the all-white jury that rendered it. According to Texas Southern University law professor Marcia Johnson, the time for challenging such a jury based on the “jury of your peers” has passed.
“There is a long standing rule that provides that jurors cannot be stricken solely on the basis of race. If, during the trial, one of the attorneys makes a challenge based on that rule [called a Batson challenge] they must argue that the opponent used its challenges to strike every prospective juror because of his or her race,” said Johnson.
“To my knowledge there was no Batson challenge made in the Blomberg case, so that if there was such an error, it has likely not been preserved for appeal. In other words, if you don’t make a timely challenge, it is waived and not available to the appellate court’s review.”
The day after the verdict, protests erupted in front of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center. After activists met with Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos to discuss what they deemed a systemic pattern of gross miscarriages of justice, some were arrested for obstructing the lobby of the DA’s office.
In a statement released by Lykos, she warned future protesters to stand down.
“Should anyone wish to meet with me, there is an appropriate manner in which to schedule it. I expect people to treat the dedicated professionals in my office with respect. I will not permit any group to occupy our office. I will not allow the administration of justice to be held hostage. I will not capitulate to threats,” said Lykos.
Regarding the Blomberg verdict affecting the three remaining trials, Johnson says, “The question is whether a Harris County jury can be impaneled that does not have preconceived biases about the pending cases.” Since the initial shows of outrage, community members participated in a town hall meeting at SHAPE Center to discuss what’s next in their quest for the justice they assert was denied with Blomberg acquittal.
Muhammad is not optimistic about a different outcome for the three remaining former officer trials.
“The community’s feeling, reflective in comments I’ve heard, is ‘Here we go again. Justice will not be served. Who do you believe; the system or your lying eyes after seeing the video?’ ”
Muhammad also shared his opinion on the role of police officers.
“The police were not invented to serve and protect,” Muhammad said. “Their historical founding was to catch runaway slaves, or to enforce the involuntary servitude clause in the 13th Amendment to either throw Blacks off or keep them on the sharecropping plantations because of debts owed to the post civil war southern landowners.
“Then, their role moved to enforcing Jim Crow, carrying out the war on drugs which was a war on our communities, and the war on terror to stifle dissent of anyone gathered to express grievances with our government. The system is working as it was designed,” he said.
According to Muhammad, the meeting at SHAPE resembled a sausage factory, a process that was not pretty, but one that produced a favorable result.
“In the end a product came out that can be utilized by the community to redress our concerns and organize us towards real justice,” said Muhammad. He would not give specifics, but said all involved were excited about the possibilities.
Meeting attendees urged concerned citizens to call D.A. Lykos’ office to demand that she reconvene a grand jury to charge Blomberg, Ryser, Bryan and Hassan with felonies rather than misdemeanors. Attendees also encouraged the public to visit SHAPE’s website (www. shape.org) for updates and to email suggestions for justice to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If we do all that we can to fix this system and it still doesn’t work, what then is our alternative?” asked Muhammad. “If not violent revolution, then perhaps we need to have a serious conversation about separation for Black people.”