The video of Jameel McGee hugging, smiling and working alongside Andrew Collins, the Benton Harbor, MI ex-cop who framed him and put him in jail for four years, kept popping up in my feeds over the last twenty-four hours. I avoided it initially because news stories about random black people forgiving not-so-random white acts of debilitating and life-altering violence tend to a) make me throw up in my mouth, and b) be more story than news. It’s one of those cat-in-a-tree type affairs to get you through your day and make you feel better about being alive. The headline is pretty much the story: “Innocent Man Befriends Crooked Cop Who Sent Him To Prison”.
Except it isn’t. This story is like digging through a septic tank, finding a kernel of corn, eating it, and proclaiming it the best meal you’ve had all year.
What’s mindblowing to me about this story isn’t McGee’s capacity to forgive (itself a narrative about black people that can’t die soon enough). It’s that a cop can admit to multiple counts of all kinds of police misconduct and only get 1.5 years after costing who knows how many people who knows how many years of their lives. He should have to serve all of the time he falsely stuck to other people. Don’t even get me started on all of the racism angles that were just treated like “eh” to get to the black forgiveness part. This story in 2016 is a crime in and of itself.
How you get a fluff piece out of this story is beyond me. Even a cursory dig into how Collins career as a police officer ended should have been enough to give the producers at CBS news pause. If McGee had been the only person Collins had railroaded into jail time you might have a case for this story (a still-bad one, but at least it would have something pretending at balance). Ultimately this isn’t McGee’s story. It’s Collins’s story and guess what: none of the stories talking about their ordained bromance is focusing on that.
Looking back at the case you find Collins didn’t act alone. His boss was also in on the action, and they both served time (such as it was). Some of their victims were in jail longer than they were.
But yeah, let’s talk about how this one guy out of the 30 or so cases they nailed him for forgave him.
Benton Harbor is small, only 10,000 people almost on the nose. It is 89% black and only 7% white. That Collins, who reads like a character out of Cop Land, felt comfortable enough to keep living in the town where he did that kind of dirt with those kind of numbers is a lesson in white privilege in and of itself. You make headlines in your town for being a dirty cop that put people’s family members in jail, you’re a severe minority in said town, and you STAY in said town? If the reverse were true the black ex-cop would be dead in a year, assuming he ever got out of jail. As of this writing, Benton Harbor employs 25 police officers. I don’t know how many they had in 2009 but assuming it was roughly the same number, they put two of them in jail in 2009 (Collins and his boss, Hall). That’s 8% of your force ridin’ dirty red-handed seven years ago.
HOW IS HE STILL LIVING IN THIS TOWN MAKING FRIENDS.
How much does this feel-good story miss the mark? This much:
“Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic said the damage done by Collins and Hall continues today…Sepic said then-Prosecutor Art Cotter painstakingly went through the criminal cases, with the assistance of the FBI, to determine which convictions were obtained through the fraudulent activities of Collins and Hall. He said this led to Cotter asking the courts to dismiss about 50 cases, most of which involved defendants who pled guilty.
‘Constitutionally, defendants who pled guilty did not have a right to dismissal; however, doing the right thing meant seeking those dismissals,’ stated Sepic…”
“…this led to Cotter asking the courts to dismiss about 50 cases, most of which involved defendants who pled guilty.”
These were innocent people. They pled guilty so they could get lesser sentences or leniency for things that the cops and they themselves knew they did not do. Collins did the same thing to get 1.5 years. The community is still trying to navigate the fallout of the crimes he and his boss committed in civil cases and dealing with cases where dismissal seems impossible because of guilty pleas. You know, guilty pleas which shouldn’t have happened in the first place because the people weren’t guilty. These are the kind of convictions you shrug at in the paper every day and think, “Eh, drug dealers. They shouldn’t have had drugs on them.” Cases like these are part of the statistics people throw around and make laws about. Cases like these contributed to superpredator branding in the social consciousness, and its modern cousin, “thug”.
BUT LET’S TALK ABOUT HIS GIG DOING SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS ALONGSIDE THE BLACK FRIEND WHOSE LIFE HE RUINED.
Here are some – SOME – of the people whose cases were tossed out after he got busted:
– Alfonso Gibbs, delivery of narcotics under 50 grams, second offense; maintaining a drug house, second offense; and possession of marijuana, second offense.
– Richard D. Smith Jr., possession of narcotics between 25 and 49 grams, second offense.
– Paul Timothy Williams, delivery of narcotics under 50 grams, second offense; and maintaining a drug house, second offense.
– Nathaniel Dale, delivery of narcotics under 50 grams, second offense; and possession of marijuana, second offense.
– Everrett Morris, delivery of marijuana, second offense.
– Shannon D. McKinney, possession of marijuana, second offense.
– Benny B. Newman, delivery of narcotics, less than 50 grams.
I wonder if Collins asked for their forgiveness and they spat in his face, so CBS was unable to add them to the fairy tale ending they are subjecting us to.
Collins says that when he finally spoke with McGee years later he had no explanation for what he’d done. I find that inconceivable. I can think of a dozen reasons why he did what he did, and I just used Google. The truth is more likely that he doesn’t want to admit the reasons he had. That is a frighteningly common reaction to having led a professional life largely consisting of wrecking havoc on a town of black people.
In summary, I hate this story in the following ways:
I hate it because it is a lie by omission.
I hate it because it is racist, and nowhere in this story does it suggest that.
I hate it because it is facile and pushes buttons and speaks to me like I am dumb; like people are not suffering at this moment in jails under the same conditions.
I hate it because it is yet another example of one of those “conversations” that people think we can have to fix racism instead of putting in actual work.
Most of all, I hate it because, given the opportunity to address the issue of police abuse in a concrete way that might save lives by continuing to draw attention to this kind of behavior, people are focusing on the part of the story that will save exactly zero lives.
Cover photo = CBS News.