Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Gross Miscarriage of Justice

On May 26, 1951 a twenty-six year old unarmed Black man was shot in the back by a New York City police officer. His name was Henry Fields, Jr. His father, Henry Sr., told newspapers that his son was a “good boy” who worked in a produce store on Osborn Street in Brownsville, deep in Brooklyn. Relatives said Henry Jr. had never been in serious trouble before. He died of the gunshot wound just blocks from his home.

The killing of Henry Fields might sound familiar. Fields was chased down by the police after committing a misdemeanor offense, and for it he was met with a sentence of capital punishment. He was driving his brother’s car and had a fender-bender accident with another motorist. Fields fled the scene the accident, but was chased by motorists, including two officers in a patrol car. Not very far into the chase, Fields pulled over. The police said a flat tire stopped him. When Fields exited the vehicle, patrolman Samuel Applebaum, a military veteran with firearms training, drew up his sights on the young man and fired a .32 caliber slug into his neck.

Fields was well known and liked in his community. As his lifeless body bled into the street, an angry crowd gathered. The police sent upwards of twenty patrol cars and more than that many cops to the scene. A local pastor was enlisted by the authorities to calm onlookers who were all-too familiar with racially-motivated police violence. Authorities feared a riot might break out.

Within twenty-four hours community organizers called for a mass rally to protest the killing of Fields. Former Congressman Vito Marcantonio appealed to the District Attorney Miles McDonald that there be “immediate grand jury proceedings in the wanton killing.”

“This is the latest in a long series of police murders of innocent Negros,” wrote Marcantonio. “Police brutality is turning streets of New York into areas of official police lawlessness and terror.

One gathering to plan a response to the killing drew over 1,600 people. Forty patrolmen and twenty-five plainclothes officers prowled around the community meeting.

Despite it being 1951, there was a grand jury investigation into Fields’ slaying. And here’s where it’s both familiar and unfamiliar. The events echo the recent actions of grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, but the inquiry into Fields’ murder also revealed a streak of independence in the District Attorney Miles McDonald and his staff that is unheard of today.

In June the Brooklyn grand jury declined to bring any charges against officer Applebaum. Rather than accept this decision, the District Attorney’s office publicly lashed out at the grand jury. Assistant District Attorney William Siegel called the grand jury’s decision a “gross miscarriage of justice,” and condemned the members of the jury for acting “capriciously and contrary to the law.” Imagine it. A District Attorney fighting a grand jury that refused to bring charges against a cop who killed an unarmed Black man.

According to Siegel, there was more than enough evidence to bring the officer to trial for at least manslaughter. Siegel cited the fact that Fields was unarmed; that he was shot after committing nothing more serious than a misdemeanor; that multiple witnesses said Fields was exiting his car in an unthreatening manner when he was shot. Witnesses said the officer made no attempt to stop or apprehend Fields. He simply blew they young man away. In his appeal to the judge, the assistant DA also noted that officer Appelbaum contradicted himself. He had expertise and familiarity with firearms. Appelbaum had previously dealt with armed suspects with less than lethal force, once even taking a loaded rifle from a belligerent man’s hands. Appelbaum told the grand jury that it all was an “accident.” He “involuntarily” drew his gun and pulled the trigger, and that the bullet bounced off a car and struck Fields. He said he had meant it as a warning shot.

For all these reasons, and surely because of protest pressure from the community for justice, the District Attorney took the unusual step of asking a judge for a second grand jury investigation into the Fields case, and the judge obliged. But the second grand jury agreed with the first, recommending no charges be brought. Here’s where the unrecognizable ends, and the story concludes with a familiar ring of a justice system beset by racial inequality and a sense that Black lives don’t matter.

Even with a DA who actively sought an indictment of a police officer for killing an unarmed black man, an American grand jury declined to subject a cop to trial.

Darwin Bond-Graham is a sociologist and investigative journalist. He is a contributing editor to Counterpunch. His writing appears in the East Bay Express, Village Voice, LA Weekly and other newspapers. He blogs about the political economy of California at http://darwinbondgraham.wordpress.com/

More articles by:

Darwin Bond-Graham is a sociologist and investigative journalist. He is a contributing editor to Counterpunch. His writing appears in the East Bay Express, Village Voice, LA Weekly and other newspapers. He blogs about the political economy of California at http://darwinbondgraham.wordpress.com/

October 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall
Ipek S. Burnett
The Assault on The New Colossus: Trump’s Threat to Close the U.S.-Mexican Border
Mary Troy Johnston
The War on Terror is the Reign of Terror
Maximilian Werner
The Rhetoric and Reality of Death by Grizzly
David Macaray
Teamsters, Hells Angels, and Self-Determination
Jeffrey Sommers
“No People, Big Problem”: Democracy and Its Discontents In Latvia
Dean Baker
Looking for the Next Crisis: the Not Very Scary World of CLOs
Binoy Kampmark
Leaking for Change: ASIO, Jakarta, and Australia’s Jerusalem Problem
Chris Wright
The Necessity of “Lesser-Evil” Voting
Muhammad Othman
Daunting Challenge for Activists: The Cook Customer “Connection”
Don Fitz
A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say
October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail