Issac Bailey: Pulling over Florida's only black state attorney, Aramis Ayala, is not as problematic as it seems
We should reserve our anger for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who wants to strip Ayala of power to reform the criminal justice system, Bailey says
Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.
I can’t get worked up over Florida’s only black state attorney, Aramis Ayala, being pulled over by police during an uneventful traffic stop. We should reserve our outrage for what really matters, that Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been trying to strip Ayala of her power because she’s trying to make the criminal justice system a little more just.
Although I’ve watched the video of Ayala’s stop several times, I don’t see anything untoward. The officer is professional and courteous, as is Ayala. The officer’s explanations about the stop also make sense. It is not unreasonable for police officers to routinely check license plates, and dark tinted windows have long been a concern for officers’ safety during such stops.
Ayala did nothing wrong, either. If there is evidence that she had been repeatedly pulled over during the previous several months or years – like the four dozen times Philando Castile had been stopped in Minnesota before he was killed by an officer for no good reason, despite the jury’s verdict – that would raise alarm bells and justify the enormous attention the benign stop has received this week.
It’s previous police stops, like Castile’s, and the lack of justice that has followed, that really caused the outrage many have expressed in reaction to Ayala’s stop. This is, and will continue to be, the instinctive reaction of those who are tired of seeing the inability – or unwillingness – of prosecutors, fellow officers, judges and juries to hold cops accountable when they step over the line. The entire justice system seems geared towards excusing or explaining away their behavior, no matter how egregious, no matter how deadly.
It’s among the clearest evidence of the erosion of trust that has taken place because society hasn’t yet decided that justice for all actually means justice for all. The more accountable cops are held when they cause unnecessary pain or death, the less likely a routine traffic will lead to national headlines.
Ayala should not be remembered for being pulled over by police, but rather because a governor, who doesn’t seem to understand the definition of justice, has reassigned more than 20 homicide cases from her docket to another prosecutor. Not too long ago, Ayala did what more prosecutors should do, declare she will no longer seek the death penalty. She didn’t do it to endear herself to those of like minds. She did it after recognizing the obvious, that the death penalty does not deter crime, is not administered fairy or equally and is an unnecessary killing of a human being.
While Gov. Scott has claimed Ayala is not fully committed to justice because she refuses to use an ineffective, unjust prosecutorial tool, removing the death penalty from the menu of options a defendant could face would lead to a fairer, if still imperfect, system. And that’s what prosecutors are supposed to be about, justice, not vengeance.
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Instead of focusing on the uneventful traffic stop, we should understand that the real problem here is that Ayala was punished for using her influence and power to better protect the downtrodden, who are the most likely to be victims of police misconduct and an unfair court system.
Imagine how much more just the criminal justice system would be if more prosecutors – this country’s ultimate legal gatekeepers – were willing to fight against injustice, even if it meant having to forfeit the right to participate in state-ordered, state-sanctioned killing or resulted in a lower win percentage in court.
The cop who stopped Ayala should not be punished for doing his job; neither should she.