"All He Wanted was a Hamburger" A Lawyer's Story #1
All Aloysius Staton wanted was a hamburger when he went into the Oceanside McDonald's in Nassau County, New York. Now, all he wants is justice. Unfortunately, he's finding out what many black Americans have always felt and still believe in America, justice is not always equal if you're black.
On the night of June 1st, 2007, Aloysius, his 17 year old friend Oswaldo, and his girlfriend Deana, went to get a bite to eat at a local McDonald's. What they found when they arrived there was a large group of young white men. A video from the McDonald's clearly showed a group of about 8 white men coming into the restaurant drinking beer and carrying plastic party cups. None of them ordered any food as they milled around the restaurant.
As Aloysius and his friend attempted to leave they were confronted and surrounded by the group of unknown white men. Racial epithets were thrown at them in an attempt to provoke them. Suddenly, one of the men picked up a large heavy baby seat, and in a move reminiscent of a wrestling scene, struck Aloysius' friend from behind over the head knocking him down to the ground. Surrounded by the men, Aloysius attempted to stop the men from hitting his friend again. He squared off with the men and punches ensued. 3 men grabbed him and pushed him to the rear of the restaurant.
It is clearly shown on the video that 2 men were punching him while another man held him in a choke hold. As Aloysius was cornered like an animal he picked up a beer bottle that one of the white men had brought in and struck one of the white men in the face once. His strike didn't stop the men from attacking him. At least 3 men continued to beat him in the corner of the McDonald's as his girlfriend helplessly tried to stop them. Meanwhile, his friend Oswaldo was clearly shown on the video lying helplessly on the ground as he was punched and kicked in the face over and over by two of the white attackers.
The events of that night will forever change the attitude of Aloysius and his family. Not because they were victims of a racial attack, but because of what happened after the attack. What Aloysius and his family experienced after the attack was so much worse than any violent attack by a gang of young white racists.
What they experienced was racism so much more discreet and dangerous than any racial beating. They found out that racism is not always so visible and outwardly expressed. It can be subtle and discreet. But it can also be systemic and rampant in the minds of the authorities that we count on to protect us.
The Nassau County police slogan is to protect the rights of all people. Protect who? That is the question Aloysius has after being beaten by a group of young white men for no other reason than for being black in a white neighborhood. He now faces up to 25 years in jail for the mere fact that he was defending himself.
The kind of racism that Aloysius is experiencing is the kind that people don't always hear about or see. It's not a Skin-head calling someone the N-name or a white supremacy group attacking someone of color. The kind of racism that Aloysius is experiencing is the kind of racism that people of color experience throughout their life. It is the most dangerous kind of racism. It lies in the shadows and creeps up on people. It is disguised and cloaked in the apparent authority of public officials. It is pervasive and exists in the minds of the same people who say they believe in equal justice but whose actions reveal their true beliefs.
The case of Aloysius Staton is an example of the new kind of racism in America. It is the assumption by white America that the claim of racism simply does not exist.
The facts of the night of June 1st are disturbing. If not for the security video at McDonalds, this case would consist merely of the word of a black man against that of a gang of white men and the police. Instead the video bears out the contention of Aloysius Staton, that this was an unprovoked racial attack. But it also bears out another fact. The racial attack continued when the police arrived at that scene. In the minds of the police, the black man was guilty. Before any evidence was found, before any witnesses were spoken to and before any video was ever reviewed, a basic assumption was made by the police: the black man must be guilty.
Were the police that showed up that day outward racists? Probably not. But were their assumptions and their actions racist? Basic assumptions by the authorities were made. Basic assumptions that was completely racist.
The police assumed that a white man bleeding from the lip could only mean that the black man was guilty of assault. Notwithstanding that the unbiased employees (who also happened to be people of color) told the police that this was self-defense. The white men, all from upper middle-class families denied any wrong doing. The black man from another neighborhood had no credibility with the police.
As the police arrived at the scene they saw a group of white men leaving the restaurant followed by Aloysuis, bleeding from his attack. The police immediately saw what they believed to be white "victims" being followed by a black man "fleeing" from a crime scene. The police choose to believe the gang of white men instead of the eye-witness statements of employees.
According to Aloysius, the white group continued to use racial slurs, the police responded by saying, "they're just blowing off steam".
The result of the encounter with the police was Aloysius went to jail. Jail for over a month before his bail was reduced by a judge (over the objection of the District Attorney) who was willing to listen to the facts of the case. As to the white men, - they went home. Victims in the eyes of the police. One was taken directly to the hospital. As to Oswaldo, who was semi-conscious, he was forced to sit on the curb for over an hour while a woman pleaded with the police to take him to the hospital. But he was not a victim in the eyes of the police and didn't deserve the same respect the young white men were given.
The attack on Aloysius continued at the hands of the newly elected District Attorney, Kathleen Rice. She had a reputation before she was elected for being an over-zealous prosecutor. In fact if not for prosecutorial immunity she could have been sued for destroying evidence in a murder case for which she was the chief prosecutor.
Her reputation for being less than ethical continued when she took over as the District Attorney in Nassau County. Over 30 indictments had already been thrown out by judges for unethical or unprofessional conduct in the Grand Jury. She was known for her unwillingness to turn over "Brady" information or proof of innocence. Evidence at other trials would show that evidence was being hidden from defendants. Numerous complaints to judges had not succeeded in changing her behavior or reputation.
The law and the facts would not deter her from doing what she wanted to do. Justice was the last item on her agenda. In less than 2 years, she had succeeded in losing the respect of judges, attorneys and the very people she was elected to represent.
It was more important to the D.A. to create an image that she was a tough prosecutor than to see to it that justice was done.
When Aloysius was brought to court, the D.A. charged him with Assault in the First Degree. A charge that carried with it a sentence of 5 to 25 years in jail. The District Attorney claimed the intent of the black man was to cause a life threatening injury or a permanent disfigurement to his alleged white attacker. In so doing, the D.A. ignored the evidence of the tape or employees or the fact that this was only one strike to the face with an unbroken bottle as he was being attacked by at least 3 to 4 men. Based on the law and the history of court decisions the charge was without merit. Nevertheless, the D.A. choose to look like a tough prosecutor by ignoring the evidence and charged the black man with the highest possible charge. A charge on the same level as Attempted Murder.
Meanwhile, it was brought to the attention of the prosecutor that an eyewitness employee gave a signed written statement to the police stating that the black men were attacked by the white men and were merely defending themselves. The District Attorney claims this statement cannot be found. A sworn written statement from the manager was obtained by the defendant's investigators and the McDonalds manager stated he told the police this was self-defense. This evidence given to the police has either been destroyed or hidden. In any event, the prosecutor seems unconcerned about this fact in their pursuit to obtain a conviction.
In fact, in pursuit of this conviction the District Attorney claims no written statements were taken from the employees who were present at the scene and observed the attack on the black men. To date, no arrests have been made for the hate crimes perpetrated on the black men.