Dinerral Shavers

I was saddened--although not shocked--to hear that David Bonds, the man accused of the murder of Dinerral Shavers, was found not guilty yesterday. I got this email from Silence is Violence this morning, and they said it better than I can.

For many months now, we have found the motivation for an entire public awareness movement in one case that has meant a lot to us personally. Dinerral Shavers was our friend and our brother. His murder on December 28, 2006, inspired us to call on our leaders and our fellow citizens to do more for each other and for our city. For over a year now, Dinerral's murder case has been the focus of our efforts to demand more from our criminal justice system in particular. During this time, we have seen a new Violent Offenders Unit formed at the office of the District Attrorney, and more experienced prosecutors take over murder cases. We have seen an ineffective District Attorney forced from office through public pressure. We have seen new levels of cooperation between police officers and prosecutors begin to slow the notorious revolving door at Orleans Parish Prison, in both directions.

This evening, we also had to watch as Dinerral's murder case ended in what we must accept as justice, but can hardly embrace as resolution. The defendant in Dinerral's case was found not guilty by a jury today. So ends the case that has focused us, inspired us, and channeled our energies for over a year. But the end of Dinerral's case cannot mark the end of our movement, or of the determination of all New Orleans citizens to raise our voices when we see injustice, inaction, and silence in the face of violence. We will continue to engage with our neighbors and our leaders: to hold our government accountable, but also, as Judge Jerome Winsberg wisely counseled at the conclusion of today's proceedings, to look inside ourselves and hold ourselves responsible for the chaotic societal circumstances that are breeding violent crime, and which caused Dinerral's death.

In his closing comments, Judge Winsberg expressed "shock" at what he witnessed during the trial. The way these children are living is not okay, he said, comparing inner-city New Orleans unfavorably with Baghdad. "It is appalling...it is shocking..." over and over said a judge who has presided over scores of criminal cases. The world our young people are living in came to terrifying light through the fearful testimony of witnesses, justifiably afraid; through the defendant's assertion that he sells drugs in order "to help my family" (this forming part of the defense in this trial); through the repeated references to petty but clearly deadly turf wars being fought by children too young to drive from one neighborhood to another. We should all heed Judge Winsberg's call for citizen outrage at these situations, and at many other realities that were rendered more stark than ever over the course of this case:

  • That brazen intimidation of witnesses is such an ingrained part of the system that witnesses can be threatened while on the stand--and the juror who points out the threats removed.
  • That police investigations lack the rigor and thoroughness that can stand up in court.
  • That our standards for education and family are so low that our young people believe that living without parents, taking care of other people's babies, and dropping out of school are normal modes of youth.
We are not satisfied to be leaving Dinerral's case behind without a cleaner resolution. But at least we have seen real energy, real attention, and real concern directed toward an inner-city murder case. This, at least, we can take as a step forward--so long as our system commits to treating every murder case with this level of sincerity and seriousness.

"This is our system," said Judge Winsberg today. "It's the system we must live by." We are asking each of you, on behalf of these confused young people, to get to know this system better so we can understand how to fix it. As painful as it is, go watch a murder trial. As reluctant as they may seem, reach out to a troubled young person in your neighborhood. As busy as you may be, take the time to attend a City Council meeting. Clearly, we citizens must continue the hard work of repairing our own city and creating a world for our children that makes some kind of sense.

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