Oftentimes in society, much of what drives law enforcement can be the community and society they are involved in. Socioeconomic status, racial underpinnings within communities, and overall demeanor are factors that affect how a law enforcement officer may interact with the residents of their community. In the movie Murder on a Sunday Morning, these interactions are not only seen within law enforcement but the members of Jacksonville Florida. Identified as the suspected killer in Mary Ann Stephens murder, Brenton Butler is identified and captured within 2 hours of the killing. Much of this swift capture can be attributed to the racial profiling of the husband, as well as Officer Martin’s first-hand account as the first officer on the scene. The public defender, Ann Finnell, supports this theory, stating that racial profiling may have caused a law abiding citizen his life in prison. In this film, views of racial profiling and improper police conduct ultimately led to years of pain, as well as lawsuits filed against the City of Jacksonville, after Butler’s not guilty verdict.
Unfortunately, race, religion, and ethnicity have become too common in our society as catalysts for violent murders, shooting rampages, and organized crimes. The most common is race, being easy to differentiate an African American from a Caucasian. These stark differences have led to wrongful convictions, racial injustice, and a divide between law enforcement and the public. The events portrayed in Murder on a Sunday Morning are just that. Jim Stephens quickly identifies Brenton Butler as the shooting in his wife’s death, and this leads to a spiral for Brenton Butler. His lawyer, Pat McGuinness, focuses on the racial profiling that exists. The fact that Jim identifies the killer as a black man, and Butler happened to be walking by should have absolutely no correlation, but Stephen’s upbringing in Georgia may have fueled his ill taste toward African Americans. Ann Finnell begins to break down the story given by Stephen, focusing on the fact that Butler was wearing a shirt with a logo, though Stephens never identified a logo. The perception of an African American often seems to focus solely on the fact that the color of that person’s skin is dark. I found it easy to connect this story to modern times, through examples of such profiling. In 2012, George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, because Zimmerman perceived Martin to be a threat of some kind. This as well happened in Florida and may be due to some sort of cultural bias towards African Americans in the southern region of the country. The racial profiling that occurred may have been taken into account and led to the not guilty verdict of Brenton Butler. Ann Finnell, the public defender highlights this in the beginning, talking about this idea of racial profiling, and it is all too common in the society we live in today. Racial profiling is in someways traced back to the community. We have this sense that everyone should look like us, and that anything different may be bad. Just because someone’s skin is a different color in no way means they are either inferior or more likely to cause a crime. Oftentimes, we get caught up in stereotypes. Statistically, people tend to believe that young African American males are dangerous. It is evident all around the country, and yes, there are young African American men who have committed crimes, but what about the older Caucasian woman who also committed the same murder? The criminal justice system clouds its vision with the idea of what a criminal should look like, and this means that people will sometimes not pay for a crime they committed, or even worse, pay for a crime they did not commit.
In addition to racial profiling, police brutality and policing tactics are also a common issue that arises in the criminal justice world. In this film, and in the reading “I Did it” police scare tactics and even violence are used in an effort to get a confession, whether real or coerced. In the film, Brenton Butler was found with bruises and marks indicating that he had been hit. Brenton Butler may have very well have confessed both due to the violence towards him, as well as the fact that he is an African American male who is being charged murder. In the reading “I Did it” Kolker talks about how law enforcement will sometimes lie, making up some false evidence in an effort to get a coerced confession out of a possible suspect. In the reading, Sterling had a solid alibi at the time of the murder, yet somehow, 3 years later, Sterling was in an interrogation room, admitting to the murder of Viola Manville. In some ways, through the reading and the film, I got a sense that much of the coercion that occurs is due to the fact that the suspect does not know their rights to an attorney, is unable to pay for a lawyer, or the police are so convincing that the suspect believes they did it, and sees the officer as a higher power how knows better than them. Whatever reason causes coerced confessions, they cause a skewed vision of the criminal justice system. When Brenton Butler was interrogated, the detectives essentially told him what he had done. Butler, not aware of his rights, is asked to sign the form. The detective then hits Brenton Butler, after threatening to him if he did not sign the form. During the trial, Butler’s lawyers break down the confession, questioning the detective’s confession written on behalf of Butler. Butler’s lawyers break down the fact that none of what was written ever came out of Brenton Butler’s mouth. This type of coercion may be a way for officers to be received by the community as doing their duty. This comes at the cost of someone’s innocence or a guilty man’s free walk. Sometimes, the criminal justice system either fails to review all of the evidence or someone’s personal beliefs and intuitions may cloud such judgment and the officer may be unwilling to admit their mistake and fix it. There are entire offices dedicated to the freedom of wrongly convicted felons, many of which were in some way coerced into a confession. In my opinion, this is an example of some type of police brutality. Even though it may not be physical, it is a downright abuse of power that places someones freedom at an inferior level to the officer’s ego or vindictive feelings towards a suspect.
The racial profiling and police tactics portrayed in Murder on a Sunday Morning, as well as in the reading “I Did It” reveal a harsh reality that engulfs the criminal justice system to this day. Racism within the criminal justice system places an ethnic divide on communities and can cause a greater gap between citizens and law enforcement. Policing tactics border on illegal and are fraudulent in nature. These acts have unfortunately made their way to the news headlines, and more often than not, lead to a criminal justice system that is skewed, and is viewed as a negative part of the community.
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