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Earl Ofari Hutchinson
It would be hard to find a special prosecutor in a racially charged murder case that sends red flags flying sky higher than Florida’s Fourth Judicial District’s Angela “tough on Crime” Corey. Corey is the special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin murder. The problem with the tough on crime tag that Corey wears proudly is that the alleged criminals that she’s slapped behind bars more often, and for far longer stretches than in just about any other jurisdiction in Florida on a population adjusted basis are young men that look like Trayvon Martin. Many of them are far younger than Martin.
The figures tell Corey’s grim tale of lock young black males up as early as she can. The year before she took office in 2008 black juvenile males made up slightly more than sixty percent of those tried in adult courts. The next three years the percentage of black juvenile males packed off to adult courts soared more than 10 percent. During those same three years, under Corey, the number of white juvenile males dropped to less than twenty percent of those tried in adult courts.
There was a mild break in the pattern in 2010-2011. The total number of juveniles tried as adults dropped, and so did the lop sided racial disparities. But they didn’t end. Black juvenile males still made up more than sixty percent of those tried in adult courts. White juveniles made up less than thirty percent tried as adults. Corey’s penchant to throw the book at young black males raised racial suspicions about her impartiality in the Martin case for more reasons than just her perceived fixation on young black male offenders. The overwhelming majority of the population in the district that Corey legally polices is white.
Though Florida has been the toughest state in the nation in trying juvenile offenders as adults, many Florida counties began reversing the trend the past three years; that is trying a declining number of juvenile offenders as adults. In some counties the drop-off was especially sharp as prosecutors realized that tossing the book at juveniles was counter-productive. It increased recidivism, imposed a greater fiscal and resource drain on the prison system. And worst of all, ignored the overwhelming evidence that juvenile offenders are far different than adult offenders in development, emotional maturity and social skills.
But the mildly more enlightened approach to dealing with juvenile offenders has had little effect on Corey. The percentage of adult referrals on her watch still remains higher than any other county, and the majority of them are still young black males. Corey ignited a firestorm of protest for her dogged insistence to try then 12 year old (now 13 year old) Christian Fernandez as an adult charged with the beating death of his brother. If convicted this would make him the youngest in the nation to get life without parole at the very moment when courts and legislatures are taking at closer look at these types of overkill sentences for juveniles. Legal experts note that even by Florida’s harsh standard for dealing with juvenile offenders that trying Fernandez as an adult is a rarity, but not with Corey.
A petition circulated in the Fernandez case has garnered nearly 200, 000 signatures. They demand that Fernandez be tried as a juvenile and that Corey be removed from the case. But Corey is non-plussed and publicly stated she does not “prosecute by petition.” The standard argument that prosecutors such as Corey make when challenged on the much higher adult court referrals for black juvenile offenders is that they commit more serious and violent crimes than white juveniles. This doesn’t totally hold water. A 2006 Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, "Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report," found that white youths made up the greatest number of delinquency cases and arrests. Yet, they were far less likely to be jailed than blacks. Other reports confirmed that blacks were likely to get harsher sentences than whites for committing the same crimes, many of which were violent crimes.
The conventional wisdom is that a hard-nosed, law and order prosecutor such as Corey is tailor made to bag George Zimmerman, the self-admitted killer of Martin. But there’s no guarantee that that’s the case, and much reason to doubt it. To think a prosecutor whose gear is stuck in overdrive when it comes to the hardest line prosecution of young black males can switch gears and be totally unbiased and set aside biases and predispositions to see crime with a young black male face is more than problematic.
But that’s exactly what Corey is being asked to do in determining what evidence, testimony and facts she’ll put before the Grand Jury that will determine whether to charge Zimmerman with killing Martin. It’s etched in stone that prosecutors almost always get their way with grand juries when they want to nail an offender. The Zimmerman case should be no different. But given Corey’s penchant for nailing so many young men that look like Martin, and not Zimmerman, there’s good reason for the red flags to fly sky high on her.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson