Verdict in Darius Simmons Case Makes Statement That Black Life Has Equal Value


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76-year-old John Henry Spooner was found guilty earlier this week of First Degree Intentional Homicide in the fatal shooting of 13-year-old black youth Darius Simmons a year ago in Milwaukee captured on Spooner’s own video surveillance system.

Spooner is clearly shown armed with a pistol. He aims it at Mrs. Patricia Larry, the mother of Simmons just off screen first, then returns to confront her son Darius who was doing nothing more than taking in a garbage can from the curb of their home, not Spooner’s, in broad daylight one Saturday morning.

While it’s true Spooner had suffered through a burglary earlier that year and was convinced that the Larry family had something to do with it, killing someone is taking justice fully into your own hands and not how our system of justice works. The Larry Family suffered through not one but two full police searches of their home via warrants to try and find the stolen items—two guns that Spooner valued very much.

There was and still is no evidence other than proximity to suggest that Patricia Larry and her two boys had done anything wrong whatsoever.

The Wisconsin Castle Doctrine Law here was not at issue because the Simmons boy and his mother were not at all on Spooner’s property at any time. They had no obligation to retreat.

Mrs. Larry and her son were unarmed and had made no threatening moves toward Spooner to provoke the shooting.

The jury deliberated for just twelve minutes as this is one of the simplest cases ever offered to a jury in a murder case for their consideration.

And evidence presented at trial shows clearly that Mr. Spooner, despite his advanced age, knew precisely what he was doing that day. He shot the boy and when the boy attempted to run away from the first wounding, Spooner shot him again as he retreated and his horrified mother looked on.

It was well known that Spooner was angry that black families were moving into his previously all white neighborhood.

The verdict in the case established that the life of a black youth is just as valuable as the life of any other youth of any color. Justice demanded that the verdict of guilty be returned in this case. Just what the judge will do in sentencing to accommodate Mr. Spooner’s declining health following the shooting a year ago and his advanced age is not yet determined.

The U.S. criminal justice system operates in such a way as to devalue the lives of millions of people of color from the refusal to prosecute vigiorously when black lives are taken, to stop and frisk procedures used by police in our urban areas that humiliate people of color and the sparse showing of blacks on juries. In so many ways it seems that our nation is telling people black lives do not matter. Not so in this case.

But it would be a travesty of justice to release Mr. Spooner from custody of the State of Wisconsin. Despite his health and advanced age, Mr. Spooner must be incarcerated until he dies . It will allow him to more clearly reflect on what he has done.

Darius Simmons had just as much right to be safe and not have his life taken from him at such a young age as any boy in America. White people in and around Milwaukee who lament the tough treatment Spooner has received in the case should think carefully on what this has meant to the Larry family. They have a right to their Castle to stand their ground in and to live free of the kind of vigilante justice Spooner stands for.

It is a remarkable twin to the Trayvon Martin Case. Only in this case we know precisely what happened and why and in Wisconsin an unarmed kid doing a chore for his mother on their own property should not be gunned down in cold blood by an angry neighbor who harbored such ill will against the Larry family and blacks generally.

The value of all human life, the nurturing of the lives of young boys and girls all over our nation ought not to depend upon the color of their skins. Here the State of Wisconsin got it right. Justice has been done and will be done in the last years of Mr. Spooner’s sorry life. He killed a kid in cold blood. We just don’t let people do that in the United States.

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