For the past decade I've been a software engineer at Google in California. In my spare time I've created a mélange of open-source software. I've also built some rather unusual hardware. On rare occasions I've even been known to write something interesting.
Eleven years ago I was involved in a social justice case involving police brutality, racism, and corruption. Some readers may remember the public story, but now that some time has gone by, I think it's time to tell a more complete story.
Back in May 2010, a female police officer attached to the Los Angeles Unified School District confronted a 15 year old who was smoking at a bus stop. An excessive use of force was used, resulting in the boy's head being used to smash the window out of a bus. As far as I can tell, there were no repercussions for the police officer, and no charges were filed against the boy.
However, during this event, several other boys were taunting the officer, and one of them allegedly yelled "Kick her ass!", though the video evidence is unclear on this. As a result, a Black 17 year old boy, Jeremy Marks, was arrested on the charge of "attempted lynching". Bail was set at a completely unaffordable $155,000, and he disappeared into the Los Angeles correctional system.
In December of that year I read about the case in this article. It seemed to me that even if Jeremy did yell "kick her ass", it's completely unjust for him to be in prison for years. Not being American, I didn't really know my way around, so I spent half an hour Googling the case, the relevant laws, and how bail worked here. Then I telephoned Jeremy's mother to see what I could do to help.
This is where things started to become odd. Jeremy's mother is a good person -- kind, strong, and loyal to her son. But I quickly realized that my half hour of research on the Internet had given me more knowledge of her son's case than she had. Despite being in the center of this situation, she didn't understand what was happening.
Now, it's important to understand that in California (at that time) one can either pay the entire bail ($155,000) and get it all back when you show up for court, or one can pay a bail bonds man 10% of the bail ($15,500) and get nothing back later. Guilt or innocence is irrelevant. It's another case where rich people don't pay anything, but poor people are burdened with terrible costs.
So next I talked with the man running the racial equality organization which was trying to get Jeremy out of jail. They were raising money to pay for his bail. But after a bit more digging, I discovered that this altruistic individual was also the bail bonds man. That's right, he was accepting charitable donations -- to himself! He had already collected about $3k, and wanted me to donate the remainder. Hell no. Thus I started making preparations to hop on a plane to LA, and pay the entirety of Jeremy's bail, completely side-stepping this man. When he realized he was about to be cut out of the story completely, this bail bonds man / charitable leader suddenly came up with a compromise where if I paid $50k (fully refundable), then he'd do the rest. That way he'd still get credit in the community. Fine.
Jeremy had spent his 18th birthday in prison, but he got out in time for Christmas. His mother was understandably delighted, and repeatedly thanked God for sending me and guiding my actions. My appearance was proof of God's existence (apparently God managed to avoid any blame for Jeremy's arrest). It would become an ongoing theme that God's will controls everything, thus one's own efforts aren't as important.
The LAPD wasn't happy with the international press attention I'd brought down on them. They executed a search warrant on Jeremy's home, fishing for something else to charge him with. Unable to find anything, the prosecution dropped the serious charges, Jeremy plead guilty to some lesser charge, and he walked free (though on probation). Eventually it all blew over, though the LAPD would periodically park a squad car outside his home as an act of intimidation.
I attempted to cultivate a relationship with Jeremy, but he didn't communicate much. A couple of years later, I received news that Jeremy had been involved in a police foot pursuit. He had been carrying a gun, and had been shot by the police. After recovering in hospital, he went right back to prison. But this time there was nobody coming to help. He's still there as far as I know.
Ultimately, my actions accomplished little, other than teaching me about the multiple layers of problems affecting the Black community in the US. Yes, there's systemic racism from the outside. But there are also a bunch of unspoken issues inside the community that's just as problematic. Over the years I tried a couple more times to assist Black kids, but each time I emerged defeated. It's frustrating to see individuals who need help and want help, yet be unable to accomplish anything tangible.