Saturday, September 5, 2009

Devaluing Black Lives: The Killing of Danica Denton and Child

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Devaluing Black Lives: The Killing of Danica Denton and Child by author and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson will appear as his syndicated column in 100 newspapers and websites nationally September 10, 2009.

A young expectant mother observes all the pedestrian safety rules while crossing the street. She’s in a designated crosswalk. There appears to be no oncoming traffic. And if there is the cars are required to stop. For thousands of pedestrians crossing streets this is a routine, uneventful occurrence every hour, every day in every city. It should have been the same for 18 year old Danica Denton. But on February 11, 2009, Gina Garcia changed that.

The 34 year old driver barreled through the crosswalk and bowled over Denton in the desert city of Cathedral City near Palm Springs, California. Denton and her baby died later at a local hospital. Denton is an African-American. Garcia is white. The all too familiar tangle of legal, judicial and law enforcement dodges, delays, and blame shifting instantly began. The tangle ultimately called into question how seriously the local District Attorney, law enforcement, and even state officials take the deaths of African-Americans; especially when the alleged killer is white, female, and well-connected.

The tangle of legal and race tinged foot dragging in the case began immediately after Denton was struck. Garcia fled the scene and this made the killing a serious hit and run felony. Also Garcia earlier had been charged with a DUI offense. Though Cathedral City police were informed that she had checked into a local hospital, it took a full day before they arrested her. Despite the seriousness of the charges, Garcia was immediately released on $25,000 bail. The bail for felony hit and run offenses that result in death is generally ten times greater than Garcia’s bail.

Garcia’s husband is a special investigator with the Riverside DA’s Office, and this drew an outcry that Garcia was getting kid glove treatment. A month after Denton’s killing, Cathedral City police claimed that they were still investigating the deaths. This drew another outcry that Garcia was continuing to get special treatment. The DA claimed possible conflict of interest and turned prosecution over to the California Attorney General. In June, Garcia agreed to a plea bargain and a 15 year sentence. But this didn’t end the Denton family nightmare.

Garcia was given two more months to surrender and begin serving her sentence. This didn’t and hasn’t happened. On August 14, Garcia armed with backing from doctors and a hospital was a no show in court. Her excuse was that she underwent major surgery at an undisclosed hospital, for an undisclosed ailment, and that she was too sick to be moved. The judge and prosecutors bought it, and gave her more weeks in which to surrender. The judge added further insult with a hand wringing sympathy plea that he didn’t want to turn her alleged surgery into a death sentence. He added even more insult by tossing Denton’s father out of court for denouncing the judicial farce.

The charge by Denton’s family and local civil rights leaders that the police, DA, state Attorney General, and the judge are insensitive to the murder of African-Americans such as Denton and her child is not new. Countless groups have marched, picketed and screamed loudly that law enforcement and judges impose a hard racial double standard when the victim is a young African-American and the killer is white. The implicit message is that black lives are expendable. Many studies still confirm that the punishment whites receive when the victim is black is far less severe than when the victim is white and far more severe when the table is turned and the killer is black and the victim is white. Police officials and judges vehemently deny that they are any less diligent in prosecuting white on black killings than the reverse.

Yet the studies and reports on racial disparity in sentencing and the history of prosecuting crimes involving interracial violence show otherwise. In Denton’s case, the low bail, endless delays, DA conflict of interest, a questionable plea bargain, the killer’s alleged mysterious prison dodging illness, and the court’s willingness to go along with it paint a terrible picture of legal indifference and conciliation toward the killing of two blacks.

Seven months after Denton and child were flattened on a Cathedral City street, the record stands that her killer and her baby’s killer did not serve one full day of jail time. This is a record of shame, disgrace and an indictment of a criminal justice system that badly failed a young black mother and her child.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on