A Black Life in America is Worth Less than Five Dollars

When Hill heard the cops knock, he opened the garage door, saw them, and began closing it again, at which point deputy Christopher Newman shot him three times. ~ AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

by Abby Zimet, published on Mint Press News, June 1, 2018

In what’s been called the most racist jury ‘award’ in history,” a Florida jury has decided there was really no problem with cops shooting and killing Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr., 30, in 2014 because he was playing music too loudly in his own garage while drunk. (Need we add, Hill was black?) The civil verdict marked the dismal end to a longstanding wrongful death suit filed by Hill’s family in 2016, two years after St. Lucie County sheriff deputies turned up at Hill’s house in Fort Pierce following complaints he’d been playing loud “F.U. music” in his garage as a nearby middle school was letting out for the day.

When Hill heard the cops knock, he opened the garage door, saw them, and began closing it again, at which point deputy Christopher Newman shot him three times – once in the head, twice in the abdomen – through the door, because everyone knows that according to the impeccable standards of American jurisprudence, getting drunk, playing music and closing a garage door are punishable by death without a trial. Police later claimed he’d had a gun they told him to drop – a claim never proved – and then said they’d found a gun (unloaded) in Hill’s back pocket; they also determined his blood alcohol level was almost five times the legal limit for driving, though probably pretty close to that of many people getting drunk in their garage while listening to music.

Nonetheless, jurors found Newman, who had already cleared by a grand jury of criminal conduct, not guilty of  “unreasonable, negligent and excessive” force under Florida’s black-guys-are-scary law. Jurors were also asked to determine the amount of compensation to award Hill’s three children for their loss; the family was seeking $500,000, but jurors instead opted to give them $4 total – $1 to his mother for his funeral expenses, and $1 to each of his children.

The grievous punchline: The jury unfathomably found Hill 99% liable for his own murder because “under the influence of alcoholic beverages to the extent that his normal faculties were impaired” – that death penalty offense again – thus reducing the family’s award, and law enforcement’s liability, to pennies. The family’s attorney called the ruling “punitive”; Hill’s family wants a new trial; his fiancée vowed to “keep fighting until I get some justice.” On Facebook, the sheriff’s office declared, We are pleased to see this difficult and tragic incident come to a conclusion” and wished “everyone involved in the case the best.” One concise comment summed up the general response: “Murderers.”

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