Posted on May 31, 2018

The Online Lynching of Dawnta Harris

E.R. Shipp, Baltimore Sun, May 29, 2018


{snip} But we know very little about what happened when 29-year-old Officer Amy Caprio met 16-year-old Dawnta Harris in the Perry Hall community just before 2 p.m. on May 21.

What we know is that Caprio, a much-admired officer, responded to a call about a suspicious vehicle and that she died after being struck by a Jeep Wrangler driven by Dawnta, a troubled teenager whose mother had turned to the juvenile justice system for help. The police have said that Dawnta had been acting in cahoots with three other teenagers who were burglarizing homes in a part of the county where black faces stand out.


While in an ideal world race and gender would be irrelevant to any reaction to a bunch of teenagers behaving irresponsibly and triggering a tragedy, ours is far from that nirvana. And so you see in social media posts and hear in radio blather that black “animals” and “thugs” should die. There’s little of the reserve and concern expressed when white teenagers go on shooting sprees in the nation’s schools.


Lynching is not the only form of truncated justice, especially when key players are trying to avenge the death of a fallen police officer. Fellow officers find ways to mete out punishment, maybe in rough rides while transporting suspects or in arranged beatings behind bars. Investigators lose evidence or ignore witnesses. Prosecutors forget to share crucial information with defense lawyers.

Knowing that every act has a meaning, two fearless criminal defense lawyers have stepped up to assure that the thin blue line, the mob mentality and a judge characterizing him as a “one-man crime wave” do not obliterate the constitutional rights of Dawnta Harris, a kid now caught up in a system designed to punish adults. Dawnta’s record shows that his penchant for being caught in stolen vehicles apparently dates back to December.


“In taking on the case pro bono, J. Wyndal and I are saying, ‘He matters. He’s not garbage. He’s clothed and covered with our credibility.’”

It is the credibility of the justice system that’s being tested here. All of us not directly involved in the case should check our emotions and watch with open minds as the wheels of justice turn.

E.R. Shipp