The ordeal of the Terrence Johnson trial is over.
Despite the efforts of troublemakers on both extremes of the race issue to inflame passions, Prince George's County remained clam-confident that justice would be done. We can be very proud of the responsibile way in which Prince Georgians conducted themselves.
Interestingly, at the height of the trial, I appeared on a radio station that has a predominantly black listenership for two and one half hours taking telephone queries. To my amazement, the Terrence Johnson trial was not mentioned once. One listener did complain about the Prince George's police department, however. He said a man, driving while intoxicated, had killed his daughter and the police were not tough enough on him, and he received a very lenient sentence. He was very bitter about the police department and our system of justice because the man got off so lightly. But with all due respect to his father, it seemed that he was more interested in avenging his daughter's death than in seeing justice done. An eye for an eye. . .
I'm sure friends fo mine had the same felling a few years ago when their daughter was killed by a friend. These parents wanted him to die because their daughter was dead.
In the aftermath of such personal tragedies, the immediate and, perhaps psychologically necessary, reaction is to seek revenge against those who caused the loss.
Now in the wake of the Johnson trial I can imagine the agony being felt by the family and friends of Rusty Claggett and Brian Swart. They feel cheated. Those two young men whom they loved are dead, and Terrence Johnson is alive. I can hear them ask in the bitterness: "Do you call this justice?"
Terrence Johnson's family and friends perceive the matter from a different perspective. They are upset that he was found guilty of some of the charges against him. They believe he is innocent. I can hear them ask in their bitterness: "Do you call this justice?"
I have learned through my experience as an FBI agent, an attorney and as a "juror" in the impeachment of Richard M. Nixon that justice is in the eye of the beholder. In the latter case, I received 15,000 letters from all over the country that were about evenly divided between those who felt Nixon had done wrong and those who felt he had not.
Apparently the only verdicts we consider just are those we agree with.
The family and friends of Rusty Claggett, Brian Swart and Terrence Johnson will never accept the jury's verdict. As we feel deep compassion for the agony they are suffering, let us pray that they will have the strength to endure this burden.
But what about of the rest of us?
Survival of our democratic system is totally dependent upon our acceptance of the verdit, whether we are pleased with it or not. Regardless of our individual views, everyone involved-members of the county police department, the supporters of Terrence Johnson, and the citizens at large-must exercise restraint. We have an obligation to our families and our neighbors to maintain peace in the county.
It is particularly essential that our police officers and others working in our system of criminal justice accept the verdict. Without such acceptance our system cannot work.
There's a very stron fraternal spirit among police officers, and, understandably, at this time emotions are running high. As a former FBI agent, I know the feeling the accompanies the death of c comrade in the line of duty. The emotion is inescapable: "It could have been me."
But in the times of stress such as these, the citizens of the county must rely even more upon our dedicated police I appeal to our police officers to continue carrying out their duties in a manner consistent with the highest principles and ideals of law enforcement and their own oath of office. The people of Prince Geroge's County deserve no less. It is our duty to ensure that peace prevails.
Some are now speculating that this verdict will jeopardize the safety of our police officers.To them I say that no effort will be spared to protect the saftety of the men and women who risk their lives every day to protect us.
Lately it has been popular to besmirch the reputation of our police department. This is deeply distressing because we have one of the best police departments in the nation. Unjust criticism does a disservice not only to our dedicated police officers but to Prince George's county itself.
I also appeal to the supporters of Terrence Johnson to recognize that, pending a possible appeal, the jury has spoken and, in recognition of this, refrain from inflammatory words or action because such would not be constructive.
The ordeal of the Terrence Johnson trial is behind us. Let us truly put it behind us and get on with our daily responsibilities. All of us should do everything we can to preserve the harmony of Prince George's county, where good neighbors treat each other with consideration and mutual respect, and public servants perform their duties even when it is difficult to do so.