Disheartening is about the only word I can think of to describe my feelings from the events of the past two weeks. One of my first posts on this site was about whether we were in a post racial society. It’s clear we are not judging by the reaction to the decisions.
In two weeks we’ve seen two police officers who have caused the death of two African-American males not be indicted for murder or a lessor charge. Each is problematic in its own right.
So much has been discussed about both these cases that there is nothing new I can add. However, freevoter.com is about sharing independent thoughts and ideas and I think this is a perfect forum to talk about what we can learn from both of these cases.
What’s disheartening about this case is not the lack of indictment but the response from the community. Rioting and looting serves no purpose and only feeds into the stereotypes some have of the African-American community. Social media was no help in the matter. I have friends, like most I hope, that span a wide political spectrum. Most were thoughtful, engaging, and truly inquisitive. Some unfortunately used it as an opportunity to spew the vile that only surfaces at times like these. To be clear, I’m talking about those on both sides.
In every race & ethnicity there are those that feel that they have to defend every member no matter what they do. While I empathize with the plight of the citizens of Ferguson, destroying the neighborhood only deepens the gulf between them and those who do not care about their future. If we truly care, actions and discussions would focus more on the future than wrongs of today or the past.
On the flip side, those that ignore that a community that has been neglected, at best, would react in such a dramatic and self destructive manner has never understood what true despair is. Chants of ‘thugs’ and ‘get a job’ show no regard for the situation in which folks in places like Ferguson find themselves.
What’s disheartening about this case IS the lack of indictment. First there is video record that clearly shows that Mr. Garner had his hands up. Second, unlike Ferguson, there were five cops there to subdue the suspect. Third, the hold placed on Mr. Garner was classified as illegal by the officer’s own police force. Lastly, the medical examiner classified Mr. Garner’s death as a homicide.
The response in New York in contrast to Ferguson was civilized. This is due in large part to the economic opportunities afforded to all in NYC and to the work by NYPD in building relationships with those they police (and the police being more representative of the city demographics).
It’s clear that we have a broken judicial system. The purpose of the grand jury is to be a check on the prosecutor in bringing charges at will on alleged perpetrators. In brining matters to a grand jury, the prosecutor relies on evidence gathered by the police. So when it’s time to convene a grand jury for a police shooting, police cooperation is not a factor. But pursuing an indictment against a police officer won’t help the prosecutor in future cases where their help will be needed.
In addition, a grand jury’s sole job is to determine whether there is a enough evidence to justify a trial, not to determine guilt or innocence. As an outsider who hasn’t seen what was presented to the grand juries in either case, it seems that the jury was focused on whether a conviction was possible. And it appears both prosecutors metaphorically had their thumbs on the scale. In Ferguson, there was enough inconsistencies in witness statements to justify a no indictment decision. However, I would suggest that shooting 18 rounds, 12 of which connect, would appear excessive. That would be enough for me to allow the case to proceed to trial. Lack of indictment in Staten Island is absurd and doesn’t merit further conversation.
We need an independent prosecutor to specifically bring cases involving the police. As long as we continue with the system in place, we will never be able to hold the police (most of whom do the right thing), accountable.
And by the way, those body cameras, meaningless. Refer to the Staten Island case.