Police officers get their marching orders from various sources. These sources include U.S. Supreme Court decisions, state laws, city (county) ordinances, and public opinion. The last in this sequence is probably the most vital. Public opinion on a variety of subjects informs voting decisions, community activism, and protests. Voting decisions ultimately decide who sits in local, state and federal offices and are paramount in shaping public policy and how police perform their duties. So if you’re one of those who does not believe your vote counts, you are sadly mistaken and have been gravely misinformed. When you refuse to vote, especially in local elections, you forfeit your right to protest, speak out or demand not only police reform, but also how your tax dollars are spent on education, city roads, and other municipal projects.
The emergence of body-worn cameras, cell phone video and the viral videos of police interactions have sparked a long overdue debate on police use of force. Many community activists and protesters are demanding justice and police reforms across the board. In many instances, prosecutors are listening to their constituents and filing charges against officers in order to bring these apparent rogue officers in line and appease their communities.
The problem, however, is not the prosecution, but the community itself. Remember that members of the community make up the jury in criminal prosecution and civil cases. In many cases, officers choose to be tried by juries instead of judges. The process of choosing a jury is complicated and comes down to a social science experiment. Prosecutors and defense attorneys pour through background questionnaires of potential jurors and other methods in order to select the best candidates for their case. Knowing that a jury needs a unanimous decision in order to win a conviction is what favors the defense in many situations. All the defense needs is one lone holdout and the prosecution’s case is sunk.
The truth and problem are that many people are simply too pro-police. Being pro-police isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself. But when there are clear indications that reform needs to come, then standing behind law enforcement, at any and all costs, is a caustic disease of the mind.
In my opinion, far too many acquittals are arising when there is clear evidence of police misconduct. The purpose of body-worn video cameras by the police is to give an unbiased, truthful vantage point of the police and their interactions with the public. However, in many cases, even with the footage and a seemingly ironclad case, state prosecutions are failing to get the convictions desperately needed for the families and to foster reform among police agencies.
Take for example the high profile case of Walter Scott shot by Michael Slager. In this case, there was one lone holdout on the jury. The one holdout for a guilty verdict wrote a letter to the judge presiding over the case. The letter written by the juror indicated that he could never convict the officer and nothing would change his mind. After a hung jury was declared, Slager fortunately, later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years, but that’s not the point. It only takes one juror to slip through the cracks and create havoc for the justice system and slow down any potential reforms. Another instance is the case of the former University of Cincinnati police Officer Ryan Tensing shooting of Samuel Dubose. After two mistrials, the prosecution decided not to seek a third trial. Again, it was two different juries which decided that they couldn’t reach a common decision on the guilt of the officer.
It’s not just juries which refuse to convict officers. In Chicago, a former prosecutor and current judge refused to convict officers in the cover-up of the now infamous Laquan McDonald shooting. In New York, the prosecution failed to even get an indictment against the officers involved in the Eric Garner death. To make matters worse, officials are now saying, that despite what our eyes are telling us, Garner didn’t die from a chokehold at all.
So now, we have the same situations in Florida in which video surveillance is coming in to play in different acts of possible misconduct by officers. Dyma Loving was arrested for apparently being too loud and emotional after a shotgun was pointed at her. Go figure. Her arrest made the news and went viral on social media. As a response, the officer was suspended pending an internal investigation and subsequent charges have been filed against him.
The problem, as I’ve mentioned before, is not the prosecution, but the public and their seeming insistence that officers are never wrong and should not face any form of second-guessing. Of course, officers are there to protect us all and to ensure that we have the freedoms which we enjoy. However, we know that all systems must have checks and balances. When doctors are over-prescribing medications or teachers are sleeping with their students, we must hold them accountable. All professions must be held to a high standard and the police are not exempt from scrutiny. When members of the public refuse to fairly hear and weigh the merits of a criminal case of a wrongful shooting or any misconduct, they are not doing the profession any good. In fact the opposite is accomplished.