Nov 25, 2014 Post-Ferguson, police abuse will continue being all too common until the overgrown criminal justice system shrinks and people keep pushing to end the abuse
After police office Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, I said the following among other things: We have an overgrown police state that over-relies on weapons and other methods of force — too often with excessive force and other forms of police misconduct — in too much of an "us versus them" mentality and training approach. When we have too many police — which the United States has, for instance for over-policing for so-called quality of life matters (including littering, minor traffic violations, and drinking alcohol on the street or in one’s car) and against crimes that should not be crimes, including marijuana, prostitution, and gambling — we will have a higher percentage of substantially racially biased police, because as we have more police, a higher percentage of highly racially biased police are inevitably hired, and we have diminished quality control in selecting, training, monitoring, and promoting police. Racism runs too rampant in society, police are chosen from that same society, and their uniforms do not cleanse them of any pre-existing racism.
The grand jury investigating officer Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown did not indict, because it found no probable cause to believe a crime was committed. A grand jury proceeding is not a trial, but instead is the prosecutor’s opportunity — without any defense counsel in the grand jury room, at least not in the jurisdictions where I practice — to ask the grand jury to authorize an indictment, to enable the criminal matter to proceed to trial. The grand jury having found no probable cause to indict, the same group clearly would not have convicted officer Wilson, seeing that a conviction requires a prosecutor to prove the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
The grand jury’s refusal to indict does not diminish the outrage of millions of people over the killing of Darren Wilson. The refusal to indict does not prevent the federal government from trying to prosecute officer Wilson, nor does the refusal to indict prevent Michael Brown’s family from proceeding with a lawsuit seeking money damages, against officer Wilson, the Ferguson police department, and the Ferguson government. Nor does the refusal to indict prevent people from pushing to reverse police abuse nationwide.
Police abuse is decades old and must be reversed. A trial, conviction and stiff sentence against Darren Wilson would not necessarily deter abusive police from their abusive ways, seeing that police are so infrequently prosecuted for their abuses. Abusive police can be deterred by fear of losing their jobs, losing promotions, and being demoted; and by a change in police culture so that police colleagues neither encourage police abuse nor turn a blind eye away from it.
The violence and vandalism following the Ferguson grand jury’s verdict is counterproductive to the perpetrators’ anger over police abuse. Violence and vandalism might garner more immediate attention than peaceful efforts to solve social ills, but only peaceful efforts can bring about the needed change.
Here are some further links to read about the Ferguson grand jury proceedings and process:
– The grand jury proceedings are available online here in transcript form.
– Prosecutor Sheila Whirley told the grand jury: “We were trying to give you a balanced presentation of the evidence… So you might see us go back and forth because we were trying to keep it balanced for you, and get to the truth and hopefully that was accomplished. And I think you are going to make the right decision.”
– Jason Johnson’s opinion that the process failed.
– Paul Cassell’s opinion that the grand jury process was fair.
I cringe that racists in the old South acted with all the more violent impunity, knowing how frequently all-white juries would refuse to convict them. As convinced as I am that I am meant for criminal defense work and that this is work on the side of the angels and the Constitution, I never would want racism by a jury or judge to let my client off for a heinous act that s/he actually committed.
I abhor police abuse, and all the more so when it is driven by racism. Police must return to policing in service of the people, and not in service of brute force, social control, politicians’ power interests, nor the military-industrial-government complex. Police abuse will remain rampant the more that good people merely stay silent in the face of such abuse.