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Prosecuting wrongful killings by cops will not reduce police misconduct as much as overhauling the entire criminal justice system

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The videotaped and other reported incidents of wrongful killings and other misconduct by police keep pouring in. With this month’s police killings of Walter Scott (shot in the back) and Eric Harris (shot by a part-time cop claiming he meant only to tase Harris), we see swift action through condemnation by government officials of the killings (at least over Mr. Scott’s killing) and prosecution for the police actions, where government condemnation action has not always been as decisive, widespread, and swift against wrongful killings by police.

Prosecuting and condemning of such killings by police goes after the symptoms of the sickness but not much after the causes. Where, for instance, have we come to that we still have police forces with part-time police officers (as in Mr. Harris ‘s case) doing the part-time work for the excitement and without sufficient daily experience? Where have we come that we have a police officer who would shoot Walter Scott dead in the back when Scott posed no noticeable physical risk by running away after a traffic stop?

As I repeatedly say, we must substantially shrink the criminal justice system to improve it, including by legalizing marijuana, prostitution and gambling; heavily decriminalizing all other drugs; eliminating mandatory minimum prison sentencing; eliminating per se drunk driving blood alcohol laws; and eliminating the death penalty. Let our nation truly be the land of the free and home of the brave, and not the current land of the cops and home of the caged.

Adding insult to deadly injury in the killing of Eric Harris was the police officer belittling Mr. Harris with "F*ck your breath." Whether or not that police officer knew that Mr. Harris had been shot, that police tirade has no place in a society where police are supposed to serve the public — and not the other way around — and is likely repeated all too often by police nationwide as variations on that theme.

Of course the police officers being prosecuted for killing Walter Scott, Eric Harris, and unarmed Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell in 2012 (see here and here) are entitled to the presumption of innocence and an effective defense as much as any criminal defendant, and no criminal defense lawyer should hesitate to defend them against prosecution, so long as they pay to be defended or qualify for court-appointed counsel. That does not diminish from the horrific nature of all the police killings listed above.

Praying for Walter Scott, Eric Harris, Malissa Williams, Timothy Russell, their families, and everyone else wrongfully killed and otherwise mistreated by police officers and by the entire criminal justice system.