In the case of the deaths of two black men Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York at the hands of police officers, we had grand juries fail to indict them and thus avoid having the cases go to trial. It is not for nothing that it is asserted that any competent prosecutor could, if they wished, indict a ham sandwich, so the lack of indictments, coupled with the extremely unusual situation in both cases in which the prosecutor allowed the officers to give unchallenged testimony in their defense suggests that the fix was in and the prosecutor was using the grand jury to avoid taking personal responsibility for the decision.
Prosecutors tend to be highly biased in favor of police because they work closely with them on cases and depend upon their cooperation, which sets up an inherent conflict of interest. Is it any surprise then that grand juries indict in almost 100% of the cases except when the target is a police officer, when the rate drops to almost zero? Furthermore, since the police are the ones who write up the crime reports, many of those are slanted to paint their own actions in a good light. As a result, hundreds of events in which police officers are involved in homicides do not get even get recorded in national statistics, hiding the true nature of the problem.
In an interview with NPR Noel Leader, who worked for 20 years in the New York police department and is the founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, explained what is wrong with the system and how it has to be changed.
Well, because of the incestuous relationship between the district attorney’s office and the police – you know, they work hand-in-hand every day on every – practically every criminal case. Police officers are evolved – involved, and they work hand-in-hand with the district attorney. Therefore, our organization, which is comprised of police officers, states that in these controversial police shootings, the district attorney should be removed because of the incestuous relationship. And we should have a special prosecutor investigate these shootings. Over the years – and in particular, these two latest incidents in Missouri and New York City – you see where the district attorney, who can indict a ham sandwich whenever they want to indict a ham sandwich, failed to get an indictment in two cases that are very much problematic. And we believe because of the relationship, there’s a lack of will to get indictments of police officers because of their close, close, very close relationship.
The shooting of 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland and the decision by the local prosecutor to go to the grand jury suggests that he too was seeking this escape route. But that strategy was complicated by the release yesterday of a devastating report by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department that investigated the local police after an insane police chase two years ago through the city involving 62 police cars that ended with them pumping 137 bullets into the car of two unarmed black people and killing both, a horrific scene that looked like something out of the film Bonnie and Clyde. The report found that there was use of “excessive and unreasonable force” by the police in over hundreds of cases in a period covering just three years.
“Our review revealed that Cleveland police officers violate basic constitutional precepts in their use of deadly and less lethal force at a rate that is highly significant,” the report said. It found use of force by Cleveland police was at times “chaotic and dangerous”, even going so far as to suggest victims of crime and innocent bystanders should fear for their lives in the presence of police.
You can read more about what the is being describes as the “Shocking, Systemic Brutality, Incompetence In Cleveland Police Department” here.
This report will come as no surprise to the poor and people of color in Cleveland, the people who have been most at the receiving end of this treatment, though it might shock those who more affluent people who view the police as their protectors. In the case of the Tamir Rice shooting, we already have reports that Timothy Loehmann, the police officer who shot him, was thought to be unstable and incompetent by a previous employer in a different police department. The other officer Frank Garmback who drove the vehicle had an excessive force suit against him settled for $100,000. Furthermore, even experts who might be sympathetic to the police are raising the same serious concerns as I did about how they acted in this case.
Three experts in police procedures find fault with the Cleveland police officers involved in the Nov. 22 fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice for pulling their cruiser so close to someone whom they believed was armed.
The experts, contacted Tuesday by Northeast Ohio Media Group, each concluded from viewing surveillance video of the shooting that the officers should have maintained a greater distance between their cruiser and Tamir.
“The tactics were very poor,” said David Thomas, senior research fellow for the Police Foundation. “If the driver would have stopped a distance away so that the primary officer wasn’t right there to get involved in shooting, it may have played out differently.”
Surveillance footage shows a cruiser driven by sixth-year officer Frank Garmback cut across the grass in front of a gazebo at a West Side Cleveland park and roll within feet of Tamir, and first-year officer Timothy Loehmann shooting Tamir within seconds from an open passenger door.
In the wake of the killing of Eric Garner in New York, we now have the familiar spectacle of authorities calling for more training of police officers. While more training is a good thing, one cannot help but suspect that it might also serve as a stalling tactic to pacify the restless community and mask the serious problem of racism. Leader thinks so.
Well, you know, it’s always amusing for me to hear commissioners throughout the country talk about training after we have a horrific incident. New York City Police Department’s one of the best-trained departments in the world, I would go to say. A lot of departments come to New York to receive training. So it’s always comical for me to hear the police commissioner or the mayor to talk about training.
Training is not the problem. We have a problem of racism within law enforcement as it relates to communities of color. You know, some of these horrific incidents only occur in communities of color. And officers that get trained in the police academy are dispersed throughout the city. How come it’s not happening everywhere?
Given this combination of events and the resulting close scrutiny that the Cleveland legal system is going to be under and the anger in the community and the nation as a whole about excessive use of force by police, it is going to make it very difficult for the Cleveland prosecutor to avoid indicting the police in this case. I shudder to think of what might happen if they do.