It has been amusing to see how police unions have reacted to the recent actions by prosecutors to charge police officers with crimes. They whine that the prosecutors are rushing to judgment because of public protests, that police are not being given the benefit of the doubt or the presumption of innocence, and that accused officers are not getting their due process rights.
Take this comment by the president of Houston’s Police Union, Ray Hunt who says that police are worried by recent developments
“There is a mood among some in this country that the police are going to be wrong unless proven right,” Hunt says.
And police see a connection between that public mood and the decision by an elected prosecutor in Baltimore to charge six officers.
Traditionally, prosecutors and grand juries have given American police the benefit of the doubt — and Hunt says that’s as it should be.
“You have to give the person the benefit of the doubt whenever they don’t have the videos and the several days to look at facts to make a decision,” he says. “And sometimes they have to make split-second decisions.”
He says he hopes elected prosecutors will continue to see it that way. But he says the case in Baltimore looks like a bad precedent.
“For someone to get indicted for a very high charge — a criminal charge — for something that may simply be negligent is very alarming to us,” Hunt says.
Their pleas would be more credible were it not for the fact that police are the ones who have shown little or no regard for the presumption of innocence or the due process rights of the people they harass and assault and even kill, as long as those people are poor and of color. In fact, more than 90 people were killed by police in the month of April alone. But as soon as they themselves become the targets, they become champions of the constitution and civil liberties.
Of course police officers deserve all the protections that the constitution affords. But so does everyone else. What they don’t seem to appreciate is that as representatives of the law, they are under a greater obligation than ordinary people to know those rights and to see that those rights are protected for everyone. If they want sympathy for the view that the protections of the constitution must apply to themselves, they need to show that they are willing to extend them to those whom they deal with too.