OPED We've lost public trust
Another shooting. Another video. Another police cover-up.
This time it is in Chicago, but we have seen this story before throughout the country.
Police abuse their authority to use force, kill someone and claim self defense. At some point, a video surfaces showing that the force was far from necessary for the situation at hand. Sometimes officers are charged, far too often they are not, and the systems that led to the shooting are kept in place.
This unjust response erodes the public trust in police, prosecutors and the criminal justice system.
Whether one believes the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., was the correct application of police tactics, it is hard, if not impossible, to defend police action in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, alleged excessive force death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, shooting death of Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., the brutal force used on a recalcitrant high school female student in Columbia, S.C., the shooting death of 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis and now the 16 bullets through the body of Laquan McDonald. Understandably, the public trust in police is starting to slide where it is not already obliterated.
The problems go deeper. Besides the shootings and the use of excessive force, the public sees scores of people released from death row and life terms in prison after decades behind bars because of the hiding of evidence by police or prosecutors. We see officers go free when other officers close ranks behind a false story of a threatening suspect when the threat was minimal or nonexistent. We see prosecutors complicit in avoiding charging police.
Judges are loath to impose meaningful penalties on the police and prosecutors who hide evidence. Many elected judges are fearful of campaign repercussions from the brotherhood of police officers and their prosecutorial brethren. Those who are appointed are concerned about public perception when scare tactics are used to gin up public sentiment and fear. Juries back away from imposing harsh penalties on those who walk the thin blue line no matter how bad the conduct.
It is difficult to uncover police and prosecutorial misconduct. When discovered, it is even more difficult to prove as the criminal justice system protects the wrongdoers. The system passes it off as an oversight, accident, one-time incident, or even, how could we have known? (Often, the only conduct brought to light, either proper or not, is done so by video or dogged work by journalists, families or defense attorneys.)
This is unfair to the tens of thousands of police and prosecutors who do their jobs correctly each day.
But, with officers killing or crippling citizens and prosecutors secreting away evidence causing wrongful convictions, the public's trust in the criminal justice system and its components will continue to result in a debilitating loss of confidence.
It is up to top-level officials, local police management, police officers, deputy prosecutors, district attorneys and judges to take charge and halt the slide of public trust. They must face down the small minority of police that are bad and prosecutors who wish to win at all costs. The loss of the public's confidence will not be remedied by one indictment or firing. The cover-up cannot be condoned. At all levels, police officers, prosecutors and officials must regain the public trust.
— David Kladney is a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Amy Royce is a special assistant to Kladney. The views expressed are their own