The three tragic events of this week, the shooting deaths of a citizen of New Orleans, and of St. Paul, Minnesota at the hands of the police who encountered these two (2) individuals over petty infractions is no less offensive, than the disgusting and outrageous shooting of twelve police officers in Dallas, Texas, five (5) of whom were killed.
What is happening, in my view, is our society is getting out of control because we are not focusing, nor are not talking about the root cause. The media talks about racism, out of control militarized police, poorly trained police, too many guns, not enough gun control, economic disadvantage, and so forth.
The real basic cause, especially in the view of the minority communities upon whom these tragedies disproportionately fall, is the perceived (justifiably) unfairness and lack of proportionality in the justice system as applied to them. They see, and the media makes no secret of the practically routine unequal treatment of equals the constitution forbids. No one is above the law, not even the police. The Constitution commands equal protection of the law. The reality is, and the perception is inequality; the police are advantaged in these situations and seemingly above the law or being held to a different standard.
There are 900,000 policers in the U.S. who, with the exception of a small few, do their job competently, and sometimes heroically. But, there are just enough who, with high profile misconduct which is too often tragic, as we have been recently, do to citizens that which, if the table was turned, a citizen shot an officer, the treatment of the offender is dramatically different. An officer who shoots and kills is put on paid administrative leave. The police investigation is shrouded in secrecy, and often, nothing happens beyond a quiet cash settlement down the road. A citizen who shoots and kills is immediately prosecuted; jailed with no bond, and the first thing the media does is talk about that person’s criminal history, most often in the terms of arrests, not convictions. The record is irrelevant at trial, only at sentencing, not before.
Another instance of this inequality is how videos are handled. When the police video record, those recordings are secreted, and difficult to obtain. When a citizen records the police, they are threatened with arrest, confiscation of their video recording phone or device, and sometimes destruction of the device by the arresting officer to cover up their misconduct.
Examples of inequality of treatment of supposed equals are many and varied. Some solutions are in “A Toast to Silence”; disengagement from the police by not talking on the street, video recording of police/citizen encounters, legislative reforms, and returning to the notion of the presumption of innocence being paramount, making it unlawful to publish someone’s arrest history immediately upon their arrest, and above all restore the appearance of due process of the law which not only the accused, but also what society has the right to expect, doing so by ending the police secrecy and cover-ups as currently practiced. Last, but not least, taking politics out of selecting, better vetting of, and term limits for judges.
In my view, the prosecutor in Ferguson, Missouri did tremendous damage to the publics’, and to the victim’s family’s perception of due process. That prosecutor turned the system on its head. He, in effect, conducted a one man secret trial; he held a secret grand jury proceeding and “acquitted” the officer, acting as his defense counsel, not as a prosecutor, all of which offended the Constitution by denying society at large the due process it and the victim’s family expects, is entitled to, and which the Constitution requires. Acquittals come from public trials where both sides are represented, with judges and trial juries, not from secret one-sided proceedings. This is why we are at the stage we have witnessed this week. The perception, and the reality is that the legal system is not working as designed. Equals are not treated equally and it clearly appears that due process is not happening.
I’ve seen no marchers or protestors with signs saying “Equal Justice Matters”, “Due Process Matters”. They matter! If the justice system doesn’t start to deliver equal justice, and due process, little else matters!