mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Police Don’t Always Tell The Truth”: The Killing Of Walter Scott Sheds Light On The Problem Of Police Lying

Yesterday The New York Times published a video showing a police officer, Michael T. Slager, fatally shooting a black man, Walter L. Scott, as he ran away from the officer.

The video is disturbing enough by itself. But it becomes even more troubling when we consider how radically at odds the visual evidence seems to be with the police incident report filed on the killing. As the Times notes, Slager “said he had feared for his life because the man had taken his stun gun in a scuffle after a traffic stop on Saturday.” Yet the video shows Scott killed in flight, something like 20 feet away when the final bullet hit. After the shooting, Slager is shown placing an object next to Scott’s prone body. According to the Times, police reports also claim that officers performed CPR on Scott, an assertion not borne out in the video.

The death of Walter Scott will add more tinder to the already blazing political debate over police violence. The apparent contradictions between the incident report and the video highlight an overlapping but distinct problem: The police don’t always tell the truth. Police violence and police lying are two separate problems, although they also reinforce each other. Police violence flourishes in part because of the prevalence of police lying, which is rarely challenged by the criminal justice system.

In the Scott killing, there is good reason to believe that without the powerful counter-evidence provided by the video, which led to Slager being charged with murder yesterday, the police incident report would have been accepted as the official account of the shooting. Indeed, the persuasive power of police testimony extends outside official channels. Prior to the emergence of the video and Slager’s arrest, Slager’s version of events was echoed by the local media in South Carolina as if it were factual.

Police lying doesn’t just act as a shield for police violence, but as a larger source of corruption in the criminal justice system. Criminal cases are always narrative battles: Prosecutors and defense attorneys compete to win cases by presenting the most plausible stories consistent with admissible evidence. The police play a crucial part in this system as a supplier of narrative facts, in the form of both reports and testimony under oath.

As Ohio State law professor Michelle Alexander noted in a 2013 article in The New York Times, there is a powerful social presumption that we should put our faith in cops. “As a juror, whom are you likely to believe: the alleged criminal in an orange jumpsuit or two well-groomed police officers in uniforms who just swore to God they’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but?” Alexander said that this abiding faith in the police is misplaced: “In this era of mass incarceration, the police shouldn’t be trusted any more than any other witness, perhaps less so.”

Alexander’s contention rests on a strong scholarly literature about “testilying”—the practice of police officers committing perjury to secure a conviction, usually against someone they think is guilty. In a classic 1996 article for the Colorado Law Review, Vanderbilt Law professor Christopher Slobogin demonstrated that both “reportilying” (falsifying police reports) and “testilying” are pervasive in many American jurisdictions.

Police perjury, Slobogin argues, occurs because “police think they can get away with it. Police are seldom made to pay for their lying.” Not just prosecutors but even many judges see themselves as sharing a common set of goals with the police of making sure the guilty get punished. Working in a shared enterprise, they are loath to challenge police perjury. “Prosecutors put up with perjury because they need a good working relationship with the police to make their cases,” Slobogin notes.

Slobogin documented his case by citing a compelling 1992 study by Myron Orfield of the Chicago criminal justice system showing that a large percentage of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys acknowledge the reality of police perjury: “In his survey of these three groups (which together comprised 27 to 41 individuals, depending on the question), 52 percent believed that at least ‘half of the time’ the prosecutor ‘knows or has reason to know’ that police fabricate evidence at suppression hearings, and 93 percent, including 89 percent of the prosecutors, stated that prosecutors had such knowledge of perjury ‘at least some of the time.’”

If officer Slager did fabricate his incident report in the Scott killing, he wasn’t being a bad apple but rather adhering to a dishonesty that is all too common in American police forces. Such is the credence given to police reporting that Slager’s rendition of events was only overturned by the compelling counter-narrative offered by the video, shot by a civilian onlooker.

Videos, including police body cameras, are not a panacea to the problem of police violence. The 1992 Rodney King trial alone should remind us that compelling visual testimony can be overridden by the social trust many jurors give to police. Still, in a society where both the state and many citizens are too credulous about police testimony, videos are often the best way to break the stranglehold of the official narrative.

 

By: Jeet Heer, Senior Editor, The New Republic, April 9, 2015

April 10, 2015 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Police Shootings, Police Shotings | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time To Focus On The Other Fergusons In America”: Lessons Emerging Should Guide A Nationwide Overhaul To Police Reform

A six-month Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation validated what we heard from many Ferguson residents after the August shooting death of Michael Brown drew the nation’s attention to their city: that their police department has, for several years, exhibited a disturbing pattern of discriminatory policingand, frankly, grift of its citizens.

Further action by the DOJ may reform (or even overhaul) the Ferguson police department entirely. The shooting of two police officers from neighboring departments early Thursday morning in front of the Ferguson police headquarters will likely add pressure for resolution sooner than later. But, while attention to the ongoing tension in Ferguson is merited, there is a danger in Ferguson remaining virtually alone in the national spotlight. The problem of police brutality is hardly endemic to that one city. What about the rest of the 18,000 other departments across the country that may have similarly sick cultures and procedures?

Other Fergusons loom on the horizon, and we shouldn’t wait until an officer shoots another person and a city erupts to fix them. The lessons emerging from Ferguson can and should guide a nationwide overhaul to police reform. Now, while the whole country is focused on this issue, we should seize this moment to develop solutions that are as comprehensive as the problems are vast. Police misconduct and brutality are ingrained in departments thanks to bad practices, limited transparency and a lack of accountability. How does a federal government charged with protecting citizens from policing like this provide a fix that sticks?

It isn’t as if they haven’t tried in the past. In the wake of the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King in March of 1991, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was passed in 1994. One of the things it mandated was that the DOJ keep records and report on use of force by law enforcement. The law also empowered the DOJ to sue any police agencies they found to exhibit a “pattern and practice” of excessive force and civil rights violations, and enter with them into “consent decrees,” arrangements that give the DOJ oversight over a police agency for a designated period of time. The goal of these arrangements is to reform a police department’s policies and practices by monitoring performance and making recommendations.

In the two decades since the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was passed, the DOJ has entered into more than 20 consent decrees with local police departments. They have a record of effectiveness, the most notable example being in Los Angeles where the King incident occurred. A study by the Harvard Kennedy School, found that the DOJ’s consent decree with the LAPD improved the department in most ways imaginable. Public satisfaction with the police improved, the frequency of the use of serious force fell, the quality of police stops improved with stops resulting in a higher rate of arrests and charges filedall while crime rates fell.

The successful use of consent decrees by the DOJ supports the idea that comprehensive federal oversight of the nation’s police can improve outcomes. But what we’ve ended up instead with is a piecemeal, reactionary system for police accountability that can barely keep up with, let alone disrupt, the warrior cop culture that has poisoned so many departments with its misconduct and brutality.

The mandate that the DOJ record and report on use of force, for example, is hollow without the cooperation of the country’s 18,000 police departments. It isn’t enforced today, and thus we have no comprehensive count of how many people are killed each year by the policethe most fundamental information needed for reform. In addition, the DOJ currently investigates police misconduct primarily by complaint. And its consent decrees, while shown effective when enforced, are temporary and only apply to individual police departments with track records of misconduct. They are not the permanent, preventative, and national measures that are needed.

A consent decree is likely on its way in Ferguson, and it promises to be an effective step towards reform. But what happens after the DOJ removes its watchful eye from that town, perhaps to address other Fergusons that face similar treatment by their police departments?

The prevalence of police brutality has long demanded federal intervention. The White House task force prescribed in its first report last week good, common-sense measures for better policing, including independent investigations in fatal police shootings and more comprehensive data collection. But that doesn’t get close to a permanent solution.

The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ has demonstrated its effectiveness in addressing police misconduct through the enforcement of the aforementioned 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, as well as the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Special Litigation Section currently does that work, but that unit is also responsible for protecting disability rights, the rights of the incarcerated, reproductive and religious rights.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division would be strengthened by the creation of a section charged solely with tracking, investigating andwhere a civil rights violation is foundprosecuting use of force. Such a unit would prioritize those duties and present a national solution to what is undoubtedly a nationwide problem. The department is already empowered by existing law to create such a unit that could take broader action. Perhaps the only thing standing in the way is the political will to impose a penalty if local police departments do not cooperate.

More than 20 years passed between the assault on King and Brown’s death. In that time, untold numbers of unarmed Americans have been killed by police. Their deaths did not become national news stories or spur federal investigations. We owe it to them to make fair and safe policing a matter of national interest and urgency. If we don’t, the list will grow and we’ll be here again.

 

By: Donovan X. Ramsey, The New Republic, March 13, 2015

March 15, 2015 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Justice Department, Law Enforcement, Police Brutality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Deck Is Stacked In Favor Of The Police”: Given Every Benefit Of The Doubt, Which Rarely Happens In Other Criminal Cases

Once more a police officer is not being held legally accountable for a killing. There are so many instances of this. Earlier this year, two Fullerton, Calif., police officers were found not guilty of all charges in the killing of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Medical records show that bones in his face were broken and he choked on his own blood; the compression of his thorax by the police made it impossible for Thomas to breath and deprived his brain of oxygen.

In the wake of the grand jury’s choice to not indict the Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson, the question must be asked as to why so often juries, and grand juries, rule in favor of the police, even when there is strong evidence of police misconduct. With a videotape of a savage beating, a California jury acquitted the four officers who beat Rodney King and a subsequent federal court jury acquitted two of them.

It is only when police officers are being investigated that the criminal justice system seems to operate most like it is supposed to in protecting the rights of suspects. Grand juries are meant to be a check on prosecutors. But in reality grand juries usually do whatever prosecutors want and generally are presented only evidence supporting an indictment. In Ferguson, however, the prosecutor presented all of the evidence and deferred entirely to the grand jury.

There is supposed to be a presumption of a defendant’s innocence in every criminal investigation. All too often, though, prosecutors and judges and even juries act with the assumption of a defendant’s guilt. By contrast, when the defendant is a police officer, there is a strong presumption of innocence. There is great deference to the split-second decisions of the officer in the field, even when the force seems clearly excessive. The officer is given every benefit of the doubt, which rarely happens in other criminal cases.

The problem is that the law gives too much deference to police conduct and does not do nearly enough to hold the police accountable. This also is true when police are sued by victims for money damages in civil court. A number of legal rules make it very difficult for victims of police abuse to successfully sue.

The events in Ferguson have focused national attention on the problem of excessive police force. It must be a catalyst for a careful analysis of why the legal system fails to achieve justice for victims of the police and how to correct it.

 

By: Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and The Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment law at The University of California, Irvine, School of Law; Room for Debate, The New York Times, November 26, 2014

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“The Painful Paradoxes Of Race”: A History That Just Doesn’t Go Away

“In the jewelry store, they lock the case when I walk in,” the young African-American man wrote. “In the shoe store, they help the white man who walks in after me. In the shopping mall they follow me. … Black male: Guilty until proven innocent.”

“I have lost control of my emotions,” he declared. “Rage, Frustration, Anguish, Despondency, Fatigue, Bitterness, Animosity, Exasperation, Sadness. Emotions once suppressed, emotions once channeled, now are let loose. Why?”

The words came not in response to the George Zimmerman verdict in the Trayvon Martin killing but to the acquittal of the police officers in the Rodney King case. The author of the May 6, 1992, column in the Stanford University student newspaper: Cory Booker, now the nationally celebrated mayor of Newark and the frontrunner to be the next United States senator from New Jersey.

Booker pointed me toward his angry essay more than halfway through a late breakfast on a visit here last week. He spoke the day before President Obama went to the White House briefing room to issue his powerful reminder to Americans that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

In words that resonated with what Booker had said, the president noted that “the African-American community is looking at this issue though a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

For his part, Booker didn’t start with the Zimmerman trial but instead spoke enthusiastically about a program he had established in cooperation with the libertarian-conservative Manhattan Institute to help men released from prison become better fathers. “The right intervention,” he said, “can create radically different outcomes.”

Booker knows about crime. He described his experience of holding a young man who had just been shot, trying and failing to keep him from dying in his arms. He returned home disconsolate and washed off the young man’s blood.

His account, and Obama’s later words, put the lie to outrageous claims by right-wing talk jocks that those upset over the outcome in the Zimmerman trial have no concern for what the conservative provocateurs, in one of their newly favored soundbites, are calling “black-on-black” crime. African-American leaders, particularly mayors such as Booker, were struggling to stem violence in their own communities long before it became a convenient topic for those trying to sweep aside the profound problems raised by the Martin case.

Booker fully accepts that there is a right to self-defense. “One of the things I learned from the good cops is that there were some times when they were completely justified in pulling their weapons and killing somebody,” he said. But those good cops, he insisted, also understood that their first obligation was “to defuse a situation,” to try to prevent violence. Discussing Zimmerman, Booker added: “This so-called community watch guy, having been told by the police to back away, had so many opportunities to defuse the situation.”

Why, Booker wonders, do we only have our famous conversations about race and fear “when things go terribly wrong”? Why, he wants to know, was it impossible for Zimmerman to look upon Martin “as someone he could have a conversation with”?

This shrewd politician is under no illusions that his questions have simple answers. Yet as we neared the end of the interview, he offered a thought you might hear in a church or synagogue. “Fear is a toxic state of being,” Booker said. “You’ve got to lead with love.”

Talking to Booker was a reminder of the bundle of contradictions that is the story of race in America, precisely what Obama was underscoring when he spoke of our progress as well as our difficulties.

The young man who protested against the need to prove his innocence had earned a Rhodes scholarship and went on to become one of the country’s most prominent politicians. He has won friends across the political spectrum (which makes some liberals nervous). Most of what he had to say to me was about practical things government can do to reverse rising inequality and battle child poverty. One of the central problems of our time, he said, is “the decoupling between wage growth and economic growth,” a development that feeds so many other social challenges.

We cannot give up on trying to solve these problems any more than we can blind ourselves both to the persistence of racism and our triumphs in pushing it back. That, I think, is the message of his old column. We have come a long way, and have a long way to go.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 22, 2013

July 23, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Racism | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

%d bloggers like this: