The Corner

Bogus Prosecutions Don’t Stop Police Brutality

Yesterday, The Atlantic ran a piece called “An Alternative to the Madness of Proving Police Injustice” advocating the use of so-called “restorative justice” in the event of disputes over police conduct. While restorative justice is an intriguing idea (my wife co-authored a book with a family who appealed to restorative justice in response to their daughter’s murder), the author seems to think the Freddie Gray trials demonstrate the inadequacy of the standard criminal justice system:

When Baltimore police officer Caesar Goodson Jr., was acquitted Thursday of all charges related to the death of Freddie Gray, the one emotion absent from the courtroom, social media, and the crowds of protesters in the city was surprise. The cases of all six officers alleged to be involved in Gray’s April 2015 death have been tossed about in a sea of strange legal wrangling and reshuffling, but without much real suspense. The trial of Officer Edward Nero ended in a judge’s acquittal, and that of Officer William Porter in a hung jury. All six officers charged in the case remain on administrative, drawing full salaries, pending the outcome of an internal investigation. But it’s likely that these officers will share the fate of most officers accused of killing black people in the line of duty: a return to police work.

The process will grind on. It must. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is poised to continue cases against the three remaining charged officers who have not been tried. Judge Barry Williams—who presided over Goodson’s bench trial—will continue to hear them. Porter will be retried after those three, and a process that was originally slated to be completed this summer might stretch into 2017. But the lesson at the end of that process will likely be the same as it was during trials for officers involved in other high-profile deaths of people of color. The criminal justice system just doesn’t possess the will, tools, or objectivity to consistently deliver justice for victims of police violence. Criminal justice is incapable of policing itself, and that will continue to be the case for as long as its inherent conflicts of purpose and interest remain.

I understand and know that there are individual cases where the criminal justice system fails crime victims, including victims of police crimes. But the Freddie Gray trials so far demonstrate how the courts can actually work. They’re an alternative to the madness of street justice. Remember, rather than thoroughly investigate the facts of Gray’s death, Baltimore prosecutors capitulated to the mob and indicted officers on the slimmest of evidentiary reeds. And now they’re facing the predictable legal consequences.

Police critics are fond of noting that officer indictments and convictions are less frequent than internal police investigations or civil suits, but those are different legal proceedings with different standards of proof. Whenever a person is embroiled in inherently dangerous and volatile situations, it is going to be far more difficult to prove the elements of a crime — especially intent. Yes there are police officers who wrongly escape punishment, but any statistical analysis that purports to compare police and civilian prosecutions — or even police criminal prosecutions with civil investigation — is going to be flawed from the start.

One last thing — no one should reflexively back any state official (or any person) in the face of allegations of wrongdoing — evidence is more important than identity — but the Left hardly builds confidence in its own argument when its writers claim, for example, that police are used as a “first response” to “random acts of existence by people of color.” I don’t even know what that phrase means. By all means hold police accountable for true misconduct, but justice isn’t defined by the will of the mob.


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