Ferguson To New York: The Problem With Police Indictments

In the Ferguson case, last week the grand jury decided there would be no charges for officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. This week, in the New York “chokehold” case, the grand jury decided there would be no charges for officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. The problem with police indictments? They simply don’t happen. Okay, sure, there have been police officers charged with crimes, but usually when that happens it’s a crime committed by an officer while not on duty. As we’ve seen in Ferguson, and now today in New York City, it is incredibly hard to indict a police officer. Remember, these grand jury decisions are not about innocence or guilt, they are about deciding if an indictment and trial is warranted based on evidence and eyewitness testimony. In other words, it shouldn’t be that high a bar, but for some reason, when police officers are the ones potentially facing charges, grand juries are reticent. Adding to the difficulty in getting an indictment is the fact that prosecutors are usually on the same team as law enforcement in cases that don’t involve police officers. And based on human nature alone, that’s enough reason to suspect a less than thorough examination of all the facts in the case. Let’s face it, we want to be on the side of police. Most people, if given a choice between police testimony and bystander testimony, are more like to believe the police. And regardless of whether the police are in the wrong, they are human beings as well, which means like anyone else, they are going to tell the story that is most favorable to their future. Add it all up, assuming everything else is equal, it means our judicial system is set up to make it a lot easier for police officers to avoid indictment compared to just about anyone else, well, other than maybe celebrities and people of great monetary means.

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