The outflowing of outrage over the grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases has reached dangerous proportions.
No, not the peaceful protests about the perception of routine police brutality in minority communities. And even though the burning and looting that followed the Brown decision in Ferguson, Mo. was dangerous, I’m talking about something else:
The constant drumbeat of activists, commentators and others who know that the juries made the wrong decisions.
Just one of the many, many examples is columnist Eugene Robinson whostated, “There should have been an indictment in the Ferguson case….:
How do you know, Mr. Robinson? Did you hear 50 witnesses and see dozens of exhibits, including four videos (and not just the one everyone is talking about)? The grand jury members did.
Were you there?
No, I’m not saying that its decision was correct. I’m saying that it had more information. And the jurors spent weeks examining it. Maybe the system for indicting suspected criminals can be improved (but I’m not seeing any serious suggestions on that score). Maybe the prosecutors could have done a better job of trying to nail the two white police officers–Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo–who are being accused of racist and other horrible motives in the killing of Brown and Garner. And I’m definitely not saying the question of police brutality is not an issue. I’m totally in favor of every police officer being wired for video tape.
My point rather is the destruction of the criminal justice system that is being engineered by people who should know better. Outside observers of judicial and criminal decisions are exactly that–”outside.” Even with the benefit of the singlevideo of Garner being restrained and pulled to the ground, the rest of us may not have the entire picture. In the Garner case: How much did his other medical conditions contribute to his death? Was it truly a chokehold or some other form of restraint that was used on him? Does he have a prior record of resisting arrest?Did the officers involved know that the merchants have lodged complaints about him scaring off their customers? How can someone say anything (e.g. I can’t breathe) when he can’t breathe? And so on.
Reason surrenders to passion
We had the opportunity to review the testimony and evidence in the Brown case. It threw serious doubt on the initial and widely publicized assertions by witnesses that Brown was trying to give up or, worse, was shot in the back. It made clear the larger circumstances of Brown’s attack on the police officer. And it made it clear that even if Brown had been indicted that he probably would not have been convicted because there would be “reasonable doubt” about his guilt.
You may or may not agree with the Brown grand jury–obviously your right. You might think me naive. But you weren’t in the room and involved in the grand jury’s secret deliberations. And clearly those, such as Al Sharpton and Brown’s stepfather, who have made intemperate, inflammatory remarks weren’t either.
Who’s defending the anonymous jurors?
What should one assume about the jurors in these two cases? That they were stupid and easily manipulated by malicious and racist prosecutors? That the jurors were encumbered by the hateful prejudices that would constitute a nationwide “war on black men?” And were willing, despite their oaths, to free a guilty criminal?
Such a dark view needs more evidence to support it. I see none other than the a priori assumption that racial hatred had to account for two specific events that have their own causes. It turns logic on its head.
What about the O. J. verdict?
I’m put in mind of the reaction to the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Instead of outrage, there were celebrations in the streets. Despite the widespread public opinion that the Simpson jury got it wrong and freed a murderer. Were those who were celebrating saying that the jury system is fine? Or was it that the verdict went the “right” way when it was a case of black man accused of killing two whites?
Sure, I had an opinion–a private opinion. But as a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times at the time, I did not express it publicly. My job was and is not to tear down the credibility of fragile institutions that are the foundations of our system of justice. Nor should it be the role of activists, commentators and others to destroy that foundation.
Some readers will be sorely upset by what I’m saying, as if I’m trying to justify racially motivated killing. So be it, even though I’m not. I’m just trying to point out what seems to be an increasingly, minority view amid all the racket about an allegedly corrupt legal system. Dare I say it? Perhaps the grand juries got it right.
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