When the law is administered differently to different groups of people, the law’s integrity is damaged.
Over the past two years there have been three notorious cases in which unarmed black men were killed. None of these cases resulted in a conviction. In two, the grand juries failed even to render indictments.
In an uphill battle I have tried, throughout these controversies, to educate my own race, the whites, on the law’s proper administration. In none of these cases was the law handled with integrity. All of them failed because of assumptions, always regarding race and in two cases, regarding the police.
But assumptions have no place in the law. The facts and circumstances of each case must be looked at closely. While most police officers do their work well, and provide society a vital benefit, even their actions should be subject to scrutiny. As John Adams wrote at the foundation of the United States, ours is a government not of men but of laws.
It has been rightfully said that the prosecutors in both the Ferguson and Eric Garner cases abdicated their responsibilities. In any normal case, the prosecutor will cross examine any suspect who chooses to testify before the grand jury. Yet in neither of these cases were the suspect officers cross examined. The prosecution in Ferguson also failed to give the grand jury guidance, another aberration from the normal course of business.
Prosecutors are normally in close contact with police officers. They may naturally be loath to prosecute the officers who are often are their key witnesses in criminal cases. The suggestion may be made that it would be better for special prosecutors to be appointed wherein police officers are under investigation.
The problem with special prosecutors, however, is that they have time and again abused their powers. For an example we need only look to the protracted and mainly unnecessary investigation of Kenneth Starr, although Bill Clinton’s chronic lying prolonged that matter considerably.
The social mandate, then, is that prosecution should be done almost exclusively by district attorneys and attorneys general: those elected to prosecute. But they need to do their work evenhandedly, and this involves education for those both in and outside the legal system on race, prejudice and the dynamics of power.
The uphill battle continues.