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How can cops be so terribly wrong, yet not go to jail?

timothy-russell-care-bullet-holes-clevelandA car backfires, but cops think they hear a gunshot aimed at them, chase the car down, and fire 137 bullets into it. The two people inside, including a totally innocent female passenger, end up dead — each shot more than 20 times.

Michael Brelo, the cop who jumped up on the car’s hood after it was trapped between two police vehicle and could go no further, and then fired 15 times through the windshield at the people inside, seemed a particularly good candidate for prosecution. Yet, on Friday, a judge acquitted him.

Acquitted? Are you kidding?

This doesn’t necessarily mean the judge is corrupt, biased, or stupid. “The judge said he could not conclude Brelo’s shots alone caused the deaths of Williams and Russell and said Brelo’s use of deadly force was justified based on the probable cause that he, the other officers and the public were in imminent danger,” CBS News reported. While those conclusions strike me as somewhat dubious, that still doesn’t explain why cops get off in case after case.

The problem is obvious: The legal standards applicable to officer-involved shootings is far too lax.

All over America, cops are displaying a shocking disregard for the value of human life. They’re shooting innocent citizens who’ve done nothing wrong. They’re shooting old people, women, and children. It’s so bad that many citizens are more afraid of the police than of criminals.

Clearly, a revolution is needed America law enforcement, starting with hiring practices. Some people who are cops shouldn’t be. People with no respect for any lives but their own shouldn’t stay in this line of work. Police departments need to be demilitarized, with their personnel deprogrammed from their current war-zone mentality. Perhaps they should even be disarmed as in Britain and other civilized countries.

The rules of engagement need to be revisited and revised. In most cases, cops who open fire within seconds of encountering a citizen, have not done their job of trying to defuse the situation and resolve it peacefully, and deserve to be charged and convicted of manslaughter. The police killings of Jason Harrison and Tamir Rice are examples of cases trigger-happy cops opening fire almost instantly against unarmed persons — a mentally ill man holding a screwdriver, and a child with a toy gun — without making any effort to assess the threat or deal with it nonviolently. They simply gave themselves the benefit of doubt at the expense of someone else’s life.

No civilized society tolerates that kind of behavior from its citizens; why should we tolerate it from our police?

We must hold our cops to a higher standard than that. If they’re unwilling to assume the risks of the job under the revised terms, they are free to work elsewhere, at something else. No one is forced to be a cop or undertake the risks of street duty. Those risks are real, but under no circumstances should we give anyone a license to kill on whim, which is what the police in this country have today.

In cities and towns across America, citizens — especially those in minority communities, although the problem isn’t limited to minorities — are frustrated, upset, and angry that this keeps happening and nothing is being done about it.

Most police departments don’t have meaningful internal investigation and discipline processes. Even if a cop is fired by one police agency, he can easily get another police job with another agency; Tamir Rice was killed by a cop who had been fired for unsuitability and rehired by an adjacent jurisdiction just months before.

Most prosecutors are unwilling to prosecute killer cops. It was widely felt that St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who comes from a family of cops and is perceived as cop-friendly, sabotaged the grand jury review of the Michael Brown slaying in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer that touched off protests and civil unrest that continues to this day.

A rare exception is Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, who charged the six cops involved in the police-custody death of Freddie Gray; that city’s police union reacted by making the absurd demand that Mosby recuse herself from prosecuting the case. (People charged with crimes don’t get to handpick their prosecutor.)

Even when cop killers are prosecuted, juries fail to convict them. This doesn’t necessarily mean juries are stacked against the victims of police racism and brutality; more likely it means the laws give cops too much immunity, something that only legislatures can fix, but few if any legislatures are moving toward fixing it.

Thus, we’re in a situation where law-abiding citizens are being killed by police with impunity, and even though we supposedly live in a democracy, we’re powerless to stop it. Legislators, police chiefs, prosecutors, and line police officers all need to realize this isn’t sustainable; all societies have a breaking point, and unless they start acting proactively to solve the problem, something’s going to break. Just ask the monarchs, tsars, and rulers throughout history who found themselves deposed and their governing systems overthrown because they pushed their citizens past a breaking point.

 

 

 

 

 


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