In a truly unusual and unexpected turn of events, police officers have been charged in connection with injuries sustained to a suspect in their custody. Per the Baltimore Sun, the six officers in charge of Freddie Gray’s detention have been charged with manslaughter/homicide in connection with his death.
Already, I have seen a lot of conservatives on twitter decry this decision as politically motivated and premature – a move designed to satisfy the mob mentality in Baltimore. I don’t really know whether that’s true in this particular case or not. I do know that if you flip the script on that accusation, police make arrests all the time to quiet public outcries of various kinds so I’m not tremendously moved by the accusation just because the people charged in this case are police.
More to the point, if these particular cops were charged too hastily or with insufficient evidence, they are virtually the only cops in America to have suffered this fate. In fact, by and large police are the beneficiaries of an extraordinary level of deference in terms of charging decisions, as compared to the general populace. As I set forth a couple days ago, they are indicted/charged for excessive force at shockingly – and shamefully – low rates and are convicted at rates that boggle the mind.
Moreover, as Ken White at PopeHat wrote several weeks ago, people who have never done criminal defense work don’t understand how truly rigged and slipshod the criminal justice system is with respect to non-cops. The expectation with regards to the benefit of the doubt towards cops is so far out of line with respect to what ordinary citizens get, it’s laughable. In discussing the DOJ’s decision not to charge Darren Wilson in connection with the shooting of Michael Brown, Ken noted something that I think is completely correct:
I find it remarkable because most potential prosecutions don’t get this sort of analysis. Most investigations don’t involve rigorous examination of the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses. Most investigations don’t involve painstaking consideration of the defendant’s potential defenses. Often investigators don’t even talk to potential defense witnesses, and if they do, don’t follow up on leads they offer. Most investigations don’t carefully weigh potentially incriminating and potentially exculpatory scientific evidence. If an explanation of the flaws in a case requires footnotes, you shouldn’t expect it to deter prosecution.
Instead, I’m more used to the prosecution assuming their witnesses are truthful, even if they are proven liars. I’m more used to contrary evidence being cynicallydisregarded. I’m more used to participants in the system stubbornly presuming guilt to the bitter end. I’m more used to prosecutors disregarding potentially exculpatory evidence that they think isn’t “material.” I’m more used to the criminal justice systemignoring exculpatory science and clinging to inculpatory junk science like an anti-vaxxer.
Why is this case different? It’s different because Darren Wilson is a cop. Cops get special rights and privileges and breaks the rest of us don’t. Cops get an extremely generous and lenient benefit of the doubt from juries. Nearly every segment of the criminal justice system operates to treat cops more favorably than the rest of us.
The Department of Justice report didn’t say “we can’t prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, particularly because juries defer to cops.” It didn’t need to. It’s understood. The Department of Justice also didn’t have to worry about being called out for inconsistent approaches to other reports. That’s because when you’re a black guy who shoots a white law enforcement officer in self-defense, they don’t write an 86-page memo with 28 footnotes about it. They just prosecute you.
It’s not unjust that Darren Wilson gets the benefit of the doubt. It’s unjust that nearly everyone else doesn’t.
Ordinary citizens – which is to say, non-cops – are arrested by cops and charged by DAs with far less evidence than has been dug up in this Freddie Gray case. Whether that’s fair or not is a different discussion but it is the reality and ought to inform whether we feel sorry for these cops because they might have to go through the ordeal of a criminal trial (probably with the benefit of union appointed and paid-for lawyers). And at the end of the day, if they have to go to trial, these cops will be twice as likely to get acquitted as ordinary citizens would be.
I don’t know what the evidence will prove at the end of the day when and if this case goes to trial. But I can’t bring myself to be sad in the slightest that it appears headed in that direction.