In light of the recent revelation in Chicago of the details of the shooting death of Laquan McDonald by police officer Jason Van Dyke – along with the many other questionable killings of Black people by the police, should America change its policy on how it defines justified use of lethal force by police? Since the police have repeatedly lied about situations involving the use of force – especially lethal force – and their superiors and ambitious politicians have conspired with them in covering it up, should the ludicrously high bar that must be surmounted in order to convict a police officer of a crime be lowered? Should they be treated the same way that every other American citizen is treated when they are alleged to have broken the law?
For example, when a person who has committed a crime(s) in the past is caught and faces a jury in court lawyers for the plaintiff and lawyers for the defendant will vet the opposing witnesses to determine their credibility. If a witness is a liar, substance abuser, has a criminal history or whatever the case may be this is brought to light so that jurors can factor it into their deliberation. If that person is convicted, the judge takes their past criminal history into account when he sentences them.
Why shouldn’t it work this way with police officers, whether they are witnesses or the defendant(s), when they find themselves in untenable situations? This is not to say that the nature of their job and the stress that is an inextricable part of it should not be given special consideration and if there is sound reasoning, allowed to mitigate the ultimate determination as to whether their actions were justified. But when there is overwhelming evidence that their actions were not justified the problem should not be winked at because they are police officers and it would be too hard to overcome the high bar that would allow for a conviction. They must not be allowed to go unpunished because what they did would reflect badly on the police department or because ambitious politicians want to avoid having such a loss reflected on their record.
It is reasonable to assume that to not hold police officers accountable for their actions would only embolden bad police officers, reinforce their negative behavior and create a systemic problem involving excessive use of force and other abuse of authority by unscrupulous police officers. It appears that this is what has already been allowed to happen in police departments throughout the country and that it will only get worse if it is not faced up to, addressed and corrected. If history is the prologue, neither police officers on the streets nor management in police departments will voluntarily take the lead in fixing this problem and ambitious politicians will continue to do what ambitious politicians do. It is becoming increasingly obvious that social and political pressure will need to be applied to force those responsible to address and correct this problem.
This problem is not something that is new! We can go back decades and come all the way up to the Laquan McDonald case and time-and-again find that in too many instances management and political leaders have completely shirked their responsibility or done just enough to dispel the publics’ outrage. The very people that are supposed to be serving and protecting us at times commit crimes to protect those who serve and protect us but abuse their power in the name of serving and protecting us. This is not acceptable and must not be tolerated or condoned.
Many times, as in the Laquan McDonald case, police officers who abuse their authority and commit crimes are only held accountable when there is visual evidence – such as a video, that in essence catches them in the act. Even then, a great majority of them have been exonerated, allowed to go free and remain on their job; this should not be! Police management and police unions, which have a fiduciary responsibility to fight for its members, should fight to protect police officers. But they only sully their reputation by being overzealous in protecting dishonest police when they know that they are guilty. They must find a way to honorably fulfill that responsibility and let the lawyer(s) of those accused handle a vigorous defense of them.
When politicians are a part of the problem and/or solution they too often place their career ahead of a true solution to the problem and resort to sophistry or some other smoke and mirrors approach in order to accomplish their proverbial kick the can down the road routine. Case in point, the announcement by Chicago’s Cook County State’s Attorney, Anita Alvarez, on the day before the dash cam tape of the shooting of Laquan McDonald would be released, that she charged police officer Jason Van Dyke, the policeman that shot and killed Mr. McDonald, with first degree murder. Authorities had fought against the release of this tape for at least fourteen months and during that time officer Van Dyke had remained on the police force. Why did Attorney Alvarez decide to charge Officer Van Dyke the day before the release of this tape and immediately promulgate her decision? And why did Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel suddenly decide that after this fourteen month period it was now time to request help from local religious leaders?
Regardless of what the rationale might be for how the shooting death of Laquan McDonald was handled, my point is that there continues to be a problem with the policing of American citizens. And further, if our leaders do not address and correct this problem; at best, it will slowly continue to grow and at worst, it will spiral out of control and create even greater problems that have the potential of wreaking havoc in communities throughout the country.