Friday, December 12, 2014

David, Absalom, Prosecutors and Cops

Amnon, son of the Biblical King David, raped and disgraced his half-sister and David’s daughter Tamar.  In Levitical law, the punishment for this crime was clear.  Amnon was to be “cut off” from his people – disowned, exiled, sent away.

However, David failed to punish Amnon because he had a soft spot in his heart for his son.  Enraged by his father’s miscarriage of justice, Tamar’s brother, Absalom took matters into his own hands and killed Amnon.  Once again, David neglected his duty to enforce the law; this time on Absalom for murder.  In turn, Absalom grew contemptuous of his father’s weakness and dereliction of duty.  Therefore, he rebelled against David, plunging the kingdom into civil war and chaos.

This past month, America has seen grand juries fail to hand down indictments in two high profile cases, plunging our cities into chaos and violence.  Was justice ill served?

In a recent Coffee and Markets podcast, conservative attorney Leon Wolf explained the grand jury process.  Grand juries are not trials.  They are investigations led by prosecutors.  Their purpose is to obtain an indictment with the blessing of the community as represented by the jurors.  A prosecutor typically would not convene a grand jury unless he wanted to get an indictment.  No defense is presented.  All that the jury needs to decide is that enough evidence exists to suspect that a crime may have been committed and that a full and open public trial is warranted.  Normally the prosecution’s success is about 95%.

If the prosecutor’s purpose is to bring an indictment, the standard of evidence is so low and the success rate is high, it begs the question as to why no indictments were returned in the cases of either Michael Brown or Eric Garner.  After all, there were dead men on the street and reasonable evidence to suspect at least police malfeasance.

Many Americans believe the reason to be race; that a White cop can shoot an unarmed Black man with impunity.  However, in Seattle a white cop punched a white woman in the face while she was handcuffed in the back of his squad card.  Once again the officer escaped indictment.

I will not deny that racism exists in America and some people are racist.  However, I do not believe that White cops are on the hunt for Black men.  Something else is at work here.

In a New Republic article, Brian Beutler, blames a too cozy relationship between prosecutors and police.  Beutler hypothesizes that “prosecutors and police departments are too tightly linked for due process to mean anything”.  Prosecutors depend on friendly and cooperative relationships with local police in order to get their jobs done.  Because of this he asserts that it “isn’t the quantity or quality evidence” that prosecutors have at their disposal that results in botched indictment.  Rather it is that officials “so freely disregard it”.

Who is to say that in any of the aforementioned cases that the prosecutors deliberately tanked the indictment the indictment process?  However, the apparent consistency of favorable outcomes for the police is enough to raise eyebrows. 

The story of David and Absalom reveals no change in the human condition in the past 3,000 years.  When people sense that justice is denied then anger, rage, violence and chaos are inevitable.  When those who are duty bound to uphold the law place themselves above it, there is lawlessness.

Two plausible suggestions have been forward to recuse local prosecutors from cases involving their police force partners.  There may be others.  The first to appoint special independent prosecutors.  The other is to defer to state attorneys general.  Neither are beholden to local police departments.

In any event, something needs to be done.  When people lose confidence in law enforcement we all become less safe.

Related Posts:

Who You Gonna Call?
The Wisdom Of The Ancients

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