Democrats & Liberals Archives

Why Can't Juries Find Cops Guilty of Beating Black Men?

Why is it so hard for juries to find police officers guilty of using excessive force against Black men?

Donovan Jackson, a Black teenager, was slammed into the hood of a police car and hit in the face while handcuffed and subdued by three police officers. Everything was caught on tape. Yet, the second jury to hear the case could not come to a unanimous decision regarding the guilt of the officers involved in the episode.

ABC News Reports:

"The judge in the retrial of a fired Inglewood police officer declared a mistrial today, after a second jury was unable to agree whether the white man assaulted a black teen under color of authority.

The foreperson in the retrial of Jeremy Morse, 26, said the panel was divided 6-6 on the matter. The first time around it was 7-5 to convict.

When asked if further deliberations or a re-reading of testimony or anything else might help, the man replied: 'No, your honor. I think there's no chance whatsoever.'"

Each time an instance of police brutality against a Black man is caught on tape and the perpetrators go unpunished I believe that other officers feel that they can do the same thing without impunity. If a jury refuses to convict a cop when the videotaped evidence leaves little question as to what went on, why would they come to a different conclusion?

The whole thing is sickening. It's like Black life is not valued the same as others in this country. Why don't we ever see videotape footage of cops beating white men senselessly? Why don't we hear about White men dying from the shoot first ask questions later mentality like Amadou Diallo?

Race alone cannot be the sole factor. If we accept that race and the persistence of racism is enough to explain the disturbing trends, how do African-American officers fit into the picture? Something more intrinsic to law enforcement must be the reason.

Perhaps the deeper truth is that police, like regular people, get afraid when they encounter the unfamiliar and in their zeal to “protect and serve” they overreact.

A general perception exists that Blacks are more likely to commit crime. There is no reason to expect police officers to hold a point of view counter to that of the general public on this issue.

Problems arise when that belief becomes manifest when an officer is in an unpredictable situation involving Black Americans. Instinct dictates their action more often than not in these incidents. If an officer’s gut tells her or him that the person in front of them is more violent than others and has no respect for the law, then s/he is apt to act more aggressively in order to assert control of the situation. Combine this phenomenon with an imperative to enforce the law, a license to kill, and the intoxicating effect of power and you have potential for abuse.

Cops are not inherently bad people. Most of the women and men in law enforcement are admirable human beings who are committed to protecting the public from our country’s criminal elements. But even good people are susceptible to the lure of power. Philip Zimbardo proved Lord Acton’s axiom that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” in his classic Stanford Prison Experiment. In that study the noted psychological researcher asked the question: “What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph?” Zimbardo found that evil wins out.

So how do we change the culture of policing to make it less evil (in the Zimbardoan sense of the word)?

Posted by at January 31, 2004 6:45 PM