Jannell Ross of the Washington post floats the idea of a “Police Prosecutor’s Office” this week, an idea which I’m sure will be received with great approbation in SJW circles. The reason we apparently need an entirely new branch of the Justice Department at the federal or state levels is spelled out early on.
It’s happened often enough now, these racial calamities and tragedies, that there’s almost a kind of script. First, someone is killed by police or dies in police custody, typically unarmed, black and young. That person’s name enters the national consciousness, along with that of their town or the law enforcement agency involved, and sometimes the officers involved in the incident. Then come the questions — who will investigate, what should they investigate, whether the local police force and prosecutors can really lead an impartial inquiry into one of their own. But in so many cases, the inchoate tangle of practical questions and existential ones about the deaths of unarmed people at the hands of police seems to arrive at the same solution.
There are all sorts of assumptions to look at here even before we get to the proposal at hand. The article feeds into the overriding perception we see in the media every day when it comes to a police shooting… “typically unarmed, black and young.” You hear it so often that you’d probably start believing it unless you did your own research and found that the police actually kill white people more often than black citizens at an estimated two to one ratio.
FBI figures on these incidents as broken down by race are typically incomplete, but one independent study plus the findings of the Centers for Disease Control came up with essentially the same numbers. That doesn’t account for the disparity when figured against the total population of whites vs blacks, but still… to read these columns and hear these stories you would think that white people have invisible force fields around them and are never shot.
But leaving that behind, we move on to the suggestion that the system simply isn’t working and prosecutions need to be handled by… somebody else.
A special prosecutor, someone with no day-to-day connections to local police, state’s attorneys or even the community itself, should be appointed to investigate fatal police shootings involving unarmed suspects and situations where people die an unnatural death in jail or prison.
It’s not hard to picture the typical conversation which would take place between police and SJW activists when a shooting takes place and needs to be investigated.
COPS: We’ve got the Department of Internal Affairs on it.
ACTIVISTS: No way. You can’t have cops investigate cops.
C: Okay, we’ll get the District Attorney on it.
A: Nope. They work with the cops every day.
C: What say we have him convene a grand jury?
A: No good.
C: But the jury is composed of citizens from the community.
A: Yeah, but the prosecutor could mislead them or hide evidence or something.
C: Is there anyone you’d care to suggest who might be satisfactory?
A: Yeah. Somebody who will start convicting these cops.
Ross points to recent moves by Governor Cuomo in New York to have a special prosecutor look into some police shootings, but that’s not quite the same. What’s being discussed is a permanent office – either at the federal level or in each state – to do nothing but investigate police shootings. That might make a large percentage of protesters happy, but it leads to more than a few questions.
First, even the highest estimates only put the number of police shootings at around 400 per year on average. That would work out to roughly 8 per year in each state. (Understanding that some will have vastly more and some almost none.) As already noted, more than half of them will probably be white suspects, so there’s no need to investigate those. The details from the same report indicate that the vast majority are not even worth an investigation because they are shootings of armed suspects who were shooting at the police or civilians and there’s no question as to whether or not the shooting was justified. When you’re finished taking all of those out you’ve probably got a couple of dozen per year which are questionable enough to warrant such an investigation, but just to be generous, let’s bump it up to fifty. That’s one per state. Per year. What will these offices do the rest of the time to earn their pay?
Perhaps more importantly, who will staff these offices? Where are you going to find these prosecutors and investigators “with no day-to-day connections to local police, state’s attorneys or even the community itself?” Will they be assigned by elected officials? If so, which ones and how do you remove the immediate suspicion that there was bias in the selection process? Will they be elected by the people? That makes them politicians with their own motives to win the next election. No thank you. Will they even have any legal or law enforcement experience? Or will they just be someone willing to stick it to the man?
People are unhappy when police involved in shootings are not prosecuted and convicted. They were angry about it in Ferguson, for example, even though it turned out to be completely justified, as confirmed by the President’s own Department of Justice. But I suppose we would be a better society if we had convicted Officer Darren Wilson anyway, eh?
A “special police prosecutor” for every state? Sounds more like you’re looking for a Special Police Inquisition. If this idea really takes off I can’t imagine what a political and social disaster it will turn into.