Police Shooting Videos in the Courtroom

Police Shooting Videos in the Courtroom

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It’s beginning to seem like another day, another police shooting video.  We’ve all seen the videos — Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, now Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  The videos go viral, folks become outraged, protests are sparked….but that outrage does not always translate in the court of law. 

Why is it, that if these cases get to trial, that the videos do not trigger a quick guilty verdict? Often the outcome is the exact opposite of that.

The simple answer is desensitization. The video is shocking the first couple times you see it, but after a while, the impact lessens.  The same way we see kids become desensitized to violence after repeatedly playing violent video games or watching scary movies, is the same way jurors become desensitized after the repeated playing of a troubling video.

There’s no real solution — but it is food for thought.  

Ben Hancock at Law.com wrote an interesting piece on this phenomenon.

SAN FRANCISCO – Viral videos of police shooting victims Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in their final moments have left much of the American public seething, saddened and convinced that deep-rooted racial bias led the officers to fire their weapons.

But as compelling as the videos are—and as important as they have become in the broader debate about law enforcement and race—they rarely have the same decisive impact in court that they have on the way the public perceives an event.

Lawyers who have been involved in police shooting cases and dealt with videos as evidence say that often a case rises or falls on what the camera didn’t capture. Attorneys representing accused officers point to a camera’s technical limitations, or the fact that it didn’t see the angle the officer saw, which can wither a criminal or civil rights case targeting the officer.

Sometimes, the more a video is played in court, the less impact it has, and desensitizing a jury to a video’s violence often emerges as a deliberate defense strategy—as does drawing the jury’s attention to uncertainty around what happened immediately before the camera was turned on.

See the rest here.

Knowledge Trumps Racism Part III: Why Violence is NOT the Answer!

Knowledge Trumps Racism Part III: Why Violence is NOT the Answer!

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Over the weekend, two police officers from the New York  Police Department, Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, were gunned down in their police cars at close range and lost their lives. The lone gunman had posted pictures on social media before and after the murder, and had made statements that this was in retribution for the recent police involved deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

The backlash has been instant and fierce. Social media has been on fire, as well as mainstream media. The “us versus them” mentality has gone into full effect. I have seen statements from both sides that have been completely horrific. I have seen statements from police officers which basically amount to “it’s all out war on African-Americans” (and not put so politically correctly); I have also seen statement from African-Americans basically saying that those police officers deserve to die, or that somehow, their lives are less valuable as a result of the actions of the police officers that were involved in the recent high profile deaths of African-Americans.

Here is the danger in this thinking. We have now gotten to a point where we are in a standoff in our thought process. And from that standpoint, there can be no winners. There is no middle ground. The only way we can have progress is to find a middle ground.

At the end of the day, what do we really want? All of us, as a nation?

We want police working with the community; we want an end to senseless deaths in all forms; we want peace in our streets.

We want life to go back to normal where everyone can go to work and go about our business without looking over our shoulders, whether you are a police officer or a civilian.

By getting so entrenched in our positions and making statements that are so offensive to either side, we can never reach a point of compromise.

Because here’s the reality — unless we are willing to quit our jobs and do the job ourselves, we need the police to keep us safe.  And if we cast the police out, the police department ceases to exist.  So, we need each other, and MUST find a way to work together.

Let’s address violence as a solution.

Looking back in American history, violence has not been the route to success. During the civil rights movement, there was a debate as to whether  or not African-Americans should follow the early, more militant path of Malcolm X , noted for his quote of “by any means necessary”, or follow the nonviolent path of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The path of Malcolm X seemed to be more energetic, and the quickest way to get results. Dr. Martin Luther King’s path was painful. There were more deaths and was a slower path to success.

However history told the final story. And in the end, it was Dr. Martin Luther King’s way that proved most effective. Malcolm X eventually converted to Dr. King’s way of thinking. I recently watched a special on PBS entitled “Many Rivers to Cross“. It was a very poignant series which covered the many decades of African-Americans in the United States. It discussed the history of the civil rights movement.

It also talked about Bloody Sunday.

When Dr. Martin Luther King led the march in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965, he and the other marchers were confronted by police officers who brutally attacked them while they were protesting peacefully. The media documented this atrocity. As a result, the civil rights movement received many more supporters of all races, including leaders from the Jewish faith, from the Catholic faith (there were nuns in full habits marching with the civil rights movement!) and the movement towards voting rights gained more momentum. Alabama was exposed as a hotbed of intolerance. This incident was one of the catalysts of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The moments before...Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965
The moments before…Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965

Selma is an example of how the nonviolent path is so effective.  If the marchers had been violent, they would not have gotten the support from such a wide base, and the resulting laws would not have been enacted.

After the video of the death of Eric Garner was released, if you look at the protests that resulted, you would’ve noticed that there was a wide range of protesters from all races in the crowd. Many people were very disturbed by the tactics used in the video. No matter what your stand on the grand jury findings, this was an opportunity to discuss policing in the 21st century, and to explore whether or not current methods were working or needed to be changed.  The act of this lone crazy gunman threatens the positive dialogue that was being started.

So where from here?

This is the perfect time to show decency. Let the New York Police Department grieve, and support them in this time of sorrow. No family deserves this. This was a horrible act and no one should sanction it. And if your argument is “they wouldn’t do that for us“, I say, hold yourself to a higher standard! If you do, then you inherently challenge others to either do the same, or expose them for who they are. You’d be surprised at the results. I find once you elevate, people elevate with you.

We cannot hold an entire police force accountable for the acts of a few. The majority of police officers that I have met in my career are good decent folks who want to do their job and get home to their families.  The same applies to African Americans — the majority are law abiding citizens who want a good life for themselves and their families, and want to see justice in the world. Neither side should be painted with the same negative brush.

Change is a tough thing. We want it, but it comes at a cost. Change does not need to come at the cost of human life. We are a civilized country, and we hold ourselves out as such to the international community. Death can cause us to realize change is needed; but if we start to condone violent acts against each other, then we are no better then the foreign countries that we criticize. We need to distance ourselves from those who promote violence, and we need to stand tall and claim our human dignity. There is a time to grieve, and there’s a time to act. Declining to protest for several days until the funerals are over will not harm the movement. It would actually gain the respect of many people and would bring a conciliatory tone to the issues at hand. It would also highlight our strength and decency as a people.

I will end with a quote I will be using a lot in the coming days from Dr. Martin Luther King: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.20140202-120430.jpg

Knowledge Trumps Racism (a multi-part series)

Knowledge Trumps Racism (a multi-part series)

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I’ve stayed pretty quiet in recent weeks, absorbing all that has been going on. One thing is incredibly clear; education is needed on both sides. If we don’t know the rules that govern us, as well as our past, we are doomed for the future.  If we don’t understand each other, we are doomed period.

So here is Part 1 of my series entitled “Knowledge Trumps Racism” — because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, knowledge is power.

I start from a historical perspective —  David Ovalle from the Miami Herald wrote a very thoughtful piece on the last time a police officer was indicted in Miami for a shooting death in the line of duty.  It was 25 years ago last Sunday, and left a long legacy.

In a city long torn by racial tension, a uniformed police officer fatally shot a black man. Days of upheaval and rioting riveted the nation.

A series of investigations scrutinized the officer’s use of deadly force. He claimed self-defense. Would the cop face criminal charges?

The case that exploded in Miami in 1989 still resonates today, echoing the murky, racially charged confrontation that has put a 24/7 media spotlight on the small Missouri town of Ferguson.

Twenty five years ago Sunday, after a trial that lives on in local legal lore, jurors convicted Miami Police Officer William Lozano for shooting and killing a motorcyclist. It was the last time any police officer in Florida was convicted for an on-duty shooting.

Read more here.