The recent acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez, a former Milwaukee, Wisconsin police officer, for the murder of motorist Philando Castile, during a routine traffic stop, has once again spotlighted a serious flaw in our criminal justice system. A police officer has gotten away with killing an innocent civilian, and with demonstrating reckless disregard for the lives of the murdered victim’s daughter and girlfriend, both of whom were in the car at the time of the traffic stop. None of the car’s occupants posed a threat to Yanez.
In almost every profession there are consequences for behaving recklessly on the job or for neglecting to exercise reasonable care while performing one’s duties. The exception seems to be law enforcement.
The acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez coupled with the other recent spate of police officers murdering African Americans, and walking away from those murders with no criminal punishment is all the evidence one needs to understand that police officers are the one group of professionals who get to violate their professional oath- to uphold the law and to protect all the people they are paid to serve – without severe consequences.
When charges are not filed against officers who commit murder, and when charges are filed but juries refuse to convict guilty officers, several troubling messages are sent. The first two messages suggest police officers are above the law, and that the lives of those victimized by police do not matter. Both messages are wrong. Everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law. Police are not above the law and every life matters!
Police officers who commit murder should be held criminally accountable. An innocent person is dead. The deceased person’s family and other loved ones are left to suffer through a great tragedy that was completely avoidable, but for the actions of a corrupt or reckless police officer.
The financial settlement that some families of persons murdered by cops receive may provide financial relief. However, the settlement does not take away the grief or compensate for the snuffed-out lives of those killed. Moreover, monetary settlements paid by an agency fail to satisfy the need for guilty police officers to be held criminally responsible for their unlawful behavior.
Unfortunately, in most cases, the police officers directly responsible for the deaths of innocent people are not held accountable. Instead, the officers are given a pass and in some instances coddled by various groups who try to paint the officers, not the deceased persons, as victims. That is dishonest, immoral, and unjust!
Police caught in the commission of crimes, who are either not charged for the crimes they are guilty of, or who are charged and stand trial; but who juries refuse to convict are free to enjoy the rest of their lives in relative peace. That is wrong and unjust!
As previously mentioned, the acquittal of a guilty police officer completely dismisses the value of the deceased victim’s life. It says the murdered victim’s life did not matter. Therefore, the person directly responsible for that murder, the police, will not be held accountable. The second message is a consequence of the first, it says police officers are above the law and they have the right to, without just cause, take the lives of innocent, law-abiding citizens. Both messages are wrong!
When juries in criminal cases refuse to convict guilty officers, they reinforce the notion that all lives are not deemed equally valuable, and some lives don’t matter at all. Furthermore, the acquittal of guilty cops causes additional harm to the murdered victims’ families, and creates or exacerbates tension between law enforcement and the communities they are paid to serve and protect.
Another consequence of acquitting guilty police officers sends the message to corrupt or irresponsible officers that there is no penalty for wrongfully taking the life of an innocent human being. That message is wrong! Police are not supposed to be above the law and every life does matter.
The unjust killing of nonthreatening African Americans by police officers cannot continue. Law enforcement communities must adopt a zero-tolerance policy for police brutality. Officers guilty of police brutality should be rooted out and banned from working in any peace officer capacity.
Such action will send a strong message to police officers that it is against the law for them to hide behind the cherished blue uniform and a deadly weapon to act out their personal biases. It will also affirm the truth that: all lives matter and police are required to treat every human being with respect and dignity!
Changes in the way police officers respond to citizens, especially to African Americans, must come from within the law enforcement community. Police must objectively police themselves. They must hold corrupt and dishonest cops to the same standards to which they hold suspects. Only then will there be a semblance of justice for all.
Obviously, no system is perfect and even the best attempts to build a just community will not root out every bad apple. However, law enforcement can create a climate within the force that makes it unacceptable for dirty cops to use their shields as weapons to do wrong.
Police officers need reminding that they are hired to serve and protect all citizens; they will be punished for the reckless use of their firearms, and their position does not give them the legal right to act out their prejudices and fantasies.