Thursday, July 30, 2015

#BlackLivesMatter, still

Samuel Dubose, via NBC.
Something that struck me this morning from the NPR coverage of the murder of Sam Dubose, the Cincinnati man who was being busted for a missing front license plate and ended up getting shot to death because a cop felt insufficiently respected, enough that I ended up transcribing it off the audio; an interview with the head of the national Fraternal Order of Police, Jim Pasco, objecting to the murder charge against the cop, toward the end of the segment:
the ground has shifted let's face it prosecutors are sensitive to the mood of the community
it goes to show that to whatever extent people thought that prosecutors were necessarily going to protect police officers couldn't be more wrong in fact in this case it doesn't appear that he is willing to give him the presumption of innocence
You see where I'm going? In the first place, obviously, it isn't the prosecutor's job to presume innocence; that is exactly what the prosecutor doesn't do in our famous adversarial system, it's what the judge and jury are supposed to do. This has been the case in the lands of the English common law for many centuries. That's why we call them prosecutors, and not in the French style juges d'instruction.

But Pasco isn't just being ignorant about this, he's trying to do something underhanded. It has been thought, he alleges, that prosecutors are biased on behalf of the police, and it turns out that they "couldn't be more wrong". He's trying to say he now has evidence that prosecutor Joe Deters is biased against the police, calling this crime "senseless" and "asinine", as we've all heard. The reality Pasco is actually complaining about, though, is that Deters is failing to be biased.

The adversariality in the system is not between the killer and the victim, but between the killer and the state, which claims its own interest in people being safe from being shot as they sit in their cars, whether or not they may have committed any crimes at any particular moment. The opposite of bias in favor of the police isn't bias in favor of the (alleged) criminal, it's lack of bias, representing the state's interest. Pasco is complaining that this prosecutor isn't biased enough̛, the way he would have been back in the day, before the mood of the community changed.

He's really saying we need to go back to the good old system of assuming that the black guy must be in the wrong. We need to put the dead man on trial, just as we did with Mike Brown (he was caught shoplifting!) and Eric Garner (quality-of-life offender!). The fact that these are not capital crimes is of no importance, because the point isn't to argue that they deserved to die, just that the cop in question isn't what the case is about; it's going to be about how Sam Dubose was a bad person, in the wrong place at the wrong time, the responsible party in the case of his own death, and the cop in question was just there, a natural phenomenon like a dolphin or a redwood tree, unquestionable.

That's why these videos are so immensely valuable, not just because they show us who did it, but because they show us how it was done, who was aggressive, who had a chip on his shoulder, who escalated the situation, who lost his judgment.

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