Putting the indictment before the trial

8 Dec

Seth Morris, an Alameda County, CA public defender, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post today, titled “It would have been very simple to indict Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo. Here’s how” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/08/it-would-have-been-very-simple-to-indict-darren-wilson-and-daniel-pantaleo-heres-how/). Here’s Morris on his “simple” plan:

It is, we are told, very hard to get grand jurors to indict police officers — which supposedly explains why Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo walk free, despite the men they killed in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island. But as a public defender, I know exactly what it takes to get an indictment. I could get one in either case. In fact, I am ready and willing to fly to any town in this country to get an indictment in any case where a police officer kills an unarmed civilian.  It’s just not that hard.

I’d start by saying this. “A man, a member of our community, has been killed by another. Only a trial court can sort out what exactly happened and what defenses, if any, may apply. I believe in our trial system above all others in the world. I ask for an indictment so that all voices can be heard in a public courtroom with advocates for both sides in front of trial jurors from the community. This room is not the room to end this story. It’s where the story begins.”

Morris makes a reasoned, rational call for us to discern our legal responsibility and occasion from our racial angst. The facts are that a citizen in a community has been killed by another citizen in the community. The significance of their racial identities or their unequal social authority to carry weapons (or use force on another citizen) is for consideration once we recognize that a citizen has killed another citizen, which means we need a trial.

All too often our colorblind/post-racial society claims that racism doesn’t exist. Now, it seems we’re putting it on trial, even before there’s a trial.

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