In all of the demonstrations, riots, editorials, op-eds, blog posts, and general outrage against first the grand jury decision in Ferguson and then the grand jury decision in New York, I still have yet to see a prescription that would have prevented the deaths of the two men at the hands of police officers that spurred all of the outrage to begin with.
The decision in the case of the death of Eric Garner in New York throws cold water on one prescription, a prescription endorsed by the White House, to have police officers carry body cameras. Mr. Garner’s death was videoed. The experience in New Orleans whose police force has been equipt with body cameras for some time now should be enough to call that particular prescription into question. Remarkably, in many cases there in which police use of force has been questioned, the cameras have malfunctioned.
In my view the most likely benefit that police body cameras will convey will be to the vendors of body cameras.
Chicago has had what is referred to as an “independent civilian review board” that investigated the use of force by Chicago’s police for some time. The board is dominated by former police officers and tends to rubberstamp the police versions of incidents. I believe that will inevitably be the case for all such boards for institutional reasons. It’s no solution.
There is an old dictum in the law that goes back at least 150 years and probably much farther: hard cases make bad law. The killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are both hard cases but for different reasons. The circumstances of Michael Brown’s shooting by a police officer are contested and the claims of those who say that Mr. Brown was murdered by a police officer are not supported by forensic evidence.
In the case of the death of Eric Garner, if I understand New York law correctly, to have supported the charge of manslaughter against the police officer who killed him the grand jury would have had to determine that the police officer’s actions were either intentional or reckless. The grand jury couldn’t support either finding.
The only prescription I can think of that would have categorically resulted in different outcomes in both of these cases is if all homicides or at least all police homicides were prosecuted as crimes. I don’t think that would increase the total amount of justice in the world.
Finding causes about which to be outraged is easy. Identifying effective solutions is hard. The frequent retort of “Well, it’s a start” can be used to justify an infinite stream of ineffective strategies and every policy has its own unforeseen secondary effects.