Any decent person who saw the video of the police officer suffocating a man on the ground was horrified.
Why was it a news story when the jury found the officer guilty? It was newsworthy precisely because the crime captured a national conversation about policing and about the experience of many African Americans when stopped by police. Juries also tend to give the police the benefit of the doubt. So we had to wonder what this jury would do.
Let us keep having the conversation. Let’s not tar all police by a broad brush. I represent police officers, black and Latino and white ones, who are fired unlawfully and women officers who face sex harassment. I also sue police departments when they tolerate or even encourage needless violence by officers. Right now I represent a man who was repeatedly kicked in the head by one officer while held down by another. It’s a news story in Cleveland, Ohio.
I am not anti-police. I am anti-violence not sanctioned by law. We will come out stronger in our relations between police and communities… but it is taking far longer to change police practices than many of us had hoped. Cell phone cameras have changed the conversation and support the narrative that civil rights groups have expounded for years.
Even though we had the civil rights and civil liberties movements, we had Dirty Harry and the tv show Cops. As long as we all knew who the bad guy is, Americans grew too comfortable with supporting violence against them. That sin falls on us as a country.
We should never have tolerated the dehumanization of accused or convicted criminals. Criminals are people who deserve not to be defined by their acts, but who must face consequences for their acts. Sometimes, the good guys turn out to be the criminals. A jury saw that and for that we can breathe easier.