From Eric Garner, an unarmed 43-year-old man killed by NYPD on July 17, 2014, to Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9, 2014, to Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy killed by the Cleveland Police Department on November 23, 2014, the results are all the same: unarmed people of color needlessly killed during an interaction with law enforcement.
There is no indictment of the officer and no due process for the families of the victims; but there is unbridled and unjust protection for law enforcement.
As we prepare to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are reminded that unjust laws and unbridled police officers set a precedent for injustice and serve as a bar to human rights.
Shielding police officers from criminal prosecutions and a failure to indict them in excessive deadly force cases of unarmed minorities is unjust. Until there are real consequences for the conduct of these police officers, the results will be the same.
We need independent, unbiased special prosecutors. We need Department of Justice investigations to determine if there is a pattern and/or practice of excessive force or discriminatory practices. But even more than that, we need police officers to think twice before using excessive deadly force in their interactions with unarmed minorities, and right now, there’s no compelling deterrent.
Willful, explicit racial bias should not be required for federal hate crime prosecutions. That standard makes the possibility of jail time a remote probability. A standard requiring only implicit racial bias would open the door for successful criminal prosecutions in these cases.
The senseless killings of unarmed people of color following an interaction with law enforcement necessitate a change in the law and the need for a new legal standard in these cases. If we do not change the legal standard, then our communities will continue to suffer fatalities — not only from law enforcement officers, but worse than that, we will suffer fatal circumstances from an insensitive, unconcerned, and uncompassionate American legal system.
Attorney Benjamin Crump represents the families of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Trayvon Martin and is recognized internationally as an advocate for justice and human rights.