Black folks have a long history of calling out corrupt cops and prosecutors—verifiable complaints that too often fall on deaf ears. A new study released on Wednesday illustrates a little of what our community has been saying all along.
In 2017, there were 84 cases in which people were freed from prison because of the misconduct of police, prosecutors or other government officials, according to an analysis by the National Registry of Exonerations. That’s a record number of exonerations for official misconduct in a single year.
Overall, there were 139 exonerations for reasons that included misconduct, mistaken identification and false confessions.
That figure, combined with recent cases involving police misconduct, hints at a much larger problem in urban Black communities across the nation.
For example, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced in November that she would vacate 18 criminal drug convictions of 15 men who were framed by convicted former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his team of officers. It was the first mass exoneration in the county’s history. The attorney who represented the men called the releases the “tip of the iceberg” because Watts’ team was involved in more than 400 convictions. Scores of Chicago residents and drug dealers had accused the officers of misconduct for years.
The Baltimore Police Department has also been in the national spotlight over corrupt cops and questionable arrests. A jury in February convicted two former officers, who were part of a special police task force, of racketeering conspiracy in which members of the team used threats of arrests to rob a suspected drug dealer. And in August, faked police body-camera video prompted state prosecutors to dismiss dozens of criminal cases.
Researchers credit a new crop of prosecutors who are willing to investigate misconduct and reopen cases of suspected wrongdoing.