If Tuesday was any indication, the bar has been raised on what it takes to convict a cop caught on video killing a Black man. In two separate cases, homicidal White police officers avoided criminal charges for the cold-blooded slayings of Alton Sterling and Kareem Ali Nadir Jones. It makes one wonder what it takes for an officer to get convicted for killing a Black man.
Even though there was video evidence to, at least, warrant a trial, few Black folks were surprised Louisiana’s district attorney concluded that the actions of Baton Rouge cops who killed Sterling in July 2016 were “well-founded and reasonable.”
Likewise, police body camera video failed to convince a grand jury that the Columbus, Ohio police officers who killed Jones were unjustified in shooting him in July.
The Sterling and Jones cases are not exceptions. Instead, they appear to be the rule in most cases when video evidence is available. Millions of people around the world watched video of a police officer use an illegal chokehold that killed Eric Garner. In another high-profile case, a video showed two officers rolling up on 12-year-old Tamir Rice and gunning him down within seconds of jumping out their vehicle, yet it failed to help get an indictment.
There are, however, a couple of seemingly foolproof methods needed to secure criminal indictments and convictions for police who kill unarmed Black men.
It was a rare instance for ex-South Carolina patrolman Michael Slager to get sent to prison for murdering Walter Scott in April 2015. There was video evidence plus a few other ingredients, including Scott fleeing from the former officer—clearly posing no threat—when Slager shot him in the back. Absent of those ingredients coming together, Slager would be a free man.
Apparently, another factor to winning a conviction is when the officer is non-White. A New York City jury convicted Officer Peter Liang of manslaughter in February 2016 for killing Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn public housing complex. The same fate probably awaits Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American who shot and killed an unarmed Australian White woman named Justine Damond. He was charged with third-degree murder and jailed on March 20, just eight months after the shooting and about half the time it took for Louisiana to decide the opposite for Sterling’s killers.
Here’s another way to get a conviction: multiple trial attempts.
An Oklahoma jury convicted Shannon Kepler, an off-duty police officer, of first-degree manslaughter in October for killing his daughter’s Black boyfriend. Kepler told investigators he was acting in self-defense because Jeremey Lake, 19, was armed. However, investigators didn’t find a weapon on Lake or at the scene. Most people are convinced that Kepler’s rage surfaced during the encounter because Lake was Black. Kepler was sent to jail after his his fourth trial for the shooting since somehow three previous juries deadlocked because they couldn’t agree on the murder charge.
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