December 4, 2014—A badge, it has become abundantly clear in the last couple weeks, is the only tool that one needs to get away with murder in this country. We can make the lack of indictments of officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo about race as much as the mainstream media wants to, but the reality is even scarier than racism. It is about the egregious use of force by the government against citizens.
This article does not contend that race is not a factor in either the Ferguson, Missouri case or the Long Island, New York case. Nor will it contend that it is. Instead, it argues that the government’s protection of its own agents of violence is the real problem at hand. Neither does this article contend that all officers are evil or vile creatures. Instead, it argues that the system itself is the problem, and not the (usually) well-meaning individuals who are a part of it.
When Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, his killer was indicted. That was a black teen killed by a non-black civilian. It isn’t killing a black guy that gets one off the hook without a trial. It’s being an officer of the law. Many articles have come out with erroneous statistics about how often an indictment is not handed down by a grand jury but the truth isn’t that glowing either. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2010 about 4 percent of grand juries did not indict the accused. And yet, in just a week and a half two grand juries failed to indict two police officers.
Based on the transcript it is clear that the prosecutor in the Darren Wilson case didn’t want an indictment. The jury was even given an old version of a state law that led the jury to believe that an officer can pretty much shoot anyone for pretty much any reason. Legally. While the New York case against Daniel Pantaleo isn’t as open yet, one can imagine that a similar botch job was done in order to not get a jury to say that the slaying, that was so clearly caught on tape, was worthy of a full trial.
If procedural cop dramas have taught us anything over the years, it’s that, while sometimes contentious, prosecutors and police have a tight relationship. They have each other’s backs. Hollywood clearly got this one right. No defendant is ever put away without solid work by both police and prosecutor. So, when an officer of the law is the accused suddenly the desire to do a good job disintegrates and the families of slain men don’t even get a chance at what they see as justice.
All this doesn’t even get into the worst of it. The reason Eric Garner was even approached by officers that fateful day? He was selling loose cigarettes. Yes, that’s illegal in New York City. If a stranger in New York City, or a friend for that matter, asks to buy a cigarette from you for a dollar, don’t do it, you could be killed by the police. Don’t believe me? Ask Eric Garner. To be fair, not that anything about this case is fair; Mr. Garner had been in trouble for selling loose cigarettes before. But really, when a law is created to make sure that the government is getting all the tax money it possibly can from the sale of an item, and there is no other reason for the law, and then a man is killed because he violated that law, how can people not see that the government’s monopoly on force is used to extract maximum moneys from its subjects without regard for the livelihood of those subjects.
So how do we fix it? Less (or fewer) of a lot of things: taxation, laws to make normal people criminals, and militarization of police forces. More of some things: holding officers accountable for their actions criminally, and understanding that the government is not a benevolent force but a mechanism to extract wealth from the toil of its citizens by any means necessary.
But that’s just one man’s view. How would you keep officers in line?