What The DOJ Is Not Doing To Keep Police Accountable

We cannot achieve any legal, political or social progress without legal, political and social consequences for individuals -- not just institutions.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Black and Brown people want justice. How do we define justice? Is Justice a lofty, unattainable, ideological pursuit or aspiration? Is justice achievable to a degree that will satiate the hunger that Black and Brown America has for it? The answers are as simple as the questions. Of course, we can become a materially just nation, not merely in rhetoric, nostalgia and poetry. Black and Brown people define justice the same way the rest of America defines it: the appropriate and proportional meting of consequences for the commission of unlawful, harmful or destructive actions and/or behavior. In other words: people are made to face punitive consequences for their unjust actions. Can Black and Brown America ever progress to a station of criminal justice serenity? Of course we can, however, we cannot achieve any legal, political or social progress without legal, political and social consequences for individuals -- not just institutions.

Many will argue that in the aftermath of the Ferguson, Mo. uprising, President Obama and then Attorney General Eric Holder made a concerted, high profile effort to appear to tackle, head on, the issue of police killings of unarmed Black men. They made very pointed statements about race, policing and mass incarnation. Attorney General Eric Holder even went to Ferguson after the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson. Attorney General Holder arrived to much percolated anger that was decades in the making.

What did we get as Black and Brown people? We got the Federal government to say Michael Brown's civil rights were not violated. We also got, however, a protracted federal pattern and practice investigation. In fact, what the Feds have given us all across this country are pattern and practice investigations in response to the individual killings by individual police of individual unarmed black men. Tamir Rice -- Pattern and Practice; Freddy Gray -- Pattern and Practice; Walter Scott -- Pattern and Practice. If you look at other high profile unjustified killings by police like Sean Bell, in 2006 who was killed on his Wedding Day by police in a hail of 50 bullets or the case of Ramarley Graham, a teen in the Bronx who was murdered after police officer Richard Haste broke into his home and shot him dead in his own bathroom in front of his grandmother and 6 year old little brother, we got the Feds saying that their civil rights were not violated either. Now we have the high profile video of the police murder of Terrance Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Clearly, this was an unjustified killing. We have video from many places all pointing to the same set of facts: another unjustified killing of an unarmed Black man by police. What will we have here? Another pattern and practice investigation? Concurrently, the Feds cannot relax their pursuit in light of the indictment of Officer Betty Jo Shelby for manslaughter. For many, manslaughter is an insufficient charge, but additionally, the DOJ needs to send a message that they will hold officers accountable irrespective of local politics or the response of local officials and they will enforce federal civil rights laws.

We know the standard messaging from DOJ: "There are different statutes, judicial thresholds, jurisdictions and burdens of proof..." Black and Brown people will hear.... "Blah blah blah, blah blah."

Notwithstanding the hundreds of cases brought against law enforcement officers for civil rights violations by the DOJ, none of them have been the high profile incendiary cases that have brought America to this moment and this particular policing precipice.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch has the legal authority and moral imperative not just to seek justice - but to do justice. Black and Brown America is waiting for her government to protect and defend her blood both before AND after it is spilled. That means indicting officers involved in these high profile cases, appropriately, to show not just Blacks and Browns that we are protected and defended but to show law enforcement that there is indeed a price to pay for racism and brutality but also for incompetence and negligence.

The horrific and catastrophic assassinations of two police officers in New York City in December of 2014 and most recently five officers in Dallas and three in Baton Rouge will forever remain a stain on the flag. There is never a justification for the murder of innocents, especially those who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. We commend and honor them for their sacrifice! If we are to prevent this from setting hold on our nation as a common occurrence then we must understand what the murders were intended to accomplish. Some would posit that revenge was the motive and mental illness and guns the means. It is deeper than that. Those officers were killed for three reasons: the first was the uniform or the institution, secondly, they were individuals that were killed to exact a price [and] to send a message to individual officers that they are vulnerable too. Equipment and Infrastructure weren't targeted; flesh and blood was.

True justice is individual accountability for individual actions and institutional accountability for institutional actions. The empty calories of the pattern and practice buffet are NOT providing the nourishment that Justice requires to avoid atrophy. Justice must be robust and must be visible and must hold individuals accountable for their actions along side the institutions that maintain and promulgate cultures of discrimination.

Consequently, the Eastern District MUST indict Police Officer Daniel Panteleo for the murder of Eric Garner. If the DOJ fails to do so it will have rendered the Civil Rights Act null and void. It will have the same chilling effect that the Supreme Court had when it gutted the Voting Rights Act, only this time it will be a Black Woman mandated to seek and do justice instead of 9 black robes with the same obligation. The Court failed us, America cannot afford to have the DOJ fail us too.

Support HuffPost

Popular in the Community