Realizing that it has been quite awhile since I blogged about anything, I figured an easy way to kick start my writing was to reproduce my answer (with some minor edits and inclusion of a picture) to a question posed in my Criminal Law final exam from my previous semester at law school (where, surprisingly, an ultra liberal professor gave me a good grade for this response!).

Select at least one area of concern or weakness in the American criminal justice system that was discussed during the course of the semester. After you identify the problem, propose potential solutions to this problem, drawing from cases, readings, and class discussions as well as your own life experience.

For this question, I am picking an issue currently in the news, that is the death of black men in encounters with the police.

Firstly, let me speak from own life experience.  I came to this country some 30 years ago from a country where the police was generally reviled as corrupt and and inept.  They were poorly paid and trained and hence easily susceptible to being bribed.  People who had no “connections” could easily be subjected to all kinds of atrocities during encounters with the police and while in police custody.

So when I first landed in NY city and the very police officer I encountered addressed me as “Sir”, I was quite amazed. The respectful manner that the police officers in the US behave towards law abiding citizens still surprises me everyday. And, I am yet to have a negative encounter with a police officer in any of the states in which I have lived in the past 30 years.

So I  have to admit that l am prejudiced in favor of the police in America (especially the one below)!

Officer Josh Jackson

And so the current piling on the police in America, depicting them as out of control, racists, is somewhat hard for me to swallow.

Let’s take some of the cases that have been recently in the news.

First the Michael Brown case.  This “kid” had just assaulted a store owner and stole from the store.  Then he walks out and minutes later he is shot and killed by a police officer.  The initial account that he had his hands up and was trying to surrender to the police officer turn out to be false and it appears that he may have charged the police officer who showed some signs of injury from the encounter.  The policeman was not indicted and walked free.

Next the the Eric Garner case.  Here this person was apparently selling contraband cigarettes for which the police attempted to arrest him and he resisted arrest. While trying to subdue him, he was apparently put on a choke hold (an incident that was videotaped by a member of the public) and subsequently died. A grand jury would not indict the police officer.

Finally, the current case of Freddie Gray.  This was a person with a long criminal history who suffered fatal injuries after being arrested and while being transported in a police van.  After days of rioting, six police officers have been charged with various crimes.  Of the six, three are black, three are white – and one is a woman (black).  If remains to be seen whether they will be proven guilty as charged or whether they will walk free.

The common factor that I see in all of the above cases is that none of the individuals who had encounters with the police were exactly choir boys. But when the media gets into a frenzy, they make each of them look like they were fantastic, blameless, paragons of virtue!

Having made the above points, I will admit that there is an occasional bad apple in every profession – and the police cannot be an exception because they are also human beings like you and me.

But overall, they are doing a thankless job.  Trying to keep the peace in high crime neighborhoods where the perpetrators and the victims are both black.  They have no control over the social dynamics that produces such a dysfunctional society but they are left to deal with the consequences.

Clearly we do not want to demoralize the police force to a point where they stop vigorously policing areas which have maximum crime and where is the greatest need for their services but where there is also the greatest probability of having fatal encounters with black men.

The solution, according to me, has to be technology driven.

Body cameras on every police officer (which cannot be turned off by the police officer) will ensure that every single thing that a police officer does while on duty will be on record.  So there will no longer be a he-said, she-said, they- said after any fatal encounter between the police and the public.

And after fatal encounter, the video information should be made public within 24 hours.  If it appears from the video that prima facie the officer might have done something inappropriate,  he should be immediately transferred to desk duty till an impartial investigation is conducted by an outside agency after which the police officer should be given due process and punished if guilty or exonerated if found innocent.

The whole process should be completely transparent so that police officers can continue to do their job effectively while also being aware that there will be definite consequences for any inappropriate behavior.

And if these solutions are implemented, hopefully, next time the there is a police shooting of a black man, the public will trust the process rather than going out into the street and rioting for “justice”.

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