[I think I might have pissed off some pro-police folks on Facebook lately with things I've said about Freddie Gray, Baltimore, and problems with the way the rest of society relates to the police and vice versa. Some of what I've said, I've said in haste, or only looking at one piece of the puzzle at a time, or when I've been upset. So I'd like to make my opinions and perceptions a little clearer, so that if other friends and relatives of police officers are still pissed off at me, at least it'll be for something I meant to say.]
First off, yes, I truly do believe (a) that police culture in many places, and the relationship between the police and the communities in which they operate, are badly broken (I'll come back to that in part 2); and (b) that an injustice was done in the case of Freddie Gray and those involved must be held accountable.
It was important that those six officers be investigated and charged. A man whom they were responsible for (having taken him into their custody against his will) died under suspicious circumstances. I want to see them investigated (check), charged once the investigation determined which ones to charge (check), and tried (looks likely). I'm sure many people add, "and convicted, and punished," to that. As I see it, that is what the trial is for. Right now, I cannot imagine any combination of circumstances consistent with what is already known, that would exonerate all six officers ... but that is what the trial is for. Just in case I, on the sidelines reading about all this in the paper, don't know something important. Perhaps it'll turn out that only four or five officers are truly culpable, or that some of what they did wrong wasn't what we thought they did. If we, the non-police citizenry, want to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law (and rightly complain when we're treated otherwise), then we must demand a fair trial for these six. Neither a half-assed ritual to let them off nor a pretense of civility over a pre-ordained political scapegoating. A real trial unless they take plea bargains first. With proper counsel for them and a chance to air any relevant facts not already known to us, and a jury neither afraid to convict cops nor out for revenge. I expect that a fair trial will convict them. But just in case, we do need to have that trial first.
We know that there is sufficient evidence to warrant charging and trying them. Many of us feel that the evidence we already have is enough to be certain of their guilt. (To be frank, I am in that camp.) Here's the thing: no matter how certain we are of that at this stage, we're not allowed to proceed to the punishment phase without giving them an opportunity for a proper trial, where they and their attorneys get to present their side of things and raise any evidence they have that we're not aware of yet. That is how our system works, and since I don't like it when a judge in traffic court says, "I don't need to hear what you have to say, I already know you're guilty because this cop wrote you a ticket," I cannot deny these officers their chance to have their say when the stakes are a whole lot higher. Our system doesn't always work this way, but this is how it is supposed to work.
(I know many doubt that a fair trial is possible here -- either because they've seen too many police let off when the facts looked damningly clear, or because they're convinced that the fear of rioting in the case of a not-guilty verdict will make a finding of guilt inevitable. Distrust of the courts is a whole 'nuther (related) problem, and one that I'm not sure how to fix.)
If they are properly convicted, especially if they're convicted of what most of us think they're guilty of, they must be given reasonable, proportionate punishment. No mere slap on the wrist ... but at the same time, not some over-the-top scapegoating that attempts to make these six pay for all the sins of police everywhere. These six officers are not the larger problem; they are a symptom. Let them be punished to much the same degree as any of the rest of us would be if we were guilty of similar acts. Maybe a little less because their jobs expose them to many more opportunities to make catastrophic mistakes, maybe a little more because of the aspect of betrayal in that these are the very people we depend upon to protect us from wrongdoers -- but still: proportionate. Similar to what any of the rest of us would get.
Does that make me anti-cop? Because I believe, in light of what we do know, that these officers are guilty of causing the death of Freddie Gray after first violating his civil rights by arresting him without cause? We keep hearing, again and again, that most officers are good cops, that the examples popping up in media across the country are a few conspicuous bad apples. But here is an opportunity to take some of those bad apples that have been spoiling the whole barrel of police/community relations, and remove them to where they can't ruin things for the good cops any more, after following due process of law (and if they are convicted thereby). Shouldn't the good cops be in favour of this?
[to be continued]