A Disturbing  Pattern

A Disturbing Pattern

Why it’s nearly impossible to nail cops for using deadly force

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson 08/14/2014

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Mike Brown is the latest name on the growing list of victims of brazen overuse of deadly force by cops. The 18-year-old Brown had his hands raised when he was gunned down by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer after a stop. Brown fit the usual pattern of those killed. In almost all cases the victims are unarmed and not accused of committing a crime. Their killings also occur in broad daylight and with witnesses present.   


Another part of this familiar and deeply disturbing pattern is that they are young African Americans or Latinos. The officers who commit these deadly acts are placed on paid administrative leave and police officials, when confronted with demands from civil rights and community leaders for an investigation, make solemn promises to do just that. They assure us their investigations will be thorough and impartial.


That’s the start of the problem. The police agencies that are on the hot seat for a dubious shooting or another act that results in the death of a civilian investigate themselves. There is almost never an independent outside agency that will conduct a truly impartial investigation. The one agency that can do that is the US Department of Justice.


Despite this wave of highly questionable police shootings of mostly young blacks and Latinos the Justice Department has done almost nothing to nail shoot-first cops. Periodic reports on police misconduct by Human Rights Watch, an international public watchdog group, found that federal prosecutors bring excessive force charges against police officers in less than 1 percent of the cases investigated by the FBI. The group also found that there has been almost no increase in the skimpy number of police misconduct cases prosecuted by the Justice Department in the past decade.  


Even in the rare cases in which cops are hauled into court for overuse of deadly force, it’s nearly impossible to convict them. Their defense lawyers are top guns with lots of experience defending police officers accused of misconduct. Police unions bankroll their defense and spare no expense. Cops rarely serve any pre-trial jail time and are released on ridiculously low bail. 


If the cops are tried by a jury, police defense attorneys seek to get as many middle-class people — whites and even blacks and Latinos — on the jury as possible. The presumption is that they are much more likely to believe the testimony of police and prosecution witnesses than black witnesses, defendants or even the victims.


It’s an uphill battle for prosecutors to overcome both pro-police attitudes and negative racial stereotypes. Stanford University researchers recently found that even when many whites are presented with evidence that the criminal justice system is loaded with racial bias toward blacks, they are more likely to support tough, draconian laws and tough sentencing. The galling conclusion of the researchers was that informing many whites that African Americans are significantly overrepresented in the prison population “may actually bolster support for the very policies that perpetuate the inequality.”


The negative perceptions of blacks — especially black males — by much of the public are not the only problem in initiating effective legal measures against police violence. There is no ironclad standard of what is an acceptable use of force in police misconduct cases. It often comes down to a judgment call by the officer involved. In the Rodney King beating case in 1992, in which four LAPD officers stood trial, defense attorneys painted King as the aggressor and claimed that the level of force used against him was justified. This pattern has been evident in a number of celebrated cases since then. Police claim that they feared for their lives in confronting civilians and that they use deadly force solely in self-defense. If brought to trial, judges and juries routinely buy this line and acquit.


The code of silence is another powerful obstacle to convicting bad cops. Officers hide behind it and refuse to testify against other officers, or they tailor their testimony to put the officer’s action in the best possible light.


Prosecutors often are barred from using statements made during internal investigations of officer misconduct in court proceedings on grounds of self-incrimination. This knocks out another potentially crucial prosecution weapon. Federal prosecutors who retried the officers that beat King learned a vital lesson from the abysmal failure of local prosecutors to convict them. They did not rely exclusively on the videotape evidence but on expert testimony on the use of force. That proved that the officers went way over the top against King. Despite the massive amounts of time, resources and care devoted to that case, two of the four officers were still acquitted.


If past history is any guide, the investigations into the killing of Brown and Eric Garner by chokehold by a New York City police officer after months of time passing will go down in the books as justified or within police policy. This again will prove the point that it is nearly impossible to nail cops for using deadly force. n

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author, political analyst and a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media and weekly co-host of “The Al Sharpton Show” on American Urban Radio Network. He is also the host of the weekly “Hutchinson Report” on KTYM 1460 AM in Los Angeles, and KPFK 90.7 FM and the Pacifica Radio Network. Follow Earl on Twitter at http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson.

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Its disturbing that none of these thugs seem to learn from the last thugs mistakes.

posted by russmen626 on 8/15/14 @ 11:01 p.m.

E.O.H., F.Y.I., Y.A.F.I.

Society in general wants to live and work in a environment that is safe for them and their children. They rely on police officers to maintain their safety and security, and various legislative bodies have bestowed great powers upon the police to assist them in this endeavor. These powers include, but are not limited to, the power to take away the freedom of others (arrest and incarceration) and the power to kill (justifiable homicide). The judicial system has interpreted the appropriateness of police use of force and they typically side with the officers. The reason for this is twofold; first, the overwhelming majority of time the actions of the officers are within the law and they followed the guidelines of the law. Secondly, to do otherwise on a regular basis would undermine the very safety and security that we demand the officers provide. If officers were routinely prosecuted when they use deadly force in the performance of their duties they would simply stop using deadly force and stop enforcing the laws that we require them to enforce. In short, for fear of potential criminal prosecution they would stop doing their job; crime would increase; quality of life would diminish; criminals would rule the neighborhoods and law-abiding people would again live in fear.

But you already know that. You are just using this topic as an avenue to spew your typical race-baiting rhetoric that keeps you in a position of power and respect within your community. In truth, the problem is not with society (aka Whitey) keeping Black people down, the problem is that the Black people are keeping Black people down.

posted by maggie thatcher on 8/17/14 @ 08:45 a.m.


There is a very large percentage of the Black population that is leading an uncivilized lifestyle and being uncivilized in a civilized society keeps you repressed and unable to advance. I know, I must be a racist for speaking like this but allow me to provide some examples:

• When 75% of Black children are born out of wedlock and the majority of children are raised without a father figure in the household, that is uncivilized.
• When such little emphasis is placed on education so that more than half of Black children fail to graduate high school, that is uncivilized.
• When hundreds of Black teens and young adults are being murdered each week in this nation and over 90% of the time it is at the hands of other black teens and young adults, that is uncivilized.
• When generation after generation of Black families are satisfied living their lives on Welfare rather than making the effort to better themselves so they can be providers rather than being the ones provided for, that is uncivilized.
• When such a large percentage of the Black population doesn’t make an effort to speak and enunciate in societal norms, i.e. ax in place of ask or wich instead of wish, that leads to a feeling by others of being uncivilized.

I could go on and on, but the takeaway from all of this is that if so much of the Black population doesn’t respect itself, how can it be expected to respect others? And, a lack of respect for others also means a lack of respect for authority. A disrespect of authority is what always precedes a use of force incident by the police.

So, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, if you truly want to help your people, stop blaming others and start looking within. Start preaching the value of raising the children you bring into this world; start preaching the value of education and make college an requirement that every Black child knows is expected of him; start preaching the importance of leading a crime free life and of being a responsible member of society; start preaching the value of self-betterment and start preaching the value of discipline and assimilation. Do that and maybe, just maybe, they will be president one day. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a racist, right?

posted by maggie thatcher on 8/17/14 @ 08:46 a.m.

So lets weigh the options Maggie: Stay in school, develop a career, raise a family and become a respectful member of society....or smash out a window and snatch a pair of Air Jordan's to show your anger? Thats a tough call...

posted by russmen626 on 8/17/14 @ 09:40 p.m.

Here's another disturbing pattern. Why does the media like to post Jr. high school pictures of these thugs in their band uniforms? Did you see the video of this thug man handling that store clerk? He looked like Lebron James working his way to the glass.

posted by russmen626 on 8/18/14 @ 08:38 a.m.

Regardless of your opinion on the Ferguson, MO incident, the Pasadena Weekly and Mr. Hutchinson should not distort who Michael Brown was on that hot August day. Displaying a picture of an approximately 14 year old youth at a gaming arcade does not reflect the adult he had become. Based on my review of the convenient store video I see a 6'2" 240lbs man engaged in a strong arm robbery of a diminutive yet brave owner willing to confront a giant to save $40.00 worth of merchandise. I know this is an opinion page but true justice cant' be served if the blatant bias on both sides is not removed from the ongoing narrative and eventual legal ruling on this shooting death.

posted by J.J. O'Malley on 8/18/14 @ 09:30 a.m.

"Little Mikey" was 6-6, 280. This came from the autopsy report.

posted by Paul G on 8/18/14 @ 01:52 p.m.

Oh, and to answer why the author of this "editorial" leans so far left. . . . .its Pasadena. Duh.

posted by Paul G on 8/18/14 @ 01:53 p.m.

"Why it’s nearly impossible to nail cops for using deadly force" . . . . rush to judgement? Are you kidding? This is in the sub-line of the heading!

Did you know the cop's eye socket was crushed from a blow from the "gentle giant"?

posted by Paul G on 8/20/14 @ 02:26 p.m.

Mike Brown was no Kendrec McDade. The two stories diverge significantly. McDade didn't threaten either cop, all he could do is outrun them. But he couldn't outrun their bullets.

But this should teach'em not to wear butt-sagger pants.


posted by DanD on 8/25/14 @ 08:41 p.m.
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