The Best Way To Honor Tamir Rice is by Reforming Our Broken Justice System

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The Best Way To Honor Tamir Rice is by Reforming Our Broken Justice System

"Rice had a legal pellet gun that was not pointed at anyone yet he was shot to death two seconds after police arrived," Steven Singer writes. (Photo: Gadfly on the Wall blog)

Michael Brown – no indictment.

Eric Garner – no indictment.

Sandra Bland – no indictment.

And now Tamir Rice.

How many times will our justice system refuse to charge police with killing unarmed black people?

What will it take for our courts to accept the responsibility for at least attempting to seek justice?

When will our judicial system deem the death of people of color at the hands of law enforcement to at least be worthy of a trial?

Brown had no weapon but was shot to death by law enforcement.

Garner had no weapon but was choked to death by police.

Bland had no weapon but was found hanged in her jail cell after being assaulted by police during a traffic stop.

Rice had a legal pellet gun that was not pointed at anyone yet he was shot to death two seconds after police arrived.

This is not justice. This is a national travesty that continues to be played out daily. How many more human beings will be ground under the boot of a system that finds no value in their lives?

And don’t give me any of your excuses! Police were just doing their job! These people should have listened to law enforcement! Rice shouldn’t have had a pellet gun!

Listen to yourself. Lethal force is the only option!? Police have no tasers anymore, no pepper spray? Their guns only fire death strokes? They can’t hit non-vital areas meant to incapacitate but not kill?

What a bunch of cowards we are if we don’t demand police publicly explain themselves when they kill another human being – especially someone who posed them no bodily harm! How morally and spiritually bankrupt a nation we are not to weigh the evidence and decide guilt or innocence! “Freedom and justice for all!?” What a sham! What a lie! What a farce!

I don’t know about you, but I am sick of it. I refuse to put up with it for even one more day.

But what can we do?

No. Really.

When reading about these government sanctioned murders, I feel helpless. I’m just one person. What can I do to stop it?

Here are a few suggestions:

1) Ban Grand Juries in Fatal Shootings by Police

Connecticut and – most recently – California already have laws to this effect. District attorneys should have to decide whether officers face criminal charges when they kill people in the line of duty. This decision should be made in the light of day in full view of the public and not behind the closed doors of a grand jury hearing. These hearings involve no judges or defense attorneys and the transcripts of these proceedings are almost always sealed.

The problem is that district attorneys work closely with police and depend on them for political support. Sending cases like these to a grand jury gets the DA off the hook so he or she doesn’t offend the officers.

If the decision had to be made in public, voters could hold DAs accountable. With the grand jury system, there are no consequences because we have no concrete evidence about what happened during the proceedings, what arguments were made, by whom and who made what decisions. That’s a poor breeding ground for justice.

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2) Construct a National Database on Police Killings

Right now there is no way to tell exactly how many people are killed by law enforcement in this country every year. Moreover, there is no way to tell if officers involved in these killings were ever charged.

Information can be compiled state-by-state, often through unofficial and anecdotal sources. However, this does not nearly give the full picture of what is going on. The people of this country deserve to know the full scope of the issue. That’s why apologists often claim these sorts of incidents are relatively rare and blown out of proportion by the media. But are they? A national database would prove the matter one way or the other.

Federal law from 1994 already calls for just such a database, yet it has not been funded. This may be due in part to the cost. A pilot study found that it would take a decade and cost $1 billion.

Certainly this is not a quick fix. But don’t we deserve to know this information? And isn’t it suspicious that nothing is being done to compile this data now?

3) Overturn Graham v. Connor

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to seeking justice for those unnecessarily killed by police is a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court 25 years ago. Graham v. Connor effectively ruled that police can kill you if they feel you present a “reasonable” threat to their own lives.

The problem is the word “reasonable.” What does that mean? In court, it can be almost anything. It’s a “Get Out of Jail Free” card to police for wanton murder. Justice Sonia Sotomayor calls this a “Shoot first, think later” approach to policing. She says this violates the Fourth Amendment which stipulates what counts as “probable cause” for police actions including arrests. However, Sotomayor is the only sitting justice publicly to take this stance.

This is why without more robust protections for citizens and more realistic expectations for law enforcement, even when cases like these go to court, they rarely result in police convictions.

But courts change. Public opinion can move mountains if given enough time. We need to start putting on the pressure.

Organize, people. Start writing letters. Write petitions. Hold rallies. Meet with your Congress-people. Make some noise.

In the meantime, let us grieve for all the Browns, Garners, Blands and Rices.

Their lives matter. And the best way to prove that is to get off our collective asses and do something about it.

Steven Singer

Steven Singer is a husband, father, teacher, blogger and education advocate. He often writes at his own blog here.

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