Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Endgame for American Civic Responsibility

A remarkably lucid argument against keeping police officers' names secret when they've shot someone. The Endgame for American Civic Responsibility by David Simon:
Part one
Part two
Part three

A taste:
And beyond the democratic imperative, one other practical cost to Ferguson of your professional failure has yet to be tallied, but is certain and fixed: Your department, in order to solve crimes and maintain order, is dependent on the cooperation of witnesses — fellow citizens willing to trust in the process of arrest and prosecution, and in their own personal safety should they properly contribute to that process. Yet by offering up the dishonorable claim that your department, and all the authority of the supporting law enforcement and judicial communities of Missouri, cannot protect a single officer from a series of unsubstantiated threats, or that the officer might be more vulnerable to public ridicule than, say, Mr. Brown was vulnerable to actual police gunfire, you have made this question entirely relevant:

If Ferguson police can’t protect one of their own — a fellow officer who is armed, who is allied with an entire department of armed comrades, who are themselves buttressed by their jurisdiction’s prosecutorial arm, who have the full weight of the law at hand in support of that officer — then how in hell are they going to protect me when I go down to the courthouse and testify? How can they ask me, an ordinary citizen with no armament, alliance or authority, to stand up in open court and be identified?
And a comment from part 1:
I’ve been in law enforcement in a major urban city for 15 years now. I cannot fathom why this department thinks its a good idea to keep that information held in secret. First, it looks like they are hiding, because they are. If it was a righteous shooting then prove it, and do it in the sunlight for all to see. We’ve had plenty in my city that looked bad, and were protested, but after a thorough investigation were proven to be justified. They key is to make that investigation transparent. If you don’t, and it is a clean shooting, no one will believe you.
When a police shooting occurs and law enforcement circles the wagons it just creates an “us”and “them” reality that does no one any good. It makes it more dangerous for officers on the street and it makes it even more difficult for prosecutors to sustain convictions. All of that just equates to a community that is less safe and hates its cops. When we give good people reasons to distrust us, we are in trouble. I feel for the folks in Ferguson. The ones with badges, and the ones without.

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