Letters to the Editor

Citizens must have a clear understanding of laws

According to columnist, Gail Sullivan, in her Dec. 7 article, Why it’s so difficult to charge police officers around the U.S. who kill, those who saw the video of Eric Garner being restrained by use of a choke hold expected the grand jury to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo “particularly since the officer was white and Garner was black.”

I wonder whether these people would have the same expectation if the racial mix of the involved parties were different.

In Graham vs. Conner, the Supreme Court emphasized facts and circumstances that courts will scrutinize in determining reasonableness of the use of force; the severity of the crime in question; whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others; and whether the offender is actively resisting arrest or attempting to elude arrest by flight. The most significant consideration, however, is to prevent serious physical harm to the involved officer or others.

Michael Brown was a robbery suspect allegedly stopped for walking down the middle of the street and blocking traffic. Garner, who had a criminal record, was allegedly selling cigarettes illegally. Unfortunately, Brown and Garner actively resisted arrest. Additionally, Brown posed an immediate threat to Officer Darren Wilson’s safety as demonstrated by the injuries Wilson sustained.

A law enforcement officer, or any person whom the officer has summoned for assistance, need not retreat or cease from efforts to make a lawful arrest because of resistance or threatened resistance to the arrest. Use of the choke hold in Garner’s case, although not authorized for use by the New York City Police Department, isn’t illegal.

Equal and just administration of law is central to the mission of criminal justice in our country. From a law enforcement perspective, the mission is, in part, to enforce the law; including quality-of-life infractions.

To do so and ensure the perception of equitable treatment, are we inadvertently advocating a separate but equal law enforcement infrastructure whereby officers can only safely effect arrests of individuals with like demographics to avoid the perception of impropriety?

As the video of Garner demonstrates, body cameras, although beneficial, will not necessarily accomplish our objectives unless the public has a clear understanding of laws and policies governing law enforcement functions.

Once again, there are no winners. The deaths of Brown and Garner are tragic.

The allegation of racial discrimination on the part of our criminal justice system, regardless of whether the discrimination is real or perceived, has promoted the erosion of public trust and confidence which has devastating consequences for law enforcement operations.

Joyce Voschin, Davie

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