Recently a man named Randall encountered a man named Jonathan in the early hours of the morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. Randall had a gun; Jonathan did not. Jonathan may have been agitated and confused, possibly from just having crashed his car. Their encounter concluded with Randall firing twelve times at Jonathan at close range and hitting him ten times, killing him. Neither man had a criminal record.
Prosecutors have charged Randall with voluntary manslaughter, a fairly light charge for shooting an unarmed man ten times. But Randall's supporters are outraged. They say Randall was charged too quickly, that an investigation of a man like Randall shooting an unarmed man like Jonathan ten times usually takes months. They say that charging Randall represents a rush to judgment. They say that charging Randall will chill and intimidate men like him out and about in the world from discharging their firearms in situations like the late-night encounter in Charlotte, North Carolina. They say that Randall didn't give up his constitutional rights when he walked into a police station, but he's being treated like he did. They're saying that Randall isn't getting a "fair shake" by being so quickly charged with manslaughter for shooting an unarmed man ten times. They're saying that when there's a shooting the best evidence comes out slowly, over time. They're saying Randall is presumed innocent and should be treated as such.
Are Randall's friends civil rights activists? Are they defense attorneys? Are they part of some community used to unfair prosecutions?
They're police. See, Randall is a cop. His supporters are other cops, and police unions.
“People are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” said James Pasco Jr., the national executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, “and police officers are no exception. You don’t check your civil rights at the station house door.”
He said most departments took their time with investigations because they wanted to be thorough.
“They go very carefully. One thing to remember in the case of a shooting, generally speaking, the most accurate information will come out over a period of time,” Mr. Pasco said.
“Another thing,” he continued, “is that participants in a shooting — whether they were the shooter, whether they were shot or whether they were just there — all tend to suffer to a degree from post-traumatic shock for at least a short period of time. And that’s why the best and most accurate information is usually gathered from these folks 48 to 72 hours after the event.”
Mr. Pasco is right.
Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Nobody checks their civil rights at the station house door — whether they enter there with a badge, or in handcuffs. Sometimes the most accurate information about a crime doesn't come out in the first few hours. A rush to judgment can lead to wrong assumptions, and the criminal justice system can stubbornly cling to those assumptions rather than change course once charges have been filed.
The criminal justice system ignores those ideas every day.
Will Mr. Pasco be articulating those principles next time someone is accused of assault on a police officer? Will he be articulating them next time anyone who is not a cop is accused of anything? Will any of Officer Randall Kerrick's supporters tout the presumption of innocence, or the fallibility of witnesses, or equality before the law next time they discuss a defendant who doesn't wear a badge?
Or have they discovered these principles because Officer Kerrick is one of them, and therefore entitled to things that the rest of us are not?
Randall Kerrick should receive due process of law. But he doesn't deserve it because he's a cop. Deserve's got nothing to do with it. He should receive due process of law because we should extend it to everyone, good and bad and checkered, cop and civilian. He should not receive more, or less, due process just because the thin blue line forms behind him.
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