NCBL’s Statement of Support for Systemic Changes to the Criminal System
NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF BLACK LAWYERS
STATEMENT OF SUPPORT FOR SYSTEMIC CHANGES TO THE CRIMINAL SYSTEM
The news came at a press conference held by St Louis County District Attorney Robert P. McColloch on November 23, 2014. There existed no probable cause to charge police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of the unarmed 17-year-old Michael Brown. Protests followed all across America as well as internationally.
Then just one week later, December 1, 2014, another blow to a family who’s loved one was killed by police: Staten Island, New York District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan announced that the grand jury had cleared New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Daniel Pantaleo of all charges in the death of Eric Garner. Already mass protests developed into a movement unabated by distractions. These protests were sparked by legitimate frustration, pain and justifiable anger towards a system that can accommodate exoneration of these officers. In the case of Eric Garner, Daniel Pantaleo is seen clearly on videotape placing Eric Garner in a chokehold, until he stopped breathing; until he was dead. Those familiar with the grand jury system know well that indictments are frequently returned particularly against poor black and brown people with little or no evidence to support these indictments.
December 20, 2014, a man described as being mentally ill, shot two New York police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. The man took his own life as well. The deaths of those two officers sparked a rebellion by the NYPD that unfortunately undermined the tragedy of their deaths. There undoubtedly is genuine grief and sadness experienced by their families, friends and many colleagues. Yet the suggestion that protesters are in some way responsible because they fan the flames of anti-police bias is nothing more than an attempt to silence legitimate protests against a police department ‘s abuse of force nurtured by an unjust criminal system.
The continued “rebellion” by the NYPD has triggered a precipitous drop in arrests. The statistics are staggering. In some categories, the arrest rates dropped by 94% – even drug arrests dropped by about 84% (what happens to the all-out war on drugs?) The refusal to make arrests for these so-called “broken- windows” offenses is designed to send a message to mayor DiBlasio. That message seems clear: leave us with unfettered power to run our police “force” or we will not do our job to “protect and serve”. Shamefully, protection and service are not often extended to select communities; rather, there is heavy- handed harassment and unlawful arrests in these communities.
There have been calls for meetings between mayor DiBlasio and NYPD union personnel. Patrolmen Benevolent Association (PBA) union president, Patrick Lynch demands a public apology from the mayor for implying that the NYPD engages in racial profiling. That matter has been litigated and resolved in favor of racially profiled plaintiffs, so no apologies are warranted on that issue.
Nonetheless, whatever comes out of meetings to resolve the rift between the mayor and the NYPD, whatever issues are on the table, what is not up for auction or negotiation is the right of the people to demand an end to discriminatory policing accommodated by a system that rarely checks their abuse of power.
The NCBL joins with Legal Aid Attorneys and Public Defenders (attorneys) who are engaged in mass protests to expose the inequities and injustices that resulted in the decisions reached in the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner to name but a few. These demands must continue until there are systemic changes that will hold police accountable for harassment and police violence.