“I have watched the video, and I was sickened by what I saw,” North Charleston’s police chief told reporters. Slager was fired, arrested, charged with murder, and held without bail. That almost never happens when cops shoot unarmed people.
But despite an unarmed victim, forensics proving he was shot multiple times in the back, a police officer who made a false report, and clear video showing the entire debacle, Slager was not convicted of murder or manslaughter in his trial this week. A lone juror spared him that fate with a refusal to convict. That triggered a mistrial.
Prosecutors say they will retry the case.
If there was a police killing last year that was comparably egregious, it was that committed by University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing, who shot an unarmed motorist, Samuel DuBose, in the head during a traffic stop. That killing was also captured on video. Joe Deters, the prosecutor in the case, declared, “This is the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make. People want to believe that Mr. DuBose had done something violent toward the officer; he did not. He did not at all. And I feel so sorry for his family and what they lost. And I feel sorry for the community, too.”
He added, “Purposeful killing of another, that’s what makes it murder. He purposefully killed him.” Video of the egregious killing was released to the public.
Last month that case ended in a mistrial, too.
My belief is that police officers should be treated like any other person accused of a crime. In the ongoing debate about policing, defenders of the status quo frequently point out, correctly, that patrolling America’s streets is a tremendously difficult job—one that puts all who perform it in frequent contact with dangerous criminals, risking injury or death while trying to protect public safety. Their view is that the risks involved, the difficult demands of the job, and the importance of the task to society mean cops should always be given the benefit of the doubt.
The inevitable, unspoken consequence of that view is that citizens who have interactions with cops, often Hispanic or black men, are presumed to be in the wrong.
To stack the deck against unarmed citizens who get shot is absurd.
Yet even operating under a standard in which police officers get the benefit of every reasonable doubt, it seems hard to understand why Slager and Tensing wouldn’t have been convicted of manslaughter. The fact that neither was convicted is the latest evidence that the system as it now exists does not reliably punish cops for even egregious killings.
The policy debate around policing has lately focused on the tactics and rhetoric of Black Lives Matter (while mostly ignoring its excellent Campaign Zero roadmap for policy reform). Whatever conservatives think of Black Lives Matter, it is long past time that more of them join with libertarians and liberals in an effort to address this problem: Armed agents of the state are killing American citizens at rates far higher than other developed countries, and even when videos show them killing unarmed individuals, some are somehow getting away with it.