Sunday, August 23, 2015

California Leads the Way to Banning Grand Juries

California is the first state to ban grand jury protocol in incidents of police killings. California’s new law, signed by Governor Jerry Brown on August 11, is in response to the distrust people have of the grand jury system, following the deaths of unarmed black men across the country. Even when it’s clear police officers may have committed murder, grand juries fail to indict.

A good example is the chokehold death of Eric Garner by New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo. This incident, captured on camera, despite the medical examiner’s ruling that Garner’s death was a homicide, the grand jury found no reason to indict Pantaleo, or even to charge him with negligent homicide.

The reasons for police use of deadly force and excessive force are numerous. How to curb it is a complex issue, but abuses in the grand jury system are easily solvable: ban the grand jury procedure as California did.

There are problems with grand juries. Grand juries are secret. In grand juries the local prosecutor, who works daily and closely with local police, presents the evidence on whether to bring criminal charges against a police officer or not. There is no cross-examination or judge as in a regular jury trial.

Across the country, police investigate themselves. They depend on internal affairs departments to resolve complaints of misconduct. In the Garner case, NYPD said that following the grand jury process they would conduct an internal investigation of Pantaleo and the other officers involved in Garner’s death. The internal investigation is complete, but its findings are not public.

Preliminary hearings need to replace grand juries. Citizen’s review boards need to replace internal investigations. They must be responsible for final judgement before charging police officers with a criminal offense – not a grand jury or the results of an internal investigation.

People don’t trust the system. They believe that the justice system and law enforcement, political, and economic system are stacked against them. They feel hopeless and powerless. They are angry and frustrated. Trust will return when there’s more transparency, that’s what banning the grand jury protocol is about.

Other states need to follow California’s lead.

Additional reading: There Are Real Reasons for Anger, Not Just in Ferguson or Staten Island

© Copyright 2015 Horatio Green