Thursday, May 22, 2008

The More Things Change ...

Almost forty years ago, a group of Chicago police officers came at night to an apartment occupied by members of the Black Panther party, opened fire, and killed two people. Despite claims to the contrary by the police, there was never any evidence that anyone inside the apartment had fired at the police first. I was living in Chicago at the time, and commented to an acquaintance that while I could certainly believe the police were lying, I could equally well believe the Panthers were.

She replied by pointing out that the Panthers were offering to let anyone who wanted see the apartment. I went, and learned something interesting—when a bullet goes through a wall, you can see which way it was going by the direction the splinters point. All the shots were incoming.

[One news story I found while checking this reported that it was eventually determined that there had been one outgoing shot—and about ninety incoming. If so, I didn't spot it.]

One of the people responsible for the raid was tried, not for conspiracy to commit murder, which is what he was probably guilty of, but for lying about it afterwards. He was acquitted. The city, state, and county, however, ended up paying a substantial amount to the survivors in settlement of their civil claim. In my first book, I told the story as an illustration of one advantage of privately prosecuted civil law over publicly prosecuted criminal law. As I put it in a later book, if the crown controls prosecution, the King's friends can get away with murder. And, in this case, did.

Today's CNN brings a similar story, this one involving an attack that killed a 92 year old Atlanta woman.

"An Atlanta police officer has been sentenced to 4 years and six months in prison for lying to investigators after a drug raid ended in the death of a 92-year-old woman."

At least this time someone got convicted of something. One could view that, plus the fact that this incident looks less like deliberate murder and more like criminal incompetence than the attack on the Black Panthers, as evidence that things have improved a little. But I'm reluctant to judge an overall trend by such a small sample.


Clayton said...

How many of these police officers do you think will be convicted of assault?

I am not aware of any evidence of a break in the trend of police agency conslidation and territorialism. I look forward to any evidence of such a break.

Clayton said...

I wonder if someone who successfully repelled a police intrusion under one of these "no-knock warrants", perhaps killing an officer, and later surrendered peacefully once the police identified themselves would be criminally liable for their action? Wouldn't that be justifiable self-defense?

Raphfrk said...

The odds of that person surviving 'accidential' fire (and maybe his stay before reaching trial are pretty low).

You would have to hold the police off and then negotiate from a stand-off position.

Ideally, you would need to demand that the press be filming you surrendering.

Anonymous said...

The black panthers probably needed killing. It is unlikely a 92 year old woman needed killing.

Clayton said...

"The black panthers probably needed killing. It is unlikely a 92 year old woman needed killing."

I'm not sure the police officers needed killing *less* than the black panthers did. Both trafficked in violence and inducing compliance through the threat of violence. The primary difference is that one was self-funded, while the other was publicly funded with badges and seals (ooooohhh, ahhhhhh) to prove their legitimacy.

Aaron Denney said...

A current case is that of Ryan Frederick, of Chesapeake Virginia. He was recently indicted by a grand jury for felony murder, but has yet to come to trial.