Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
When a grand jury decided not to indict a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Brooklyn resident Jon Robinson declined to join the public protests. Two weeks later, when a Staten Island grand jury failed to indict the New York police officer who was filmed choking Eric Garner to death, Robinson marched through the night, though he remained uncertain of what the protests would accomplish. “I’ve got this rage and hunger for change,” he told a reporter. “But I also don’t know how you really cause change when you’ve got a system so broken.”
That sense of despair is understandable, given the recent spate of incidents in which black lives have been stolen without any justification or justice. But there are signs that the passion in the streets, which was on display this past weekend as tens of thousands of protesters marched through New York, the District and other cities across the country, could translate into meaningful policy changes. Last week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to give his office the power to investigate and prosecute cases in which police officers kill unarmed citizens, a possible model for national reform that could help restore the public’s trust. As Schneiderman wrote in a letter to the governor, “A common thread in many of these cases is the belief of the victim’s family and others that the investigation of the death, and the decision whether to prosecute, have been improperly and unfairly influenced by the close working relationship between the county District Attorney and the police officers he or she works with and depends on every day.”
Indeed, we are now seeing a crisis of confidence in our justice system, which has left black communities in particular fearing that police can torment them with impunity. “This type of independent oversight is a critical first step in making sure officers who brutalize or kill Black New Yorkers are held accountable,” the civil rights group ColorofChange.org said in a statement praising Schneiderman’s request. “The relationship between police and district attorneys is far too close and AG Schneiderman’s request would go a long way to avoid the systemic corruption, cronyism, and failed justice that often results when local prosecutors investigate police abuse involving Black victims.”
Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.